Tuesday, January 29, 2019

RLPB 487. Dec 2018 & Jan 2019 Update, incl. Philippines, Bulgaria, Egypt, Indonesia, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 487 | Wed 30 JAN 2019

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- Elizabeth Kendal

DECEMBER 2018 & JANUARY 2019 UPDATE – during this period we prayed concerning

* AUSTRALIA (5 Dec, RLPB 482) where religious freedom hangs in the balance.

* CHINA (12 Dec, RLPB 483) where the Chinese Communist Party’s hi-tech and suffocating supervision of society and brutal crackdown on religion and dissent continues apace.

* CHINA & IRAN (19 Dec, RLPB 484) where, just as in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, rulers – like Herod before them – reject Christ and instead choose violence. Just as Herod’s efforts to eliminate Christ were in vain, so too will be the efforts of China’s President Xi Jingping and the Chinese Communist Party and Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei and the Shi’ite revolutionary regime. And just as Christ was crucified in Jerusalem only to rise to life again, so too will the light of Christ overcome opposition and rise in China and in Iran, to bring light and blessing not only to those lands but far beyond. Indeed – it has already begun! Which is precisely why the spiritual battle is so intense. Pray for the Church in China and Iran. 

* UGANDA (16 Jan, RLPB 485) where massive decentralisation has resulted in Uganda now being comprised of roughly 130 self-governing districts. Despite living in a predominantly Christian country where religious freedom is guaranteed in the constitution, Christians living in Muslim-dominated self-governing districts in Eastern Region are being forced to live as dhimmis (second-class citizens, subjugated under Islam) and persecuted with impunity. It is absolutely urgent that the supremacy of the constitution be established and the law of the land upheld before persecution becomes ethnic cleansing, killings become massacres, and  Uganda loses control of Eastern Region all together. Pray for Uganda: for her government and her Church (especially for Christian solidarity in this matter of persecution). 

* PHILIPPINES (23 Jan, RLPB 486) where a plebiscite had been held to determine the peoples’ willingness (or not) to adopt the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL; also known as the Bangsamoro Organic Law). If passed, the BBL/BOL would establish an autonomous Islamic sub-state in Western Mindanao. Championed widely (but not by this ministry) as the harbinger of peace, the BBL/BOL emerged out of peace talks between the Government of Philippines (GoP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

UPDATES: 

1) BBL PASSES

On Friday 25 January, the Philippines’ election commission ratified the results of the plebiscite: 87 percent of voters in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) voted ‘YES’, indicating they approve the BBL/BOL. The ARMM will now be replaced by the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) complete with greatly expanded, essentially state-like powers.  In Sulu Province (long an Abu Sayyaf stronghold) a majority voted ‘NO’, but as Sulu is part of the ARMM it cannot opt out of the BARMM now a majority of the ARMM has voted ‘YES’. Sulu Governor Abdusakur ‘Toto’ Tan II (whose family has long held power over the region) has challenged the constitutionality of the BBL in the Supreme Court, which is yet to rule on the matter!  In two cities not in the ARMM – Isabela and Cotabato – residents were asked to decide if they wanted their city included in the BARMM. In Cotabato, 59.9 percent voted ‘YES’; while in Isabela 54.1 percent voted ‘NO’.

On Wednesday 6 February a plebiscite will be held in Lanao del Norte Province and seven towns in North Cotabato Province to see if residents would like their region or town to be included in the BARMM. [Live Updates via Rappler]

2) CHURCH BOMBED IN JOLO

On Sunday 27 January terror struck Jolo city, the capital of Sulu Province. At 8:15 am, a suicide bomber detonated his vest inside the inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, targeting Catholics. Around 45 seconds later, a second bomb left in the utility box of a motorcycle exploded in the car park, targeting security personnel and first responders. On Monday afternoon officials put the toll at 20 dead and 97 wounded. [Earlier reports put the death toll at 27.] Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility, boasting their fighters had bombed a ‘Christian temple’, during  a ‘gathering of the Crusaders to perform their polytheist rituals’. While the role of IS remains unclear, one assailant –identified through CCTV footage – was known to authorities as a member of the Adjang-Adjang Group. Adjang-Adjang, which means ‘Soldiers of the Martyrs’, is a subgroup of the IS affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group. It is made up of youths orphaned by the conflict; most are drug addicts and delinquents. Though small in number, they are feared throughout the city. This is the first major attack ever perpetrated by the group. Pray for the Church in southern Philippines.

Inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel,
Jolo, Sunday 27 January.

JANUARY 2019 ROUND-UP – also this month

* BULGARIA: RELIGION DENOMINATIONS ACT PASSED

Bulgaria’s re-drafted Religion Denominations Act was passed by parliament on 21 December. Two months of weekly street protests by Bulgarian Christians had served to highlight the problematic and highly repressive nature of the original draft amendments and attract the attention of European rights advocates and intercessors worldwide. Praise God . . . virtually all of the provisions that the churches had protested against were dropped from the final draft. The new and greatly improved Religion Denominations Act became effective on 1 January. [For more details click HERE.]

* EGYPT: BEHIND THE FACADE, NO CHANGE.

Minya Governorate, in Upper (south) Egypt, is home to Egypt’s largest population of Copts (indigenous Egyptians, as distinct from Arabs). Despite being home to some 1000 Copts (who are Christian) the village of Manshiyet Zaafarana has only one designated place where Christians are permitted to gather for prayer and worship. Known as Mar Girgis (St Georges) Church, Coptic Christians gathered there in number on Christmas Eve (6 January) for the traditional midnight Mass. Angered by the activity, Muslims subsequently stormed the building only to be evicted by police. On Friday 11 January at 1:30pm – i.e. straight after Friday noon prayers – a mob of some 1000 angry (doubtless incited) Muslims converged on the church. They shouted ‘leave, leave’, along with Islamic chants such as, ‘No other God other than Allah’, and demanded that the church be closed. Unable to pacify the mob, the police agreed to their demands. After evicting the two priests and few believers who were inside, the police shuttered the building as the Muslim mob cheered and gloated.

Muslim descend on Mar Girgis church after Friday prayers, 11 January.

This is increasingly how business is done in Egypt: the government opens churches, issues religious freedom decrees and establishes commissions to tackle sectarian conflict while Muslims, aware of their power and confident of impunity, know they only need to riot to get their way. As long as persecution with impunity is the order of the day, then all government pretense is meaningless. Lack of enforcement renders the law worthless. Pray for the Church in Egypt.


* INDONESIA: AHOK OUT; ELECTIONS ON 

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama – formerly known as ‘Ahok’, now preferring to be known as BTP – walked free from prison on 24 January. The long-popular former Governor of Jakarta fell prey to a politically motivated blasphemy accusation while running for governor in November 2016. Sentenced to two years prison in May 2017, Ahok/BTP was released four months early, reportedly for good behaviour but more probably because President Joko Widodo wanted him out before the April elections. It seems Widodo might also have wanted Islamic terror leader Abu Bakar Ba’asyir released from prison and moved to house arrest before the elections. That, however, is looking less likely now that Ba’asyir has refused to pledge loyalty to the Unitary State of Indonesia and the Pancasila state ideology, insisting instead that he only answers to Allah. Clearly rattled by the jailing of Ahok/BTP, Widodo is desperate to bolster his Islamic credentials. [See RLPB 469 (22 Aug 2018), Indonesia: ‘sword’ of weaponised Islam revealed.] Pray for the Church in Indonesia.

* MALI: DARKNESS DESCENDS ON CAPTIVES 

In the days just prior to Christmas, Al Qaeda’s branch in Mali and West Africa, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM, or the ‘Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims’) released a new 10-minute video. According to the English-speaking jihadist, JNIM – which is holding a number of foreign Christians hostage – will no longer release regular videos providing proof-of-life and demanding ransom. The Malian desert is going dark! No reason was given for the change in procedure.  In the video, the JNIM spokesman discussed the cases of Sophie Petronin (French), Iulian Ghergut (Romanian), Dr. Ken Elliott (Australian), Beatrice Stockly (Swiss), and Sister Gloria Navarez (Columbian). This is an ominous development and will be exceedingly difficult for the families involved. Please pray for these captives, as well as for Jeff Woodke (American) and Joerg Lange (German) who are also being held captive somewhere in the Malian desert.

[For background see:
RLPB 413 (5 July 2017) and RLPB 445 (7 March 2018)]

‘Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you’ (from Psalm 139, ESV).

* NIGERIA: A CALL TO PRAYER

The crisis in north-east Nigeria is one of the most neglected crises in the world today. The Nigerian presidential election – slated for 16 February 2019 – will likely bring the situation to a head. As reported by Defense & Foreign Affairs (Special Analysis, 28 Dec 2018) ‘Islamist groups – loosely referred to as Boko Haram (BH) – continue to gain dominance in north-eastern Nigeria’. On 25 December BH ambushed Nigerian soldiers and police near Baga, 198km north-east of Maiduguri, in Borno State, killing fourteen. On 27 Dec, BH overran two military bases belonging to the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) in Baga forcing troops to withdraw and thousands of civilians to flee (mostly into Cameroon). The militants carried off gun trucks, ammunition and multiple rocket-launchers. BH is also known to be using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV: i.e. drones). On 13 January 2019, BH targeted a military base near the town of Magumeri in Borno (50km north-west of Maiduguri) forcing thousands of civilians to flee. On 14 Jan, BH overran and seized control of Rann (174km east of Maiduguri) a makeshift town for displaced persons which was controlled by the military. The army has retreated and thousands of civilians have fled into Cameroon.

Led by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the Nigerian Church held a National Day of Prayers on 10 January. The focus was on the release of captives, including Leah Sharibu and the remaining Chibok girls, and that the February elections might be free, fair, credible and peaceful.

 Muhammadu Buhari versus Atiku Abubakar

To say Nigeria is in crisis would be an understatement. The 16 February presidential election – which will force many issues to the surface – will be a primary focus of RLPB ministry in coming weeks. Please Pray.

* PAKISTAN: ASIA BIBI IS FREE; PAKISTAN IS NOT

On Tuesday 29 January, the Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld its acquittal of Christian woman, Asia Bibi, dismissing as without merit a petition to have the ruling reviewed. Under guard at a secret location since her acquittal last October, Asia Bibi is now free to leave Pakistan. Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Malook who returned to Pakistan for the hearing, said, ‘The verdict is a way forward, and it is positive. The judges raised pertinent legal questions, focusing on law and evidence, expressing displeasure over the perjury that was committed by the complainant against Asia and other witnesses.’  Radical anti-blasphemy party Tehreek-e-Labbaik said on Monday it would not accept any decision in favour of Ms Bibi’s release and asked its followers to prepare for more mass protests.  Pray for the Church in Pakistan.

* SUDAN: A CALL TO PRAYER

Protests erupted in Khartoum on 19 December after the government trebled the price of bread. The economic situation has been deteriorating for years, especially since the secession of South Sudan. Now anger has escalated to breaking point. True to form, the Government of Sudan (GoS) is responding with violence. Over the past month, more than 40 protesters have been killed, well over 300 wounded and more than 800 arrested. While protests are nothing new, what makes these protests unprecedented is their size and longevity, as well as the diversity of those protesting. Either the crackdown will get much worse and more deadly or the protests could force the GoS to accept radical change. Of course change rarely comes quickly; the protests that brought change to Ethiopia lasted one whole year. If a similar change was to occur in Sudan it could result in regional parties and peoples being empowered through a more representative government, thus reviving the late Dr John Garang’s vision of a ‘New Sudan’ built on inclusive government and freedom (albeit without South Sudan). President Omar al-Bashir is hunting for international support. Please pray that God will intervene in Sudan for the benefit of its ‘harassed and helpless’ un-free masses and its suffering Church.

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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