INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Cuban pastor freed, told not to preach
Omar Gude Perez is a leader of a house-church network that is not recognized by Cuba's government. He was originally charged in May 2008 with human trafficking, but judges in Havana threw out those charges as baseless, according to a March 28 report from the Christian Solidarity Worldwide human rights organization. Perez then was convicted in July 2009 on charges of "falsification of documents." Prosecutors claimed he had illegally taken his stepfather's family name, even though official records show that his legal surname is indeed Gude Perez.
Perez and his family believe he was targeted because of his leadership position in the church network, CSW reported.
"We are relieved to learn that Pastor Gude Perez has finally been released from prison after spending almost three years there, in horrendous conditions, on false charges," Stuart Windsor, national director for Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said after Perez's release in February. "We are deeply concerned that as a condition of his release, Pastor Gude Perez has been prohibited from preaching, although this also exposes the government's motives behind its persecution of him."
BANGLADESH GIRL DIES AFTER RAPE, SHARIA LASHES -- A 14-year-old girl in Bangladesh was lashed 101 times after she was kidnapped, beaten and raped by an older cousin.
An imam in the local mosque handed down the sentence against Hena Akhter under Islam's Sharia law. The girl later died in a hospital, and the initial autopsy declared her death a suicide.
Hena was the youngest of Darbesh Khan's five children in the rural village of Shariatpur. Her father's nephew, Mahbub Khan, moved his family to Hena's rural village and reportedly began stalking her, CNN reported March 29. When her father complained to the elders, the man was warned and fined, but after a few months he caught the girl outside at night and attacked her. When his wife heard the girl's screams, she dragged the child back to the couple's home and beat her as well.
The next day, village elders and the local imam concluded the girl and her attacker were guilty of an illicit relationship and sentenced her to 101 lashes, him to 201 lashes, CNN reported. The girl passed out after 70 lashes; the man managed to escape after his punishment had barely begun.
Public outrage over the autopsy caused authorities to exhume the girl's body and a second autopsy revealed she had died of internal bleeding and her body bore the marks of severe injuries, CNN reported. The doctors responsible for the first autopsy now face prosecution and police are investigating the death. Police were guarding her family, who feared reprisals for speaking out against the imam and village elders.
CHRISTIAN WOMAN RESCUED FROM KIDNAPPERS -- A Christian woman in Pakistan was freed in early March, seven months after she was kidnapped, raped, sold and threatened with death if she did not convert to Islam.
Shaheen Bibi, 40, was freed by a rescue team sent by an affiliate of the European Center for Law and Justice in Pakistan, according to a report from Compass Direct News. Police had refused a rescue attempt because Bibi's captors had taken her to a remote area ruled by dangerous criminals.
Bibi told her rescuers she had been chained to a tree during the last week of her captivity, Compass reported. Though she knew her father was unable to pay the ransom demanded by her captors, Bibi said she lifted her eyes in prayer and saw a cross in the sky, giving her confidence she would be rescued.
MOST IN ENGLAND SAY 'CHRISTIAN' -- A majority of people in England -- 57 percent -- identify themselves as Christians, in spite of the country's steady drift into secularism over the past century, according to a new survey.
The research, conducted by ComRes on behalf of Premier Media Group, also found that 35 percent of England's people identify themselves with no faith, Crosswalk.com reported March 30. Eight percent of those surveyed identified as a faith other than Christian.
"Over half of the UK consider themselves to be a Christian -- whether practicing as such, or by having a close affiliation with Christian values and beliefs," Peter Kerridge, chief executive of Premier Christian Media, said in a statement.
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor and senior writer for Baptist Press.