Tuesday, November 14, 2017

RLPB 432. China: Christian advocate confined in an 'infinite darkness' -- the plight of Gao Zhisheng

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 432 | Wed 15 NOV 2017

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: CHRISTIAN ADVOCATE CONFINED IN AN 'INFINITE DARKNESS'
-- the plight of Gao Zhisheng
by Elizabeth Kendal

In 2001, the Chinese Ministry of Justice officially recognised committed Christian human rights attorney, Gao Zhisheng, as 'one of China's top ten lawyers'. Eventually, however, Gao's ardent defence of the oppressed and persecuted, as well as open letters protesting Chinese Communist Party (CCP) policy and practice, saw him fall foul of the system. Stripped of his lawyer's licence, Gao was first imprisoned in 2006. Since then he has been in and out of prison, forcibly 'disappeared', beaten and brutally tortured, held for extended times in solitary confinement, isolated and denied access to medical care -- all because he refuses to be silenced. In 2009, Gao's wife and children escaped to the US. Content in the knowledge that his family is safe, Gao has steadfastly refused to leave China; for he is convinced that God has called him to 'bear his cross' inside China.

When Gao Zhisheng emerged from three years secret detention in August 2014, the internationally acclaimed human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate was a shadow of his former self; indeed many surmised he'd been 'utterly destroyed' [see RLPB 275, August Update (Aug 2014)] Clearly the CCP was sending a message: 'This is what happens when you criticise the CCP.' Doubtless the CCP assumed it had broken Gao and terrorised all rights advocates into silence. Doubtless China's rulers were 'testing the waters' to see how much violent repression the 'international community' would allow them. [Plenty, so it seems!]

Gao's daughter, Grace Geng in
Hong Kong with her father’s book, June 2016.
(Photo: Kin Cheung, Associated Press)
Subsequently placed under house arrest, isolated and denied access to medical care, Gao could have withered and died; but he did not. Like Samson, he recovered and re-focused. After years of secret detention, Gao threw his energy into secret writing. Defying serious health issues and intensive supervision, he was able to write both a memoir and a 40-page human rights report while working on a new constitution. Smuggled out of the country at great risk, Gao's secret writings have since been published [see below]. Furthermore, Gao also communicated secretly. In an interview with the Chinese language New York-based New Tang Dynasty Television on 7 August, he criticised the CCP for its suffocating repression and brutal tyranny. Then, on 13 August, Gao 'disappeared'. [See RLPB 421, August Update, (Aug 2017).]

On 3 November China Aid Association (CAA) revealed that Gao had escaped from his government minders with the assistance of two friends who had been desperate to get him medical care. Though they managed to evade the authorities for 23 days, the large contingent of officers deployed to find him eventually succeeded. Gao was quickly 'disappeared' into secret detention while his friends -- Shao Zhongguo and Li Fawang -- were both arrested. Whilst Shao has not been seen since, Li (a diabetic) has been released, albeit not before suffering a bout of cruel punishment.

On 12 November Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that the Gao Zhisheng Lawyers' Concern Group had managed to locate Gao. According to the group, Gao is being held in a secret prison in Shaanxi Province in solitary confinement, in total darkness and denied access to medical care. In a smuggled sound-bite delivered to RFA, Gao said the conditions are even worse than those he experienced in Shaya Prison, Xinjiang (2011-2014). He said he feels like he is confined in an 'infinite darkness'. His supporters fear for his life.

As long-time religious liberty expert and advocate, Benedict Rogers, wrote recently in the Hong Kong Free Press (11 Novembers): 'Gao's work is a challenge to us all. It deserves to be read in the corridors of power. He has acted with extraordinary courage and is paying a very high price for his conscience. It is time for the rest of the world to rediscover its conscience, stand up to China and, at a minimum, demand Gao's release.'

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Gao Zhisheng’s memoir was published in Taiwan in Chinese in June 2016, and in the US in English in January 2017. 

An English translation of his 40-page report, ‘2016 Human Rights Report for China,’ was published in October 2017. Briefing and summary & Full Text 
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PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* intervene to ensure Gao's writings are not only spread and read far and wide, but that they will have the desired impact; may they facilitate change in China.

* intervene to facilitate the release of Gao Zhishang and all China's abused and incarcerated human rights defenders.

MAY OUR MERCIFUL GOD pour out his Holy Spirit abundantly to comfort and sustain our brother Gao Zhisheng:

* may he rest in the assurance that nothing that separate him from the love of Christ Jesus who is all the while interceding on his behalf. READ and pray Romans 8:31-39 

* may his cell become a sanctuary, i.e. miqdas (Hebrew) a place where God dwells (from Isaiah 8: 11-15).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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IN CHINA, CHRISTIAN ADVOCATE CONFINED IN AN 'INFINITE DARKNESS'

When Gao Zhisheng, committed Christian human rights attorney and religious liberty advocate, emerged from three years' secret detention in August 2014, many surmised he was 'utterly destroyed'. Confined to house arrest and denied access to medical care, Gao (who has survived appalling torture) could have withered and died, but he did not -- he recovered. Despite intensive supervision, Gao wrote both a memoir and a 40-page report on human rights in China. These secret writings were smuggled out and have since been published. On 13 August Gao 'disappeared'. Recently Gao's supporters discovered that he is being held in a secret prison in Shaanxi Province, in solitary confinement, in total darkness and denied access to medical care. They fear for his life. Please pray for Gao and for China and its Church.

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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, November 7, 2017

RLPB 431. Nigeria: Fulani used as proxies for Islamic jihad

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 431 | Wed 08 Nov 2017

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)

International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2017: Sunday 5 or 12 November


NIGERIA:  FULANI USED AS PROXIES FOR ISLAMIC JIHAD 
by Elizabeth Kendal

Plateau State (postcode map)
click on map to enlarge
In the early hours of Monday 16 October, ethnic Fulani Muslim cattle herders dressed in military fatigues stormed the mostly Christian, ethnic Irigwe village of Nkyie Doghwro in Bassa Local Government Area (LGA), in the north of Plateau State. Knowing that an attack was imminent, the villagers had requested extra security from the Special Task Force soldiers based nearby. The soldiers disarmed the residents and gathered them into in a schoolroom where they were to sleep under the protection of military personnel from Operation Safe Haven. However, when the Fulani invaded, the soldiers withdrew, leaving the residents defenceless. Christians have accused the military of complicity in the massacre which claimed 29 lives [graphic image] and emptied the village. The military denies this, claiming the soldiers were simply overwhelmed (an equally disturbing, though highly unlikely, proposition).

The Muslim Fulani attack at night, killing and displacing the mostly Christian indigenous residents. The emptied villages are subsequently occupied by Fulani Muslim settlers from the north. During the first two weeks of October, Christian villages in Plateau were attacked on an almost daily basis. [See recent reports from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), World Watch Monitor (WWM) and Morning Star News (MSN).]

Church elder, Dauda Samuel Kadiya (38)
only narrowly escaped when Fulani attacked
his village at 11pm on 13 October. (MSN) 
In Bassa LGA alone, over the course of five weeks, numerous attacks targeting two indigenous Irigwe communities, left 72 villagers dead, 23 injured, 489 houses burnt and 13,726 mostly Christian Irigwe displaced out of a population of 80,000. The attacks continued despite a government imposed curfew. On 19 October the Nigerian Air Force announced it had deployed troops, fighter aircraft and attack helicopters to Jos, Plateau State, to join the military efforts in curtailing the violence, in particular to 'prevent reprisals from the natives'.

In the face of escalating violence in Plateau, a coalition of 25 ethnic nationalities has given the Plateau State House of Assembly two weeks to initiate a bill against open grazing and six months for it to be passed into law. Such a law would mandate that cattle be raised in ranches and banned from grazing on the gardens and crops of indigenes. Other states with Anti-Open Grazing laws are Middle Belt states Benue (law enacted 1 November) and Taraba (law to be enacted in January 2018).  Whilst Anti-Open Grazing laws could go a long way towards curtailing the crisis, Fulani violence is about more than feeding livestock.

While the Bible mandates Christians spread the Good News that God reconciles sinners to himself through Jesus Christ, Islam mandates Muslims expand the territory under Allah's rule (i.e., under Islamic Sharia Law -- a political mandate). Forced out by the ever-encroaching desert, the traditionally nomadic Fulani cattle herders migrate south in search of food and water for their livestock. These Fulani are then exploited by jihadists and other Islamists -- including those in the military and in the government -- who use them as proxies in an Islamic jihad to expand Muslim territory at the expense of Christians. This is why they routinely attack with high-powered automatic weapons, and wear bullet-proof vests and military fatigues. It is also why they are virtually never caught and never brought to book. Many suspect they also are supported by Islamists at the highest levels of government. Banning open grazing would actually eliminate one of the Islamisation strategies.

Whilst the most recent violence has occurred in Plateau, Fulani expansion is certainly not limited to Plateau. Speaking at a forum on 30 October, former head of state General Abdulsalami Abubakar released some grim statistics. In 2016, Fulani cattle herders killed 2,500 and displaced 62,000 mostly Christian indigenes in Plateau, Kaduna, Nasarawa and Benue alone. Human rights advocates and Christian leaders have criticised President Muhammadu Buhari (a Fulani Muslim from the north) for his silence over the crisis. They also question why, on 16 October, the United Nations rewarded the Buhari government by re-electing it to the UN Human Rights Council.


PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* richly bless all Christian evangelistic ministry to Fulani Muslims, pouring out the Holy Spirit in abundance and with great power. '... they will do these things [i.e. persecute you] because they have not known the Father, nor me.' (John 16:1-4a ESV)

* bless and protect all Fulani Christian converts committed to evangelising their own people, not only in the interests of the Fulani, but also in the interests of peace. As converts, their lives are gravely imperilled. May the Lord guide them, bless them and be their shield. 'But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.' (Psalm 3:3 ESV)

* bless and supply the Bible Colleges that are training Fulani converts and other evangelists to work amongst Nigeria's Muslims. Fulani are coming to faith in Christ! May the Lord continue to build his Church in Northern Nigeria.

* intervene in Nigeria's political processes to enable the progress of Anti-Open Grazing laws where they are needed; may he also enable the traditionally nomadic Fulani to embrace the concept of ranches and remove all obstacles to their establishment. 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.' (Matthew 19:26 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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FULANI IN NIGERIA USED AS PROXIES FOR ISLAMIC JIHAD 

Attacks by ethnic Fulani Muslim cattle herders on mostly Christian, indigenous villages in Nigeria's volatile Middle Belt have escalated markedly. During the first two weeks of October, attacks in Plateau State occurred almost daily, despite a government-imposed curfew and the presence of Nigerian troops. In Bassa Local Government Area alone, 72 villagers were killed and 23 injured, 489 houses were burnt and 13,726 mostly Christian Irigwe were displaced, from a population of 80,000. Emptied villages were subsequently occupied by Fulani Muslim settlers from the north. Whilst the traditionally nomadic Fulani are genuinely seeking food and water for their cattle, they are being armed and used as proxies by jihadists and other Islamists in a jihad to expand Muslim territory at the expense of Christians. Please pray for Nigeria and its Christians.

------------------------------------------------------

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

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

RLPB 430. Russia: continuing deterioration of religious freedom

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 430 | Wed 01 Nov 2017

International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
Sunday 5 or 12 November, 2017
See: Critical Prayer Requests (CPR) for states where Christians are persecuted and/or religious liberty is threatened.
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RUSSIA: CONTINUING DETERIORATION OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
by Anneta Vyssotskaia

For centuries Russia was known as a country persecuting people who chose to believe differently from what was prescribed by the ruling authorities. Being officially a Christian country for over 1000 years, for centuries it persecuted Old-believers who refused to accept the reforms introduced by the Russian Orthodox Church. Some Protestant confessions (like Baptists), spreading quickly during spiritual revival, were considered 'dangerous sects' and were severely persecuted by the State in the 19th Century. The leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church co-operated with the authorities in persecuting the sects.

After the Russian Revolution in 1917, atheism was propagated at all levels, all religions were persecuted and many church leaders died as martyrs or spent decades in prison and labour camps. After the collapse of the communist ideology and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, there was a short period of religious freedom and a big spiritual revival all across its former republics. Many people accepted Christ and were added to his Church. Even during that period of religious freedom, the new Protestant Churches experienced a lot of pressure and restrictions on their activities, especially evangelism and mission work. In 1997, a law on religion brought more restrictions and its preamble recognised the 'special contribution' of Russian Orthodoxy. Since then,  religious freedom gradually worsened.

In July 2016, the so-called Yarovaya Law, a package of counter-terrorism measures, was signed into law by President Putin. These counter-terrorism measures include prohibition of any mission activity outside church premises or other sites designated for religious purposes. Missionary activity is defined as: 'The activity of a religious association, aimed at disseminating information about its beliefs among people who are not participants (members, followers) in that religious association, with the purpose of involving these people as participants (members, followers). It is carried out directly by religious associations or by citizens and/or legal entities authorised by them, publicly, with the help of the media, the internet or other lawful means." (Forum 18, 8 July, 2016). Put simply, it bans any evangelism and missionary work and directly affects about three million Protestant Christians in Russia as well as believers of other religions.

In August 2017, Forum 18 published a list of 193 cases of  'anti-missionary' punishment of individuals and religious communities since the Yarovaya Law came into force. The list includes Jehovah Witnesses, Muslims, Krishnaites and others. However, Protestant believers and churches are the majority of the list. The authorities seem to make the most active churches and their leaders the targets of persecution in their 'anti-missionary' attacks. A good example is the Evangelical Christian Church of Jesus Christ in Nizhny Tagil, which has had numerous raids and four cases opened against it under the Yarovaya Law.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFCALLY FOR:

* changes in Russian legislation for religious freedom.

* the Russian Orthodox Church to accept the right of freedom of belief for Russian people and not see other Christian denominations as a threat.

* courage, wisdom and unity among other Christian Church leaders as they are targeted with persecution for the Gospel.

* the teachings of Christ to continue spreading in Russia and change the country and people's lives for God's glory.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CONTINUING DETERIORATION OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN RUSSIA

Although Russia was officially Christian for over 1000 years, some Protestant groups were considered 'dangerous sects' and were severely persecuted by the State in the 19th Century. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, atheism was propagated, all religions were persecuted and many church leaders were martyred or spent decades in labour camps. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, there was a short period of religious freedom and a spiritual revival across its former republics. Many people accepted Christ. However, Protestant Churches experienced  restrictions on their outreach. In 1997, further restrictions resulted in religious freedom worsening. A package of Kremlin counter-terrorism measures enacted in July 2016 included prohibition of any outreach activity outside church premises. This particularly affects three million Protestant Christians. Please pray for Russia and its Church.

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Anneta Vyssotskaia, a Russian who is a religious liberty expert on Russia and Central Asia, is a guest contributor to the RLPB ministry. She is filling for Elizabeth Kendal who is currently on leave.



Wednesday, October 25, 2017

RLPB 429. Uzbekistan: Christians persecuted and churches tightly controlled

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 429 | Wed 25 Oct 2017

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International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
Sunday 5 or 12 November, 2017
See: Critical Prayer Requests
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by Anneta Vyssotskaia

UZBEKISTAN: CHRISTIANS PERSECUTED SEVERELY AND CHURCHES TIGHTLY CONTROLLED

Uzbekistan is a country located in the central part of Central Asia with an ancient history and a rich culture -- the famous Great Silk Road goes through its territory. Uzbekistan was once a republic of the Soviet Union, but in 1991 it declared its independence. During the Soviet period, atheism was part of the state policy and all religions were severely persecuted. Islam quickly became the dominant religion (93%) in Uzbekistan, while Christians only make up to 5% of the population. Russian Orthodox Christians make up about 4% and their number is constantly decreasing with the emigration of the Russian population. Protestant Christians are less than 1% and are represented by various evangelical churches. The number of the Uzbek Christians from a Muslim background is unknown but is constantly growing.

For many years Uzbekistan has been the country where Christians experience the severest persecution compared with other Central Asian countries. It is ranked 16th in the World Watch List 2017 of 50 countries where Christians experience persecution for their faith. The most persecuted group are Christians with a Muslim background as they are considered traitors bringing shame on  their Muslim families. All forms of pressure are used to make them turn back to Islam, from persuasion to home detention and beatings. Christian women from Muslim background are especially vulnerable as they are expected to submit totally to their parents and husbands. They are persecuted severely by their family if their Christian faith becomes known. Persecution is worst in rural areas. Christians with a Muslim background usually worship in house churches, often changing meeting places because of the danger of police raids. Sometimes they have to meet just one to one.

Registered churches and especially their leaders also experience a lot of pressure and are under unceasing state control. Churches can be infiltrated by spies and church services are kept under surveillance. Police raids on believers' homes, confiscation of literature and digital devices, detention, interrogation and fines are commonplace. Christian education is restricted. There is only one registered Protestant seminary in Uzbekistan, located in the capital city, Tashkent, with a very small number of students. Christians can lose their jobs or businesses can be closed if their faith becomes known. There are reports of police torture when Christians are detained and interrogated.

Following the death of the former President Islam Karimov in September 2016, Shavkat Mirziyoyev became the new President. There were expectations that the new President might bring more religious freedom. The government tries to give the impression of a positive change. In June 2017 there was an official presentation of the Uzbek translation of the Bible, attended by representatives of the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Churches. At a high level meeting of the Central Asia-UN Dialogue in Asghabat in June 2017, Uzbekistan's Minister of Foreign Affairs said: 'In Uzbekistan the concept of religious tolerance has grown into the atmosphere of religious harmony and openness. In other words, our unity is in diversity.' Unfortunately, in reality no religious tolerance and harmony is observable and the situation with persecution remains very much the same.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* God will enable all Christians to stay strong and continue spreading the Gospel.

* Christians with a Muslim background will be protected and strengthened by the Lord.

* the State authorities will show more real tolerance and human rights will prevail.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIANS SEVERELY PRESECUTED AND CHURCHES TIGHTLY CONTROLLED IN UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan, formerly a republic of the Soviet Union, is in the middle of Central Asia. During the Soviet era, atheism was state policy and religion was severely persecuted. Islam is 93% of the population and Christians just 5%. Compared with other Central Asian countries, Uzbekistan is  where Christians are most severely persecuted. Those suffering most are Christians from a Muslim background. Churches are infiltrated by spies and police raid believers' homes.  There is only one small Protestant seminary in Uzbekistan. Christians can lose their livelihood if their faith becomes known. The new government tries to give the impression of positive change, claiming there is an atmosphere of religious harmony and openness. Unfortunately, in reality this is not observable and persecution remains much the same. Please pray for Uzbekistan and its Christians.

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Anneta Vyssotskaia, a Russian who is a religious liberty expert on Russia and Central Asia, is the guest contributor to the RLPB ministry with this and the next bulletin, filling for Elizabeth Kendal while she is on leave.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

RLPB 428 Tajikistan: Christians Severely Persecuted

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 428 | Wed 18 Oct 2017

by Anneta Vyssotskaia

TAJIKISTAN: CHRISTIANS PERSECUTED SEVERELY

Tajikistan is a country in Central Asia bordering Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China. Tajikistan was part of the Soviet Union and became an independent country after the dissolution of the USSR in 1992. Tajikistan suffered a five-year civil war which resulted in many deaths and had a devastating effect on the country's life and economy. It is officially the poorest country in Central Asia and one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Its population approaches nine million and is predominantly Muslim (about 98%).

The Christian churches are a tiny minority and face a lot of pressure from the government and Muslim society. The law prohibits children and young people under 18 participating in religious activities in both churches and mosques. The greatest pressure is on the Christians with Muslim background who experience persecution at all levels -- from their family members, the Muslim community and state officials. The pressure is especially strong in rural areas. The persecution can take different forms, from verbal to physical abuse, beatings, abduction, home detention, discrimination, losing jobs and in other ways. The number of Christian churches remains small and there are many secret believers. It is illegal to meet for worship without state registration, but it is also extremely difficult and practically impossible to get state registration. For that reason, many Tajik Christians meet secretly in house churches, facing the risk of police raids, detention, interrogation and fines.

President Emomali Rahmon was bestowed the official title, 'The Founder of Peace and National Unity, Leader of the Nation'. During his 25 years' rule, the religious freedom situation in Tajikistan has worsened significantly. Since 2016, human rights in general are also considerably worse, with many arrests and imprisonment of members of the opposition parties, including top officials.

Christian churches also have been experiencing increasing pressure in 2017. In the capital city, Dushanbe, two kindergartens were closed because of the Christians employed and a Christian book being found. In March, a registered church in Konibodom was raided, believers interrogated, threatened and beaten and the church was closed. In June, a non-registered Baptist church in Dushanbe was raided, books confiscated, believers videotaped, interrogated and their details taken. Demolition of the church building was threatened. Other non-registered churches were raided, books confiscated, church leaders threatened and fined.

In April, Bakhrom Kholmatov (42), the pastor of a registered Sunmin church in Khudzhand, was arrested, accused of inciting religious hatred and sentenced to three years' imprisonment. The accusations were based on Christian hymn books found in the church with songs like 'God's army is marching' and 'Our fight is not against flesh and blood', as well as the 'More Than a Carpenter' book by Josh McDowell. The judges considered they were all 'extremist material'.


PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL WORK FOR:

* all the Christians in Tajikistan, especially Muslim background Christians, to stand strong in their faith as they are interrogated and threatened.

* the restraint of the authorities, for human rights, the rule of law and cessation of attacks on and destruction of churches and their facilities.

* Pastor Bakhrom Kholmatov, his family and his church to be comforted and strengthened by the Holy Spirit.

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International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
Sunday 5 or 12 November, 2017

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SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIANS PERSECUTED SEVERELY IN TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan (formerly in the USSR) borders Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China.  The poorest country in Central Asia and internationally one of the most corrupt countries, its nine million people are 98% Muslim. The Christian churches are a tiny minority and suffer great intimidation from the government and Muslim society, especially Christians with a Muslim background. There are many secret believers, meeting in house churches. Worshipping without state registration is illegal, risking police raids. The pastor of a registered church, Bakhrom Kholmatov, was arrested for 'inciting religious hatred' and jailed for three years. During Tajikistan's President's 25 years' rule, religious persecution has worsened significantly, as well as human rights in Tajikistan now being considerably worse. Members of opposition parties are frequently arrested. Please pray for Tajikistan and its Christians.

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Anneta Vyssotskaia is a religious liberty expert on Russia and Central Asia. She is the guest contributor to the RLPB ministry with this and the next two bulletins while Elizabeth Kendal is on leave.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

RLPB 427. Mali: jihadists attack churches in Mopti

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 427 | Wed 11 Oct 2017

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)

by Elizabeth Kendal

International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2017: Sunday 5 or 12 November.
See Critical Prayer Requests (CPR) for places where Christians are persecuted and/or where religious liberty is threatened.
See also www.ElizabethKendal.com.

PRAYER FOR THE PERSECUTED IS INTEGRAL TO WORSHIP

God is at work, sanctifying the Church and knitting us together as ONE. He is answering prayers, fulfilling promises and redeeming even suffering itself. Through it all he is 'making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth' (Ephesians 3:9-10 ESV). For the believer or church with faith, intercessory prayer for the suffering persecuted Church is not an optional add-on. Rather, intercessory prayer for the suffering persecuted Church is as integral to worship as it is to this great work of God to unite all things in Christ.

SPECIAL PRAYER REQUEST: CRISIS PUBLISHING INITIATIVE

Intercessory prayer for the suffering persecuted Church would not be possible without the information that comes to us from dedicated Christian reporters, researchers, authors and publishers. Not only do they provide the suffering Church with a voice, they provide the global Church with information rarely found in mainstream media. Many report from the 'front-lines' or even from 'behind enemy lines' at great personal risk in the hope that their stories will be received by religious liberty advocates, analysts, activists, journalists, authors and intercessors the world over. To aid and develop this work, the inaugural Crisis Publishing Initiative conference will be held in Sopron, Hungary, from 15 to 18 October. Nearly 100 Christian writers from some 24 countries (East, West, Africa, Asia and the Middle East) have registered to attend in order to learn from and network with other Christian writers and publishers.

Elizabeth Kendal will be presenting one workshop on 'Global Trends in Persecution' and another (shared with author Mindy Belz) on 'Understanding the Middle East'. On Tuesday 17 October Elizabeth will present the plenary address: 'A Voice for the Suffering Church'.  For the full list of speakers and topics, see Crisis Publishing Initiative 

Please pray for God's gracious and generous blessing on this conference and all who attend. May the suffering Church never be without a voice or without support. 'I do not ask for these [disciples] only , but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one ...'  (emphasis mine) (Jesus' High Priestly Prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. John 17).

Anneta V., a religious liberty expert on Russia and Central Asia, will be the guest contributor to the RLPB ministry over the next three weeks.

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MALI: JIHADISTS ATTACK CHURCHES IN MOPTI  


MALI: click on map to enlarge
In early 2012, in the wake of Libya's 'Arab Spring', bands of ethnic Tuareg militants and Islamic jihadists swept into Mali's vast desert north. After first exploiting and then devouring the Tuareg separatist insurgency, the al-Qaeda-linked jihadists seized control of the Arab-Berber north. Though Malian and French forces did eventually regain control of the territory, the jihadists have remained entrenched in the northern regions known to the Tuareg as 'Azawad'. Though located in Mali's more populous and fertile African south, Mopti region borders the north, making it a 'front-line' region where jihadists routinely wage hit-and-run attacks on security personnel. Not only has violence escalated markedly in recent months, a new phenomenon has arisen: the jihadists are targeting churches. 

Monsignor Edmond Dembele, secretary-general of the Malian bishops' conference, reports that in late September and early October at least three churches in the diocese of Mopti received 'visits' from jihadists. In Dobara, jihadists smashed their way into the church from which they removed crosses and furnishings which they piled up outside and burned. In Bodwal, jihadists drove worshipping Catholics out of their church, warning them that if they ever return to ring the bells or pray, they will be killed. Christians comprise a mere 2.6 percent of Mali's population and Mgr Dembele is deeply concerned about the lack of security. 'What worries us,' he said, 'is that these groups had not targeted Christians up till now. The situation has changed in the last few months and for this reason we have raised the alarm.'

church in northern Mali
(source: Aid to the Church in Need)
The attacks on churches in Mopti region is doubtless connected to a developing crisis. Islamic jihadist attacks on Malian troops, UN peacekeepers and French forces have more than doubled since June. Most of the attacks have been claimed by the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims [Jama'a Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM)], a coalition of the region's most powerful al-Qaeda affiliates. This is the same group that released a video on 1 July entitled 'The Correct Equation', in which it puts forth the Islamic doctrine of retaliation (essentially an eye for an eye) [see RLPB 413 (5 July)]. JNIM also used the video to provide proof that they were holding six Western hostages, most of them Christians whom JNIM had accused of working to convert Muslims to Christianity. [The South African hostage, Stephen McGown (who converted to Islam), was released in August.] The video's release was timed to coincide with the launch in Bamako, the Malian capital, of a 5000-strong multinational force to tackle JNIM. The multinational force is expected to be fully operational by the end of October. Jihadist violence is destined to escalate in line with the promise of 'The Correct Equation'. The Battle for Mali looms. The situation facing Mali's churches and JNIM's Christian hostages is dire.


PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* protect and preserve his precious Church in Mali; may the Lord himself provide security for the churches in Mopti region which is especially vulnerable to jihadist terror.

* sustain, comfort and deliver JNIM's Christian hostages; may the Lord Almighty both rescue and repay. (See Isaiah 40:10; 59:14-19; and Matthew 10:29-30) [For names see RLPB 413 (5 July) - only minus McGown].

* insert himself into the looming Battle for Mali; may he come like a 'pent-up flood' or 'rushing stream' (Isaiah 59:19) and fight with those who fight against evil.

* pour his Spirit afresh into Mali's Churches so believers will (1) commit to prayer and (2) step out in faith and with boldness to share the Good News with Muslims; and may the Spirit also be powerfully at work in Mali's harvest fields.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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IN MALI, JIHADISTS ATTACK CHURCHES IN MOPTI  

In 2012, in the wake of the 'Arab Spring', al-Qaeda-linked Islamic jihadists invaded and seized control of Mali's vast desert north. Though Malian and French Forces did eventually regain control, the jihadists have remained entrenched. Though located in Mali's more populous and fertile African south, Mopti region borders the north, making it vulnerable to jihadist infiltration. While the jihadists generally attack security personnel, recently they have started targeting churches. Mgr Dembele knows of three churches in Mopti diocese that have been attacked, and where property was destroyed and believers threatened with death. Since June, the terror group JNIM has more than doubled its attacks. JNIM is holding five Christian missionaries hostage. The Battle for Mali looms. Tensions are high; the situation is dire. Please pray for Mali and its Church.

------------------------------------------------------

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, October 3, 2017

RLPB 426. Papua (eastern Indonesia): a desperate and risky plea

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 426 | Wed 04 Oct 2017

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)

by Elizabeth Kendal

IDOP 2017: Sunday 5 or 12 November.

Ideally, intercessory prayer for the persecuted Church should be an integral part of every church's weekly worship. Yet still today, many believers (particularly in the West) have scant awareness of the problem of persecution. This is mostly because they get their news from mainstream media which neither understands nor has much interest in the persecution of Christians.

International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church provides churches and believers around the world with an opportunity to join together in prayer for the persecuted. Churches will observe IDOP on either Sunday 5 or 12 November, while small groups and prayer groups will meet during the week. For some this will be eye-opening and the start of something new. For others it will be an opportunity to re-commit to an aspect of worship that, while challenging, is also life-changing.

IDOP is a movement for our times; for in these days of escalating persecution amidst unprecedented openness and connectedness, God is doing something quite new: knitting together an increasingly global Church. This is exciting and totally unprecedented in the history of the Church.

With one month to go, now is the time to start preparing for IDOP.

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PAPUA (EASTERN INDONESIA): A DESPERATE AND RISKY PLEA

Papua baptism
(courtesy World Team)
The indigenous peoples of Papua (formerly Irian Jaya) -- the eastern-most province of Indonesia -- are ethnically Melanesian and overwhelmingly Christian. Indonesia invaded the former Dutch colony in 1962. Then in 1969, the UN, the UK and the USA rubber stamped the sham 'Act of Free Choice' (known by the indigenous Papuans as the 'Act of No Choice'!) which transferred sovereignty of resource-rich 'West Irian' to Indonesia. Today, after decades of mass migration of Javanese Muslims, Papua has been thoroughly 'Javanised' and Islamised. It has also been thoroughly militarised. What is more, because Indonesian security forces are now heavily invested in the region, they have an economic interest in remaining there. Gross and systematic human rights abuses are endemic, including arbitrary arrest, torture, rape, and the trafficking of Papuan children who are taken to Java for forced Islamisation. The province is closed to reporters and indigenous Papuans are banned from talking to outsiders.

On Tuesday 26 September exiled Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda presented a petition to the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation in New York, where the UN General Assembly was in session. The petition -- said to contain some 1.8 million signatures of West Papuans in Indonesia -- demands an internationally supervised free vote on independence, along with the appointment of a UN representative to investigate reports of human rights abuses by the Indonesian security forces. Defying Jakarta's ban, Papuans conducted the petition in secret, signing at great personal risk, smuggling it throughout the region and ultimately out of the country. According to Benny Wenda, 57 people were arrested and a further 54 tortured between April and June as the petition was being circulated.

As a prelude to the petition's arrival, Prime Ministers Manasseh Sogavare of Solomon Islands and Charlot Salwai of Vanuatu addressed the UN General Assembly on 24 September. They accused the UN of 'turning a deaf ear' to human rights abuses in Papua, called for an official investigation and  insisted the UN support the Papuans' legal right to self-determination.

Benny Wenda with petition
According to Benny Wenda, the UN's Special Committee on Decolonisation officially acknowledged acceptance and receipt of the petition. Not only does the Indonesian government reject this, it is disputing the veracity of the petition, deeming it a 'hoax' and a 'political stunt'. Meanwhile the committee's chair, Rafael Ramirez (Venezuela), claims not to have received the petition at all. Rejecting reports of the petition as fake news, Ramirez clarified: 'West Papua is not on the agenda ... Indonesia is a very good friend of ours.' West Papua specialist from the University of Sydney, Dr Jason MacLeod, has examined the petition and believes it is both genuine and a fair and accurate representation of the will of the indigenous Papuans 'who genuinely feel that they are facing a slow- motion genocide'.

Of course the Indonesian government and Indonesian military will never willingly relinquish control of resource-rich Papua. Indeed, the Indonesian military will be furious. The Indonesian government is currently building the Trans-Papua Highway so it can open up the Central Highlands to 'development'. Unless they get strong international support, the indigenous Melanesian Christians of Papua could see their situation get a lot worse yet.

PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* draw all Papuans to prayer; may they put their faith in God -- not in 'man' and not in 'the world'. And may the living God, who hears and answers prayer, intervene on their behalf. 'Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think ...' (from Ephesians 3:20 ESV)

* fill Papuan Church and community leaders with wisdom and understanding so they will lead the people well in line with the will and purposes of the Lord.

* restrain evil and angry hands bent on retaliation; may he protect and preserve his precious people. Lord have mercy!

Pray for the Church in Papua, using Psalm 27


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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A DESPERATE AND RISKY PLEA FROM PAPUA (EASTERN INDONESIA)

The indigenous Papuans are ethnically Melanesian and overwhelmingly Christian. Indonesia invaded in 1962 and in 1969 the UN transferred sovereignty to Indonesia. Papua has since been 'Javanised', Islamised and thoroughly militarised. Papuans suffer from gross and systematic human rights abuses; indeed, they are facing 'a slow-motion genocide'. On 26 September exiled Papuan independence leader, Benny Wenda, presented a petition to the United Nations in New York. Containing some 1.8 million Papuan signatures, the petition appealing for self-determination had been conducted in secret over several months and smuggled out of Indonesia. While Wenda insists the UN acknowledged receipt of the petition, Jakarta rejects this and has deemed the petition a 'hoax'. Meanwhile, the chair of the relevant UN committee denies ever receiving it. Please pray for the Church in Papua.

------------------------------------------------------

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

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

RLPB 425. September Update, Incl. Nigeria, Iraq, CAR, Egypt, Kenya, Pakistan, Philippines, Turkey.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 425 | Wed 27 Sep 2017

by Elizabeth Kendal

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)
 
'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.' (Matthew 5:9 ESV)

SEPTEMBER 2017 UPDATE -- this month we prayed concerning ...

* NIGERIA (RLPB 422), where a coalition of Northern Muslim youth groups issued a chilling ultimatum in Kaduna on June 6. The 'Kaduna Declaration' gave the Igbo (the mostly Christian Africans indigenous to Nigeria's south-east) a deadline of 1 October (Nigerian Independence Day) to leave the North, after which time they would be forcibly ejected. Subsequently, anti-Igbo hate speech has proliferated across the north, sending ethnic-religious tensions soaring.

See also: ‘The Kaduna Declaration: Nigeria in the Shadow of Biafra’
Religious Liberty Monitoring 6 July 2017.

UPDATE: In early September the government of President Muhammadu Buhari launched Operation Python Dance 2 and sent military forces into Umuhia, the capital of Abia state, to arrest IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu. [IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) advocates for the independence of Biafra/Eastern Nigeria. It is not a militant group and does not have an armed wing.] On 12 September tanks and other armoured vehicles descended on Kanu's home, triggering protests from horrified IPOB supporters. Clashes ensued, resulting in numerous deaths. Video footage posted to social media showed Nigerian soldiers beating, torturing and killing unarmed Igbo. This in turn triggered ethnic-religious skirmishes in other cities in neighbouring states as Igbo sought revenge.

JOS: On 14 September the cycle of violence escalated further as Hausa-Fulani Muslims attacked Igbo traders in Jos, capital of the volatile Middle Belt state of Plateau. At least three Igbo were killed (including two known Christians) and several injured before the police managed to calm the situation. Security was strengthened at churches on Sunday 17 September to prevent further attacks.

SOKOTO: On 17 September a mob of some hundreds of Muslim youths attacked Igbo traders in Sokoto, the capital of Sokoto State in Nigeria's far north-west. The Igbo fled for their lives as their properties were looted and torched.

Catholic Archbishop of Abuja,
John Onaiyekan
BLAME THE VICTIM: The government subsequently proscribed IPOB as a terrorist organisation, rendering anyone who participates in the group's activities liable to a jail term of 20 years. Catholic Cardinal John Onaiyekan slammed the move noting: 'The title of terrorists should not just be thrown at anybody. And there is a danger that if we continue this way, it may become more and more difficult for us to arrive at a peaceful solution.' He wondered why IPOB had been deemed terrorists while the Fulani herdsmen 'who are armed, lethal, murderous, vicious and have been killing people in our communities' were not. Operation Python Dance 2 -- which one commentator has likened to 'killing a fly with a sledgehammer' -- is ongoing in five south-eastern states.

The situation in Nigeria is absolutely dire. The stage has been set for a serious ethno-religious crisis. Please pray! May the Lord protect and preserve his precious people.

* NORTH KOREA (RLPB 423), as the leaders of North Korea and the USA continue to ramp up the war rhetoric. Please pray for God to intervene to the benefit of his beloved Korean/Chosun people -- in  particular, his long-suffering persecuted remnant Church in the North.

* IRAQ (RLPB 424), ahead of the highly controversial 25 September Kurdish referendum on independence.

For a more detailed analysis see: Assyrians at risk as Kurds ‘play with fire’
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 19 Sept 2017.

UPDATE: ASSYRIANS IMPERILLED AS CRISIS LOOMS

The Kurds came out in force on 25 September to vote overwhelmingly for Kurdish independence. Tensions are soaring, both inside Iraq and across the region. Baghdad is threatening to ban flights into Iraqi Kurdistan, while Turkey and Iran are threatening sanctions and border closures -- all moves designed to starve and strangle Iraqi Kurdistan into submission. Furthermore, the referendum has inflamed Kurdish independence zeal, but the result is not binding and the masses will not get what they voted for. President Massoud Barzani of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) may well have started something he will have no chance of controlling. Caught in the middle of this new crisis is Iraq's already traumatised and largely displaced, remnant Assyrian Christian nation. Please pray!


SEPTEMBER 2017 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

* AFGHANISTAN: As noted in RLPB 424 an unnamed Finnish aid worker abducted from a Kabul guesthouse on 20 May [RLPB 409 (31 May)] was released on 14 September. No further details are available and no-one has claimed responsibility for her abduction. We praise God for this mercy and continue to pray for the gravely imperilled, 'underground' Afghan Church. Pray also for the Afghan diaspora (in your own country and across the world), amongst whom the Afghan Church is growing.

* CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR) ABANDONED TO CHAOS AND KILLINGS 

On 1 September dozens of Islamic militants from Sudan invaded Zemio town in CAR's south-east. They looted and ransacked the Catholic Church compound, forcing the 15,000 people sheltering there to flee across the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo. The attack was allegedly perpetrated in the presence of UN troops believed to be from Morocco. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) laments that Zemio has become a 'ghost town' of looted shops and burnt houses. The population has dropped from 21,000 to under 1,000, the only people left being 'those who could not run away -- the elderly and the disabled'.

On 2 September, at a farm in Zambaguia village on the outskirts of Zemio, Father Louis Tongagnesi was hacked to death by Islamic militants believed to be from the Fulani-dominated and ironically named Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC).

Tortured: Father Robert Wieczorek
On 3 September Father Robert Wieczorek, a Polish missionary who has been serving in CAR for more than 20 years, was kidnapped by Islamic militants who attacked his parish in the north-western town of Ndim. He was tortured but released alive. Wounded and having lost a lot of blood, he was hospitalised for treatment. The female mayor of Ndim was also kidnapped, tortured and released. The attack has been attributed to the Patriotic Movement for the Central African Republic (MPC), although they deny it. Pray for the Church in CAR.

* EGYPT: CRITICISM OF MUSLIMS NOT ALLOWED 

On 26 May (Ascension Day) 28 Coptic Christians were massacred and some 23 wounded in Minya Governorate when their bus was ambushed by Islamic jihadists while en route to the Monastery of St Samuel the Confessor [RLPB 409 (31 May)]. In the wake of the terror, Bassem Abdel-Malak Fahim (25), a Copt from the village of Ezbat El-Sheikh Nageim, Minya Governorate, expressed his frustration on Facebook. Bassem accused Islamic leaders of inciting the killings and criticised the Egyptian government for failing to crack down on Islamic militants within Egypt's borders. He later deleted the post, but not before it had been shared by his friend Younan Samuel (25). On 6 September some Muslims in his village discovered the post. Feigning 'offence' they shared the post widely and incited Muslim rage against the Copts. Tensions soared. On 7 September Bassem and his father visited local Islamic leaders to whom they apologised and explained that no offence was intended. Tensions eased. However, late on 14 September, after security officials withdrew, a mob formed and attacked the Christians, hurling bricks, smashing windows, looting homes and destroying property. Security forces returned and restored calm; however, Bassem and Younan are now facing charges of inciting sectarian strife and insulting Islamic leaders. It is so much easier to blame the victim. The result however is gross injustice and deadly dangerous impunity. Please pray.

EGYPT: BRING BACK OUR COPTIC GIRLS

World Watch Monitor (WWM) has published a really significant article on one of the most serious issues confronting Egypt's Copts. Entitled, 'Egypt: ex-kidnapper admits "they get paid for every Coptic Christian girl they bring in" ' (published 14 September 2017), the article is built around an interview with an Egyptian former Muslim and former trafficker. His personal testimony gives credence to the oft-repeated claim that Salafi Muslims across the region are running a highly organised and well funded campaign to traffic Coptic Christian girls. While the crime is shameful, so too is the international silence that shrouds it, coming from the West's tacit surrender to the Islamic paradigm that criticism of Muslims is not allowed. 

* KENYA: MORE CHRISTIANS SLAUGHTERED

At around 3am on 6 September some 30 heavily armed Islamic al-Shabaab militants entered Bobo village in Lamu County, accompanied by a number of local Kiswahili speakers. Dressed in military gear and armed with AK-47 rifles, they surrounded the homes of known Christians before calling them out by name. Sources explained to Morning Star News that the militants had previously abducted men from Bobo area and forced them to reveal the names of Christians. Hillary Njuguna, one of the Christians abducted, was killed. Upon hearing their names, three Christians -- Guchu Peter, Jared Maiko and Jospeh Kinuthia -- emerged, only to be seized by militants who then slit their throats. [According to Coast Regional Police Chief Larry Kieng the men were shot and then decapitated.] Terrified families fled into the bush. On Wednesday morning locals burned tyres on the roads to protest the lack of security. Please Pray.

* PAKISTAN: CHRISTIANS KILLED AND FALSELY ACCUSED

Killed: Sharoon Masih (Twitter)
On 30 August Sharoon Masih (17) was on his second day at high school in Vehari, Punjab, when he was beaten and killed by Raza Ahmed, a well-built Muslim student with a reputation for fighting and bullying. A classmate who attempted to intervene was also beaten. The teacher, Nazeer Ahmed (who had slapped and abused Sharoon in front of the class) was absent from the classroom at the time of the fatal assault. The family is absolutely convinced their son was targeted simply for being a Christian. 

On 14 September Nadeem James, a young Christian father of two, was sentenced to death for blasphemy. The court found Nadeem guilty of sending a blasphemous poem using the WhatsApp instant messaging service, despite him being uneducated and illiterate. Nadeem was arrested in July 2016 in Gujrat District on the complaint of former friend, Yasir Bashir, who is suspected of sending the poem to himself using Nadeem's phone. Nadeem's brother, Shahbaz James told Morning Star News that the police only charged Nadeem because Islamic leaders had threatened to protest if they did not. Similarly, security concerns meant the trial had to be held inside the jail. The family has been forced to flee their home. The judgement will be appealed. Pray for the Church in Pakistan.

* PHILIPPINES: ARMY ADVANCES YET THREAT OF JIHAD LINGERS  

As noted in RLPB 424, Philippine soldiers have regained control of the Bato mosque, one of the last jihadist strongholds in Marawi city, rescuing hostages Father Suganob (51) and Mr  Acopio (29) in the process. Since then, three more hostages have been rescued. Some 40 hostages are still being held by some 60 to 80 jihadists, ten of whom are foreigners. Captain Arnel Carandang comments the jihadists are well trained, well directed and well armed with high-powered weapons, night vision goggles, the latest sniper scopes and surveillance drones. Not only has he seen many foreigners amongst the dead jihadis, but 'We have been hearing in their transmissions some English speaking terrorists.' The military expects the operation to be over by the end of October. Please pray.

HOSTAGES: According to Father Suganob, the hostages are a mix of local Christians and tribal people. To its credit, the Philippine army is doing everything in its power to protect and preserve the lives of the hostages. However, transmission intercepts indicate that the jihadists will not surrender, but are planning for a bloody final stand involving suicide bombings. The situation of the hostages is dire. Please pray! May the Lord of Hosts deploy his angels to rescue the remaining hostages.

ALSO: The military and police are closely monitoring Bayang town on the south side of Lake Lanao (opposite Marawi), after black-clad armed men stormed into the area on Wednesday 20 September and fired on a military detachment there. A fire-fight ensued and all is now calm. Pray for the Philippines! May all Filipinos come to enjoy peace, justice, fairness, security and liberty.

* TURKEY: A NATO MEMBER THAT PRACTISES WHAT IT PREACHES

Children in Turkey started their new school year on 18 September with a new curriculum. There is less science, less Ataturk (Turkey's secularist founding father) and more Islam, including jihad. 
Defined as 'religious war' by the dictionary of the Institute of Turkish Language, 'jihad' will be taught as an Islamic value and integral element of Islamic law. One teachers' union expressed fears the new curriculum would encourage a 'religious and nationalist' mindset.

Inside Surp Giragos
Armenian Weekly 
It should be unsurprising, therefore, that photos secretly taken inside Diyarbakir's Surp Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church 18 months after the government seized it reveal an empty desecrated shell. First built in the 1600s, Surp Giragos had been closed in the 1960s but then renovated with the support of the Armenian diaspora and the Sur municipality before a grand reopening in 2011. The church -- the largest Armenian cathedral in the Middle East -- was seized in March 2016 by a government that has no interest in its survival [see: RLPB 355 (4 May 2016)]. Pray for the Church in Turkey.

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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, September 19, 2017

RLPB 424. Iraq: Assyrians request prayer as Kurds 'play with fire'

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 424 | Wed 20 Sep 2017

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)

IRAQ: ASSYRIANS REQUEST PRAYER AS KURDS 'PLAY WITH FIRE'
plus Update -- Afghanistan: Finnish aid worker released
        Update -- Philippines: Father Suganob rescued

by Elizabeth Kendal

Assyrians return to Qaraqosh
Palm Sunday 2017
Report and images: Open Doors
Assyrians are the indigenous people of Northern Iraq and a Christian nation. Between June and August 2014, ISIS drove more than 130,000 Assyrians from their homes in Mosul and the Nineveh Plains. Traumatised and destitute, most found refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan, primarily in Dohuk (to the north) and Erbil, the Kurdish capital (to the east). This year, a coalition led by the Iraqi Army and aided by Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs: mostly Iranian-led Shi'ite militias), US-backed Kurdish peshmerger forces and Assyrian units have succeeded in liberating Mosul and much of the Nineveh Plains. As Assyrians tentatively trickle back into their towns and villages, they do so with the hope that the Nineveh Plains might one day be an autonomous entity within the state of Iraq. The last thing they want is to fall victim to a Kurdish land grab, or to find themselves caught in the middle of another war.

Unless there is a miracle, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) will hold a referendum on independence on Monday 25 September. Though the anticipated 'Yes' vote will not trigger an automatic declaration of independence, it is expected to lead to official negotiations. Analysts suspect that KRG President Massoud Barzani's goal is not independence, but leverage to aid negotiations over revenue sharing (more money), further devolution of power (more power) and the demarcation of Iraqi Kurdistan's borders (more land). However, as Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi commented on 16 September, the Kurds are 'playing with fire'.

The Nineveh Plains region
(Assyrian heartland)
is marked with a Cross. 
Talk of Kurdish independence has sent tensions soaring inside Iraq and across the region. Eager to expand its borders, the KRG aims to include 'disputed territories' in the referendum, including oil-rich Kirkuk and the Nineveh Plains. Despite pressure from Kurd and pro-Kurd authorities, most Assyrians oppose the referendum and do not want their lands included. Fearing Shi'ite power, Nineveh's Sunni Arabs support Kurdish independence and do want to be included. In a move destined to destabilise the whole region, oil-rich Kirkuk (controlled by Baghdad until Kurdish forces seized it in the chaos of August 2014) will participate. The Iraqi Government, Iran and the Shi'ite militias oppose the referendum, the break-up of Iraq and Kurdish annexation of Kirkuk. Meanwhile, Turkey, Iran and Syria oppose the referendum as it could embolden their own restive Kurdish minorities. The pro-Kurdish US is opposed to the referendum as it will weaken Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to the benefit of Iran ahead of the April 2018 general elections. Many Kurds too are opposed to the referendum because they sense this is simply not the right time for such a provocative move.

Aware that the referendum could trigger a new conflict, Turkey, Iran, the US and the UN have been lobbying KRG President Massoud Barzani to cancel or postpone the referendum indefinitely, to no avail. On Sunday 17 September the KRG's High Referendum Council, headed by Barzani, voted to reject the US-backed alternative and press ahead with the 25 September referendum as planned.

Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako has issued an urgent appeal, calling on Erbil and Baghdad to 'resume dialogue with courage'.  He laments that 'some have already started beating the war drums', noting, 'If there were a new military conflict, the consequences would be disastrous for everyone, and minorities would always be the ones to pay a high price ...' He said, 'Everyone should be aware of the seriousness of the situation and hurry to support national reconciliation and peace before it is too late.'

[A more detailed version of this report can be found on Religious Liberty Monitoring (20 Sept).]


MAY OUR ALMIGHTY AND MERCIFUL GOD:

* intervene in Iraq for the benefit of his precious long-suffering people; may peace reign and the highly controversial and provocative referendum on Kurdish independence be indefinitely postponed; may 'courageous dialogue' be the order of the day.

'Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.' (From Jeremiah's prayer in Jeremiah 32:16-25 ESV)

* surround and watch over his imperilled Church; may all God's children be secure. 'Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.' (Psalm 17:8 ESV)

* guard and preserve the Assyrian and Christian heartland of the Nineveh Plains for the Assyrian people.  'In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance." ' (Promise in Isaiah 19:24-25 ESV)

----------------------------------------------------

Update -- Afghanistan: The unnamed Finnish aid worker taken hostage in Kabul in May [see RLPB 409 (31 May)] was released on 14 September.

Father Teresito 'Chito' Suganob
alive and free (photo: Ted Aljibe/AFP)
Update -- Philippines: Late on 16 September Philippine soldiers overran Marawi's Bato mosque, clearing its many tunnels and secret chambers and rescuing two hostages: Father Teresito 'Chito' Suganob (51) and a male school teacher surnamed Acopio (29).  The jihadists still hold around 40 mostly Christian hostages [see RLPB 421 (30 Aug)]. Please continue to pray.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
ASSYRIANS IN IRAQ REQUEST PRAYER AS KURDS 'PLAY WITH FIRE'

Between June and August 2014, some 130,000 Assyrian Christians were driven from their homes in Mosul and the Nineveh Plains by ISIS. Most found refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan. Now as their lands are liberated, Assyrians are trickling back into their towns and villages. However, talk of Kurdish independence has sent tensions soaring. Christians fear the Kurds will seize the Assyrian heartland of the Nineveh Plains. The Iraqi Government, Turkey, Iran and essentially all Shi'ites have vowed to stop the Kurds annexing oil-rich Kirkuk. Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako's urgent appeal is for 'courageous dialogue'. Lamenting that 'some have already started beating the war drums', he appeals for peace, noting war would be 'disastrous', especially for minorities who, as usual, would 'pay a high price'. Please pray for Iraq and its Christians.

------------------------------------------------------

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