Wednesday, August 29, 2018

RLPB 470. August Update, incl. Indonesia, Assyrians in Iraq & Syria, China, India, Nepal, Nigeria

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 470 | Wed 29 Aug 2018

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)

by Elizabeth Kendal

AUGUST 2018 UPDATE -- this month we prayed concerning ...

* PHILIPPINES (RLPB 466), after the assassination of three Catholic priests, all of whom had been openly critical of President Rodrigo Duterte's murderous policies. We also prayed concerning the situation in southern Philippines, now that Pres. Duterte has signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).  If it manages to pass a plebiscite and survive a legal challenge, the BOL will establish what would essentially be a mini-Islamic State within the Republic of the Philippines. Rather than establishing peace, the BOL may well trigger a fresh wave of conflict. Pray for the Church in the Philippines.

* COMOROS (RLPB 467), where the constitution has been amended to enshrine Sunni Islam as the state religion and framework for all law. While the main purpose of the amendment is to ensure Shia (and pro-Shia) Muslims are excluded from political office, Christians -- who are mostly expatriates and comprise less than 2 percent of the population -- are concerned that this will inflame religious sensitivities and fuel persecution ahead of the 2019 presidential elections. Pray for Christians in the Comoro Islands.

* ETHIOPIA'S SOMALI/OGADEN REGION (RLPB 468), where churches were burnt and priests killed as supporters of the corrupt and cruel regional president, Abdi Mohamed Omar (known also as Abdi Iley), rioted in protest at the reforming actions of Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed. Much of the protesting had been incited by fake news spread via social media which framed the government intervention as an ethnic-religious attack, when in reality the government intervention was aimed at ending the gross human rights abuses in the region.

UPDATE: Order has been restored and Abdi Iley, who has now been stripped of his immunity and formally arrested, will face justice for his crimes and human rights abuses. May God bless Ethiopia.

* INDONESIA (RLPB 469), after President Joko Widodo's shock announcement that Ma'ruf Amin (75) will be his running mate in the April 2019 presidential election. As one of Indonesia's most influential hardline Islamist clerics, Amin was a key facilitator of the blasphemy fatwa, protests and trial that sent popular ethnic Chinese Christian Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama to prison for two years. Widodo's party and coalition partners hope that by appeasing Amin they can shield Widodo from an 'Ahok-style' attack. Clearly, in this post-Ahok era, the 'sword' of weaponised Islam hangs over the head of every potential leader.

UPDATE: NEW 'BLASPHEMY' CASE TRIGGERS BACKLASH
In July 2016 an ethnic-Chinese Buddhist woman named Meiliana complained to a neighbour that the local mosque's loudspeakers were now so loud that the Islamic call to prayer was hurting her ears. News of the complaint spread amongst local Muslims, who responded by rioting through the north Sumatran port town of Tanjung Balai, burning the homes of ethnic Chinese and at least 14 Buddhist temples. Blame fell on Meiliana, who was then charged with blasphemy. On Tuesday 21 August 2018 an Indonesian court deemed the 44-year-old mother-of-four guilty of blasphemy and sentenced her to 18 months in prison.

Praise God, the backlash against this draconian ruling has been swift and effective. By Friday 24 August more than 115,000 Indonesians had added their names to an online petition condemning the ruling. In fact the outcry was so strong that Indonesia's Ministry of Religious Affairs was forced to issue new guidelines on the use of loudspeakers. The guidelines recommend operators avoid anything that would 'arouse antipathy towards mosques'; that the call to prayer be 'melodious and easy on the ears'; and that sound levels not be raised while conducting prayer. Naturally, some mosques will comply and others will resist. What is truly significant here is the backlash. The May 2017 jailing of Ahok really did send tremors through the nation; maybe the 'awakening' we have been praying for has already begun [see prayer points, RLPB 469]. A ferocious spiritual battle is underway; please pray for Indonesia.

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. (2 Corinthians 10:3,4 ESV)

AUGUST 2018 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

* ASSYRIANS: THE STRUGGLE FOR SURVIVAL CONTINUES 
Assyrians are the indigenous people of Mesopotamia (also known as the Fertile Crescent, Iraq-Syria); they are a Christian nation.


Understanding the Christian
Crisis in the Middle East
By Elizabeth Kendal
(1) IRAQ
In August 2017 Basim Bello became the second Assyrian mayor in Iraq's Nineveh Province to be illegally ousted from office by Kurdish forces and replaced with a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). [For the case of Fayez Abed Jawahreh, Mayor of Alqosh, see RLPB 465 (25 July)]. Praise God, Mr Bello was reinstated as Mayor of Tel Kepe on 7 August 2018 after he won his case in the Iraqi Federal Court. With forces conspiring to change the demographics of the Nineveh Plains and to snatch and annex Assyrian lands, the Christian Crisis in Iraq is anything but over. [For more information on the situation in Iraq see: 'Erasing Assyrians', a report by the Assyrian Confederation of Europe, September 2017]. Pray for the Assyrian remnant in Iraq.

(2) SYRIA
The Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) -- which is the Syrian wing of the Turkish Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) -- has declared itself to be the ruling authority in Syria's north-eastern Hasaka Province. The PYD has mandated that all Assyrian and church-run private schools must re-register and adopt a new Kurdish teaching curriculum. On 7 August Kurdish authorities closed an Assyrian school in Derbiseye after school officials refused to adopt the Kurdish curriculum. Not only do Syria's Armenians and Assyrians reject the Kurdish curriculum as unacceptably ideological, they also believe it would not be accepted by the Syrian government which consequently might not recognise their children's credentials. Assyrians are demanding the PYD immediately revoke the decision to impose their curricula, and that they allow the reopening of Assyrian schools in Derek and Darbasiya before the new school year commences in early September. Pray for the Assyrian and Armenian remnant in north-east Syria.

* CHINA: PRESSURE MOUNTS ON CHRISTIANS

(1) GAO ZHISHENG: ONE YEAR 'DISAPPEARED'
On 13 August 2017 long-persecuted Christian human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng (54), with the help of two associates, escaped house arrest in Shaanxi province; he desperately needed medical and especially dental care. Though the men evaded police for 23 days, ultimately Gao was captured and taken into secret detention [see RLPB 432 (15 Nov 2017)]. One year has now passed, and still nobody knows his whereabouts. Grave fears are held for his safety and wellbeing. Please intercede for Gao, remembering that 'intercessory prayer is advocacy to the highest authority' (Turn Back the Battle, page 110).

(2) ENFORCING ‘THE MASS LINE’
The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is working to rein in the Church. Unregistered fellowships are being forcibly closed and landlords are being pressured not to lease property to church groups. In China's northwest Gansu Province, summer camps have been closed down and Catholic priests dismissed. In Henan Province churches have been raided, believers arrested and Christians forced to sign letters of commitment, promising not to join Christianity but to follow the CCP. In Beijing, the city's seven largest house churches have been forced to relocate, a process the authorities hope will result in closures. Across the country, churches are being forced to take down their crosses and replace them with Chinese flags. Some churches have been forced to display posters extolling socialism's core values, sing nationalistic songs during services and display images of Chinese President Xi Jinping. This is all part of President Xi's campaign to enforce ‘the mass line'’ (i.e., ideological conformity).

* INDIA: DRACONIAN BILL PASSED IN PUNJAB

On Tuesday 21 August, the Vidhan Sabha (Legislative Assembly) in India’s north-western state of Punjab unanimously passed a Bill which, if approved by the central government, will have enormous ramifications. The Bill aims to enact Section 295-AA of the Indian Penal Code and would criminalise sacrilege to holy books – Guru Granth Sahib, Bhagavad Gita, Qur’an and Bible – or any religion with the intention to hurt religious sentiments. Such offences would be cognisable (no warrant required for arrest), non-bailable and would attract a sentence of life imprisonment. Pray this bill does not advance.

* NEPAL: ANTI-CHRISTIAN HOSTILITY RISING

(1) ANTI-CONVERSION LAW NOW IN FORCE
 In August 2017 the Nepali parliament passed a bill criminalising religious conversion and the 'hurting of religious sentiment'. Clause 158 of section 9 bans the hurting of religious sentiment and is similar to Pakistan's blasphemy law. Clause 160 in section 9 severely restricts religious conversion and is similar to the anti-conversion laws in force in India [RLPB 421 (30 Aug 2017)]. The law officially came into force on 17 August 2018. Christians are anxious that the law will be abused, especially as anti-Christian hostility is rising, fuelled in part by a wave of malicious fake news and false flags (violent crimes being 'claimed' by an alleged Christian 'Army' which no Nepalese Christian has ever heard about). Persecution seems likely to escalate. Pray for the Church in Nepal.

(2) 'JUSTICE IS TURNED BACK' (from Isaiah 59:14 15a ESV)
On 7 June Pastor Govinda Prasad Dhakal (63) was sentenced to 10 years in prison after a court deemed him guilty of raping a minor he and his wife had adopted in 2016.

Pastor Govinda Dhakal
and wife Saraswoti Dhakal.
(Morning Star News)
Unbeknown to the Dhakals, the young girl in question (now aged 12) had been raped in 2015 by a local boy from a wealthy family. On that occasion, the rapist's family settled the matter out of court with a cash payment to the mother. Unaware of the child's traumatic past, the Dhakals returned the girl to her mother in September 2017 claiming she was unmanageable. The mother then accused the pastor of rape in the hope she might receive a cash payment. Instead, Pastor Dhakal maintained his innocence and the case went to trial. When the mother realised the pastor would be convicted, she repented and confessed in court that she had fabricated the story in pursuit of cash for her daughter's education. Christians believe the court's decision to imprison Pastor Dhakal reflects the rising anti-Christian sentiment in the country and highlights the corruption in the legal system, because Pastor Dhakal had refused to pay a bribe. Pastor Dhakal has appealed the verdict; he filed a petition in the Makwanpur High Court on 10 July. He is currently detained in Chitwan jail. Please pray. [Full story Morning Star News]

* NIGERIA: CAPTIVE LEAH SHARIBU IS ALIVE 


Leah Sharibu (15)
In February 2018 a faction of Boko Haram abducted some 110 girls from a school in Dapchi town, Yobe State, northern Nigeria. Then, on 21 March, after their international sponsors chastised the jihadists for taking Muslim girls captive, they returned the girls -- all except one: Leah Sharibu (15), a Christian girl who 'refused to co-operate' and convert to Islam to secure her freedom [see RLPB 448 (28 March)]. Nigerian independent online newspaper The Cable has managed to obtain proof-of-life. The jihadists sent The Cable a photo of Leah dressed in a hijab and sitting on a mat, along with an audio file in which Leah appeals for 'the government and people of goodwill to intervene to get me out of my current situation'.  Pray that the Lord would intervene in Nigeria. Pray for the suffering Church in Northern Nigeria, and that Leah Sharibu will be returned to her family.

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfils his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness! (Psalm 57:1-3 ESV)

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

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, August 21, 2018

RLPB 469. Indonesia: 'sword' of weaponised Islam revealed

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 469 | Wed 22 Aug 2018

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)


INDONESIA: 'SWORD' OF WEAPONISED ISLAM REVEALED
by Elizabeth Kendal

In September 2016 hardline fundamentalist Islamists intervened to prevent the popular ethnic Chinese Christian Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama from being elected Governor of Jakarta. Citing Quran Sura 5:51 -- 'do not take Jews and Christians as your leaders (pemimpin-pemimpinmu)' they warned Muslims against voting for a Christian. When Ahok challenged their interpretation, they accused him of blasphemy. After the accusation came the fatwa, then the mass rallies and ultimately the trial which culminated in May 2017 in Ahok being sentenced to two years in prison [for background see: RLPB 383 (9 Nov 2016)]. On 17 April 2019 Indonesia will hold its first presidential election of the 'post-Ahok era'. The battlelines have been drawn, the race has begun and one thing is clear: in this post-Ahok era the 'sword' of weaponised Islam hangs over the head of every potential leader. The Islamists have seized control.

Prabowo Subianto with Sandiaga Uno
(10 Aug 2018)
On Thursday evening 9 August the two main presidential candidates -- the incumbent Joko Widodo and his challenger, the controversial former Special Forces chief and Gerindra party head Prabowo Subianto -- announced their running mates.  Subianto had been expected to nominate Agus Yudhoyono, the son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. However, at the eleventh hour he nominated Sandiaga Uno (49), a wealthy entrepreneur from his own party and the deputy governor of Jakarta. Both men have strong ties to Islamists. Similarly, President Joko Widodo (also known as 'Jokowi') was expected to nominate former Chief Justice Mohammad Mahfud Mahmodin MD (61), who, as Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court in August 2008, called for the scrapping of Sharia-based bylaws, deeming them discriminatory and unconstitutional. However, at the eleventh hour, Widodo nominated the aging Ma'ruf Amin (75), one of Indonesia's most powerful Islamic clerics. His choice sent shockwaves through the nation.
 
Pres. Joko Widodo with Ma'ruf Amin
(10 Aug 2018)
Ma'ruf Amin is the supreme leader of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI). With some 30 million members, NU is Indonesia's largest Islamic body. Comprising all Indonesia's registered Muslim organisations, the MUI is the country's top Muslim clerical body and is responsible for issuing fatwas. It was in his role as MUI chief that Amin signed the fatwa that condemned Ahok, and he provided expert witness in the trial that saw Ahok convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to two years in prison. Ma'ruf Amin was a key member of the Presidential Advisory Council during the administration of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (2004-2014), during which time blasphemy prosecutions skyrocketed. He has been behind efforts to ban non-mainstream Islamic sects (in particular the Ahmadiyah), criminalise 'deviant sexual activities', ban alcohol, and Islamise dress codes and public behaviours. He is also behind a pending halal law which would widen halal certification to include just about everything imaginable; a move that would see billions more dollars flow into Islamic coffers. 

Analysts agree that Widodo, feeling insecure and vulnerable, has opted to protect himself against 'the weaponisation of Islam for destructive political purposes' which could come in the form of an 'Ahok-style attack'. It seems the choice was foisted on Widodo, not merely by his nervous coalition partners, but by Amin himself.  According to reports, just one day before the announcement, Amin warned Widodo that if he persisted with former Chief Justice Mohammad Mahfud, 'then we [NU] will say wassalam' (Arabic for 'goodbye'). Marcus Mietzner of the Australian National University noted in a Facebook post that Widodo 'introduced Ma'ruf at the declaration with the enthusiasm of an undertaker who reads out the CV of the deceased'. That Widodo succumbed to pressure is viewed by many not only as a sign of weak leadership, but as evidence that his commitment to the country's secular foundations is also weak. These are pivotal days for Indonesia.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* raise up within Indonesia, leaders and voices of courage and conviction -- people who will promote and defend freedom for Indonesia's 267 million citizens; may the Lord give them strength to 'turn back the battle at the gate' (from Isaiah 28:5,6).

Such grace (strength to turn back the battle) comes from God in response to faith exercised by the Church, so ...

* bless the Indonesian Church with great faith, insight and spiritual wisdom, so she might know how to respond and how to navigate this rapidly changing environment where Islamists are growing more confident, more assertive and more demanding.

* redeem this threatening situation to awaken Indonesians (most of whom do not want to live in an Islamic state) and to revive, unify, build and sanctify his precious Church; may prayer abound ...'For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places' (Ephesians 6:12 ESV).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
'SWORD' OF WEAPONISED ISLAM REVEALED IN INDONESIA

In September 2016 Islamists prevented Ahok -- a popular ethnic Chinese Christian -- from being elected Governor of Jakarta. First they warned Muslims against voting for him (citing the Koran); then they used a trumped-up charge of blasphemy to destroy him. Today, as Ahok serves his two-year prison term, every potential leader is aware this 'sword of Islam' hangs over their head. On 17 April 2019 Indonesia will hold its first presidential election of the 'post-Ahok era'. To protect himself, President Joko Widodo has chosen a fundamentalist Islamic cleric as his running mate. Ma'ruf Amin is not only one of Indonesia's most influential clerics but, as chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council, he signed the fatwa that destroyed Ahok. These are pivotal days. Please pray for Indonesia 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, August 14, 2018

RLPB 468. Ethiopia: churches torched and priests killed in Ogaden

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 468 | Wed 15 Aug 2018

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: CHURCHES TORCHED AND PRIESTS KILLED IN OGADEN
by Elizabeth Kendal

On Saturday 4 August Ethiopian troops swept into Jijiga, the capital of Ethiopia's 98 percent Muslim, Somali Region which is also known as Ogaden. It was supposed to be a lightning raid to apprehend the regional president, Abdi Mohamed Omar, known also as Abdi Iley. However, Abdi Iley responded by ordering regional forces, including his infamous Liyu paramilitary police, onto the streets. Clashes ensued, after which Abdi Iley supporters launched a pogrom of looting and burning specifically targeting churches and the city's ethnic non-Somalis, most of whom are ethnic Amhara (mostly Christian) and Oromo (mixed). At least 30 were killed. The regional office of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission was also torched, resulting in the loss of documents. The EHRC believes the office was targeted specifically to impede ongoing investigations into gross human rights abuses. Then, on the afternoon of Sunday 5 August Liyu police attacked ethnic Oromos in nearby Oromia Region's Eastern Hararghe zone, killing 37 and leaving more than 44 wounded.


Reinforcements did not arrive in Jijiga until Monday 6 Aug. BBC Amharic service cited Ethiopian Orthodox Church Jijiga region diocesan head, Liqe Kahnat Eyob Wondimu, reporting that 'seven Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Churches are burned and seven priests are killed'. Three people reportedly died inside Jijiga's recently inaugurated Holy Covenant Kidane Mihret Menbere Tsebaot Church. According to the region's Evangelical Church Unity Head, Pastor Gashaw Gebreyohannes, some 10 churches were looted and burnt. On 14 August World Watch Monitor reported that 15 priests were killed, ten Orthodox churches were burnt and nine Evangelical churches were vandalised or looted. Abdi Iley resigned from his post on 6 August, was eventually arrested at his presidential palace and taken away in a military helicopter. The Ethiopian Army has now taken over the region.

This confrontation between the central government and regional authorities had been looming since the 2 April inauguration of Dr Abiy Ahmed (41) as Prime Minister of Ethiopia. Dr Abiy's appointment was designed to end the crisis caused by two years of paralysing protests by Ethiopia's largest ethnic group, the Omoro, over the corruption, discrimination, repression, brutality and injustice that marked the 27 years of hegemony by the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). As soon as he was empowered to do so, PM Abiy Ahmed began dismantling that hegemony. Abdi Iley had been the TPLF's Somali face in Ogaden, doing the bidding of the TPLF in exchange for unfettered power, which he wielded with extreme brutality and impunity. Indeed, the names Abdi Iley and Ogaden became synonymous with corruption, repression and gross human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests and torture.

Within weeks of PM Abiy's inauguration, an anti-Abdi Iley protest movement known as 'Barbaarta' (Somali for 'youth') was finding its voice in Jijiga, emboldened by the success of the Oromo protests. Ogaden's regional elders, too, have been urging PM Abiy to act on behalf of Somali Region's oppressed and abused peoples. On 4 July, Human Rights Watch released a report entitled 'We are like the dead', which exposed, yet again, the gross abuses in Jail Ogaden. This, it seems, was the last straw. PM Abiy asked Abdi Iley to step down; he refused. When summonsed to Addis Ababa, the tyrant stood his ground, essentially testing PM Abiy to see if he would act -- which he did.

Religion in Ethiopia
click on map to enlarge
The destruction and killings on 4-6 August are tragic and the targeted violence would have been absolutely traumatising for the Christian minority. However, the good news is that the central government of PM Abiy Ahmed has many supporters in Ogaden where the people are desperate for change. On 2 August, just prior to the government's intervention, some 500 eminent Somali elders, politicians and intellectuals gathered in Dire Dawa city (about 100km west of Jijiga) for a 'Grand Conference for Unity and Salvation' to chart a roadmap for the post-Abdi Iley era in the hope they might be able to avert a breakdown in order. On 13 August, just days after the intervention, the leadership of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF, a separatist group that has fought against the TPLF-dominated regime) returned from exile in Eritrea, declared a unilateral ceasefire, expressing their eagerness to work with the new government of PM Abiy Ahmed to stabilise the gas-rich region. Talks with the regional government are underway; the difficult work of uniting a divided people in a complex (98% Muslim) region with a troubled history is just beginning.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* bless and comfort all those left traumatised and grieving by the deadly violence in eastern Ethiopia over 4-6 August; may the Lord supply all their needs, including comforters, material aid and assistance, new 'shepherds'/priests and the means to rebuild.

* show grace towards those who perpetrated violence against his Church, by gifting them with conviction of sin and a spirit of repentance for the suffering they have brought upon their Christian neighbours; may there be true repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation and peace. 'I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.' (Matthew 16:18 NLT)

* redeem this traumatising situation to forge love, unity and a generous spirit among believers right across Ethiopia, especially, at this time, in Ogaden; may the Church be empowered by the Spirit of the Living God to shine as a beacon of grace, truth, healing and hope in this troubled, wounded and needy region.

* bless and use Ethiopian Prime Minister, Dr Abiy Ahmed for his good purpose; may the Lord protect him and his family from harm and may the Holy Spirit keep him humble and dependent on God for guidance, insight, discernment, wisdom and strength. 

For background, see Religious Liberty Monitoring
Ethiopia-Eritrea: Reforms and Resistance, 25 June 2018.

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
CHURCHES TORCHED AND PRIESTS KILLED IN EASTERN ETHIOPIA

On 4 August Ethiopian troops swept into Jijiga, the capital of Ethiopia's 98 percent Muslim Somali Region (also known as Ogaden), to apprehend the regional president, Abdi Iley.  When Abdi Iley sent his own troops into the streets, clashes ensued, after which his supporters went on a rampage, looting and burning churches and targeting ethnic non-Somalis. By the time reinforcements arrived on 6 August, dozens were dead, including 15 priests. Ten Orthodox churches were burnt and nine Evangelical churches looted. A corrupt and brutal tyrant, Abdi Iley represented the old regime and was the Somali face of the ruling Tigray People's Liberation Front, doing their bidding in exchange for total power and impunity. His removal is another step towards reform. Please pray for Ethiopia, especially the Church in Ogaden.

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

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

Monday, August 6, 2018

RLPB 467. Comoros: Playing the Religion Card

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 467 | Wed 08 Aug 2018

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)


COMOROS: PLAYING THE RELIGION CARD
by Elizabeth Kendal

click on map to enlarge
Comoros is a union of three islands -- Grand Comore, Anjouan and Mohéli -- strategically located on the northern edge of the Mozambique Channel. Sunni Islam arrived in the 12th Century, courtesy of Arab merchants, after which the islands remained largely unreached by Christianity until the 1970s. According to the US Dept of State's International Religious Freedom Report for 2017, the population of Comoros is '98 percent Sunni Muslim. Roman Catholics, Shia, Sufi, and Ahmadi Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Protestants together make up less than 2 percent of the population. Non-Muslims are mainly foreign residents and are concentrated in the country's capital, Moroni, and the capital of Anjouan, Mutsamudu. Shia and Ahmadi Muslims mostly live in Anjouan.' Operation World (2010) puts the Christian population at 0.93 percent. Whilst most Christians are Réunionese, Malagasy and French, Comorians are coming to faith and the Church is quietly growing.

In a referendum held on 30 July (boycotted by the opposition), Comoros citizens voted to amend the constitution so as to end federalism, end the five-yearly rotation of the presidency (paving the way for Azali to contest the next election) and extend the presidency from one to two five-year terms. With a population of a mere 808,000 (July 2017 estimate), this political reform may well be sensible, even if it is motivated (mostly) by President Azali Assoumani's determination to hold on to power. To undermine or even eliminate his main rival -- Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, a native of Anjouan who was president from 2006 to 2011 -- Azali is playing the religion card, a tactic known to inflame religious sensitivities, increase persecution and risk bloodshed.

welcoming and colourfully adorned . . .
photo: Diane Selkirk (BBC travel)
Along with the constitutional amendments to federalism and the presidency, the constitution will now enshrine 'Sunni Islam' as the state religion and framework for all law and practice. Not much has changed -- at least for Christians -- for Islam has been enshrined in the constitution as the state religion since 2001, and in 2013 President Ikililou Dhoinine (a native of Mohéli) issued a decree mandating that Sunni Islam -- specifically the Shafi'i school of Islamic doctrine -- be the 'official religious reference'.  By elevating Sunni Islam to the constitution, President Azali has ensured that religion will be an issue at, and leading into, the next presidential election (now expected in 2019). The reason for this is Azali is a Sunni with close ties to Saudi Arabia, but his main rival Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, though also a Sunni, studied in the Shia holy city of Qom, Iran, earning him the nickname 'the Ayatollah of the Comoros'. When he was president, Sambi opened the door to Iranian influence in Comoros to a degree that rattled the Sunni religious establishment and the region's Sunni Arab regimes.

It is highly likely that Azali plans to exploit Sambi's affection for and close ties to Iran to paint him as a compromised and unsuitable candidate, especially in the light of the new constitutional amendment. As has happened in the past, Sambi will doubtless be accused of being a secret Shia who is engaging in taqiyyah (strategic deception); a president who would open the floodgates for 'Shi'itization', despite the fact that under Rouhani, Iran today has little interest in the global south.

In line with the global trends of recent decades, Comoros Muslims have 'radicalised' as fundamentalist (Wahhabi) Islam has gained ground courtesy of Saudi Arabia. While being a Christian in Comoros has always been exceedingly difficult -- with Sharia (Islamic) law enforced, apostasy prohibited and all non-Muslim religious profession and practice banned from the public sphere -- many fear the situation is about to get worse. A source in Comoros told World Watch Monitor that Christians are growing increasingly nervous as belligerent rhetoric escalates and the Wahhabist hatred of Shi'ites and Christians being propagated in mosques and madrassas threatens to erupt into open hostility.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:


* pour out his Holy Spirit on all Christians in Comoros -- expatriates and local people (virtually all of whom would be converts from Islam) -- that they might have divine wisdom, to be 'wise as serpents and innocent as doves', especially if the situation around them deteriorates (from Matthew 10:16-42).

* shield all Christians in Comoros from violence and even from the debate (which is essentially a Sunni-Shia issue and a political issue to which Christians are essentially irrelevant). May the Lord sustain, preserve and continue to build his Church in Comoros.

'Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings' (Psalm 17:8 ESV).

'... a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law' (from Isaiah 42:1-4 ESV).

The kingdom of God is like 'a grain of mustard seed . . .' Mark 4:30-32


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
PLAYING THE RELIGION CARD IN COMOROS

The population of Comoros -- a union of three islands on the northern edge of the Mozambique Channel -- is 98 percent Sunni Muslim and less than one percent Christian. Determined to retain power, President Azali Assoumani held a referendum in which Comoros voted to end the rotating presidency, meaning he can contest the next election. To undermine his main rival, Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, Azali also had Sunni Islam enshrined in the constitution as the state religion. He did this because Sambi, though a Sunni, maintains close ties with Shi'ite Iran. Azali has thus paved the way to wield Sunni religious intolerance for his political gain. Christians in Comoros are anxious, aware that escalating Sunni intolerance will  threaten both Shi'ites and Christians. Please pray for the Church in Comoros.

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


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, August 1, 2018

RLPB 466. Philippines: Priests Assassinated; Duterte signs Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 466 | Wed 01 Aug 2018

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)


PHILIPPINES: PRIESTS ASSASSINATED; DUTERTE SIGNS B O L 
by Elizabeth Kendal

PRIESTS ASSASSINATED
Toymaker, Dennis Mendoza, creates
Duterte dolls complete with firearms.
After being sworn in as president in June 2016, Rodrigo Duterte immediately instigated a 'war on drugs'. The lawless manner in which this 'war' is prosecuted has facilitated the emergence of a culture of violence and impunity. To date this 'war' has claimed the lives of some 23,000 Filipinos -- victims of extrajudicial killings. By speaking out against unjust and violent government policy, the Church has put itself in Duterte's 'sights'. Indeed, Duterte's expletive-laden, hostile and blasphemous rhetoric has increased over recent months to the point that it is bordering on incitement. Activist priest Father Robert Reye is unsurprised by Duterte's blasphemies -- as far as he is concerned, Duterte's attack on 'the God of life' began with his attack on life.

Vigil for assassinated priests
Three Catholic priests and 16 mayors and vice mayors have been assassinated since Duterte took office. The three priests -- killed in the space of six months -- were all vocal critics of government policies; two were assassinated while leading worship. On 4 December 2017 Father Marcelito 'Tito' Paez (72) of Nueva Ecija Province, north of Manila, was shot dead by gunmen on a motorcycle as he was assisting with the release of a political prisoner. On 29 April 2018 Father Mark Ventura (37) was shot dead after saying mass in northern Cagayan Province. On 6 June former police chaplain Father Rey Urmeneta (64) was on his way to a church meeting when he was shot and wounded by two gunmen in a failed assassination attempt in Calamba City, south of Manila. On 10 June Father Richmond Nilo (44) was shot dead through a church window in front of parishioners as he stood at the altar preparing for mass in Nueva Ecija Province. There is considerable concern that Duterte's 'war on drugs' is widening to include a war on dissent and, in particular, a war on the Church.

DUTERTE SIGNS BANGSAMORO ORGANIC LAW (BOL) 

On Thursday 26 July President Duterte signed the Bangasmoro Organic Law (formerly known as the Bangsamoro Basic Law). A formal ceremonial signing will take place in Malacañang (the presidential palace) on Monday 6 August. The BOL is the embodiment of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) brokered in March 2014 between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The GRP and the MILF both deny that the BOL will establish a state within a state, or more precisely, an Islamic State within the Republic of the Philippines. Many analysts, however, are not so sure. If it is achieved, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) will (from 2022) have its own elected parliament. While the BOL guarantees religious freedom, it also enshrines Sharia law [Article X (Ten)] which will be enforced on all Muslims. Consequently, Muslims will actually lose many of their constitutional rights, including the rights to question and leave Islam. Christians, meanwhile, are supposed to believe the GRP's and the MILF's assurances that Sharia will in no way affect them.

Stratfor map showing
proposed BARMM (2014)
Click on map to enlarge.
Before the BARMM can be established the BOL must be ratified by a plebiscite, and might even have to survive a legal challenge regarding its constitutionality. When the Supreme Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order on a similar law in August 2008, MILF responded with violence [see Religious Liberty Monitoring, Aug 2008].  The GRP and the MILF both extol the BOL as the road to peace. Most analysts, however, are not convinced. The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF, which broke away from MILF just as MILF broke away from MNLF) and Abu Sayyaf have both pledged allegiance to Islamic State which is known to be regrouping and recruiting in the Southern Philippines. On Tuesday 31 July a Moroccan suicide bomber blew himself up at a military checkpoint in Lamitan city, on the southern island of Basilan, killing at least eleven, including five civilians. Islamic State claimed responsibility. Furthermore, disarming and demobilising some 30,000 MILF fighters might be easier said than done. Many might be tempted to keep their guns and receive salaries from Islamic State rather than try to work for a living in a depressed region with few jobs. Far from bringing peace, the BOL might actually trigger a whole new round of conflict.

Background: 
RLPB 435, 'Battle for Mindanao far from over,' 6 Dec 2017
RLM (analysis), 'Bangsamoro Basic Law Looms Over Mindanao,' 11 Dec 2017

For the text of the Bangsamoro Organic Law click here: abs-cbn.com 


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* redeem the suffering of the Philippine Church; may the sacrifice of those speaking in defence of justice, righteousness and life not be in vain. May the Lord bring revival to the Philippines; and may those who pursue violence repent.

* protect vulnerable Christian communities across Mindanao, in particular those in Muslim-majority regions; may the Lord lead, guide and grant wisdom to the Church in Mindanao as Islamic rule and Sharia Law loom over the Muslim-majority regions.

* intervene in the Philippines to restore security and preserve liberty.

'First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour,  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.' (1 Timothy 2:1-4 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
PRIESTS ASSASSINATED IN THE PHILIPPINES; DUTERTE SIGNS B O L

Three Catholic priests have been shot dead in six months, while a fourth has survived with bullet wounds. The targeted priests all openly criticised the violence and impunity being fostered by President Rodrigo Duterte. Meanwhile, President Duterte has signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) which will place territory in the Southern Philippines under the control of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The imposition of Sharia Law will see Muslims lose their constitutional right to religious freedom and make Christian ministry to Muslims even more dangerous than it is already. Before the BOL can be enacted, it must first survive a plebiscite and a legal challenge. While many hope the move will bring peace, it is actually more likely to trigger conflict. Please pray for the Philippines 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