Tuesday, November 21, 2017

RLPB 433. Burma (Myanmar): Pastors' Appeal Imminent

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 433 | Wed 22 Nov 2017

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)

BURMA (MYANMAR): PASTORS' APPEAL IMMINENT
by Elizabeth Kendal 

click on map to enlarge
Burma's human rights issues revolve around the unchecked power of a politically active military which is, at its core, ethnic Burmese and Buddhist supremacist. When the policies of the central government clash with the aspirations of Burma's ethnic peoples, the military enforces government policy with the extreme violence one would expect of soldiers consumed with ethno-religious hatred and confident of impunity. This is precisely why Burma's non-Burmese, non-Buddhist peoples refuse to disarm and for this they are deemed insurgents and enemies of the state.

On 20 November 2016 clashes erupted between the Northern Alliance (a coalition of four ethnic armed groups) and the Burmese military in Mong Ko town, Mu Se District, on the Burma-China border in northern Shan State. Burma Air Force fighter jets targeted churches, schools and homes until the Northern Alliance withdrew on 4 Dec 2016. Then the Burma Army moved in, torching properties and farmlands. Despite Mong Ko being closed off and subjected to a news blackout, ethnic Kachin pastor Dumdaw Nawng Lat (67) of the Mong Ko Kachin Baptist Church, and his nephew, youth pastor Langjaw Gam Seng (35) -- both of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) -- courageously helped journalists gain access to the town so they could document the destruction. When the reports and photos subsequently hit the press, the Burmese military determined to punish the pastors in a way that would deter any other would-be human rights advocates.

Mong Ko after air strikes
Ethnic Armed Groups Withdraw from Mong Ko to Protect Civilians
The Irrawaddy, 5 Dec 2016.

Burma Army Bomb Roman Catholic Church in Mong Ko
Burma News International, 15 December 2016.
 

On 24 December 2016 the Burmese military ambushed and abducted Nawng Lat and Gam Seng [RLPB 391 (25 Jan 2017)]. The pastors spent the next three weeks illegally and secretly detained in Kalaya 123 military base in Nampaka township, northern Shan State, being repeatedly interrogated. After an international outcry over the pastors' disappearance, the military confessed on 19 January that it was indeed holding the two men whom they accused of recruiting and spying for the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). The KBC demanded the military hand the pastors over to police, which it did. However, it also handed over their 'confessions' signed under severe duress. The police then charged the pastors with 'unlawful association' with the KIA. Major Kyaw Zin Tun of Brigade 99 acted as plaintiff and filed the complaints at the Muse Township Court. Further to this, Muse police chief and captain Aye Myint charged the pastors with possession of unlicenced motorcycles. The case was initially investigated in Muse township court before being transferred 174km south to Lashio, a four-and-half-hours drive away. In June, Nawng Lat's wife told Morning Star News that conditions were bad and her husband's health was deteriorating [RLPB 412 (27 June)].

Dumdaw Nawng Lat & Langjaw Gam Seng
On Friday 27 October Nawng Lat and Gam Seng appeared in Lashio District Court in northern Shan State to hear the verdict. The pastors were found guilty of all charges and convicted under the oft-exploited Unlawful Associations Act section 17(1) and the Export and Import Law section 8. The court was tightly controlled,with journalists banned from taking photos of the accused outside the court. Pastor Dumdaw Nawng Lat (who is also the chairman of the KBC) was sentenced to four years and three months imprisonment: two years with hard labour for unlawful association, two years for criminal defamation under Penal Code section 500 for having 'defamed' the Burmese military in an interview, and three months under the Export Import Law. Youth Pastor Langjaw Gam Seng was sentenced to two years and three months imprisonment: two years with hard labour for unlawful association and three months under section 8 of the Export Import Law. The only evidence presented against the pastors were their 'confessions' signed under severe duress while in military detention.  Human Rights Watch has called for the verdicts to be quashed and for the two pastors to be released immediately. As David Baulk, Myanmar Human Rights Specialist with Fortify Rights noted: 'Today's verdict is another reminder that in Myanmar, human rights defenders have a choice: silence or a sentence.' Reverend Hkalam Samson, general secretary of the KBC, said the KBC will appeal the verdict.


PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* intervene for Pastor Dumdaw Nawng Lat and Youth Pastor Langjaw Gam Seng, to protect them from violence, illness, despair and spiritual attack. 'But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.' (Psalm 3:3 ESV)

* intervene in the appeal process, to provide guidance, wisdom and clarity to the defence, as well as courage to the judge, so that justice will prevail.

* amplify the voice of the Kachin Baptist Convention, so it might be heard, heeded and acted on by intercessors, politicians, lawyers and media -- indeed anyone who could influence policy in Burma. [Remember: intercessory prayer is advocacy to the Highest Authority!]

* bless, protect and sustain Burma's Christians, most of whom belong to persecuted ethnic minorities. May the Lord Jesus Christ continue to build his Church in Burma, and may the Holy Spirit enable a breakthrough with the Burmese-Buddhist majority.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
PASTORS' APPEAL IMMINENT IN BURMA (MYANMAR)

On 27 October, ethnic Kachin pastor Dumdaw Nawng Lat (67) and his nephew youth pastor Langjaw Gam Seng (35) -- both members of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) -- were sentenced to two years' prison with hard labour for 'unlawful association' with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), plus three months for possessing unregistered motorcycles. Nawng Lat received an extra two years for 'defaming' the Burmese military. Accused of recruiting and spying for the KIA, all they had done was help reporters gain access to Mong Ko town so they could document the destruction wrought by the Burmese military. The only evidence presented against the pastors were their 'confessions' signed under severe duress whilst in military detention. The KBC will appeal the verdict. Please pray for these pastors, for Burma and its Christians.

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

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, November 14, 2017

RLPB 432. China: Christian advocate confined in an 'infinite darkness' -- the plight of Gao Zhisheng

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 432 | Wed 15 NOV 2017

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)


CHINA: CHRISTIAN ADVOCATE CONFINED IN AN 'INFINITE DARKNESS'
-- the plight of Gao Zhisheng
by Elizabeth Kendal

In 2001, the Chinese Ministry of Justice officially recognised committed Christian human rights attorney, Gao Zhisheng, as 'one of China's top ten lawyers'. Eventually, however, Gao's ardent defence of the oppressed and persecuted, as well as open letters protesting Chinese Communist Party (CCP) policy and practice, saw him fall foul of the system. Stripped of his lawyer's licence, Gao was first imprisoned in 2006. Since then he has been in and out of prison, forcibly 'disappeared', beaten and brutally tortured, held for extended times in solitary confinement, isolated and denied access to medical care -- all because he refuses to be silenced. In 2009, Gao's wife and children escaped to the US. Content in the knowledge that his family is safe, Gao has steadfastly refused to leave China; for he is convinced that God has called him to 'bear his cross' inside China.

When Gao Zhisheng emerged from three years secret detention in August 2014, the internationally acclaimed human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate was a shadow of his former self; indeed many surmised he'd been 'utterly destroyed' [see RLPB 275, August Update (Aug 2014)] Clearly the CCP was sending a message: 'This is what happens when you criticise the CCP.' Doubtless the CCP assumed it had broken Gao and terrorised all rights advocates into silence. Doubtless China's rulers were 'testing the waters' to see how much violent repression the 'international community' would allow them. [Plenty, so it seems!]

Gao's daughter, Grace Geng in
Hong Kong with her father’s book, June 2016.
(Photo: Kin Cheung, Associated Press)
Subsequently placed under house arrest, isolated and denied access to medical care, Gao could have withered and died; but he did not. Like Samson, he recovered and re-focused. After years of secret detention, Gao threw his energy into secret writing. Defying serious health issues and intensive supervision, he was able to write both a memoir and a 40-page human rights report while working on a new constitution. Smuggled out of the country at great risk, Gao's secret writings have since been published [see below]. Furthermore, Gao also communicated secretly. In an interview with the Chinese language New York-based New Tang Dynasty Television on 7 August, he criticised the CCP for its suffocating repression and brutal tyranny. Then, on 13 August, Gao 'disappeared'. [See RLPB 421, August Update, (Aug 2017).]

On 3 November China Aid Association (CAA) revealed that Gao had escaped from his government minders with the assistance of two friends who had been desperate to get him medical care. Though they managed to evade the authorities for 23 days, the large contingent of officers deployed to find him eventually succeeded. Gao was quickly 'disappeared' into secret detention while his friends -- Shao Zhongguo and Li Fawang -- were both arrested. Whilst Shao has not been seen since, Li (a diabetic) has been released, albeit not before suffering a bout of cruel punishment.

On 12 November Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that the Gao Zhisheng Lawyers' Concern Group had managed to locate Gao. According to the group, Gao is being held in a secret prison in Shaanxi Province in solitary confinement, in total darkness and denied access to medical care. In a smuggled sound-bite delivered to RFA, Gao said the conditions are even worse than those he experienced in Shaya Prison, Xinjiang (2011-2014). He said he feels like he is confined in an 'infinite darkness'. His supporters fear for his life.

As long-time religious liberty expert and advocate, Benedict Rogers, wrote recently in the Hong Kong Free Press (11 Novembers): 'Gao's work is a challenge to us all. It deserves to be read in the corridors of power. He has acted with extraordinary courage and is paying a very high price for his conscience. It is time for the rest of the world to rediscover its conscience, stand up to China and, at a minimum, demand Gao's release.'

--------------------
Gao Zhisheng’s memoir was published in Taiwan in Chinese in June 2016, and in the US in English in January 2017. 

An English translation of his 40-page report, ‘2016 Human Rights Report for China,’ was published in October 2017. Briefing and summary & Full Text 
--------------------

PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* intervene to ensure Gao's writings are not only spread and read far and wide, but that they will have the desired impact; may they facilitate change in China.

* intervene to facilitate the release of Gao Zhishang and all China's abused and incarcerated human rights defenders.

MAY OUR MERCIFUL GOD pour out his Holy Spirit abundantly to comfort and sustain our brother Gao Zhisheng:

* may he rest in the assurance that nothing that separate him from the love of Christ Jesus who is all the while interceding on his behalf. READ and pray Romans 8:31-39 

* may his cell become a sanctuary, i.e. miqdas (Hebrew) a place where God dwells (from Isaiah 8: 11-15).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
IN CHINA, CHRISTIAN ADVOCATE CONFINED IN AN 'INFINITE DARKNESS'

When Gao Zhisheng, committed Christian human rights attorney and religious liberty advocate, emerged from three years' secret detention in August 2014, many surmised he was 'utterly destroyed'. Confined to house arrest and denied access to medical care, Gao (who has survived appalling torture) could have withered and died, but he did not -- he recovered. Despite intensive supervision, Gao wrote both a memoir and a 40-page report on human rights in China. These secret writings were smuggled out and have since been published. On 13 August Gao 'disappeared'. Recently Gao's supporters discovered that he is being held in a secret prison in Shaanxi Province, in solitary confinement, in total darkness and denied access to medical care. They fear for his life. Please pray for Gao and for China and its Church.

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

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, November 7, 2017

RLPB 431. Nigeria: Fulani used as proxies for Islamic jihad

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 431 | Wed 08 Nov 2017

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)

International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2017: Sunday 5 or 12 November


NIGERIA:  FULANI USED AS PROXIES FOR ISLAMIC JIHAD 
by Elizabeth Kendal

Plateau State (postcode map)
click on map to enlarge
In the early hours of Monday 16 October, ethnic Fulani Muslim cattle herders dressed in military fatigues stormed the mostly Christian, ethnic Irigwe village of Nkyie Doghwro in Bassa Local Government Area (LGA), in the north of Plateau State. Knowing that an attack was imminent, the villagers had requested extra security from the Special Task Force soldiers based nearby. The soldiers disarmed the residents and gathered them into in a schoolroom where they were to sleep under the protection of military personnel from Operation Safe Haven. However, when the Fulani invaded, the soldiers withdrew, leaving the residents defenceless. Christians have accused the military of complicity in the massacre which claimed 29 lives [graphic image] and emptied the village. The military denies this, claiming the soldiers were simply overwhelmed (an equally disturbing, though highly unlikely, proposition).

The Muslim Fulani attack at night, killing and displacing the mostly Christian indigenous residents. The emptied villages are subsequently occupied by Fulani Muslim settlers from the north. During the first two weeks of October, Christian villages in Plateau were attacked on an almost daily basis. [See recent reports from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), World Watch Monitor (WWM) and Morning Star News (MSN).]

Church elder, Dauda Samuel Kadiya (38)
only narrowly escaped when Fulani attacked
his village at 11pm on 13 October. (MSN) 
In Bassa LGA alone, over the course of five weeks, numerous attacks targeting two indigenous Irigwe communities, left 72 villagers dead, 23 injured, 489 houses burnt and 13,726 mostly Christian Irigwe displaced out of a population of 80,000. The attacks continued despite a government imposed curfew. On 19 October the Nigerian Air Force announced it had deployed troops, fighter aircraft and attack helicopters to Jos, Plateau State, to join the military efforts in curtailing the violence, in particular to 'prevent reprisals from the natives'.

In the face of escalating violence in Plateau, a coalition of 25 ethnic nationalities has given the Plateau State House of Assembly two weeks to initiate a bill against open grazing and six months for it to be passed into law. Such a law would mandate that cattle be raised in ranches and banned from grazing on the gardens and crops of indigenes. Other states with Anti-Open Grazing laws are Middle Belt states Benue (law enacted 1 November) and Taraba (law to be enacted in January 2018).  Whilst Anti-Open Grazing laws could go a long way towards curtailing the crisis, Fulani violence is about more than feeding livestock.

While the Bible mandates Christians spread the Good News that God reconciles sinners to himself through Jesus Christ, Islam mandates Muslims expand the territory under Allah's rule (i.e., under Islamic Sharia Law -- a political mandate). Forced out by the ever-encroaching desert, the traditionally nomadic Fulani cattle herders migrate south in search of food and water for their livestock. These Fulani are then exploited by jihadists and other Islamists -- including those in the military and in the government -- who use them as proxies in an Islamic jihad to expand Muslim territory at the expense of Christians. This is why they routinely attack with high-powered automatic weapons, and wear bullet-proof vests and military fatigues. It is also why they are virtually never caught and never brought to book. Many suspect they also are supported by Islamists at the highest levels of government. Banning open grazing would actually eliminate one of the Islamisation strategies.

Whilst the most recent violence has occurred in Plateau, Fulani expansion is certainly not limited to Plateau. Speaking at a forum on 30 October, former head of state General Abdulsalami Abubakar released some grim statistics. In 2016, Fulani cattle herders killed 2,500 and displaced 62,000 mostly Christian indigenes in Plateau, Kaduna, Nasarawa and Benue alone. Human rights advocates and Christian leaders have criticised President Muhammadu Buhari (a Fulani Muslim from the north) for his silence over the crisis. They also question why, on 16 October, the United Nations rewarded the Buhari government by re-electing it to the UN Human Rights Council.


PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* richly bless all Christian evangelistic ministry to Fulani Muslims, pouring out the Holy Spirit in abundance and with great power. '... they will do these things [i.e. persecute you] because they have not known the Father, nor me.' (John 16:1-4a ESV)

* bless and protect all Fulani Christian converts committed to evangelising their own people, not only in the interests of the Fulani, but also in the interests of peace. As converts, their lives are gravely imperilled. May the Lord guide them, bless them and be their shield. 'But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.' (Psalm 3:3 ESV)

* bless and supply the Bible Colleges that are training Fulani converts and other evangelists to work amongst Nigeria's Muslims. Fulani are coming to faith in Christ! May the Lord continue to build his Church in Northern Nigeria.

* intervene in Nigeria's political processes to enable the progress of Anti-Open Grazing laws where they are needed; may he also enable the traditionally nomadic Fulani to embrace the concept of ranches and remove all obstacles to their establishment. 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.' (Matthew 19:26 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
FULANI IN NIGERIA USED AS PROXIES FOR ISLAMIC JIHAD 

Attacks by ethnic Fulani Muslim cattle herders on mostly Christian, indigenous villages in Nigeria's volatile Middle Belt have escalated markedly. During the first two weeks of October, attacks in Plateau State occurred almost daily, despite a government-imposed curfew and the presence of Nigerian troops. In Bassa Local Government Area alone, 72 villagers were killed and 23 injured, 489 houses were burnt and 13,726 mostly Christian Irigwe were displaced, from a population of 80,000. Emptied villages were subsequently occupied by Fulani Muslim settlers from the north. Whilst the traditionally nomadic Fulani are genuinely seeking food and water for their cattle, they are being armed and used as proxies by jihadists and other Islamists in a jihad to expand Muslim territory at the expense of Christians. Please pray for Nigeria and its Christians.

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

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

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

RLPB 430. Russia: continuing deterioration of religious freedom

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 430 | Wed 01 Nov 2017

International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
Sunday 5 or 12 November, 2017
See: Critical Prayer Requests (CPR) for states where Christians are persecuted and/or religious liberty is threatened.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------

RUSSIA: CONTINUING DETERIORATION OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
by Anneta Vyssotskaia

For centuries Russia was known as a country persecuting people who chose to believe differently from what was prescribed by the ruling authorities. Being officially a Christian country for over 1000 years, for centuries it persecuted Old-believers who refused to accept the reforms introduced by the Russian Orthodox Church. Some Protestant confessions (like Baptists), spreading quickly during spiritual revival, were considered 'dangerous sects' and were severely persecuted by the State in the 19th Century. The leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church co-operated with the authorities in persecuting the sects.

After the Russian Revolution in 1917, atheism was propagated at all levels, all religions were persecuted and many church leaders died as martyrs or spent decades in prison and labour camps. After the collapse of the communist ideology and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, there was a short period of religious freedom and a big spiritual revival all across its former republics. Many people accepted Christ and were added to his Church. Even during that period of religious freedom, the new Protestant Churches experienced a lot of pressure and restrictions on their activities, especially evangelism and mission work. In 1997, a law on religion brought more restrictions and its preamble recognised the 'special contribution' of Russian Orthodoxy. Since then,  religious freedom gradually worsened.

In July 2016, the so-called Yarovaya Law, a package of counter-terrorism measures, was signed into law by President Putin. These counter-terrorism measures include prohibition of any mission activity outside church premises or other sites designated for religious purposes. Missionary activity is defined as: 'The activity of a religious association, aimed at disseminating information about its beliefs among people who are not participants (members, followers) in that religious association, with the purpose of involving these people as participants (members, followers). It is carried out directly by religious associations or by citizens and/or legal entities authorised by them, publicly, with the help of the media, the internet or other lawful means." (Forum 18, 8 July, 2016). Put simply, it bans any evangelism and missionary work and directly affects about three million Protestant Christians in Russia as well as believers of other religions.

In August 2017, Forum 18 published a list of 193 cases of  'anti-missionary' punishment of individuals and religious communities since the Yarovaya Law came into force. The list includes Jehovah Witnesses, Muslims, Krishnaites and others. However, Protestant believers and churches are the majority of the list. The authorities seem to make the most active churches and their leaders the targets of persecution in their 'anti-missionary' attacks. A good example is the Evangelical Christian Church of Jesus Christ in Nizhny Tagil, which has had numerous raids and four cases opened against it under the Yarovaya Law.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFCALLY FOR:

* changes in Russian legislation for religious freedom.

* the Russian Orthodox Church to accept the right of freedom of belief for Russian people and not see other Christian denominations as a threat.

* courage, wisdom and unity among other Christian Church leaders as they are targeted with persecution for the Gospel.

* the teachings of Christ to continue spreading in Russia and change the country and people's lives for God's glory.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
CONTINUING DETERIORATION OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN RUSSIA

Although Russia was officially Christian for over 1000 years, some Protestant groups were considered 'dangerous sects' and were severely persecuted by the State in the 19th Century. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, atheism was propagated, all religions were persecuted and many church leaders were martyred or spent decades in labour camps. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, there was a short period of religious freedom and a spiritual revival across its former republics. Many people accepted Christ. However, Protestant Churches experienced  restrictions on their outreach. In 1997, further restrictions resulted in religious freedom worsening. A package of Kremlin counter-terrorism measures enacted in July 2016 included prohibition of any outreach activity outside church premises. This particularly affects three million Protestant Christians. Please pray for Russia and its Church.

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

Anneta Vyssotskaia, a Russian who is a religious liberty expert on Russia and Central Asia, is a guest contributor to the RLPB ministry. She is filling for Elizabeth Kendal who is currently on leave.