Wednesday, July 18, 2018

RLPB 464. Pakistan: 25 July polls bode ill for Christians

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 464 | Wed 18 Jul 2018

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PAKISTAN: 25 JULY POLLS BODE ILL FOR CHRISTIANS
by Elizabeth Kendal

On 25 July Pakistanis will go to the polls to vote for new National and Provincial Assemblies. Terrorism is escalating. There have been four terror attacks in the past week alone -- one by the Pakistani Taliban [Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)] on 10 July and three by Islamic State on 13 July -- leaving around 180 dead and more than 230 wounded. Tensions are soaring. Out of 85,307 polling stations, 20,789 have been deemed 'sensitive' -- that is, sites where violent clashes are likely to occur. Security is being stepped up everywhere. For Christians the prospects are gloomy indeed. The three main parties battling for control of the Assemblies are the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N, centre right), the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP, centre left) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (or Justice Party, PTI) led by the London-educated former cricket captain Imran Khan (65). Khan's political position would be best described as pragmatic and populist. Despite the looming financial crisis, Khan is promising to create an 'Islamic welfare state'. He is also winning favour amongst Pakistan's Islamic fundamentalist clerics and radicalised Muslim masses with his vocal pledges to defend Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law. The military and judiciary appear to be clearing the path for a PTI victory.

Bilawal Bhutto (PPP), Nawaz Sharif (PML-N), Imran Khan (PTI).
As Prime Minister, Sharif wanted the military to cut its ties
with militants and come under civilian control.
He was arrested and jailed on 13 July.

The door has been opened for hardline Islamists and even jihadists to register as candidates. Headed by Maulana Khadim Hussain Rizvi, Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has been approved to run. The TLP shot to fame in November 2017 when it staged an anti-blasphemy 'sit-in', paralysing Islamabad for 20 days and ultimately forcing the government to capitulate to its demands, including that Asia Bibi -- a Christian woman on death row for 'blasphemy' -- not be sent abroad [see RLPB 434 (29 Nov 2017)]. The TLP (which wants Asia Bibi executed) will field 178 candidates across the country. In total, religious parties will field a record 460 candidates for the National Assembly.

Some of these religious parties are known fronts for banned jihadists and terror groups. When the Electoral Commission of Pakistan refused to register the Milli Muslim League, deeming it a front for the proscribed terror group, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), the MML simply shifted its 265 candidates under the umbrella of Allah-O-Akbar Tehreek (AAT), an old Islamist political party. Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), which serves as a front for the militantly anti-Shia 'Sipah-e-Sahaba', is fielding candidates through the Rah-i-Haq party. The courts have approved Aurangzeb Farooqi's candidacy despite his being on Pakistan's terror watch list. Senators from both the PML-N and PPP have expressed concern that banned militant organisations are being mainstreamed. Indian analyst Brigadier Sk Chatterji (Retd) explains that the Army -- which has long used these terror groups as 'strategic partners' -- seems keen to extend that partnership into the National Assembly. It is highly likely that whoever rules Pakistan will have to do quid pro quo deals with militant Islamist groups in order to get legislation through the parliament. Whilst that is nothing new, it could well be more costly now, with mandatory death for blasphemy high on the Islamist agenda.

As for Pakistan's Christians, World Watch Monitor reports that 'the country's minorities -- particularly its Christians -- have expressed dismay at their lack of representation among the candidates. Among the thousands of candidates contesting hundreds of provincial and national constituencies across the country, not a single Christian is nominated by any party ...' Christian leaders are encouraging Christians to 'vote for candidates and political parties that really deal with minority rights issues'. Those issues include 'religion based discrimination, violation of fundamental rights, misuse of blasphemy law, indifference from government, intolerance' and the 'biased curriculum being taught in the schools and universities' which 'inculcates religious intolerance among the students'. The total lack of political representation indicates that many (if not most) of Pakistan's elites increasingly view Christians less as a marginalised minority and more as an irrelevant irritant. This is a dangerous and deteriorating situation.

Pakistani Christian women pray. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)
image source: Christians in Pakistan

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* draw Pakistan's vulnerable Christian minority close to himself and shield them from Islamic terror attacks and pogroms; may every evil plot be thwarted and may 'the wicked fall into their own nets' (from Psalm 141:8-10 ESV).

* intervene in Pakistani politics, so that his precious children will not be left without a voice in parliament; may the Lord elevate influential candidates of conscience who will 'speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves' and 'defend the rights of the poor and needy' -- Christians included (Proverbs 31:8-9 NIV).

* awaken influential world leaders of conscience to the plight of Pakistan's persecuted Christian minority.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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POLLS ON 25 JULY IN PAKISTAN BODE ILL FOR CHRISTIANS

On 25 July Pakistanis will vote for new National and Provincial Assemblies. Terrorism is escalating and clashes are expected. Together the military and judiciary are setting the stage for a win by the pragmatic and populist Imran Khan (65). His Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (or Justice Party, PTI) has closed the gap with its nearest rival, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League. Along with promising Pakistanis an 'Islamic welfare state', London-educated Khan has vowed to defend the controversial blasphemy law. Hardline Islamist anti-blasphemy party Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) will stand in 178 seats across the country; indeed Islamist parties will field a record 460 candidates, many of whom are known members of banned terror groups. Increasingly viewed as irrelevant, not one Christian has been nominated by any party. Please pray for the Church in Pakistan.

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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, July 10, 2018

RLPB 463. India: A Dangerous Place for Christians

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 463 | Wed 11 Jul 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)


INDIA: A DANGEROUS PLACE FOR CHRISTIANS
by Elizabeth Kendal

Click on map to enlarge.
Note: while 'other' mostly
represents Christians, in Punjab
  the 'other' are overwhelmingly Sikh.
map courtesy Stratfor 2016
The Hindu concepts of caste (racism by other means) and karma (a spiritual principle which teaches that a person's lot in life is determined by actions in their past life and is therefore a form of justice) have long ensured India remains one of the world's most cruel and inequitable societies. Whilst India's poor and downtrodden see egalitarian Christianity as liberating and uplifting, its wealthy high caste Hindus view Christianity as a threat to their power and privilege. Today, the rise of Hindu nationalism -- which exploits religion for political gain and establishes religious apartheid -- has turned India into one of the most dangerous places in the world for Christians, most of whom are poor and downtrodden.

Not only are Hindu nationalists recruiting more and more Hindus (including police and other officials) into Hindu nationalist activism and vigilantism, but they are also exploiting tensions over religious conversions to bring tribal animists on-side and incite them against tribal Christians. Eight states have enacted laws that prohibit the procurement of conversions through force, coercion, allurement or fraud. Hostile elements wield these laws as weapons against witnessing Christians. As anti-Christian hostility has risen, violent persecution with impunity has become the order of the day.

CHURCH ATTACKS: On Monday 2 July a mob of some 20 armed militants belonging to the Yuva Vahini (HYV), a Hindu nationalist youth militia, attacked Yeshu Darbar Church in Pratapgarh District, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where Christians comprise a mere 0.3 percent of the population. A prayer meeting -- which included women and children -- was underway at the time. In what must have been a terrifying ordeal, eight believers sustained wounds that required medical treatment. Church furniture, sound systems, motorbikes, hymn books and Bibles were among the property damaged. A First Issue Report was registered against the attackers.

EXPULSIONS: On Tuesday 5 June ten Christian families were expelled from their homes in Pahli Village, Latehar District, in the north-east state of Jharkhand, where Christians comprise 6 percent of the population. They had been summoned to a village meeting in which Hindu nationalists ordered them to renounce their faith or face exile. When they refused to renounce Christ, the believers were beaten and driven from the village. They cannot return home as the local authorities are unwilling or unable to help them. These families are now homeless and living in fear of the Hindu nationalists. Violence against Christians has escalated in Jharkhand since anti-conversion legislation was enacted in September 2017 [see RLPB 418 (9 Aug 2017)].  According to the local pastor, Rajdev Toppo, it has become 'increasingly difficult to serve as a pastor in Latehar. 'On a daily basis, I am threatened and ridiculed for teaching Christians the word of God.' He also confirmed that the 'local government has not been helpful'.

FALSE ACCUSATIONS: ANTI-CONVERSION LAW AS WEAPON
(From left) Evang. Sahiram Nayak,
Pastor Vijender Singh and
Pastor Kasiram Meghwal.
(Morning Star News)
(1) On Tuesday 22 May Evangelist Sahiram Nayak (34), Pastor Vijender Singh (32) and Pastor Kasiram Meghwal (46), quietly distributed Christian literature and New Testaments among families of village 16 BD in the Khajuwala area of Bikaner District, in the north-western state of Rajasthan, where Christians comprise 0.4 percent of the population.  Afterwards, Kaku Singh invited the believers to his home in nearby village 14 BD, telling them that his wife was suffering from cancer. After sharing the Gospel and praying over Singh's wife, the believers were about to leave when they were attacked by an 80-strong Hindu mob. Though complicit in the plot, Kaku Singh called the police to prevent the Christians from being killed. Kaku Singh and another man then falsely accused the believers of trying to forcibly convert them; which resulted in the believers being arrested.

No sooner had they been released on bail when fresh allegations were laid. The Hindus falsely accused the believers of visiting them on Sunday 20 May at which time they allegedly offered large sums of money in the hope of alluring them to convert. Consequently, the three believers were immediately re-arrested.  Pastor Singh told Morning Star News, 'We wept before the Lord, but we never abandoned our faith.' The men were released on bail on 29 May, but not before they had witnessed to inmates, including murderers. On Sunday 27 May they even held a worship service inside the prison.  The evangelists faced court on 5 and 30 June. Their trial continues, even though all three believers can prove they did not visit the Khajuwala area that day. [For more details, see Morning Star News.]

16 evangelists arrested and jailed
in Jharkhand
(World Watch Monitor)
(2) On Saturday 7 July 16 members of a group of 25 young volunteer evangelists from Friends Missionary Prayer Band (FMPB) were arrested in Jharkhand's Dumka District. The group, which had entered the district on Thursday 5 July, had been detained by angry locals and held overnight before being taken away by police on Friday. The seven members released on Saturday were women and minors. According to the complainants, the evangelists had invaded with loudspeakers and disparaged the religion of local animists -- including saying Satan resides in their temples -- all in an effort to force people to convert to Christianity. FMPB denies this, saying all their volunteer evangelists are trained in proper procedures. According to FMPB, all the group did was lead an open service of prayer and worship in the home of the sole believing family in Phulpahari Village, and this was enough to enrage villagers. The 16 evangelists arrested have been imprisoned in Dumka Central Jail. [For more details see World Watch Monitor.]

For more disturbing and inspiring stories of persecution, courage, endurance and suffering in the Indian Church, see Morning Star News: India.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* the Holy Spirit will guide India's mission-focused Church in strategies for effective witness, enabling them to be blameless -- 'wise as serpents and as innocent as doves' -- as they share the Good News of Jesus Christ in needy communities.

* the Holy Spirit will give India's courageous evangelists peace of heart, presence of mind and words to say as they encounter hostility and as they testify before police, judges and local officials.  (See Matthew 10:16-33)

'Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.' (Jesus, in Matthew 5:11,12 ESV)

* the Spirit of God would stir up indignation in the 'international community' so that the racism inherent in the Hindu caste system and the religious apartheid inherent in Hindu nationalism, will no longer be tolerated by governments and businesses that wield influence ... for nothing will change while impunity reigns.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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INDIA IS A DANGEROUS PLACE FOR CHRISTIANS 

Hindu nationalism -- which exploits religion for political gain and establishes religious apartheid -- makes India one of the most dangerous places in the world for Christians. Because India's Christians are mostly poor and downtrodden, they are particularly vulnerable. Fuelled by Hindu nationalist ideologues and legitimised by repressive anti-conversion laws, anti-Christian hostility has escalated to the point that violent persecution with impunity has become the order of the day. Many Indian Christians face violence and exile. Worship and prayer meetings -- be they in official buildings or private homes -- are routinely attacked. Pastors and evangelists -- men, women and youths -- are routinely beaten, falsely accused and arrested for witnessing, worshiping or even praying. Impunity is a problem domestically and internationally; the global silence is deafening. Please pray for change.

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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