Archive for Africa

Greek parliament approves Athens’ first mosque plan in decades

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2011 by loonwatch
The mosque plan was included in an environment ministry bill regulating illegal construction, another long-running concern in Greece. It calls for the renovation of an existing state building – a disused military base – in the run-down Athens industrial district of Elaionas.The mosque plan was included in an environment ministry bill regulating illegal construction, another long-running concern in Greece. It calls for the renovation of an existing state building – a disused military base – in the run-down Athens industrial district of Elaionas.

Greek parliament approves Athens’ first mosque plan in decades

Greece’s parliament on Wednesday approved the construction of a new mosque in Athens to satisfy a long-standing demand by thousands of Muslim residents, a government source said.

The project to build the Greek capital’s first official Muslim place of worship in decades was supported by 198 deputies from the centre, right and left (out of 300) against the objections of 16 nationalist MPs.

The mosque plan was included in an environment ministry bill regulating illegal construction, another long-running concern in Greece. It calls for the renovation of an existing state building – a disused military base – in the run-down Athens industrial district of Elaionas.

Thousands of Muslims from Arab nations, Africa and the Indian subcontinent live and work in Athens without official prayer sites or a cemetery, despite years of promises by successive Greek governments.

Muslim faithful have crafted mosques out of rented flats and disused warehouses which are regularly targeted in racist attacks.

Anger towards migrants and attacks have escalated on the streets of Athens in recent months as the debt-hit country battles a growing recession that has brought thousands of job layoffs.

A staunchly Orthodox state with bitter memories of nearly four centuries of Ottoman Turkish rule, Greece currently offers sanctioned Muslim religious sites only near its northeastern border with Turkey where a Muslim minority of Turkish origin lives.

All traces of Islam were eradicated in Athens in the early 19th century when Christianity was restored, and bureaucratic wrangling and opposition from local church leaders and mayors have since stalled plans for a mosque and cemetery.

Richard Dawkins: “Islam” is an “Unmitigated Evil”

Posted in Feature, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2011 by loonwatch

Richard Dawkins, well known biologist and pop-atheist-guru (add goofball) recently brought up thequestion of whether or not atheists should support Christian missions in Africa. (hat tip: Rob)

He believes the answer is “still no,” (he doesn’t say why) but since Islam according to him is an “unmitigated evil” and atheism is not going to be making any inroads into Africa anytime soon it is a question worth “raising.”

His logic is based on a crudely partitioned breakdown of religious affiliation in Africa designed by aChristian site:

(Isn’t Dawkins supposed to question these sorts of things?)

Dawkins also believes ‘supporting missions’ may be justified on the basis that ‘the enemy of our enemy is our friend.’ That’s the extent of profundity provided by Dawkins! Such crass and cynical sentiments expose the bankruptcy of ideas and strategy in the leadership of the so-called New Atheists.

The statement is similar to “exposed as a fraud” Ayaan H. Ali’s call for Christian missionaries to evangelize Muslims. Such a call is really just a variation on the well worn Crusader-esque theme best expressed by the likes of Anne Coulter, “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” (Or the recent statement by Christian Evangelical Bryan Fischer, “Muslims can either convert, or die”).

Don’t you love how some of these loony-out-for-a-buck-and-some-notoriety atheists are so quick to compromise their principles and sit at the table with the most hardcore Bible Thumpers out there? Does anyone think George Carlin would stand for that? Or Tariq Ali? Or As’ad Abu Khalil? Or Cenk Uygur? It just goes to show you that where you are born, your culture and history do have an impact on the decisions and positions you take, no matter how much you claim to be “objective” and motivated by “reason,” and the “scientific method.”

As for his comments that it is a “given” that Islam is “an unmitigated evil in the world today”…wow. First of all, what does that mean about the practitioners of Islam? Does it mean that they are all or mostly or significantly practitioners of “evil?” Because that is the import of Dawkins’ statement, I mean who else puts into reality what Islam is other then the followers of Islam?

Secondly, is anyone else taken aback by the quasi metaphysical language used here by Dawkins? “Unmitigated evil,” is the type of phrase one would expect in the sermon of a Puritan minister or perhaps as one commenter on Dawkins site asks,

Is the Professor now auditioning for a guest shot on Pamela Geller’s website for the barking mad and openly hostile? Very few things in this world are ‘unmitigated evils’: of all the things that might be unmitigated evils, I can absolutely guarantee that a major world religion practiced in a thousand different ways in a thousand different social and cultural contexts is not one of them. The chances of no good at all coming out of such a diverse multiplicity of contexts and forms of practice (that is, of any ‘evil’ not being mitigated) are almost zero. — CallumM

Thirdly, piggy-backing off of the “multiplicity” mentioned by the commenter, is Dawkins totally oblivious to the Arab Spring for instance? You know that thing sweeping the Middle East for the past 5 1/2 months, that many, including Dawkins’ friend Christopher Hitchens thought would fail or sizzle out?

Is it “unmitigated evil” when protesters in Tahrir Square mobilized in the hundreds of thousands, inspired by and chanting the Quranic verse, “God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves?” Was it “unmitigated evil” when they withstood the worst kinds of state violence and barbarity in prayer together, shoulder to shoulder? Was it “unmitigated evil” when Christians and Muslims united to protect each other?

Dawkins is out of touch with current events, and lets just say he won’t be playing in any Philosophy World Cups any time soon. The man’s field is Biology, he doesn’t know much about anthropology, sociology, history, comparative religions, or philosophy, that is why he and his buddy Sam Harris get their arse handed to them by real intellectuals such as Scott Atran and Robert Pape.

Maybe it is time for Dawkins to spend a little more time humbly learning about Islam and Muslims, engaging with critical intellectuals instead of rabid Islamophobes and probably dissecting a frog or two in the lab he’s been neglecting while pontificating on matters he has no grasp over.

Pamela Geller Watch: Ties Gas Tanker Explosion in Congo to Electoral Violence in Nigeria

Posted in Feature, Loon Blogs with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2011 by loonwatch

Professional hate blogger Pamela Geller is going to be exposed once again in the following article. She is going to be exposed pretty brutally.

We know about her vitriolic hate and twisting of truth quite well now. Her claims that Obama is the love child of Malcolm X, that he was born in Kenya, her calls to nuke Mecca, Medina, Tehran and to destroy the Golden Dome, her crusade against Campbell Soup’s “imminent Sharia’ take over,” etc.

We know her world is a twisted, vapid void in which honesty and intellect is frowned upon and viewed as frightening. Half the time I wonder if she isn’t asleep or on some hallucinogenic while typing away on her propaganda site, but this time she may have topped even her own crazy self.

Pamela is claiming in a blog titled, Nigeria: Muslim Hordes Mass Slaughter Christians that a gruesome picture is evidence of Muslim violence against Christians in Nigeria (be warned the picture is gruesome):

A terrible and horrifying picture indeed.

Pamela brags that she wrote about it “first” back on April 19, and then wonders “why” is America fighting in Libya to restore a “universal Caliphate?”

Huh??

It turns out however that the above picture is not evidence of some “Muslim rampage” in Nigeria! The charred bodies are a tragic result of a tanker explosion in the CONGO!! A whole other country the last time I checked! Here is the evidence from Afrik.com (I give you the Google translation since it was originally in French):

The explosion, on July 3, a tanker in the town of Sange, South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has resulted in 235 deaths.

Here is the original French language report where you will also find more pictures: RDC : les images atroces du drame de Sange au Sud-Kivu

You will also see an interesting picture of Muslim UN soldiers, possibly from Pakistan helping to respond to the tragedy.

Here is a report from Reuters with some more pictures:

(Reuters) – At least 230 people were killed when a fuel tanker overturned and exploded in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, unleashing a fire ball that tore through homes and cinemas packed with people watching World Cup soccer.

Officials said on Saturday the explosion late on Friday also injured 196 people, adding that the death toll could rise.

They described scenes of devastation in the town of Sange, where houses were burned and bodies littered the streets. Some people died while trying to steal fuel leaking from the tanker, but most were killed at home or watching World Cup soccer in cinemas.

Many of the bodies were charred beyond recognition.

United Nations helicopters began airlifting injured people to hospital, while Congo’s army, which lost a number of men in the blast, has sent soldiers in to help with the rescue.

“Our latest numbers are 230 dead and 196 injured,” Madnodje Mounoubai, a spokesman for the U.N. mission, said. Congo’s government also gave the same number of dead.

Marcellin Cisambo, governor of South Kivu province, where the incident took place, said the blast occurred when the fuel truck overturned, leaked fuel and then later exploded.

It was not immediately clear what caused the initial accident or later blast, but local people said the truck, which was part of a convoy, stopped when the road seemed to crumble, toppling the vehicle and spilling fuel. Fire then erupted.

“It’s a terrible scene. There are lots of dead bodies on the streets. The population is in terrible shock — no one is crying or speaking,” Jean-Claude Kibala, South Kivu’s vice governor, said from Sange, which is between the towns of Bukavu and Uvira.

“We are trying to see how we can coordinate with (the U.N.) to manage the situation and how to take the wounded to hospital,” he added.

TANKER ACCIDENTS

Roads in the area are notoriously bad after years of war and neglect in the vast central African nation.

“Some people were killed trying to steal the fuel, but most of the deaths were of people who were indoors watching the (World Cup) match,” Cisambo said.

There have been numerous similar accidents across Africa, where crowds gather around fuel tankers involved in crashes, only for the tanker to explode.

Millions of football fans across Africa were watching Ghana, the continent’s last team in the World Cup, play Uruguay in the quarterfinals of the tournament on Friday evening.

For many, who have no electricity at home, makeshift cinema halls are the only option for watching the football.

“My children were watching the football match in the cinema and then they ran out to see the petrol,” said Kiza Ruvinira, who lost three children and his sister-in-law in the blast.

“I went out to see what happened and I found my three children’s bodies myself. I don’t know how to go on.”

Mubaya Mumasura also lost three family members: “I don’t know what to do with myself I am so sad. I want the government to assist all the victims and help us.”

Congo’s weak government has difficulty providing even the most basic services, so U.N. peacekeepers began airlifting some of the wounded to nearby hospitals and aid workers were called in to help with medical treatment.

“The national Red Cross is working on collecting the bodies and taking them to the morgue, but the priority is obviously to take the wounded to the hospital,” International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) coordinator Inah Kaloga told Reuters.”

Kaloga said aid workers were trying to identify bodies before they were buried, but many were completely charred.

“It’s a catastrophe,” said Captain Olivier Hamuli,” spokesman for Congo’s military operation in South Kivu, adding that 13 soldiers had been injured and another 10 were missing.

The Kenyan driver of the truck is being held by the police.

Alain Ilunga, deputy CEO of Congo’s storage and distribution company, which is already investigating the incident, said the truck was carrying 49,000 liters of petrol at the time.

(Writing by David Lewis; editing by Ralph Boulton)

African Pastors torture and murder “witch children”; what if they were Muslim?

Posted in Loon Pastors with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2010 by loonwatch

(Read the whole piece at WhatIfTheyWereMuslim.com)

More African Churches are dealing with the troubling problem of Christian pastors torturing and executing “witch children” in the name of their faith. Quite a disturbing phenomena to say the least. The Huffington Post reports (hat tip: Tomas):

The nine-year-old boy lay on a bloodstained hospital sheet crawling with ants, staring blindly at the wall.

His family pastor had accused him of being a witch, and his father then tried to force acid down his throat as an exorcism. It spilled as he struggled, burning away his face and eyes. The emaciated boy barely had strength left to whisper the name of the church that had denounced him – Mount Zion Lighthouse.

A month later, he died.

Pastors were involved in half of 200 cases of “witch children” reviewed by the AP, and 13 churches were named in the case files. Campaigners against the practice say around 15,000 children have been accused in two of Nigeria’s 36 states over the past decade and around 1,000 have been murdered. Other practices include beating with sticks, sawing or driving a nail into children’s heads, burying or burning them alive, forcing them to eat cement, and other grizzly acts of merciless cruelty. (Note: burying children alive is specifically forbidden by the Qur’an, see verses 81:8-9). The parishioners take very literally and seriously the Biblical injunction:

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. (Exodus 22:18)

Since these Christians quote scripture to justify their misdeeds, we must conclude that this is a mainstream “orthodox” Christian practice, right?

Wrong. It is definitely not a mainstream “orthodox” Christian practice, as the Post reports:

“It is an outrage what they are allowing to take place in the name of Christianity,” said Gary Foxcroft, head of nonprofit Stepping Stones Nigeria.

Bishop A.D. Ayakndue, the head of the church in Nigeria, said pastors were encouraged to pray about witchcraft, but not to abuse children.

“We pray over that problem (of witchcraft) very powerfully,” he said. “But we can never hurt a child.”

Reasonable people should be able to conclude that such practices are an aberration which goes against the well-known Biblical commandment to be merciful and love one’s neighbor.

But what if they were Muslim?

UWe’d expect the anti-Muslim blogosphere to erupt in self-righteous indignation, led by JihadWatch and AtlasShrugs, citing a few Islamic scriptures, maybe an archaic medieval Muslim law manual (all in ready-made English translations of course because, as we know, Spencer holds no degree in Arabic nor is he proficient in the language). From this handful of cherry-picked evidence, we’d be given the horribly stereotyped determination that such an aberrational practice is standard, normative, traditional, mainstream, “orthodox” Islam accepted by all interpretations of Islamic law. Of course, this would again conveniently ignore abundant evidence to the contrary. But when has Spencer ever played fair?

Christians rightly condemn the practice of murdering “witch children,” despite the citation and literal interpretation of Exodus, because as we know Christianity has a vibrant interpretive tradition. So it is clearly unfair to take any Christian religious nut at face value when they cite the Old Testament. If we used this incident to indict all of Christianity in all times and all places forever, Spencer and his company would cry foul by pointing to the Christian interpretive tradition.

Not so with Islam. In fact, Spencer’s entire million-dollar hate-blogging Muslim-bashing brainwashing industry critically depends on denying mainstream Islamic interpretive tradition. As Dr. Robert Crane rightly put it:

Spencer’s readers are carefully steered away from all contact with the Islamic interpretative tradition, which equals or exceeds that of any other religion, because any scholarly knowledge about Islam would expose all his extremist interpretations to ridicule.

Bottom line: it is unfair and deeply hypocritical to apply one mild standard to Christianity and another harsher standard to Islam. We don’t take these children murdering Christians at face value when they cite their scripture as justification, so why should we take Al-Qaeda at face value when they cite the Qur’an?

But what do I know. Aren’t I just a liberal-dhimmi/stealth-jihadist?

 

Meet the Lord’s Resistance Army, Fighters for Jesus

Posted in Loon Violence with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2010 by loonwatch

(read the whole article at WhatIfTheyWereMuslim.com)

The specter of terrorism is haunting the continent of Africa. In one of Africa’s longest running insurgencies, a rebel group is wanted for terrible war crimes. Infamous for regional atrocities including brutal massacres of innocent civilians, four African nations in conjunction with the African Union are now moving to reclassify this group, currently considered a rebellion, to the status of terrorist insurgents in an effort to bolster greater international support and cooperation.

In the last two years alone, this group of terrorists has killed about 2,000 people and displaced over 400,000 according to the United Nations. These terrorists cite the sacred scripture of a major world religion and believe they are fighting in a holy cause to overthrow infidel governments and replace them with God’s law. But who are they?

If you’ve been watching Fox News like many Americans, the answer couldn’t be easier: Muslims, of course. After all, Fox News anchor Brian Kilmeade recently proclaimed, “All terrorists are Muslims.” No doubt many in the anti-Muslim blogosphere agreed with his “factual” statement (at least before he was forced to make a half-hearted pro forma apology). But if you guessed Muslims, you’d be wrong. No, these terrorists aren’t fighting for Allah. They’re fighting for the Lord Jesus Christ (or so they claim, but we don’t think this is what Christ taught).

Meet the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)

Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports via Yahoo News.

LIBREVILLE (AFP) – Central African countries plagued by the brutal rebellion of the Lord’s Resistance Army are working to reclassify the group as terrorists, the African Union said on Saturday.

At a meeting this week in the Central African Republic aimed at promoting a joint approach to the LRA, participants agreed to take steps to have the LRA classified as terrorists, rather than rebels, by the AU.

This would give affected countries greater access to international funds and require increased levels of judicial cooperation.

The group has killed about 2,000 people in the last two years, and displaced more than 400,000, according to the UN.

Representatives from Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan met in Bangui on Wednesday and Thursday, along with Kenya, where they also agreed to step up joint military action.

“Participants agreed to the following concrete measures: the creation of a joint centre of operations, the creation of a joint taskforce to lead actions against the LRA, and the deployment of joint border patrols,” the AU said in a statement.

The LRA emerged in 1998 in northern Uganda as a rebel movement dedicated to overthrowing the east African country’s government and establishing a regime to uphold the Biblical Ten Commandments, but it was largely put down in its own country.

Today it is infamous for regional atrocities against civilians, including massacres, and its leaders are wanted for war crimes. Uganda launched a joint raid with DR Congo troops against it in December 2008, but failed to crush it or capture its chief, Joseph Kony.

 

Ground Zero More Hallowed than you Knew

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , on September 13, 2010 by loonwatch

Mosque opponents have been screaming that the proposed NYC Islamic Cultural Center is going to be a slap in the face and offensive because of its closeness to “hallowed ground.” However, many of them probably didn’t bargain for the fact that it is more hallowed than they actually knew. There are many graves of slaves buried in Manhattan (via. Colorlines).

Ground Zero’s Slave Graves

Before the mosque debate, there were the Ground Zero Slave Graves. Jen Phillips over at Mother Jones adds some historical perspective:

The outrage about the “ground zero mosque” has turned very ugly, as this video of this recent protest shows. People are calling Mohammed a pig. A New York City cab driver was stabbed today after his passenger asked him if he was Muslim. But I find the righteous outrage of those contending the former World Trade Center site is “hallowed ground” amusing, because they have no idea just how right they are. Before the World Trade Center was even designed (with Islamic architectural elements, incidentally), the ground was indeed sacrosanct: The bones of some 20,000 African slaves are buried 25 feet below Lower Manhattan. As at least 10 percent of West African slaves in America were Muslims, it’s not out of bounds to extrapolate that ground zero itself was built on the bones of at least a few Muslim slaves. That is to say, hallowed Muslim ground.

For some time, activists, historians, and city officials have been working together to excavate and preserve the bones of the slaves buried under present-day lower Manhattan. A recent excavation of a 14,000 square foot section of the six-acre burial ground found that 92 percent of the 419 skeletons were of African descent, and 40 percent were children under 12. The bones of the 419 slaves were eventually reinterred.

It’s a harrowing reality for a debate that’s grown increasingly bombastic — and violent. While none of this takes away from the horror of 9/11, it’s a welcomed historical fact check.

Read more at Mother Jones.

 

Churches involved in Torture, Murder of Thousands of African Children Denounced as Witches

Posted in Loon Blogs, Loon Pastors, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2009 by loonwatch

Churches Involved in Torture and Murder of Children Denounced as “Witches”

This Aug. 18, 2009 photo shows children accused of witchcraft waiting for food at the Children's Rights and Rehabilitation Network in Eket, Nigeria. The idea of witchcraft is hardly new, but it has taken on new life recently partly because of a rapid growth in evangelical Christianity. Campaigners against the practice say around 15,000 children have been accused in two of Nigeria's 36 states over the past decade and around 1,000 have been murdered. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba) (SUNDAY ALAMBA, AP / August 18, 2009)
This Aug. 18, 2009 photo shows children accused of witchcraft waiting for food at the Children’s Rights and Rehabilitation Network in Eket, Nigeria. The idea of witchcraft is hardly new, but it has taken on new life recently partly because of a rapid growth in evangelical Christianity. Campaigners against the practice say around 15,000 children have been accused in two of Nigeria’s 36 states over the past decade and around 1,000 have been murdered. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba) (SUNDAY ALAMBA, AP / August 18, 2009)

In a grisly article, the LA Times reports via the AP that thousands of African children have been tortured and murdered in the name of Christianity because they were thought to be witches. The burning and murdering of “witches” is something that was thought to have died out in the 17th century with the Salem Witch Trials but it is all too real in some places around the world, especially in Africa where Evangelicalism has been on the rise.

Rest assured Robert Spencer won’t be reporting on this any time soon, nor will the mainstream media say (rightly so) “Christianity” is to blame for this because it is not; human beings are the cause. This highlights a double standard, the continuing saga of “what if they were Muslim?” If we replaced the word Christian here with Muslim and the word Churches with Mosques, we know very well that this would be plastered all over the internet in a second. The anti-Muslim blogosphere would be erupting in delirium and pundits would be pontificating on how Islam is the cause, Islam is barbaric, Islam is irreconcilable to modernity and must be stopped, etc.

Churches Involved in Torture, Murder of Thousands of African Children

by, Katharine Hourfeld

EKET, Nigeria (AP) — The nine-year-old boy lay on a bloodstained hospital sheet crawling with ants, staring blindly at the wall.

His family pastor had accused him of being a witch, and his father then tried to force acid down his throat as an exorcism. It spilled as he struggled, burning away his face and eyes. The emaciated boy barely had strength left to whisper the name of the church that had denounced him — Mount Zion Lighthouse.

A month later, he died.

Nwanaokwo Edet was one of an increasing number of children in Africa accused of witchcraft by pastors and then tortured or killed, often by family members. Pastors were involved in half of 200 cases of “witch children” reviewed by the AP, and 13 churches were named in the case files.

Some of the churches involved are renegade local branches of international franchises. Their parishioners take literally the Biblical exhortation, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

“It is an outrage what they are allowing to take place in the name of Christianity,” said Gary Foxcroft, head of nonprofit Stepping Stones Nigeria.

For their part, the families are often extremely poor, and sometimes even relieved to have one less mouth to feed. Poverty, conflict and poor education lay the foundation for accusations, which are then triggered by the death of a relative, the loss of a job or the denunciation of a pastor on the make, said Martin Dawes, a spokesman for the United Nations Children’s Fund.

“When communities come under pressure, they look for scapegoats,” he said. “It plays into traditional beliefs that someone is responsible for a negative change … and children are defenseless.”

____

The idea of witchcraft is hardly new, but it has taken on new life recently partly because of a rapid growth in evangelical Christianity. Campaigners against the practice say around 15,000 children have been accused in two of Nigeria’s 36 states over the past decade and around 1,000 have been murdered. In the past month alone, three Nigerian children accused of witchcraft were killed and another three were set on fire.

Nigeria is one of the heartlands of abuse, but hardly the only one: the United Nations Children’s Fund says tens of thousands of children have been targeted throughout Africa.

Church signs sprout around every twist of the road snaking through the jungle between Uyo, the capital of the southern Akwa Ibom state where Nwanaokwo lay, and Eket, home to many more rejected “witch children.” Churches outnumber schools, clinics and banks put together. Many promise to solve parishioner’s material worries as well as spiritual ones — eight out of ten Nigerians struggle by on less than $2 a day.

“Poverty must catch fire,” insists the Born 2 Rule Crusade on one of Uyo’s main streets.

“Where little shots become big shots in a short time,” promises the Winner’s Chapel down the road.

“Pray your way to riches,” advises Embassy of Christ a few blocks away.

It’s hard for churches to carve out a congregation with so much competition. So some pastors establish their credentials by accusing children of witchcraft.

Nwanaokwo said he knew the pastor who accused him only as Pastor King. Mount Zion Lighthouse in Nigeria at first confirmed that a Pastor King worked for them, then denied that they knew any such person.

Bishop A.D. Ayakndue, the head of the church in Nigeria, said pastors were encouraged to pray about witchcraft, but not to abuse children.

“We pray over that problem (of witchcraft) very powerfully,” he said. “But we can never hurt a child.”

The Nigerian church is a branch of a Californian church by the same name. But the California church says it lost touch with its Nigerian offshoots several years ago.

“I had no idea,” said church elder Carrie King by phone from Tracy, Calif. “I knew people believed in witchcraft over there but we believe in the power of prayer, not physically harming people.”

The Mount Zion Lighthouse — also named by three other families as the accuser of their children — is part of the powerful Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria. The Fellowship’s president, Ayo Oritsejafor, said the Fellowship was the fastest-growing religious group in Nigeria, with more than 30 million members.

“We have grown so much in the past few years we cannot keep an eye on everybody,” he explained.

But Foxcroft, the head of Stepping Stones, said if the organization was able to collect membership fees, it could also police its members better. He had already written to the organization twice to alert it to the abuse, he said. He suggested the fellowship ask members to sign forms denouncing abuse or hold meetings to educate pastors about the new child rights law in the state of Akwa Ibom, which makes it illegal to denounce children as witches. Similar laws and education were needed in other states, he said.

Sam Itauma of the Children’s Rights and Rehabilitation Network said it is the most vulnerable children — the orphaned, sick, disabled or poor — who are most often denounced. In Nwanaokwo’s case, his poor father and dead mother made him an easy target.

“Even churches who didn’t use to ‘find’ child witches are being forced into it by the competition,” said Itauma. “They are seen as spiritually powerful because they can detect witchcraft and the parents may even pay them money for an exorcism.”

That’s what Margaret Eyekang did when her 8-year-old daughter Abigail was accused by a “prophet” from the Apostolic Church, because the girl liked to sleep outside on hot nights — interpreted as meaning she might be flying off to join a coven. A series of exorcisms cost Eyekang eight months’ wages, or US$270. The payments bankrupted her.

Neighbors also attacked her daughter.

“They beat her with sticks and asked me why I was bringing them a witch child,” she said. A relative offered Eyekang floor space but Abigail was not welcome and had to sleep in the streets.

Members of two other families said pastors from the Apostolic Church had accused their children of witchcraft, but asked not to be named for fear of retaliation.

The Nigeria Apostolic Church refused repeated requests made by phone, e-mail and in person for comment.

___

At first glance, there’s nothing unusual about the laughing, grubby kids playing hopscotch or reading from a tattered Dick and Jane book by the graffiti-scrawled cinderblock house. But this is where children like Abigail end up after being labeled witches by churches and abandoned or tortured by their families.

There’s a scar above Jane’s shy smile: her mother tried to saw off the top of her skull after a pastor denounced her and repeated exorcisms costing a total of $60 didn’t cure her of witchcraft. Mary, 15, is just beginning to think about boys and how they will look at the scar tissue on her face caused when her mother doused her in caustic soda. Twelve-year-old Rachel dreamed of being a banker but instead was chained up by her pastor, starved and beaten with sticks repeatedly; her uncle paid him $60 for the exorcism.

Israel’s cousin tried to bury him alive, Nwaekwa’s father drove a nail through her head, and sweet-tempered Jerry — all knees, elbows and toothy grin — was beaten by his pastor, starved, made to eat cement and then set on fire by his father as his pastor’s wife cheered it on.

The children at the home run by Itauma’s organization have been mutilated as casually as the praying mantises they play with. Home officials asked for the children’s last names not to be used to protect them from retaliation.

The home was founded in 2003 with seven children; it now has 120 to 200 at any given time as children are reconciled with their families and new victims arrive.

Helen Ukpabio is one of the few evangelists publicly linked to the denunciation of child witches. She heads the enormous Liberty Gospel church in Calabar, where Nwanaokwo used to live. Ukpabio makes and distributes popular books and DVDs on witchcraft; in one film, a group of child witches pull out a man’s eyeballs. In another book, she advises that 60 percent of the inability to bear children is caused by witchcraft.

In an interview with the AP, Ukpabio is accompanied by her lawyer, church officials and personal film crew.

“Witchcraft is real,” Ukpabio insisted, before denouncing the physical abuse of children. Ukpabio says she performs non-abusive exorcisms for free and was not aware of or responsible for any misinterpretation of her materials.

“I don’t know about that,” she declared.

However, she then acknowledged that she had seen a pastor from the Apostolic Church break a girl’s jaw during an exorcism. Ukpabio said she prayed over her that night and cast out the demon. She did not respond to questions on whether she took the girl to hospital or complained about the injury to church authorities.

After activists publicly identified Liberty Gospel as denouncing “child witches,” armed police arrived at Itauma’s home accompanied by a church lawyer. Three children were injured in the fracas. Itauma asked that other churches identified by children not be named to protect their victims.

“We cannot afford to make enemies of all the churches around here,” he said. “But we know the vast majority of them are involved in the abuse even if their headquarters aren’t aware.”

Just mentioning the name of a church is enough to frighten a group of bubbly children at the home.

“Please stop the pastors who hurt us,” said Jerry quietly, touching the scars on his face. “I believe in God and God knows I am not a witch.”