Somalilandsun: Christians in the Horn of Africa nation of Somaliland fear more executions and other persecution after a married couple was detained for evangelism, Worthy News learned.
“The couple’s arrest and detention caused great concern among the small Christian community in Somaliland. Many believers are reported to have fled abroad,” said advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC).
Somaliland police spokesman Colonel Faisal Hiis Elmi confirmed that the Christians, who have three children, were taken into custody last month. In remarks monitored by Worthy News, he announced that police “arrested two apostates who had become preachers of Christianity.”
He said police “being alerted of suspicious activities,” arrested the couple on September 21 after finding Christian materials in their home.
The colonel claimed the two Christians were “trying to deceive and convince locals to quit their Islam religion. Immediately the law enforcement officers started an investigation, and now it is complete.” He added: “These guys have been doing this for a while. But we were waiting for evidence…Let this be a warning to those trying to mislead the public.”
REPORTING CHRISTIAN ‘SUSPECTS’
He said, “Anyone who dares to spread Christianity in this region could be arrested” as “the spread of Christianity won’t be allowed and is considered blasphemy.”
The official urged the public to report “any suspects” to the local police. Several Christian sources said the couple is due to face trial in heavily Islamic Somaliland, which declared independence from Somalia in 1991 but has not been internationally recognized.
MEC told Worthy News that the names of the two Christians had not been released due to security concerns. The couple is no exception. Most Somali Christians keep their faith completely secret to avoid being killed by Islamists, Worthy News established.
“Islam is an important part of Somali identity. For a Somali person to decide to leave Islam and follow Jesus is seen as a huge betrayal – and one that could lead to immediate execution,” confirmed advocacy and aid group Open Doors.
Islam is also the official religion of Somaliland, and its constitution prohibits Muslims from converting to another faith. It bars the “propagation of any religion other than Islam” such as evangelism and says all laws must comply with the general principles of “sharia” or Islamic law.
AUTHORITIES CLOSE CHURCH
In August 2017, the only remaining (Catholic) church in Somaliland was closed by authorities a few days after it opened temporarily following Muslim protests. “We have decided to respect the wishes of the people and their religious leaders and keep the church closed as it has been for the past 30 years,” said Sheikh Khalil, the minister for religious affairs in Somaliland.
“We will never allow any new church to be built in Somaliland,” the minister warned.
Those turning to Christ in Somalia and its breakaway Somaliland also face attacks from the influential Islamic group al-Shabaab. “The militants will often kill them on the spot,” according to Open Doors investigators.
This year brought the added challenge of the coronavirus outbreak for up to 1,000 Christians in Somalia, including Somaliland. Open Doors said.
“According to the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab group, infectious diseases such as COVID-19 are spread ‘by the crusader forces [Christians] who have invaded the country and the disbelieving countries that support them.’ This rhetoric puts Christians in the country even more at risk of persecution,“ the group noted.
MUSLIM CLERICS ACTION
Open Doors added there had been signs that Muslim clerics took “some action to counter the lies.”
Religious intolerance has made it difficult for Somaliland, the northern third of Somalia and an ex-British protectorate, to gain international recognition as an independent state.
Despite facing execution across Islamic-ruled Somalia and Somaliland, Muslims continue to turn to Christianity here.
As an example, Open Doors mentioned Hassan’s father, Aaden, an illiterate shepherd in Somalia. Aaden, which is not his real name, allegedly met Jesus in visions while out herding the animals. “Hassan tells us, “In these visions, Christ appeared to him and said, ‘It’s me, Isa. Do not be afraid, for I am with you.’”
When Aaden chose to follow Jesus Christ, he was “brutally attacked with a panga, a tool similar to a machete. He still bears the scars today, “ Open Doors said.
POWER OF PRAYER
“When Hassan also decided to become a Christian, while he did not face the brutal persecution his father did, he was rejected by his community and insulted, leaving him feeling lonely and isolated.”
Amid the crackdown, MEC urged prayers for Somali Christians, including the couple, detained for evangelism. It was important to pray that they “and their children will experience God’s closeness, peace, and comfort during the couple’s detention, and for a speedy release,” MEC wrote supporters.
Prayer requests were also included “for God’s strength for those who fled and wisdom if and when to return.” MEC said it prays that “the community will be, strong, courageous and overcome the fear.” The group hopes the Christian “leadership” in the region will have “wisdom on how to handle this situation and to continue their ministry without government interference.”
Anti-Christian policies continue under President Muse Bihi Abdi, who has ruled the breakaway, semi-desert territory on the coast of the Gulf of Aden since November 2017.
Somaliland broke away from Somalia after the overthrow of Somali military dictator Siad Barre in 1991. The move followed an independence struggle when Siad Barre’s forces fought rebel guerrillas in Somaliland. Tens of thousands of people were reportedly killed and towns destroyed in that conflict.