Tuesday, September 22, 2020

RLPB 568. Pakistan: 'Blasphemy', a sword over the neck.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 568 | Wed 23 Sep 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to “Follow by email” on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog. ‘The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective’ (James 5:16 NIV). 

PAKISTAN: 'BLASPHEMY' - A SWORD OVER THE NECK
By Elizabeth Kendal

Asif Pervaiz (right) with 
Saiful Malook (centre

On 8 September a court in Lahore sentenced Asif Pervaiz (37) to death for blasphemy. The Christian father of four has been in prison since October 2013, when he was accused of sending blasphemous text messages from his mobile phone. Pervaiz denies the charge and claims his accuser, a former supervisor, had been obsessively pressuring him to convert to Islam, without success. The court ruled that Pervaiz must serve a three-year prison term for phone misuse and be fined 50,000 rupees (US$300), and then be 'hanged by his neck till his death'. His lawyer, Saiful Malook (who secured Asia Bibi's acquittal in October 2018), laments that a judge could issue such a ruling in the absence of any evidence. 'Although I'm greatly disappointed by the ruling in this case, one cannot ignore the fact that it has become a norm of trial court judges hearing blasphemy cases to convict the accused no matter how weak the prosecution's case is.' Malook will appeal the conviction in the Lahore High Court.

top: Shafqat and Shagufta 
below: four children
who miss their parents

Similarly, Shafqat Emmanuel Masih and his wife, Shagufta Kausar, of Gojra, Punjab, have been in prison since June 2013, when they were accused of sending blasphemous text messages to Muhammad Hussain, an Islamic cleric at a Gojra mosque. Shafqat - who is paralysed from the waist down - was tortured during interrogation but only 'confessed' after authorities threatened to torture his wife. In April 2014 a sessions court in Toba Tek Singh, Punjab Province, found Shafqat and Shagufta guilty of sending English language blasphemous texts and sentenced them to death, even though both are illiterate [RLPB 539 (4 March 2020)]. It seems a spiteful neighbour may have framed them. Held in separate prisons, Shafqat and Shagufta have not seen each other since 2014. Their children - Zain (15), Danish (12), Joshua (10) and Sarah (9) - are being cared for by a paternal aunt. The appeal against their sentence was to be heard earlier this year before the COVID-19 pandemic caused massive delays. According to Church in Chains, the appeal will be heard in the Lahore Appeals Court on Thursday 24 September; Saiful Malook will represent the couple.

On 25 August Amnesty International lamented the 'alarming uptick in blasphemy accusations across Pakistan', noting that it 'underscores the urgency with which the draconian laws that enable abuse and risk lives must be repealed'.  As for the 'alarming uptick', Pakistani police registered more than 40 blasphemy cases in a month, from late July to late August, mostly against Shi'ites. Moreover, four people had been brutally gunned down in supposed retaliation for 'blasphemy': two Shi'ite Muslims, one Ahmadi (deemed heretical) sect member, and Tahir Ahmed Naseem (57) - a US citizen, former Ahmadi Muslim, now self-declared prophet who had been lured back to Pakistan. Faisal Khan (15), the teenager who shot and killed Naseem in open court on 29 July, is being glorified and celebrated as a 'holy warrior'. Lawyers are lining up to defend him and Islamists are demanding his release; meanwhile the prosecuting attorney has been forced into hiding. Despite Asia Bibi's acquittal - and possibly because of it (as reactionary Islamists take the law into their own hands) - the situation is not improving but seems to be getting worse by the day. For Pakistani Christians, the blasphemy law is like a sword perpetually hanging over their necks.

Pastor Zafar Bhatti

Pastor Zafar Bhatti (56) has been in Rawalpindi's Adiala Central Jail since July 2012, when he was charged with sending blasphemous text messages. Despite being tortured to extract a 'confession', Zafar insists he is innocent. Pastor Zafar founded and led a small ministry called 'Jesus World Mission'. He and his co-workers used to visit the poor, offering basic medicines, Bible readings and prayer until a local Islamic leader filed a complaint at New Town police station, Rawalpindi, in which he accused Zafar of blasphemy. On 3 May 2017 the court deemed Zafar guilty, but instead of sentencing him to death (as is mandatory for blasphemy) the judge sentenced Zafar to life imprisonment because there was 'no concrete evidence' against him - the phone in question was not even registered in his name. Zafar has suffered terribly in prison; he has been poisoned, savagely beaten, and must be kept in high security for his own safety. Postponed seven times, his appeal is yet to be heard. On 3 September Zafar suffered a heart attack in his cell. He has received medical treatment and is now reportedly stable. His lawyers are appealing for bail to be granted and for an early appeal hearing against his conviction.

PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* intervene on behalf of Asif Pervaiz, Shafqat and Shagufta, Pastor Zafar Bhatti and more than a dozen other Christians (some of whom are mere youths) who are currently in prison (around nine on death row) after being accused of blaspheming Islam.

May the Lord protect them and their families from all harm; may he supply all their needs and cause justice to flow (Amos 5:24); may he draw them close, sustain their faith and assure them of his promise, 'I am with you always, to the end of the age' (from Matthew 28:20 ESV). Lord have mercy!

* protect, defend, sustain, guide and bless Saiful Malook (a principled Muslim, and doubtless Pakistan's most courageous human rights lawyer); may he be blessed with the greatest blessing of all - that is, to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. 'O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see' (from 2 Kings 6:15-17 ESV).

* raise up domestic and international indignation and pressure, not just against the blasphemy law, but the dangerous escalation of genocidal hatred in radicalised Pakistan; may the 'Lord of the Breakthough', Baal-perazim (from 2 Samuel 5:17-21), break through Islam's hold over Pakistan.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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IN PAKISTAN, 'BLASPHEMY' IS A SWORD OVER THE NECK OF CHRISTIANS

Asif Pervaiz (37) has been in prison since October 2013, when he was falsely accused of sending blasphemous texts. On 8 September he was sentenced to death. Shafqat and his wife, Shagufta, have been in prison since June 2013, when they were accused of sending blasphemous texts, despite being illiterate. In April 2014 they were sentenced to death. Pastor Zafar Bhatti (56) has been in prison since July 2012, when a local Muslim leader accused him of blasphemy. On 3 May 2017, despite being found guilty, the judge sentenced Zafar not to death, but to life imprisonment, because there was 'no concrete evidence' against him. On 3 September Pastor Zafar suffered a non-fatal heart attack in his cell. Please pray for these and all Pakistani Christians unjustly imprisoned; 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, September 15, 2020

RLPB 567. Sudan: Peace and Liberty; Hope and Resistance

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 567 | Wed 16 Sep 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to “Follow by email” on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog. ‘The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective’ (James 5:16 NIV).

SUDAN: PEACE AND LIBERTY, HOPE AND RESISTANCE.
By Elizabeth Kendal

click on map to enlarge
BACKGROUND
Expansive Sudan is home to numerous ethnic groups and religious traditions. For decades, the central government's racist Arab supremacy (resulting in the marginalisation and persecution of non-Arabs) and totalitarian Islamic supremacy (resulting in Islamic jihad against those who resist the imposition of Islamic Sharia Law) caused nothing but suffering and war; it also led to the break-up of the state. The cost (in life and wealth) was enormous! However, it was a cost not paid by the regime in Khartoum, but rather by the Sudanese people, and especially by the non-Arabs and non-Muslims of the periphery.

Between December 2018 and April 2019 - in what must go down in history as one of the greatest people-movements of the early 21st Century - multitudes of Sudanese rose up declaring, 'Enough!'. Even after the military toppled the regime, the protesters bravely stood their ground declaring, 'No! Still not enough!' and demanded civilian rule. The protesters' insistence that Sudan be recognised as multi-racial and multi-religious, as well as free and democratic was beyond inspirational! [See RLPB 502 (15 May 2019)].

PM Abdulla Hamdok
Ultimately, to move forward without bloodshed, a compromise had to be reached. The Sovereignty Council was established as a transitional administration comprising both civilians and military. After nearly 40 years of Islamist-military rule, the difficulty of freeing Sudan from the grip of an Islamist Deep State cannot be overstated! [See RLPB 516 (21 Aug 2019)]

Despite protests and a failed assassination attempt [RLPB 540 (11 Mar 2020)], Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok is making every effort to bring about the changes so many Sudanese are demanding, including their demand for peace. He deserves all the support he can get.

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SUDAN: PEACE AND LIBERTY, HOPE AND RESISTANCE.

In South Sudan's capital, Juba, on Monday 31 August, after nearly a full year of talks, representatives from Sudan's Sovereignty Council initialled a peace agreement with representatives from the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), a coalition of rebel groups that have been fighting Khartoum's Arab-Islamist regime for years. The deal gives the rebels positions in the transitional government and extends greater autonomy to territories under their control. The voluntary return of millions of displaced and exiled Sudanese will be encouraged and assisted, and humanitarian aid groups - long-banned from rebel-held regions - will be invited to return. Rebel fighters will be required to lay down their arms or join the ranks of the as-yet unreformed Sudan Armed Forces (their long-time enemy); a provision many suspect will prove unworkable at this time. A final agreement will be signed in Juba on Saturday 3 October.

Abdel Aziz al-Hilu 
However, two groups under the SRF umbrella refused to sign. Abdel Wahid al-Nour, who leads a faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army in Darfur, is holding out for a better deal. And while the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army-North (Agar-Arman faction) did sign, the main faction led by Abdel Aziz al-Hilu - which is based in the Nuba Mountains and represents the interests of the Nuba peoples - refused on the grounds that the agreement does not address the 'root causes' of the conflict: Islam and centralisation. As long-time Sudan expert Eric Reeves explains, Abdel Aziz al-Hilu (whom Reeves describes as a man of 'extraordinary integrity, tremendous courage, and the clearest intelligence') is not prepared to see his people, the Nuba, betrayed yet again. For the mostly Christian Nuba, al-Hilu demands that Sudan be secular (the demand that led to the SPLM/A-N split), for the people must have religious freedom.

PM Hamdok meets al-Hilu in Kauda, Nuba Mountains,
South Kordfan, January 2020.
Banner reads: 'Yes to a secular state' (AP).
(click on image to enlarge)
Over 2 to 4 September, PM Hamdok and al-Hilu met in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. On the evening of Thursday 3 September, it was announced that the parties had agreed on the necessity of a full political settlement which addresses the root causes of conflict (Islam and centralisation). The government has agreed 'in principle' to officially separate religion from the state, ending nearly 40 years of Islamic rule in Sudan. The document initialled by the two parties states: 'For Sudan to become a democratic country where the rights of all citizens are enshrined, the constitution should be based on the principle of "separation of religion and state", in the absence of which the right to self-determination must be respected'. Furthermore, the SPLA-N (al-Hilu faction) will be permitted to keep its weapons until 'security arrangements are finalised and religion and state are separated'.

However, as PM Hamdok explains, this 'preliminary agreement' will not be effective until it is approved by 'the relevant institutions'. Unsurprisingly, the proposal to establish Sudan constitutionally as a secular state is hugely controversial. On Friday 4 September, as Nuba in Khartoum exuberantly voiced support for the agreement, Islamists emerged from their mosques to protest against it. It was the eighth consecutive week of Islamic protest against the government's legal reforms [see RLPB 559 (22 July)]. The protesters chanted Islamic slogans, including: 'There is no God but Allah', 'We will not replace the law of God', 'Secularism will not rule us', 'The Qur'an is the constitution'. Islamic protests are expected to escalate against the law reforms and the 'secularism deal'. The stakes could not be higher!

PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* guide and protect Sudan's PM Abdulla Hamdok, Nuba leader Abdel Aziz al-Hilu, along with all those who are working so bravely and defiantly for political, legal and religious reform in Sudan; may they have all the international recognition and support they deserve; may the LORD be pleased to use them to bring peace and liberty to Sudan.

* break Islam's power over Sudan. The Lord of hosts has sworn: 'As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand ...' (from Isaiah 14:24-27 ESV)

* guide and protect those who lead his people, including pastors, teachers and political figures; may the LORD grant them wisdom, discernment, clarity and courage as they seek to lead the Lord's people though delicate, complex and transformative times.

* draw his people into prayer for peace and liberty in Sudan - things long hoped for, now in view, but not yet realised; may the Sudanese Church grow in faith and number as she puts her trust in the LORD (as distinct from 'man' or politics); and may the global Body of Christ stand with her in this pivotal hour.

Praise God for the amazing advances being made in Sudan. May the LORD be praised and glorified! May every evil plot be thwarted, and all resistance stilled. May the LORD have mercy!

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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PEACE AND LIBERTY, HOPE AND RESISTANCE IN SUDAN

Sudan's Prime Minister, Abdallah Hamdok, is pursuing peace with the state's long-marginalised, long-persecuted non-Arab and non-Muslim peoples. Though a peace deal was signed on 31 August, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army-North (al-Hilu faction) - which is based in the Nuba Mountains and represents the mostly Christian Nuba peoples - opted out as the deal did not address the 'root causes' of conflict: Islam and centralisation. On 3 September PM Hamdok and al-Hilu signed an agreement which states: 'For Sudan to become a democratic country where the rights of all citizens are enshrined, the constitution should be based on the principle of "separation of religion and state", in the absence of which the right to self-determination must be respected'. Peace and liberty are in sight! Hope is soaring! But Islamic resistance is mounting. Please pray.

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

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

See www.ElizabethKendal.com