Tortured For Their Faith

Arab converts from Islam face persecution at hands of PA police

Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority police are conducting a violent campaign against Muslim Arab converts to Christianity in recent months. In late July, the Digest heard first-hand accounts revealing that a number of Christian Arabs near Nablus (Samaria) have been threatened, imprisoned, interrogated, beaten and tortured by the PA security services for the "criminal" behaviour of professing their new-found Christian faith.

At the time of going to press, the situation of one such convert remains critical: Since June 30 the PA has been holding on false charges Muhammed Bak'r in deplorable conditions, first at the Qalqilya interrogation centre and now at the Nablus prison.

Bak'r has been subjected to beatings and torture in an attempt to elicit an unfounded confession that he witnessed the sale of land to a Jew some eight years ago.

Bak'r, 37, has a wife and nine children, and lives in Kiri (near Ariel and outside the PA's self-rule area). Born a Muslim, he became a Christian six years ago and has faithfully attended churches, Bible studies and prayer meetings ever since. The consensus among his friends and village is that Bak'r was imprisoned for his vocal expression of faith.

Palestinian human rights activist Bassam Eid told the Digest on August 1 that Bak'r had been tortured and charged with "collaborating" with Israelis--but disclaimed any knowledge of Bak'r's faith being an issue.

Bak'r is one of the latest victims in a PA campaign aimed at deterring further conversions--and the resulting change in attitude toward Israelis.

According to Islam, converting to another religion is a crime punishable by death. Islamic shar'ia law is cited as a source for PA laws. Muslim elements, who used violence against Palestinian Christians during the intifada, are now part of the PA police force which uses repressive means to intimidate the Christian minority and enforce this discriminatory edict.

The first clear instance of this PA policy came two years ago when Shak'r Saleh, a Muslim convert to Christianity, was imprisoned in Jericho on false charges. He was beaten and tortured, and suffered a broken jaw and broken leg as a result.

Only after the intervention of former US President Jimmy Carter, among others, was Shak'r released.

Our sources have disclosed the tactics of this latest targeting of ex-Muslims: all-day detentions without explanation; imprisonment on false charges; and interrogation with beatings and torture. During interrogation, they are regularly questioned about their activities as Christians and pressed to return to Islam. In these and other cases, the local Arab community is said to be aware of the campaign and is afraid to speak out on their behalf.

But one Palestinian-American who pastors in Samaria, Issa Bajalia, has decided to go public, confirming the intolerable situation these new believers are facing. He maintains many Muslims in Samaria would convert to Christianity, but devout Muslims hold them back through such fear tactics.

The ICEJ has joined in the call for the immediate release of Muhammad Bak'r and guarantees of safety for him and his family. The ICEJ also has called on church and government leaders world-wide to condemn these PA actions and to urge Arafat and the PA to end this abuse of religious freedom and human rights.

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