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

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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)

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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