Tuesday, July 16, 2019

RLPB 511. Cuba: Persecution Escalates

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 511 | 17 Jul 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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)

CUBA: PERSECUTION ESCALATES
by Elizabeth Kendal

Cuba maintains a one-party system with no independent judiciary. The ruling Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) exerts tight control over all religious activity. All churches are required by law to register with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), a process which is both arbitrary and political. Registered churches -- which are mostly Catholic and members of the Cuban Council of Churches (CIC) -- are tightly controlled through the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), which works out of the MoJ. The ORA is authorised to supervise gatherings, restrict activities and limit the number of attenders. The mostly Protestant and evangelical churches that are not registered and are not members of CIC, suffer harassment, intimidation and persecution. While current repression and persecution is nothing like the persecution suffered during the Cold War era, persecution has escalated markedly since the February 2019 constitutional referendum which saw evangelicals deemed 'counter-revolutionaries' [see RLPB 491 (27 Feb)].

Rev. Alayn Toledano Valiente
On the weekend of 13-14 July, the Reverend Alayn Toledano Valiente, a leader in the Apostolic Movement, the Reverend Alida Leon Baiz, President of the Evangelical League of Cuba, and the Reverend Moises de Prada, Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, were prevented from boarding flights to the US where they were to attend the US State Department's second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. Two weeks earlier, the Reverend Dariel Llanes, President of the Western Baptist Convention of Cuba, learned that he would not be permitted to travel when authorities refused to renew his passport. Rev. Alida Baiz wondered how the pastors could be arbitrarily denied their right to freedom of movement when the law only withholds that right from criminals and those deemed a threat to national security. It seems Cuban Counterintelligence had issued travel restrictions against the pastors, who are all founding members of the Alliance of Evangelical Churches of Cuba (AIEC), established in the wake of the constitutional referendum.

Christian investigative journalist
Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre
Grave concerns are held for independent journalist Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre. An active member of the Apostolic Movement (a network of unregistered charismatic Christian churches), Fernandez Izaguirre had been working to document religious persecution and violations of religious freedom. Fernandez Izaguirre, who is married with an infant daughter, was arbitrarily arrested on 12 July; his condition and whereabouts are unknown and his mobile phone appears to have been disconnected. Christian Solidarity Worldwide issued a statement saying, 'CSW holds the Cuban government responsible for the well-being of Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre. Violations of freedom of religion or belief have increased in Cuba over the past six months and Ricardo has dedicated himself to travelling across the country, often at great personal sacrifice, sleeping in bus stations and skipping meals, to document these cases and to offer solidarity to the victims. We call on the authorities to release him immediately.'

Pastor Ramon Rigal of the Church of God in Cuba and his wife, Ayda Exposito, were arrested on 21 February for home-schooling their children, Ruth (13) and Daniel (9), with the support of a Christian college in Guatemala. The couple chose to home-school their children so as to remove them from the bullying and mandatory atheism they were forced to endure in Cuba's state-run system [see RLPB 499 (24 April)]. On 23 June a Cuban court sentenced Pastor Rigal to two years in prison and his wife Ayda to 18 months for 'acting against the normal development of a minor'. The children are now in the care of their grandparents. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reports that Roberto Jesus Quinones Haces, an independent lawyer who wanted to observe the trial, was detained and severely beaten, leaving all the fingers on his right hand broken. According to the USCIRF, two other fathers were recently detained for enrolling their children in the same education programme the Rigal family was using.

Arrested: Pastor Ramón Rigal and his wife Ayda Expósito
youtube - courtesy, Home School Legal Defense Association

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* supply all Cuban Christians with wisdom, grace and faith as persecution escalates; may Christ redeem all suffering to unify and sanctify his precious Church in Cuba.

* intervene for investigative journalist and religious liberty advocate Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre, who has been arrested and essentially 'disappeared'; may the Spirit of the Christ be powerfully present to sustain and protect him wherever he is; may the Lord's justice prevail.

* intervene for Pastor Ramon Rigal and his wife, Ayda Exposito, as they serve time in prison for nothing more than home-schooling their own children; may they have peace and may the Lord's justice prevail.

* continue to build his Church in Cuba; may there be reformation and revival and a breakthrough that changes Cuba forever.

He ['my Servant', the Lord Jesus Christ] will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. (Isaiah 42:4 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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PERSECUTION ESCALATES IN CUBA

Cuba is a Communist Party-ruled state where all religion is tightly controlled. Churches must register with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ); only churches that are pro-government are approved. Even then, the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) supervises gatherings and dictates terms. Unregistered churches -- mostly Protestant/Evangelical -- are illegal. Persecution has escalated markedly since the February referendum which saw evangelicals deemed 'counter-revolutionary'. On 23 June Pastor Rigal and his wife Ayda were sentenced to two years and 18 months respectively for home-schooling their two children. On 12 July Christian journalist Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre was arrested and 'disappeared' while documenting the escalating religious persecution. On 13-14 July officials prevented evangelical leaders from travelling to the US to attend a Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom meeting. Please pray for Cuba and its Christians.

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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 9, 2019

RLPB 510 Iran: arrests and confiscations amidst rising tensions

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 510 | 10 Jul 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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)

IRAN: ARRESTS AND CONFISCATIONS AMIDST RISING TENSIONS
--by Elizabeth Kendal

click on map to enlarge
Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) were created in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Both are integral to the regime's apparatus. Unlike the Iranian Armed Forces which exist to protect Iran from foreign aggression, MOIS and the IRGC exist to protect and advance the interests of the regime, both at home and abroad. Internationally, MOIS personnel operate out of embassies, consulates, Islamic cultural centres and businesses; their involvement in assassinations and terrorism is well known. At home, MOIS personnel are an ever-present, lurking threat whose task it is to snuff out dissent and prevent fitna (rebellion/strife arising from doubt), primarily through intimidation, arrest, incarceration, torture and assassination. On 8 April US President Donald Trump designated the IRGC as a terrorist organisation. Multitudes of diaspora Iranians and dissidents-in-exile want to see the terrorist designation extended to include MOIS.

On 1 July, in the city of Bushehr in south-west Iran, MOIS agents raided the homes of Christian converts. They arrested eight, including five members of one family: Sam Khosravi (36) and his wife Maryam Falahi (35); Sam's brother Sasan (35) and his wife Marjan Falahi (33); as well as Sam and Sasan's mother, Khatoon Fatolahzadeh (61), who was subsequently released because of her age. Also arrested were Pooriya Peyma (27) and his wife Fatemeh Talebi (27), and Habib Heydari (38). According to human rights organisation Article 18, the arrests were conducted with unnecessary severity and in the presence of small children. Christian literature, pictures, crosses, laptops, mobile phones, identity cards and bank cards were confiscated. The seven detained believers are reportedly being held in solitary confinement in the MOIS office in Bushehr.

Sam Khosravi (36), and his wife Maryam Falahi (35), Sam’s brother Sasan (35), and his wife Marjan Falahi (33), Sam and Sasan’s mother, Khatoon Fatolahzadeh (61), as well as Pooriya Peyma (27), and his wife Fatemeh Talebi (27), and Habib Heydari (38).
Source: Middle East Concern

Like MOIS and IRGC, Execution of Imam Khomeini's Order (EIKO; Setad in Persian) was established in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and answers to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (80). Through the 1980s, EIKO's task was to confiscate the property of Iranians -- specifically religious minorities, business people and Iranians living abroad -- and redistribute it to 'charities'. Since 1989, EIKO has evolved into a major centre of economic power for, while this state-owned enterprise continues to confiscate property, it no longer redistributes it. In 2011, EIKO confiscated the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Tabriz in north-west Iran. The 100-year-old church belonged to the Assyrian Presbytery and is a National Heritage site. The regime allowed the Assyrian congregation to continue worshipping in the church on the condition that worship and ministry only be conducted in Aramaic and not in the language of Iran's Persian Muslims. On 9 May agents from MOIS and EIKO raided the Tabriz church. They expelled the church warden, changed the locks, tore down the cross and installed monitoring equipment; clearly the Assyrians will no longer be able to worship there. In March 2018, when EIKO confiscated the Garden of Sharon Christian retreat centre belonging to the Assemblies of God church in Tehran, the regime justified that act of theft by claiming the centre was being used as a cover for CIA (American Intelligence) espionage.

Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Tabriz.
Source: Article 18

The world is focused on Iran's nuclear program, even though the main purpose of nuclear weapons is leverage and deterrence. The fact is, Iran has expanded its power across Mesopotamia (Syria-Iraq) and the Levant by creating and arming Shi'ite proxies and by arming Sunni forces aligned with its Axis of Resistance. The greatest problem with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) enacted in 2015 was that it ignored this reality. By lifting sanctions from businesses, most of which were EIKO assets (i.e. state-owned), JCPOA actually facilitated the Iranian surge. [See: After Saturday Comes Sunday, from page 213.] While current sanctions are indeed hurting the regime, it has no intention of caving in. Consequently, tensions are set to escalate. I think we should anticipate that Iranian Christians will increasingly be targeted as a determined regime ups the ante and tightens its grip.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* intervene for all Iranian believers currently being held in Iranian prisons and other detention facilities; may his peace fill their hearts (Romans 15:13), may his wisdom grace their lips (Matthew 10:17-20) and may 'justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream' (Amos 5:24 ESV).

* grant the pastor, other leaders and members of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Tabriz great wisdom to know how to navigate these difficult days; may the Lord provide all their needs (Philippians 4:19) and keep them safe (Psalm 91).

* continue to build his Church in Iran and among the Persian Diaspora (Matthew 16:18).

* intervene with creativity and power, that Iran might be liberated so the people can reclaim their dynamic Persian culture and their friendship with Israel and the West; may they also gain a freedom hitherto unknown and a relationship with God hitherto unimaginable.

And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. (Genesis 1:3 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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ARRESTS AMIDST RISING TENSIONS IN IRAN

On 1 July agents from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) raided the homes of Christian converts in Bushehr, in south-west Iran. They violently arrested eight believers, including five members of one family. The matriarch was subsequently released due to her age, but seven converts aged in their 20s and 30s (including three married couples) remain detained in the MOIS office in Bushehr. Doubtless conditions remain oppressive. On 9 May regime agents raided the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Tabriz, in north-west Iran. While the 100-year-old heritage-listed church had been confiscated in 2011, the Assyrian believers had been allowed to continue worshipping there. Now the state has expelled the church warden, changed the locks, torn down the cross and installed surveillance cameras. Please pray for Iran and its 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