On 16 January, protests erupted in Niger’s second largest city, Zinder.
It was in response to a cartoon of the Muslim prophet Mohammed on the cover of the latest publication of Charlie Hebdo magazine in France. The protests in Zinder quickly turned violent and then spread to surrounding areas and finally the capital Niamey.
At least 10 people died in the ensuing days of violence, including three Christians who were killed while trapped in churches. Open Doors contacts have counted at least 72 churches that have been destroyed, along with several Christian schools, shops and vehicles owned by believers. Over 30 Christian homes have been looted and burnt. The fighting sent 300 of Zinder’s estimated 700 Christians fleeing, many with just the clothes on their backs.
(Warning: Graphic content – pictures show destroyed church buildings/cars)
In a television address, President Mahamadou Issoufou expressed surprise at the attack, “What have the Christians of Niger done to deserve this? Where have they wronged you?”
While Niger has been praised for its secular government and relative tolerance towards Christians, the past few years the country has seen growing radicalisation. Associating local Christians with the Charlie Hebdo publication is a convenient opportunity for extremists in a country where 98% of the population is Muslim.
Even so, a local church leader, Pastor Sani Nomau called on Christians in Niger to respond with the love of Christ by echoing the words of Romans 12:17-21:
“I call on every single believer in Niger to forgive and forget, to love Muslims with all their heart, to keep up the faith, to love Christ like never before. I implore believers to see all Muslims in Niger as our brothers and sisters. I am saying this with tears on my cheeks. Although it is painful, and what we are experiencing is really difficult, we are God’s children. We must love our persecutors. We must welcome them into our houses, give them food when they are hungry, give them a drink when they are thirsty. We are called to be different. We are people of peace. Let no one seek revenge. God will strengthen us in this difficult time. Muslims in Niger we love you with the love of Jesus Christ.”
Source: Open Doors, Jan Vemeer (Open Doors International), regional Open Doors communicators.
Find out more about countries where Christians are persecuted.
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