Wednesday, August 31, 2011

123. August Update; Incl. Iraq, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Zimbabwe

AUGUST 2011 UPDATE

By Elizabeth Kendal

'Then I said, "I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High." I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds . . . You are the God who works wonders.' (Psalm 77:10-12,14a ESV)

AUGUST 2011 UPDATE -- during August we prayed for . . .

INDONESIA (RLPB 119), where Christians are facing escalating violent persecution fuelled by impunity, primarily in Papua and West Java, especially the Bogor and Bekasi districts. It is reported there were 64 violent attacks on religious freedom in 2010, up from 18 in 2009 and 17 in 2008.

UPDATE: In December 2010, Indonesia's Supreme Court and Ombudsman Commission ruled in favour of the Taman Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church in Bogor, West Java, confirming the legality of its building permit. Despite this, the church remains sealed and Bogor authorities continue to obstruct and threaten the members. Now the mayor of Bogor, Diani Budiarto, is pushing for a law to forbid churches opening on streets bearing Islamic names. The Yasmin church is on Jalan Abdullah bin Nuh, a street named after the noted Islamic cleric Abdullah bin Nuh (died 1987). President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is remaining silent on the issue. If mayor Budiarto can defy the courts with impunity, the law will be rendered meaningless. Pray for Indonesia.


SUDAN (RLPB 120), where the predominantly Christian Nuba peoples of South Kordofan are facing starvation at the hands of a genocidal regime.

UPDATE: On Tuesday 23 August, while visiting Kadugli, the capital of South Kordofan, Sudan's President Omar el-Bashir announced a two-week ceasefire. He also confirmed that no humanitarian aid groups would be permitted to enter the war-ravaged region where hundreds of thousands of predominantly Christian Nuba have been displaced. The Secretary-General of the SPLM-N, Yasir Arman, is accusing Bashir of 'using food as a weapon'. Arman regards Bashir's declaration of a ceasefire as nothing more than a 'public relations stunt'. He believes Bashir is actually preparing for a major military offensive in South Kordofan. Despite the ceasefire, bombing is reportedly continuing. Pray for God to intervene for his people.


VIETNAM (RLPB 121), where religious persecution is escalating against Christian activists in the cities and the ethnic minority Christians in the Central Highlands.

UPDATE: AsiaNews reports (29 August) that the disappeared Catholic activists are imprisoned in Hanoi and will go on trial shortly. They are charged with attempting to 'overthrow the people's administration', under Clause 2, Article 79 of the Vietnam Penal Code. Sources told AsiaNews the prisoners have been allowed to receive food and clothing but not prayer books. The fate of two Protestants arrested at the same time is unknown. In the coming weeks, Vietnamese Christians across the nation -- Catholics and Protestants -- will hold candlelight prayer vigils for religious freedom. Pray in solidarity with them.

PAKISTAN (RLPB 122), where Christian security is increasingly tenuous.

UPDATE: As noted in RLPB 122, anti-blasphemy law campaigner Salman Taseer was assassinated on 4 January. Now his son Shahbaz Taseer has been kidnapped, seized in an ambush on 26 August. Some experts believe Shahbaz might be used as a bargaining chip by militants seeking the acquittal of Salman Taseer's assassin, Mumtaz Qadri. Meanwhile, in increasingly Islamised and Talibanised Karachi, a virtual war between militias backed by political parties and sectarian groups has left some 400 dead. The violence is also hastening the ethnic-religious polarisation of the city. Christians are especially vulnerable amidst such lawlessness. Christian homes and churches have been threatened and pelted with rocks recently in Karachi, mostly by the ethnic Pashtuns. They are backed by the Taliban and live in Pashtun-dominated districts near the Christian colony. Pray for all Pakistan's Christians and religious liberty advocates.


AUGUST 2011 ROUND-UP -- also this month . . .

* IRAQ: MANY CHURCHES BOMBED IN KIRKUK

On Monday 15 August a bomb exploded outside Saint Ephrem's Syrian Orthodox Church in Al Ummal Square, central Kirkuk, causing major damage but no casualties. It was the third church bombing in Kirkuk in two weeks. The previous night, four bombs exploded simultaneously inside Kirkuk's Saint Afram Syriac Orthodox Church. Whilst there were no casualties, it was the first time insurgents had managed to detonate bombs planted inside a church. On 2 August, 15 people were wounded including church staff when a car bomb exploded about 5:30am outside the Holy Family Syrian Catholic church in Kirkuk. Bombs were subsequently found and defused outside the Saint Giwargis Church of the East and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in the Almass district. Kirkuk Archbishop Louis Sako told Aid to the Church in Need, 'This is only happening because we are Christians. Maybe the people responsible want to empty the city of Christians. Please pray for us. Pray for peace and stability. We are afraid.' Pray for Iraq's besieged Christians.


* IVORY COAST: ONGOING DIRE SITUATION FOR CHRISTIANS

The UN peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast is deeply concerned about continuing serious human rights abuses in Ivory Coast. From mid-July to mid-August the mission documented 26 extra-judicial killings, 85 illegal arrests and 11 rapes, all committed by the former rebels who now make up the official army of Ivory Coast. According to the acting human rights chief in the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI), Guillaume Ngefa, predominantly Christian ethnic groups continue to suffer cruel and inhumane treatment and violation of property rights at the hands of pro-Ouattara Islamic forces. Pray for the Christians of Ivory Coast.


* NIGERIA: CHRISTIANS TARGETED IN PLATEAU STATE

Twenty-four Christians were killed in Plateau State during August in targeted attacks by Islamic militants in collusion with uniformed Muslims from the Nigerian Army. Ratsa Foron village was attacked on 11 and 15 August: 6 dead. Chwelnyap community in Jos was attacked on 14 August: 2 dead. Heipang village was attacked on 15 August leaving 10 dead, including 9 members of one family. Kwi, Loton and Jwol villages were attacked on 21 August: 6 dead. In each attack uniformed soldiers of the Nigerian military, including those from the Special Task Force (a unit tasked with stopping sectarian attacks), accompanied the militants and even participated in the killings. Plateau governor Jonah Jang has called for immediate withdrawal of the Nigerian Army because, he said, Muslims in the army are taking sides with the Islamist assailants. This situation is extremely serious.

Gada-biu is the Christian-dominated district of North Jos Local Government Area where multiple bombs exploded on 24 December 2010 resulting in around 90 deaths. (Boko Haram claimed responsibility -- see RLPB 088.) Consequently, local Christians did not want Muslims celebrating Eid-el-Fitri (end of Ramadan) in that area and so made a formal request that they celebrate elsewhere. On Monday 29 Aug 2011 strife erupted between the district's local ethnic Christians and Muslims going down Rukuba Road to celebrate Eid-el-Fitri in the sensitive area. The clash left 20 people dead and more than 100 wounded. Reportedly 'most' of the dead and wounded were shot by soldiers firing indiscriminately. At least 50 vehicles, 100 motorcycles and two shops were torched. Accounts vary widely about who provoked whom and what actually occurred. Tensions are high. Please pray for Nigeria.


* ZIMBABWE: ANGLICAN PASTORS EVICTED

On 4 August Zimbabwe's Chief Justice issued a temporary ruling placing all Anglican properties under the control of excommunicated, pro-Mugabe bishop Norbert Kunonga. (See 'Zimbabwe: Chief Justice grants excommunicated Kunonga control over Anglican properties', Religious Liberty Monitoring, 17 Aug). According to The Zimbabwean (27 August) Kunonga's thugs have evicted 27 Anglican pastors and their families violently from their church-owned homes since the ruling was issued. Reverend Jonah Mudowaya was severely beaten in Chinhoyi on Wednesday 24 August by a Kunonga gang. In a bid to stop the evictions, lawyers representing the Anglican Diocese of Harare have filed a Constitutional appeal against the Chief Justice's ruling on the grounds it was issued while the matter was the subject of a Supreme Court appeal. The Chief Justice has noted the Constitutional appeal but says it will not interfere with his order. While the Anglican Church awaits the Supreme Court ruling, the excommunicated Kunonga is exploiting the opportunity this gives him to seize the church's assets. Please pray for justice in Zimbabwe.

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