Protests over their latest Charlie Hebdo cartoon depicting a weeping Prophet Muhammad holding a sign saying, “I am Charlie,” has led to violence in the West African nation of Niger over the weekend. It started in the country’s second largest city of Zinder last Friday and quickly spread to surrounding areas and finally to the capital city of Niamey.
At least 10 people have died in the violence, including three Christians who were killed after they were trapped in churches on fire. By Open Doors’ count at least 72 churches have been destroyed, along with seven Christian schools, several Christian shops and an orphanage run by the Assembly of God. Over 30 Christian homes have been looted and burnt, including an unknown number of parsonages. It has left the affected Christians with only the clothes on their backs.
By Sunday evening the situation had calmed somewhat in Niamey, although widespread looting of Christian homes continued. Most believers did not feel safe to return home. No worship services were held Sunday.
The Charlie Hebdo saga has become an opportunity for attacking Christians in Niger, an Islam-dominated country which has been praised for its secular government and relative tolerance towards Christians despite the fact that more than 98 percent of the population follows Islam. Over the past few years the country has seen growing radicalization. Niger is unranked on the Open Doors 2015 World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians.
“This is the greatest loss the Church in Niger has suffered in recent history. These attacks will have long-term effects on the small community of believers,” says Open Doors USA CEO/President David Curry. “A large number of local Christian families have lost everything they have worked for their entire lives. The attacks have also caused considerable fear among believers. Our brothers and sisters in Niger are in need of our prayer as they respond to this challenge.”
A local church leader, Pastor Sani Nomau, called on Christians in Niger to respond with the love of Christ: “I call on every single believer in Niger to forgive and forget, to love Muslims with all their heart, to keep up the faith and 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.”
Other protests have broken out in such countries as Somalia, Sudan, Algeria, Iran, Afghanistan and Kenya.
Compiled by Jerry Dykstra. For media inquiries, contact Christine Cape at 404-545-0085 or Katie Rouse at 678-410-9575.