Tuesday, April 17, 2018

RLPB 451. Pakistan: Islamic State targets Christians in Quetta

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 451 | Wed 18 Apr 2018

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


PAKISTAN: ISLAMIC STATE TARGETS CHRISTIANS IN QUETTA
by Elizabeth Kendal

Click on map to enlarge
Christians comprise less than two percent of Pakistan's 200 million people. Systematic racial and religious discrimination ensure Christians remain poor, powerless and persecuted. However, as fundamentalist Islam rises, Islamic jihad spreads and lawlessness deepens, Christian vulnerability and insecurity approach crisis levels. In recent months, Islamic State's franchise in 'Khorasan Province' (Afghanistan and surrounds) has claimed responsibility for three deadly attacks targeting Christians in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's sparsely populated Balochistan Province. On Sunday 17 December at least nine people were killed and more than 50 injured when two suicide bombers blew themselves up at Bethel Memorial Methodist Church. Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISK-P) claimed responsibility [see RLPB 437 (19 Dec 2017)].

On Easter Monday evening 2 April four members of a Christian family were travelling along Quetta's Shah Zaman road when militants on a motorbike intercepted their rickshaw and opened fire. A young girl was wounded; she was rushed to hospital. Her father and three male cousins were killed. Tariq Masih, a relative of the victims said, 'They were guests of ours, they came from Punjab [Province] to celebrate Easter. As they left the house to go to the bazaar after dinner ... they were fired upon.' Provincial police have labelled it 'a targeted attack' and 'an act of terrorism'. ISK-P claimed responsibility, boasting that a 'covert unit' of ISK-P shot the Christians 'which resulted in the killing of four of them, and all praise is due to Allah'. 

On Sunday 15 April four men on two motorbikes opened fire on Christians in Quetta's Isa Nagri (City of Jesus, a Christian neighbourhood). Some of the victims were emerging from a worship service; others were just sitting in front of their homes. The victims were rushed to Bolan Medical Complex, Quetta.  Azhar Iqbal (26) died at the scene while Rashid (or Rahib) Khalid (16) died at the hospital. Two young girls -- Mehvish William (13) and Sunaina Shakil (11) -- were wounded, as was Chaudhry Samuel (38), a prominent figure in Isa Nagri. [For more images and details see Morning Star News.] According to a doctor, all the victims received multiple bullet wounds. Around 500 Christians filled the streets and demanded the government improve security.  Amjad Faryad, an uncle of slain Rashid Khalid, gave voice to Christian fears: 'Why are we coming under attack?' he asked. 'Terrorists are freely attacking us but security forces and the provincial government are playing the role of silent spectator.' Once again, ISK-P claimed responsibility. 

Azhar Iqbal's widow grieves outside the hospital, Sunday 15 April 2018.
Photo credit: Arshad Butt/AP.

ISK-P was officially launched in January 2015.  The Pakistan Army rejects ISK-P's claims of responsibility and continues to insist that ISK-P does not have a presence in Balochistan. Similarly, the US rejects Russia's assertion that the growth of ISK-P in Afghanistan is 'rather serious', and has criticised Russia's efforts to foster security co-operation in the region. Yet, according to a report in Jamestown Foundation's Terrorism Monitor (26 January 2018), 'Wilayat-e-Khorasan, the Islamic State (IS) affiliate in the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan, is one of the terrorist group's strongest franchises. Bolstered by defections from the Taliban and boosted further in recent months by an influx of foreign fighters fleeing defeat in Iraq and Syria, IS Khorasan Province (ISK-P) is growing in strength and influence.' Pakistan's Christians, especially those in Quetta, would surely agree with the Russian assessment that this is indeed 'rather serious'.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* protect, comfort, encourage and sustain Pakistan's long-persecuted and increasingly imperilled Christian community, especially the Christians of Quetta who are this day grieving the loss of fellow-believers, neighbours and loved ones. 'But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.' (Psalm 3:3 ESV)

* raise up leaders -- men and women of vision, integrity, justice, courage and strength; in civil society, media and politics (domestic and international) -- who will be God's instruments in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  (See Isaiah 45:1-7, regarding God's anointing of Cyrus, King of Persia, to be God's instrument, though he knew it not. Promise fulfilled: Ezra 1)

* intervene in Afghanistan and Pakistan at the grassroots level; may the Spirit of God move to  open eyes, unstop ears and soften hearts so that evil will be recognised and rejected, and so the Gospel of grace will be seen, heard and received.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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ISLAMIC STATE TARGETS CHRISTIANS IN QUETTA, PAKISTAN

Christians comprise a mere two percent of Pakistan's population. Intolerant, fundamentalist Islam is ascendant and Islamic State -- which is growing in Afghanistan -- is making inroads. On Sunday 17 December suicide bombers targeted a church in Quetta, killing nine worshippers and wounding some fifty. On Easter Monday 2 April gunmen on a motorbike targeted a Christian family in Quetta, wounding a young girl while killing her father and three cousins. On Sunday 15 April gunmen on two motorbikes targeted Christians in Quetta's Isa Nagri (a Christian neighbourhood), killing two and critically wounding three others. After each deadly attack, Islamic State Khorasan Province claimed responsibility. Please pray for God to intervene in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pray for the Church in Pakistan and especially for Quetta's grieving and imperilled believers.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

RLPB 450. China & Vietnam: Church suffers as repression escalates

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 450 | Wed 11 Apr 2018

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


CHINA & VIETNAM: CHURCH SUFFERS AS REPRESSION ESCALATES
by Elizabeth Kendal

(1) CHINA: MOVES TO 'SINICISE' BIBLE

On Tuesday 3 April the Information Office of China's State Council released a White Paper entitled 'China's Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief''. The White Paper assures us that 'the state respects citizens' freedom to religious belief and protects their normal religious activities' (emphasis mine). It also explains that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will continue to manage religious affairs 'in accordance with the law' and 'provide active guidance to religions so that they can adapt themselves to the socialist society'. China's recent actions serve to demonstrate how religious freedom, management and guidance will be exercised in practice.

White Paper:
China’s Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief

image: Voice of the Martyrs 2011
Regarding the need for Bibles,
see China Aid Association's
2011 interview with Paul Hattaway
The CCP has always sought to control Bible availability and distribution. Of all China's major religions -- including Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and folk beliefs -- Christianity is the only religion whose scripture or holy text cannot be sold through normal commercial channels. By law, Bibles must be printed in China by the CCP-approved printer for sale only in CCP-approved churches. It used to be that the only way to meet demand was through Bible smuggling. Then, with the emergence of online retailers, a loophole opened up through which Bibles could be easily purchased. The CCP has now closed that loophole precisely so it might enforce compliance to the law. By 30 March, Chinese consumers were finding that Bibles were no longer available online. In some cases searches yielded no results. In other cases the Bible, though available, could not be added to the shopping cart. Some Christian bookstores have had their online stores shut down entirely.

Two days earlier, on 28 March, China's State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) released an official document entitled 'Principle for Promoting the Chinese Christianity in China for the Next Five Years (2018-2022). [Note: SARA is in the process of being dissolved into the Central Committee's United Front Work Department, a department tasked with ensuring all Chinese, at home and abroad, maintain a united front.] Significantly, the document was launched in Nanjing, the home of Amity Printing, which is the world's largest, and China's only CCP-approved, Bible printer. A key element of the five-year-plan is the goal to establish a Chinese-style Christianity and theology to 'consciously develop Bible study talents to lay a solid foundation for re-interpreting and re-translating the Bible or writing the reference books'.

It would be reasonable to assume that in the years to come China will not only have legal (CCP-approved) and illegal churches, but legal (CCP-approved) and illegal Bibles. Legal Bibles will be 'reinterpreted' Sinicised Bibles printed in China by the CCP-approved printer (creating a dilemma for Amity) and sold only in legal (CCP-approved) churches (creating a dilemma for those churches) under Big Brother's watchful eye (a surveillance camera loaded with cutting-edge facial recognition software [see RLPB 415 of 19 Jul 2017]).

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* sustain and encourage the Church in China as darkness closes in and threat escalates; may the Lord bless all church leaders with divine wisdom as they seek to lead Christ's precious flock through the difficult days ahead; may the Lord flood his Church with all the faith and grace they will require, not merely to endure but to shine.

'But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." ' (2 Corinthians 12:9a ESV)


(2) VIETNAM: SHOCK OVER LONG PRISON TERMS 

Nguyen Van Dai: devout Christian, human rights lawyer, religious liberty advocate,
pro-democracy activist and educator. Sentenced to 15 yrs jail, Hanoi, 5 April.
For images of all the accused, see Vietnam Voice
Caption in state media (VNS): "Defendant Nguyễn Văn Đài (1969) from Hà Nội,
the alleged mastermind of the illegal organisation Brotherhood for Democracy which
has conducted attempts to overthrow the Government, stands trial in Hà Nội on April 5."

On 5 April the Hanoi People's Court imposed long prison terms to six human rights activists. RLPB intercessors will be familiar with two of them: human rights lawyer Mr Nguyen Van Dai (48) and Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton (46). Both men are devout Protestant Christians and courageous religious liberty advocates. Both have suffered beatings and imprisonment for the crime of 'spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam'. Dai was re-arrested in December 2015, along with his assistant Ms Le Thu Ha. [See RLPB 354 (27 Apr 2016)]. The other four activists tried on 5 April were arrested in July 2017. All six were then charged with the more serious crime of 'carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People's administration' [see RLPB 417 (2 Aug 2017)].
 
As regime mouthpiece Viet Nam News (VNS) reported on 5 April, the defendants stood accused of exploiting their illegal pro-democracy platform -- Brotherhood for Democracy (founded by Dai in 2013) -- as a cover for subversive activities aimed at overthrowing the People's Administration. As the alleged 'instigator', Dai was sentenced to 15 years in prison followed by five years house arrest. The others, described as Dai's 'cohorts', received lesser sentences. One who pleaded guilty received seven years; as an assistant, Ms Le Thu Ha received nine years in prison followed by a surveillance period of two years; while the remaining three received 11- and 12-year prison terms followed by three years' house arrest.  Pastor Ton, who is carrying painful injuries [see RLPB 448 (28 Mar 2018)] received a 12-year sentence.

Vu Minh Khanh outside the court, 5 April
source: asiancorrespondent.com
The trial was held under massive security. Supporters of the accused tried to demonstrate outside the court, but were quickly removed by plain-clothed police. Dai's wife, Vu Minh Khanh, a devout Christian and active church worker, has travelled widely to secure international support for her husband [see RLPB 359 (1 Jun 2016)]. Distraught, she lamented the absurdity of the charge, the injustice of the trial and the severity of the sentences. 'We, the relatives, cried after the trial ended and shouted it was an unfair trial.' Regarding her husband she said, 'He's done nothing wrong ... He is innocent and he pleaded innocent at the trial. He will continue to fight and will appeal the verdict.'

Commenting on the trial, foreign ministry spokeswoman, Le Thi Thu Hang, praised her country's human rights and insisted there was no such thing as a 'prisoner of conscience', because in Vietnam nobody is ever arrested for freely expressing their opinion. However, according to an Amnesty International report published on 4 April, 'There are at least 97 prisoners of conscience languishing in jails in Viet Nam, many of whom are kept incommunicado in squalid conditions and routinely subjected to torture or other ill-treatment'.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* sustain and comfort all Vietnam's Christian prisoners, particularly (at this time) Nguyen Van Dai and Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton as they prepare to appeal against the gross injustice of their unfair trial and extremely harsh sentences; may the Spirit of God be powerfully present with all his servants, be they in the harvest field, in the courtroom or in the prison cell.  And 'let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!' (Amos 5:24 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHURCH SUFFERS AS REPRESSION ESCALATES IN CHINA & VIETNAM

China and Vietnam are Communist Party-ruled totalitarian states that have opened up economically in pursuit of prosperity. Both are mitigating the risks of openness by escalating repression and moving to exert greater control over their citizens by cracking down on speech, religion and association. In China, it is no longer possible to purchase Bibles on-line as the authorities move to take control not only of availability and distribution, but of the text itself. In Vietnam, as in China, human rights and religious liberty advocacy is undertaken at great personal risk. On 5 April two Christian religious liberty advocates -- human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai (48) and Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton (46) -- received 15- and 12-year prison terms respectively after the court deemed them guilty of subversion.  Please pray.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com