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Election of Islamist Pakistani Leader Imran Khan Stokes Fears of Christian Persecution

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Christian watchdog groups have voiced concern over last week’s election of former cricket star and Islamist Imran Khan as Pakistani Premier, noting Khan’s public support for the nation’s harsh blasphemy laws, Breitbart reports. Shortly after the election, Khan—who attributed his victory to the will of Allah—told the nation that his preferred form of government is “the Islamic State as established by the Prophet Mohammad in Medina.”

“Today in front of you, in front of the people of Pakistan, I pledge I will run Pakistan in such a way as it has never before been run,” he said.

On Friday, officials announced that Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party had won 114 of the 269 seats being contested in the National Assembly. Open Doors, which monitors Christian persecution around the world, said that everything suggests that Khan will be no friend to religious freedom, noting that “he seems keen to ensure that Pakistan remains a strongly Islamic republic.”

One Pakistani Christian leader told Open Doors:

“Many Christians fear Imran Khan as the country’s leader as he has said he wants to return to jirga, a traditional assembly of leaders that make decisions by consensus and according to the teachings of Pashtunwali – a series of non-written ethical codes which predate modern laws and which prove a dangerous mix in combination with Sharia, the strict Islamic law.”

Khan has voiced support for Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, saying he understands that the laws are an “inconvenience” for some people. “But it is a law that is complete and I support it,” he reportedly said.

Pakistan has some of the most severe blasphemy laws in the world, prescribing the death penalty for the crime of insulting the Prophet Muhammad and life imprisonment for offending the ‎Koran, Islam holy book. The blasphemy laws are an extremely sensitive issue in the predominantly Muslim nation where Christians make up less than two percent of the population.

In June, Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi completed her ninth year of imprisonment for her faith after being arrested for blasphemy in 2009 and sentenced to death by hanging in 2010. Pakistani police arrested Bibi on charges of blasphemy after Muslim women backed up by an Imam complained that she had insulted the prophet Muhammad. Bibi had been harvesting berries in a field with a group of Muslim women who grew angry with her for drinking out of the same metal water bowl as them, insisting that as a Christian she was unclean.

Last January, U.S. President Donald Trump voiced exasperation at Islamabad’s inadequate efforts against terrorism, suggesting that U.S. foreign aid would be terminated as a result.

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” he tweeted on New Year’s Day.

Not long after, the U.S. State Department announced it would add Pakistan to its Special Watch List as a “Country of Particular Concern” for severe religious freedom violations, citing the egregious abuse of Christians, Hindus, Ahmadi Muslims, and other minorities in the country. Pakistan was placed on the List for “severe violations,” suggesting evidence that religious minorities are significantly more threatened in that country.

Pakistan is an Islamic republic whose constitution requires all laws to be in conformity with the Sharia, or Islamic law. The nation’s penal code prohibits Ahmadi Muslims from identifying as Muslim and using Islamic greetings, as well as banning the “defiling” of the Quran and words that can be interpreted as “blasphemy” against Islam.

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Iran Blocks Nearly All Internet Access

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Iran imposed an almost complete nationwide internet blackout on Sunday one of its most draconian attempts to cut off Iranians from each other and the rest of the world as widespread anti-government unrest roiled the streets of Tehran and other cities for a third day, The New York Times reported.

The death toll for the three days of protests rose to at least 12; hundreds were injured; and more than 1,000 people have been arrested, according to semiofficial news agencies like Fars News.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word on all state matters, called the demonstrators “thugs” and endorsed the government’s decision to raise prices it sets for rationed gasoline by 50 percent as of Friday and by 300 percent for gasoline that exceeds ration limits. Even after the price hike, gasoline in Iran is still cheaper than in most of the rest of the world – now the equivalent of about 50 cents a gallon.

In a speech on Sunday, Khamenei said he would support rationing and increasing gas prices because heads of three branches of government had made the decision.

Khamenei also acknowledged that Iranians had taken to the streets to protest and that some had died – however, he blamed the protests on monarchists and opposition groups trying to destabilize Iran, the Times added.

The widespread discontent on display across the country marked yet another crisis for the country. Iran has been struggling with an economic crisis after the United States exited a nuclear deal and reimposed harsh sanctions that ban Iran’s oil sales.

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HASC Chairman Claims Legislation to Create a Space Force in 2020 ‘Still Possible’

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House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith said last week that negotiations on the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act are “proceeding reasonably well” but he expressed doubt that the NDAA will include language to authorize a Space Force as a separate military branch, SpaceNews reported.

“It’s still possible but by no means guaranteed,” Smith told reporters on Capitol Hill last week. When asked for specifics, Smith said, “I don’t think it would be helpful for me to make predictions.”

The biggest sticking point in the NDAA negotiations is language in the House version of the bill that restricts the use of military funds to pay for the wall that President Trump wants to build along the U.S.-Mexico border, SpaceNews adds.

There are other dealbreaker issues. The authorization of a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces is one of them, Smith said. Other contentious matters include extending the “war powers” legislation that authorizes the president to use military force, and allowing transgender people to serve in the military.

Smith said the House and Senate NDAA conference in recent weeks worked on compromise language on hundreds of provisions and “reduced the stack significantly, and we’re down to a few really contentious issues.”

Smith characterized the Space Force as a “higher echelon” issue that is proving divisive. Both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate continue to have reservations about the administration’s Space Force proposal, said Smith. “There is bipartisan concern on the proposal and bicameral concern about the specifics of that proposal.”

The House version of the NDAA creates a Space Corps and is closer aligned with what the administration proposed. The Senate bill would rename the Air Force Space Command the U.S. Space Force and does not specifically authorize a sixth branch of the armed forces.

Smith noted that the House has been a proponent of a military space branch since 2017 while the Senate had adamantly opposed it. “In their bill they didn’t have the same language that we did. But the president has persuaded them to look at it differently.”

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Gunman Kills Four at California Backyard Party

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Police in the California city of Fresno were investigating a mass shooting at a football game party on Sunday in which at least 10 people were shot, killing four, with five others left in critical condition and another wounded, Reuters informs.

Three men died at the scene and another died at a hospital, Fresno Deputy Police Chief Michael Reed said in a late night news conference. Six more were hospitalized, he said.

“Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this thing,” Reed said. “This was senseless violence. We’re going to do everything we can to find out who the perpetrators were and bring them to justice.”

A gunman walked into a backyard and started shooting at a south Fresno home, where a gathering of about 35 family and friends was watching a football game before 8 p.m., said Reed. Neighbors soon flooded 911 dispatchers with calls for help, Reuters adds.

The suspect fled the scene and police were combing the neighborhood for witnesses and possible security camera footage, police said. Police did not release further information about the shooting in the city about 200 miles (320 km) north of Los Angeles, except that the dead were men between the ages of 25 and 35.

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