Tuesday, July 14, 2020

RLPB 558. Ethiopia: Slaughter in Oromia

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 558 | Wed 15 Jul 2020
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)

ETHIOPIA: SLAUGHTER IN OROMIA
plus brief update on Turkey and Hagia Sophia
By Elizabeth Kendal

Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali
On Monday evening 29 June popular Ethiopian singer and champion of Oromo interests, Hachalu Hundessa (36), was assassinated in the capital, Addis Ababa. Hundessa's protest songs became anthems for millions of ethnic Oromo during the years of anti-government protests, which commenced in December 2015 and culminated in February 2018 in the resignation of Prime Minister (PM) Hailemariam Desalegn. A month later, the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (a four-party coalition) elected Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali (41) as Ethiopia's first ethnic Oromo Prime Minister. With an ethnic Oromo Muslim father and an ethnic Amhara Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother, Dr Abiy is a convert to evangelical Protestant Christianity. A former soldier, he holds a PhD (2017) in conflict resolution. PM Abiy's reforms have been breathtaking and his brokering of peace with Eritrea earned him a well-deserved Nobel Peace Prize (2019). Like PM Abiy, Hachalu Hundessa was an ethnic Oromo Christian (Ethiopian Orthodox). While Hachalu supported PM Abiy's vision of a united Ethiopia and was critical of militant Oromo ethnic nationalism, some of his song lyrics were unhelpfully xenophobic.

Hachalu's assassination has triggered some of the worst ethnic-religious violence seen in Ethiopia in recent times. The violence appears to have been organised with the intent to destabilise the nation and derail PM Abiy's reform agenda. Though widely reported as 'ethnic clashes', the reality is that gangs of Oromo nationalists specifically targeted ethnic Amhara Ethiopian Orthodox Christians living in some 40 districts of Oromia region. According to Archbishop Habune Henok whose diocese is in Oromia's West Arsi zone, the pogroms began at 4am the next morning (30 June) and the dead, wounded and displaced are all ethnic Amhara Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. The killings were savage, with victims being clubbed, hacked and stoned to death. The official toll to date is 239 dead with some 300 wounded, many critically. More than 3360 Amhara Christians are now displaced and sheltering in churches. Along with businesses, 493 homes belonging to Amhara Christians were torched. The military was deployed and some 4700 arrests made, 1600 in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia's ethnic regions
(click on map to enlarge)
In Addis Ababa, violence erupted over Hachalu's body, with Oromo nationalists demanding he be buried in the capital, while his family, with the support of the government, insisted he be buried in his birthplace of Ambo, 100km west of Addis. Security personnel were forced to intervene when a group of Oromo nationalists - a group which included Jawar Mohammed (an Oromo nationalist leader and fundamentalist Muslim) - attempted to intercept and snatch the body. A policeman was shot and Jawar Mohammed (34) – who, despite having citizenship issues, wants to contest the next election in opposition to Dr Abiy [see RLPB 526 (30 Oct 2019)] - was arrested. Jawar Mohammed's appearance in court is bound to be explosive. Furthermore, on Friday 10 July Ethiopia's Attorney General told a press conference in the capital that two of three suspects were in custody and that the shooter has confessed that Hachalu's assassination was commissioned by the Oromo Liberation Front (Shane Group), a militant faction of the Oromo Liberation Front.

What is at stake is the future of Ethiopia itself. This is a battle between the vision of a strong and united, multi-ethnic, multi-religious Ethiopia versus the dream of ethnic nationalists to rule themselves in independent states. Three decades of ethnic federalism has hardened ethnic identities, resulting in ethnic nationalism and separatism. These movements tend to be led by ambitious politicians (often self-centred megalomaniacs) whose aim it is to ride to power on the back of victim-hood narratives. It must be stated that Jawar Mohammed's Oromo ethnic nationalism is also fuelled by his Islamic worldview, which is no doubt why many Oromo Christians (like Hachalu Hundessa) tend not to support it. In a country like Ethiopia where people have moved around, lived together and intermarried for centuries, ethnic nationalism establishes ethnic minorities; minorities at risk of discrimination, subjugation, slaughter and ethnic cleansing as is being demonstrated so tragically in Oromia.

For a more detailed report see:
Slaughter in Oromia: The Battle for Ethiopia Heats Up
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 15 July 2020


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* intervene to bring peace to Ethiopia, in particular at this time to Oromia region; may 'steadfast love, justice, and righteousness' prevail. 'For in these things I delight, declares the Lord' (from Jeremiah 9:23-24).

* comfort those who are grieving; heal those who are wounded; provide food, water, shelter and medical aid to those who are displaced, and impart wisdom, grace, energy and authority to those who seek to lead according to the will and purpose of the Lord.

* awaken Ethiopia's Oromo nationalists to the fact that separatism can only bring massive bloodshed; may God prick their consciences and fill their hearts with horror; may the Spirit of God draw multitudes of ethnic Oromo away from ethnic nationalism and towards Prime Minister Abiy's vision of a strong, prosperous, reconciled and united Ethiopia. Lord have mercy!

* complete the good work he has begun in Ethiopia; may all evil plots be thwarted; and may the Lord bless our brother PM Abiy with security, wisdom, insight, discernment and strength, all while keeping him humble with 'eyes fixed on Jesus' (Hebrews 12:2).
8
Prayer for Ethiopia: Psalm 140

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
------------------------------------------------------------
SLAUGHTER IN ETHIOPIA

The assassination in Addis Ababa of a popular ethnic Oromo singer has triggered an explosion of ethnic-religious violence. The violence appears organised, designed to destabilise the nation and derail the reforms of Prime Minister Abiy (a Protestant Christian). Commencing at 4am on 30 June, gangs of Oromo nationalists specifically targeted ethnic Amhara Ethiopian Orthodox Christians living in some 40 districts of Oromia region. Victims were clubbed, hacked and stoned to death. The toll to date is 239 dead with some 300 wounded, many critically. Some 3360 Amhara Christians are displaced and sheltering in churches. Along with businesses, 493 homes belonging to Amhara Christians were torched. Some 4700 arrests have been made, including that of Oromo nationalist leader Jawar Mohammed (a fundamentalist Muslim). The situation is explosive. Please pray.

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

UPDATE: TURKEY - THE FATE OF HAGIA SOPHIA
For background and prayer points see:
RLPB 552, Erdogan Stokes the Fire of Islamic Zeal, 3 June 2020.

On Friday 10 July Turkey's Council of State ruled that the government decree of 1934, which saw the Church of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) turned into a museum, had been unlawful. President Erdogan immediately signed a presidential decree handing control of the 'Hagia Sophia Mosque' to Turkey's religious affairs directorate, Diyanet. The World Heritage listed Byzantine Cathedral will open for Muslim prayers commencing Friday 24 July. While some opine that Erdogan's move is designed to erase Turkey's Christian heritage, it really is more about Erdogan's Islamist fantasy of supplanting Christianity and replacing it with Islam - a fantasy that extends well beyond Turkey! For Erdogan, this is all about Islamic conquest which, as he explains in his public address on Hagia Sophia, is a benevolent act! The implications for Turkey's Christian remnant - most of whom are Armenian, Assyrian and Greek descendants of genocide survivors - as well as her Turkish and Kurdish converts from Islam, are obvious. Please pray.

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

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 7, 2020

RLPB 557. Iran: Christians Exposed and Vulnerable

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 557 | Wed 08 Jul 2020
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: CHRISTIANS EXPOSED AND VULNERABLE
By Elizabeth Kendal

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),
 Pooriya Peyma (27) and his wife Fatemeh Talebi (27),
 and Habib Heydari (38).
A year ago, on 1 July 2019, Iranian authorities arrested eight Christian converts in the south-eastern Persian Gulf city of Bushehr (pictured right). Khatoon Fatolahzadeh was subsequently released because of her age. [For full details of the arrests, see RLPB 510 (10 July 2019).] In April 2020 the seven believers were convicted of 'propaganda against the state' (Article 500 of the penal code). On 21 June the revolutionary court in Bushehr handed the four men custodial sentences of up to one year in prison each, long enough to guarantee a criminal record. Upon release, brothers Sam and Sasan Khosravi will also face work restrictions and two years internal exile. The three women - Fatemeh Talebi, and sisters Maryam and Marjan Falahi - were fined. Maryam, who is a nurse, was also given a lifetime ban on working for any national institution, including the hospital where she has worked for the past 20 years. They are all expected to appeal.

On Tuesday evening 30 June police raided a house-church in western Tehran's Yaftabad district. All 30 believers present were taken to Intelligence headquarters where an officer read a list of names from an arrest warrant. Having been cited for arrest, six believers - Armenian-Iranian Christian Joseph Shahbazian and five Christian converts named Reza, Salar, Sonya and elderly sisters Mina and Maryam - were handcuffed, blindfolded, and taken away. Phones were confiscated, homes were searched and, according to eyewitnesses, some of the believers, along with some of their non-Christian family members, were beaten. Agents then went to the homes of three other Christian converts whose names were on the arrest warrant. Two men - Farhad and Arash - were arrested, as was Mrs Maliheh Nazari (46) who is married with two sons. Early on Wednesday morning 1 July, Christian converts Sohrab, Ebrahim and Yasser were arrested in the city of Malayer (400km south-west of Tehran). Most devastatingly, London-based Article 18 reports (3 July): 'It is believed that the raids were co-ordinated with the help of an informant, who had infiltrated the group within the past few months and gained their trust. This individual is reported to have accompanied the intelligence agents in their raid on the Tehran house-church, and to have even stood next to the judge as he later read out his bail demands.'

As outlined in RLPB 536 (12 Feb 2020), between November 2019 and January 2020, dozens of Iranian cities erupted in anti-regime protests, unprecedented in this post-Islamic Revolution era. Aware it was losing its grip on the masses, Iran's ruling Guardian Council then engineered February's parliamentary elections to ensure that Principlists/Conservatives (hard-liners) would dominate the new parliament [for results see RLPB 538 (26 Feb)]. NOTE: Principlists/Conservatives differ from Centrists/Reformists, primarily on economic policy. The Principlists seek a self-reliant and quasi-socialist Iran, while the Reformists advocate economic openness and foreign investment. While the Reformists are eager to take infidel money, the Principlists are determined to prevent ideological contagion. Critically, as the 2017 presidential election demonstrated, a majority of Iranians - being more Persian than Islamist - favour the idea of economic openness and engagement with the West [RLPB 408 (24 May 2017)]. Most are deeply disillusioned with the Islamic regime which has long stifled Persian culture and brought nothing but conflict, poverty, and despair.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (81) 
As RLPB warned in February 2020, 'persecution of Christians will escalate under a Principlist-dominated regime'. It is in this context that the parliament, in May, passed amendments to Articles 499 and 500 of the Islamic Penal Code. Those found guilty of 'deviant psychological manipulation' or 'propaganda contrary to Islam', whether in the 'real or virtual sphere', can now be labelled as 'sects' and punished with imprisonment, flogging, fines, or even the death penalty. For at least a decade now, Iran has avoided using religious language in its persecution of Christians, as it attracts criticism of Iran's human rights. Instead, Iran has been charging Christians with non-religious national security offences. The introduction of religious language into laws pertaining to national security, which will see Christians charged as being members of a 'sect', is a display of Principlist resistance that is very threatening indeed. It indicates that a supremely confident Principlist-dominated government no longer seeks or requires the approval of the West. The threat posed by this trend cannot be overstated.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT

* the ever-present Holy Spirit of God will refresh, sustain, comfort and encourage every Christian in Iran, especially those who are appealing fines and prison sentences, serving prison sentences, languishing in internal exile, enduring persecution or struggling with fear, anxiety and confusion. We pray acknowledging that many are young, and many are fragile and vulnerable new believers. Lord have mercy!

* the risen, victorious Lamb of God, who is 'Lord of lords and King of kings', will fulfil his glorious purposes in Iran; may God our loving Father redeem all suffering and bring about the victory of light over darkness (John 1:1-5).

'They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful'. (Rev 17:14 ESV)

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

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
------------------------------------------------------------
CHRISTIANS EXPOSED AND VULNERABLE IN IRAN

On 21 June seven Christian converts arrested in July 2019 - four men and three women (aged between 27 and 38) - received their sentences; all will appeal. On Tuesday evening 30 June, Iranian intelligence officers raided a house-church in a western suburb of Tehran. Of the 30 members taken into custody, six were arrested, handcuffed, blindfolded and taken away because their names were among 12 names on an arrest warrant. Six other believers whose names were also on the arrest warrant were subsequently targeted; three were arrested in Tehran that evening, and three were arrested the next morning in Malayer, 400km southwest of Tehran. Most critically, it is believed that the raids were co-ordinated with the help of an informant, who had infiltrated the group and gained their trust. Please pray.

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

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).