Tuesday, July 30, 2019

RLPB 513. Inc. Iran, Cuba, Hong Kong (China), India, Nigeria, Papua (Indonesia), Sudan, Syria.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 513 | Wed 31 Jul 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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

JULY 2019 UPDATE -- during this period we prayed concerning

* VIETNAM (RLPB 509), where freedom of speech and freedom of religion are deteriorating as the Communist Party of Vietnam moves to consolidate and strengthen its power and control. Please pray for Vietnam, for her Church and for the Christians imprisoned for their faith.

* IRAN (RLPB 510), where Christians -- both Persian and non-Persian -- are experiencing increased repression as the regime tightens its grip amidst crippling sanctions and escalating tensions with the West.

UPDATE: According to the NGO, Article 18, the seven Persian converts jailed on 1 July were released on 16 and 17 July, after posting hefty bail payments. They have been charged with 'actions against national security', 'gathering and collusion against the state' and 'membership of an illegal organisation' (i.e. a house church). The maximum penalty for these crimes would be 15 years in prison. Please pray. Concerning the confiscation and desecration of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Tabriz -- a National Heritage site belonging to the Assyrian Presbytery -- Middle East Concern (MEC) reports: 'Local Christians were encouraged on 9 July to see workmen replacing the cross on the church tower.' According to MEC, Assyrian member of parliament Yonathon Betkolia had written an open letter to President Rouhani requesting the church be re-opened, the cross restored and the Christians respected. One of the president's senior legal advisers even questioned the legality of the action against the church. Praise God! As one Iranian church leader notes, the restoration of the cross is indeed a significant event; however, 'the congregation still needs to receive back the keys and have permission to worship freely.' Please pray for Iran, for her Church and for the Christians imprisoned for their faith.

* CUBA (RLPB 511), where repression has been escalating since the February constitutional referendum which saw Christians -- particularly evangelicals -- labelled 'counter-revolutionaries' for their defence of Biblical values.

UPDATE: Regarding the Christian investigative journalist Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre, who had been arrested and 'disappeared' on 12 July while documenting religious freedom violations, Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that he has been released. After spending four days detained incommunicado in Havana, Ricardo was dressed in prison clothes, handcuffed and transferred to a regular prison cell in Camaguey. On 19 July he was released without explanation. Doubtless the authorities consider this a warning! Pastor Ramon Rigal and his wife, Ayda, remain in prison for home-schooling their two children. Please pray for Cuba, for her Church, and for the Christians imprisoned for their faith.

* PAKISTAN (RLPB 512), where two teenage Christian boys have become the latest victims of a predatory misuse of Pakistan's infamous blasphemy law. Particular attention was paid to the plight of Christian couple, Shagufta Kausar and her husband, Shafqat Emmanuel Masih. The illiterate couple, who have four children, have been languishing on death row since 2014 after 'confessing' under torture to sending blasphemous texts to an Islamic cleric. Saif-ul Malook, the lawyer who secured Asia Bibi's release, has agreed to take up their case. Please pray for Pakistan, for madrassa reform, for the vulnerable and severely persecuted Church and for the Christians imprisoned for their faith.

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:3 ESV)

JULY 2019 ROUND-UP -- also this month

* HONG KONG (CHINA): POKING THE DRAGON

The situation in Hong Kong has taken a dangerous and risky turn. While hard-core protesters have not (generally) targeted or sought to harm people, they have generated considerable property damage, specifically and provocatively targeting symbols of the Chinese state. Not only has the escalating violence split the protest movement, it has played into the hands of Beijing. The over-confident protesters risk over-playing their hand. According to a report in Asia Times, several brigades of the Huizhou-based 74th Army Group have been transferred to a purpose-built facility where they are receiving specialist training on how to control crowds and manage riots in urban environments. A retired Army colonel told Hong Kong reporters that, if Hong Kong becomes ungovernable, Chinese troops will cross the border to restore order.

Please pray that God will open the door for the Church to take her place as peacemaker, to mediate between the protesters and the Hong Kong government. It is urgent that this crisis be resolved. May reason, self-control and moderation prevail so that Beijing has no grounds to intervene.

* INDIA: HINDUTVA AND IMPUNITY


Village leader forces a
Christian woman to
undergo “reconversion”
rite to tribal religion in
Mahuatoli village,
Jharkhand state,
India on 14 June 2019.
(Morning Star News)
Morning Star News (MSN) reports that on 14 June twelve Christian families in Mahuatoli Village in Jharkhand's Gumla District were forced to flee their homes. Already denied access to water and electricity, the Christians fled after they were threatened with death if they did not renounce Christianity and return to the tribal Sarna religion. [For background see Religious Liberty Monitoring, September 2017]. Pastor Munda told MSN, 'It has been a month since the Christians [were] scattered ... It is the monsoon season, so if they can't return back to cultivate their land, they will have to go hungry for the next year.' The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been fostering communal hatred for both political and economic gain. The result is escalating communal violence and a Christian crisis in the northern tribal belt [see RLPB 506 (12 June)]. In fact persecution with impunity has become the order of the day. Pastor Shelton Viswanathan (46), who ministers in the northern state of Bihar, was recently mobbed by eight Hindu militants who dragged him from his scooter and beat him savagely. Despite suffering broken bones, the pastor didn't dare call police, afraid it would only make the situation worse. It is the same with other believers; despite beatings, boycotts and expulsions, they generally will not report abuse out of fear it would only make things worse. Please pray.

* NIGERIA: CHRISTIAN CRISIS CONTINUES IN NORTH AND MIDDLE BELT

(1) BOKO HARAM TERROR IN NORTH-EAST


Grace makes her appeal
CAPTIVES: On 24 July video footage emerged showing six aid workers (five men, one woman) from the Paris-based charity Action Against Hunger. Islamic militants had ambushed their convoy on the road to Damasak in Borno State, killing their driver. Wearing a blue hijab, the woman -- a Christian named Grace -- pleads for assistance from the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Nigerian government to save their lives. According to Grace, Christian captives, Leah Sharibu (16, a student) and Alice Loksha Ngaddah (24, a nurse and mother of two small children), were killed because the government did nothing. (NOTE: nobody has been able to corroborate the claim that Leah and Alice are dead; it remains unconfirmed.) Please pray.

MAYHEM AND SLAUGHTER: On 25 July dozens of Boko Haram militants raided a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) at Dalori, just 15km from Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno State. They chased away soldiers stationed at the neighbouring military base before looting and then burning the camp's storage facilities. Two people were killed in the camp which is home to 50,000 IDPs. Then, on Saturday 27 July, Boko Haram fighters attacked a funeral gathering in Budu Village, which also is not far from Maiduguri. Twenty-three people were killed in the initial attack, while a further 47 were killed when they pursued the militants. The attack is believed to be retaliation for the deaths of 11 militants, killed as they attacked Budu village two weeks earlier, by residents who fought to defend their homes and families. Due primarily to systemic high-level corruption -- specifically the 'Armsgate' scandal -- the war against Boko Haram is being not only prolonged but lost [see RLPB 488 (6 Feb)]. Four more years of the Buhari government will be catastrophic for the people of the North. Please pray.

2) FULANI JIHAD IN MIDDLE BELT


Excellent video by
World Watch Monitor which explains
the Christian crisis in the Middle Belt.
In mid-July, suspected Fulani herdsmen attacked two villages in the Bassa Local Government area of Plateau State, killing four. One woman was killed in Ancha village while Margaret Wakili (27, and 6 months pregnant) was killed as she visited her husband on their farm. Her husband managed to escape, but heard the herdsmen crying 'Allahu Akbar' as they slaughtered his wife. In Tafigana village, Thomas Wollo (46) and his son Nggwe Thomas (7) were killed and beheaded when they returned home from choir practice. The attackers also destroy crops and farmlands. These attacks are part of an Islamist-backed Fulani jihad aimed at displacing the mostly Christian peoples from their lands which are then colonised by Fulani Muslims. Four more years of the Buhari government will be catastrophic for the Christians of the Middle Belt. Please pray.

* PAPUA (EASTERN INDONESIA): HUMANITARIAN CRISIS IN WAMENA


A teacher formerly posted in Nduga,
holds her infant while instructing the
children in the emergency school.
Source: Inside Indonesia, July 2019
In December 2018, nineteen Indonesian laborers were killed in Nduga Regency while working on the controversial Trans Papua Highway. The Indonesian military responded by launching a military operation in Nduga, forcing some 32,000 mostly Christian indigenous Melanesians to flee their homes [see 'Papua: the Christian Crisis in Eastern Indonesia,' RLM, April 2019]. Seven months later, thousands remain displaced and a humanitarian crisis is setting in. The region is closed to outsiders, and because the Indonesian government does not recognise the displaced Papuans as victims of conflict, it refuses to provide trauma counselling or humanitarian assistance. Instead, the burden of care falls on local (Papuan) government agencies, charities, civil society groups, youth groups and churches. Efforts to distribute food, medicines and other supplies to thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) spread across 23 locations in Wamena (the capital of Jayawijaya Regency) -- let alone those in more remote locations or those trapped in the jungle -- are largely unco-ordinated.

At one camp, established on church grounds in Wamena, there are some 5200 displaced Papuans from Nduga Regency, including more than 700 children. According to a report by aid group Solidarity Team for Nduga -- released on 18 July and dismissed by the Indonesian military as a 'hoax' -- many of the displaced are suffering from respiratory infections, diarrhea, dysentery and trauma. Access to food, clean water, clothing, health care and education is limited; and 139 people from Nduga have died in the camp, mostly from disease and malnutrition. Betrayed, abandoned and persecuted, the indigenous Melanesians of Papua are a Christian people. Please pray.

* SUDAN: HOPES FADE AS TENSIONS SOAR

(1) CRIMINAL CASE AGAINST CHURCH LEADERS
In August 2017 eight leaders of the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) were arrested for 'trespassing' on church land while resisting a government take-over of their church property [RLPB 421 (30 Aug 2017)]. In August 2018 the case against the church leaders was dismissed. However, that verdict was appealed and now the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court have determined that a new criminal trial should proceed. The SCOC is a predominantly Nubian denomination and has experienced both religious and ethnic discrimination. Please pray.

(2) LURCHING TOWARDS CIVIL WAR
Sudan is lurching ominously towards civil war. Tensions are escalating between forces loyal to former president Omar al-Bashir -- i.e. Islamists, particularly those within the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) -- and forces loyal to the Transitional Military Council (the TMC, which deposed Bashir) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The TMC is waging a crackdown on Islamists, with some 140 arrested in recent days. Meanwhile, the RSF is slowly taking over the security space. Tensions are soaring. If conflict erupts, then foreign powers with interests may well be drawn in: anti-Muslim Brotherhood Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt on the side of the TMC; and pro-Muslim Brotherhood Turkey and Qatar on the side of the Islamists. The stakes are high, especially for Sudan's Forces of Freedom and Change and for the Church which is comprised mostly of ethnically distinct Nubians. Please pray.

* SYRIA: CHRISTIAN CRISIS CONTINUES

(1) TERROR IN QAMISHLI (NORTH-EAST)


Car bomb strikes church in Qamishli.
video - source: Voice of America
Located on the border with Turkey, in Syria's north-east Hasakah Province, Qamishli is the de facto capital of the Kurdish-dominated Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (also known as Rojava). On Thursday 11 July, 12 people were wounded in the Christian-majority neighbourhood of al-Wasta when a car bomb exploded outside the Virgin Mary Church as a service was concluding. The bomb caused significant property damage, but fortunately no fatalities. Islamic State has claimed responsibility. According to Joan Garcia of the Rojava Information Centre, 'This attack is the eleventh in eleven days in Hasakah Province and the fourth in a month in [Qamishli]... This particular attack targeted worshippers leaving a church ... Similar attacks have targeted churches in Hasakah City and the Khabur region in recent weeks.' Please pray for the Christians of north-east Syria.

(2) TERROR IN IDLIB (NORTH-WEST)


Armenian, Syuzan Der Karkur
Islamic jihadists backed by US-ally and NATO-member Turkey have savagely murdered an Armenian woman in Idlib Province. Syuzan Der Karkur (Suzanne Der Karkour) was one of only a handful of Christian women to remain in the once Armenian-populated town of al-Yakube (Al-Yaqoubiyeh) which lies just north of a jihadist base in Jisr Al-Shughour. Almost all of Idlib's Christians fled in March 2015 as Jayesh el Fatah -- a jihadist coalition led by al-Qaeda and backed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia -- seized Idlib City [RLPB 307 (29 April 2015); After Saturday Comes Sunday pp 214-215]. Syuzan and her husband, an Arab Christian, had repeatedly refused offers to relocate to Aleppo. They loved their home and their village where Syuzan taught Arabic and volunteered at the local church, helping youths with their studies. When Syuzan did not show up on Tuesday 9 July, the local priest sent parishioners to search for her. Her body was found on 12 July, dumped in a field. An autopsy determined that Syuzan had been raped and tortured for at least nine hours before being stoned to death. Please pray for the Christians of north-west Syria.


'Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.' (The Apostle Paul, just days before his execution; from 2 Timothy 4:6-8 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 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

RLPB 512. Pakistan: Christians Vulnerable and Endangered

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 512 | 24 Jul 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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)


PAKISTAN: CHRISTIANS VULNERABLE AND ENDANGERED
by Elizabeth Kendal

source: Christians in Pakistan
Speaking at EU headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday 25 June, Pakistani Foreign Minister (FM) Shah Mahmood Qureshi denied that persecution of Christians in Pakistan was in any way systematic. 'Christians are welcome ... we respect them and want them to be here,' he said, while assuring his audience that any reports of persecution were merely 'individual incidents.' According to FM Qureshi, Pakistan is doing everything to protect its minorities and reports of persecution are merely examples of 'Western interests' which 'want to paint Pakistan in a particular way'. However, as one analyst remarked, FM Qureshi might claim that Pakistan values its religious minorities, but 'the evidence unambiguously indicates otherwise'. Indeed, at the time of partition in 1947, religious minorities comprised almost 23 percent of Pakistan's population; today it is around three percent. As Wilson Chowdhry, founder of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) laments, FM Qureshi's 'delusional denial of Christian persecution in his country' just illustrates 'the top-down apathy that exists towards the treatment of minorities' in Pakistan.

Shaan Taseer, 17 July 2019
On Wednesday 17 July Shaan Taseer, son of the late Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer (assassinated in January 2011 for his defence of Asia Bibi), addressed the US State Department's second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. While celebrating Asia Bibi's freedom, he warned against complacency, noting that 'there are 200 Asia Bibis in jail accused of breaking the blasphemy law in Pakistan today and these are only the reported cases.' According to Taseer, of those who are in prison, '40 are probably on death row'. According to Christian charity Barnabas Fund, at least eight of those on death row for 'blasphemy' are Christians.

On the evening of 29 June, Christians Sunny Mushtaq (19) and Noman Asghar (17) left their homes in Bahawalnagar, Punjab, to play cricket but never returned. The pair were arrested for receiving blasphemous sketches of Muhammad on their WhatsApp numbers. Though the sketches had been sent by Bilal Ahmad, a Muslim, he is not under investigation. Local sources believe the Christian boys were targeted by Muslim boys who had long sought to drive the talented Christians from the cricket competition.

On death row:  Shagufta Kausar and
her husband, Shafqat Emmanuel Masih.
source
On 4 July Christian advocacy group Jubilee Campaign requested urgent prayer for a Christian couple from Gojra, Punjab. Shagufta Kausar and her husband Shafqat Emmanuel were imprisoned for blasphemy in 2013 and sentenced to death in 2014. The couple, who have four children, were found guilty of sending blasphemous texts in English to an Islamic cleric. Both Shagufta and Shafqat are illiterate but are reported to have confessed under torture. According to Jubilee Campaign, 'Both husband and wife are suffering greatly in prison. Shagufta faces decreasing mental and physical function, and her husband, Shafqat, is paralysed from the waist down.' Saif-ul Malook, the lawyer who secured Asia Bibi's release, has agreed to take up their case.

Since the 1980s, Pakistan's Islamic fundamentalists have consolidated and expanded their influence over Pakistan, mostly through their Saudi-funded mosques and madrasas (Islamic schools). As the Islamic radicalisation of the masses has advanced apace (creating a cultural crisis), so too has the systematic discrimination and violent persecution experienced by Pakistan's Christians, creating nothing short of an existential Christian crisis. The persecution -- which has essentially been normalised -- includes assault, rape, murder, forced conversion, human trafficking, Islamic pogroms, terrorism and, of course, the routine misuse of Pakistan's infamous blasphemy law. Comprising a mere two percent of the population, Pakistan's mostly poor and downtrodden Christians form one of the most vulnerable, endangered and severely persecuted Christian communities in the world.

WATCH AND PRAY: MADRASA REFORM


Students learn the Qur'an
in a Karachi madrasa.
source: related article on Gulf News
On Tuesday 16 July a group of top Islamic scholars (ulema) met with Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood to discuss the issue of madrasa reform. The government of Prime Minister Imran Khan wants to 'mainstream' Pakistan's madrasas (Islamic schools). The government's plans include establishing 12 regional offices across the country to facilitate the transition. Madrasas will have to be registered with a curriculum that includes compulsory subjects such as English and Maths that will enable students to gain a certificate of matriculation (or similar) and provide career pathways. Madrasas that refuse to register will be closed down, as will those that foment religious hatred and sectarianism. Pakistan has more than 35,000 madrasas and while many have long been keen to 'mainstream', hard-line clerics have repeatedly derailed all efforts. As one analyst notes, hard-line Islamic parties have such 'street power' and 'fear factor' that whenever the state is faced with their demands, it invariably relents. Please pray.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* protect, sustain and bless all Pakistan's Christians; may our loving Lord provide believers with all their needs -- finances, security, wisdom, discernment and enduring faith -- so they will not fall prey to exploitation or attack.

'But my eyes are toward you, O God, my Lord; in you I seek refuge; leave me not defenceless! Keep me from the trap that they have laid for me and from the snares of evildoers! Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by safely.' (Psalm 141:8-10 ESV)

* sustain, encourage and intervene on behalf of all Pakistani Christians currently in prison on false blasphemy charges; pray specifically for recently arrested friends Sunny Mushtaq (19) and Noman Asghar (17) and long-condemned couple Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel. Lord have mercy!

* give the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan clarity of mind, conviction of spirit, courage of heart and determination to succeed, so that Pakistan -- a volatile tinderbox of religious hatred and sectarianism -- might be brought back from the brink of catastrophe. 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.' (from Matthew 19:26 ESV)

* protect, sustain and richly bless all Pakistan's Bible Colleges, churches, pastors and missionaries (formal and informal), for only by means of The Truth -- God's truth about sin, redemption and transformation -- will Pakistan ever be free. (John 8:31-32; and John 16:3)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
------------------------------------------------------------
PAKISTANI CHRISTIANS VULNERABLE AND ENDANGERED

As the Islamic radicalisation of Pakistan's Sunni Muslim majority advances apace -- mostly through Saudi-funded mosques and madrasas (Islamic schools) -- so too does the systematic discrimination and violent persecution experienced by Pakistan's Christians. The persecution includes assault, rape, murder, forced conversion, human trafficking, Islamic pogroms, terrorism and the routine misuse of Pakistan's infamous blasphemy law. Far too many Pakistani officials are willing to deny the Christian crisis, which is but a symptom of Pakistan's existential cultural crisis. One positive is the government's commitment to reform the madrasas. Expect resistance; watch and pray! Comprising a mere two percent of the population, Pakistan's mostly poor and downtrodden Christians form one of the most vulnerable, endangered and severely persecuted Christian communities in the world. Please Pray for Pakistan 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

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

RLPB 511. Cuba: Persecution Escalates

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 511 | 17 Jul 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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)

CUBA: PERSECUTION ESCALATES
by Elizabeth Kendal

Cuba maintains a one-party system with no independent judiciary. The ruling Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) exerts tight control over all religious activity. All churches are required by law to register with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), a process which is both arbitrary and political. Registered churches -- which are mostly Catholic and members of the Cuban Council of Churches (CIC) -- are tightly controlled through the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), which works out of the MoJ. The ORA is authorised to supervise gatherings, restrict activities and limit the number of attenders. The mostly Protestant and evangelical churches that are not registered and are not members of CIC, suffer harassment, intimidation and persecution. While current repression and persecution is nothing like the persecution suffered during the Cold War era, persecution has escalated markedly since the February 2019 constitutional referendum which saw evangelicals deemed 'counter-revolutionaries' [see RLPB 491 (27 Feb)].

Rev. Alayn Toledano Valiente
On the weekend of 13-14 July, the Reverend Alayn Toledano Valiente, a leader in the Apostolic Movement, the Reverend Alida Leon Baiz, President of the Evangelical League of Cuba, and the Reverend Moises de Prada, Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, were prevented from boarding flights to the US where they were to attend the US State Department's second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. Two weeks earlier, the Reverend Dariel Llanes, President of the Western Baptist Convention of Cuba, learned that he would not be permitted to travel when authorities refused to renew his passport. Rev. Alida Baiz wondered how the pastors could be arbitrarily denied their right to freedom of movement when the law only withholds that right from criminals and those deemed a threat to national security. It seems Cuban Counterintelligence had issued travel restrictions against the pastors, who are all founding members of the Alliance of Evangelical Churches of Cuba (AIEC), established in the wake of the constitutional referendum.

Christian investigative journalist
Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre
Grave concerns are held for independent journalist Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre. An active member of the Apostolic Movement (a network of unregistered charismatic Christian churches), Fernandez Izaguirre had been working to document religious persecution and violations of religious freedom. Fernandez Izaguirre, who is married with an infant daughter, was arbitrarily arrested on 12 July; his condition and whereabouts are unknown and his mobile phone appears to have been disconnected. Christian Solidarity Worldwide issued a statement saying, 'CSW holds the Cuban government responsible for the well-being of Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre. Violations of freedom of religion or belief have increased in Cuba over the past six months and Ricardo has dedicated himself to travelling across the country, often at great personal sacrifice, sleeping in bus stations and skipping meals, to document these cases and to offer solidarity to the victims. We call on the authorities to release him immediately.'

Pastor Ramon Rigal of the Church of God in Cuba and his wife, Ayda Exposito, were arrested on 21 February for home-schooling their children, Ruth (13) and Daniel (9), with the support of a Christian college in Guatemala. The couple chose to home-school their children so as to remove them from the bullying and mandatory atheism they were forced to endure in Cuba's state-run system [see RLPB 499 (24 April)]. On 23 June a Cuban court sentenced Pastor Rigal to two years in prison and his wife Ayda to 18 months for 'acting against the normal development of a minor'. The children are now in the care of their grandparents. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reports that Roberto Jesus Quinones Haces, an independent lawyer who wanted to observe the trial, was detained and severely beaten, leaving all the fingers on his right hand broken. According to the USCIRF, two other fathers were recently detained for enrolling their children in the same education programme the Rigal family was using.

Arrested: Pastor Ramón Rigal and his wife Ayda Expósito
youtube - courtesy, Home School Legal Defense Association

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* supply all Cuban Christians with wisdom, grace and faith as persecution escalates; may Christ redeem all suffering to unify and sanctify his precious Church in Cuba.

* intervene for investigative journalist and religious liberty advocate Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre, who has been arrested and essentially 'disappeared'; may the Spirit of the Christ be powerfully present to sustain and protect him wherever he is; may the Lord's justice prevail.

* intervene for Pastor Ramon Rigal and his wife, Ayda Exposito, as they serve time in prison for nothing more than home-schooling their own children; may they have peace and may the Lord's justice prevail.

* continue to build his Church in Cuba; may there be reformation and revival and a breakthrough that changes Cuba forever.

He ['my Servant', the Lord Jesus Christ] will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. (Isaiah 42:4 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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PERSECUTION ESCALATES IN CUBA

Cuba is a Communist Party-ruled state where all religion is tightly controlled. Churches must register with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ); only churches that are pro-government are approved. Even then, the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) supervises gatherings and dictates terms. Unregistered churches -- mostly Protestant/Evangelical -- are illegal. Persecution has escalated markedly since the February referendum which saw evangelicals deemed 'counter-revolutionary'. On 23 June Pastor Rigal and his wife Ayda were sentenced to two years and 18 months respectively for home-schooling their two children. On 12 July Christian journalist Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre was arrested and 'disappeared' while documenting the escalating religious persecution. On 13-14 July officials prevented evangelical leaders from travelling to the US to attend a Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom meeting. Please pray for Cuba 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, July 9, 2019

RLPB 510 Iran: arrests and confiscations amidst rising tensions

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 510 | 10 Jul 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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)

IRAN: ARRESTS AND CONFISCATIONS AMIDST RISING TENSIONS
--by Elizabeth Kendal

click on map to enlarge
Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) were created in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Both are integral to the regime's apparatus. Unlike the Iranian Armed Forces which exist to protect Iran from foreign aggression, MOIS and the IRGC exist to protect and advance the interests of the regime, both at home and abroad. Internationally, MOIS personnel operate out of embassies, consulates, Islamic cultural centres and businesses; their involvement in assassinations and terrorism is well known. At home, MOIS personnel are an ever-present, lurking threat whose task it is to snuff out dissent and prevent fitna (rebellion/strife arising from doubt), primarily through intimidation, arrest, incarceration, torture and assassination. On 8 April US President Donald Trump designated the IRGC as a terrorist organisation. Multitudes of diaspora Iranians and dissidents-in-exile want to see the terrorist designation extended to include MOIS.

On 1 July, in the city of Bushehr in south-west Iran, MOIS agents raided the homes of Christian converts. They arrested eight, including five members of one family: Sam Khosravi (36) and his wife Maryam Falahi (35); Sam's brother Sasan (35) and his wife Marjan Falahi (33); as well as Sam and Sasan's mother, Khatoon Fatolahzadeh (61), who was subsequently released because of her age. Also arrested were Pooriya Peyma (27) and his wife Fatemeh Talebi (27), and Habib Heydari (38). According to human rights organisation Article 18, the arrests were conducted with unnecessary severity and in the presence of small children. Christian literature, pictures, crosses, laptops, mobile phones, identity cards and bank cards were confiscated. The seven detained believers are reportedly being held in solitary confinement in the MOIS office in Bushehr.

Sam Khosravi (36), and his wife Maryam Falahi (35), Sam’s brother Sasan (35), and his wife Marjan Falahi (33), Sam and Sasan’s mother, Khatoon Fatolahzadeh (61), as well as Pooriya Peyma (27), and his wife Fatemeh Talebi (27), and Habib Heydari (38).
Source: Middle East Concern

Like MOIS and IRGC, Execution of Imam Khomeini's Order (EIKO; Setad in Persian) was established in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and answers to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (80). Through the 1980s, EIKO's task was to confiscate the property of Iranians -- specifically religious minorities, business people and Iranians living abroad -- and redistribute it to 'charities'. Since 1989, EIKO has evolved into a major centre of economic power for, while this state-owned enterprise continues to confiscate property, it no longer redistributes it. In 2011, EIKO confiscated the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Tabriz in north-west Iran. The 100-year-old church belonged to the Assyrian Presbytery and is a National Heritage site. The regime allowed the Assyrian congregation to continue worshipping in the church on the condition that worship and ministry only be conducted in Aramaic and not in the language of Iran's Persian Muslims. On 9 May agents from MOIS and EIKO raided the Tabriz church. They expelled the church warden, changed the locks, tore down the cross and installed monitoring equipment; clearly the Assyrians will no longer be able to worship there. In March 2018, when EIKO confiscated the Garden of Sharon Christian retreat centre belonging to the Assemblies of God church in Tehran, the regime justified that act of theft by claiming the centre was being used as a cover for CIA (American Intelligence) espionage.

Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Tabriz.
Source: Article 18

The world is focused on Iran's nuclear program, even though the main purpose of nuclear weapons is leverage and deterrence. The fact is, Iran has expanded its power across Mesopotamia (Syria-Iraq) and the Levant by creating and arming Shi'ite proxies and by arming Sunni forces aligned with its Axis of Resistance. The greatest problem with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) enacted in 2015 was that it ignored this reality. By lifting sanctions from businesses, most of which were EIKO assets (i.e. state-owned), JCPOA actually facilitated the Iranian surge. [See: After Saturday Comes Sunday, from page 213.] While current sanctions are indeed hurting the regime, it has no intention of caving in. Consequently, tensions are set to escalate. I think we should anticipate that Iranian Christians will increasingly be targeted as a determined regime ups the ante and tightens its grip.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* intervene for all Iranian believers currently being held in Iranian prisons and other detention facilities; may his peace fill their hearts (Romans 15:13), may his wisdom grace their lips (Matthew 10:17-20) and may 'justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream' (Amos 5:24 ESV).

* grant the pastor, other leaders and members of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Tabriz great wisdom to know how to navigate these difficult days; may the Lord provide all their needs (Philippians 4:19) and keep them safe (Psalm 91).

* continue to build his Church in Iran and among the Persian Diaspora (Matthew 16:18).

* intervene with creativity and power, that Iran might be liberated so the people can reclaim their dynamic Persian culture and their friendship with Israel and the West; may they also gain a freedom hitherto unknown and a relationship with God hitherto unimaginable.

And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. (Genesis 1:3 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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ARRESTS AMIDST RISING TENSIONS IN IRAN

On 1 July agents from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) raided the homes of Christian converts in Bushehr, in south-west Iran. They violently arrested eight believers, including five members of one family. The matriarch was subsequently released due to her age, but seven converts aged in their 20s and 30s (including three married couples) remain detained in the MOIS office in Bushehr. Doubtless conditions remain oppressive. On 9 May regime agents raided the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Tabriz, in north-west Iran. While the 100-year-old heritage-listed church had been confiscated in 2011, the Assyrian believers had been allowed to continue worshipping there. Now the state has expelled the church warden, changed the locks, torn down the cross and installed surveillance cameras. Please pray for Iran and its believers.

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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

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

RLPB 509. Vietnam: Communist Party Persecutes with Impunity

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 509 | 03 Jul 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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)

-- Elizabeth Kendal

VIETNAM: COMMUNIST PARTY PERSECUTES WITH IMPUNITY

Communist Party General Secretary and
President of Vietnam, Nguyễn Phú Trọng.
If the slogan of the Muslim Brotherhood is 'Islam is the solution', then the unofficial slogan of Western parliaments must surely be 'Money is the solution'. As Vietnam has opened up its economy, the West has rewarded it, all the while demanding nothing, but anticipating change. Needless to say, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) has played the game to perfection. Despite twelve years of remarkable economic development, the human rights situation has not improved. In fact, since 2016, human rights have deteriorated markedly as the Communist Party head and President of Vietnam, Nguyen Phu Trọng (75), has moved to consolidate and strengthen CPV control. As in China, so in Vietnam: regime survival depends on money (to satiate the masses and legitimise Communist Party rule) and the snuffing out of all dissent. Soon even more money will be flowing in, for, on 30 June, the European Council signed a free trade agreement with Vietnam, confirming to the CPV that human rights are irrelevant. Despite being a repressed and persecuted minority -- comprising around 9.4 percent (7.7 percent Catholic and 1.3 percent Protestant) -- Vietnamese Christians are at the forefront of pro-democracy, social justice and human rights advocacy.

On 29 April 2019 the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its annual report and called on the US State Department to re-designate Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), Tier 1. As the USCIRF reports: 'In 2018, religious freedom conditions in Vietnam trended negative.' Police violence and CPV-commissioned thuggery are escalating, draconian laws are accumulating and prisons are filling up with peaceful activists who are being sentenced to increasingly lengthy prison terms. Kidnapped and severely beaten before being arrested and sentenced to 12 years' jail, ostensibly for his religious liberty advocacy, the plight of Protestant Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton (48) is a case in point [see RLPB 479 (31 Oct 2018)].

Nguyen Nang Tinh -- arrested.
Nghe An newspaper,
SBS News, 4 June 2019
In May, authorities in north-central Vietnam's Nghe An Province arrested Nguyen Nang Tinh (42), a Catholic parishioner who teaches vocals at Nghe An College of Arts and Culture. A humanitarian known to be active in community work, Tinh was arrested at his home while having breakfast with his sons. His wife, Nguyen Thi Tinh, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that no warrants for his arrest had been shown and no family members have been allowed to visit him. According to an official police newspaper, Tinh was arrested over a post on Facebook, for 'producing, disseminating or spreading information and documents aimed at undermining' Vietnam.

According to the database of 88 Project, Vietnam is currently holding 263 'activists' (prisoners of conscience). This figure corresponds with the USCIRF's figure of 244 prisoners of conscience as of 31 December 2018, as well as 20 detained activists awaiting trial. RFA carries numerous reports of Vietnamese prisoners of conscience being beaten, choked, held in solitary confinement and forcibly medicated. Many of these prisoners are Christians; some had advocated for religious freedom, democracy and social justice, while others had simply professed or practised their Christian faith.

As the USCIRF makes clear, Vietnam's ethnic minorities face 'especially egregious persecution for the peaceful practice of their religious beliefs, including physical assault, detention, or banishment'. According to the USCIRF, an estimated 2,000 Protestant ethnic Hmong and Montagnard households in the Central Highlands (comprising approximately 10,000 individuals) continue to be stateless because local authorities refuse to issue ID cards, household registration and birth certificates, 'in many instances in retaliation for refusing to renounce their faith'.

'Say a Prayer for Vietnam's Forgotten Montagnards',
by Dan Southerland (former executive editor RFA) Asia Times, Oct 2018

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* bless, comfort, sustain and encourage prisoners Nguyen Trung Ton and Nguyen Nang Tinh; may the Lord Jesus Christ bring healing to Pastor Ton's body; may the Spirit lift up Ton and Tinh's heads (Psalm 3:3) and may the God of justice intervene for Ton, Tinh and all Christians unjustly imprisoned in Vietnam (Amos 5:24).

'But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." ' (2 Corinthians 12:9a ESV)

* sustain and encourage the Church in Vietnam as repression escalates; may the Lord bless all church leaders with divine wisdom as they seek to lead Christ's precious flock through difficult days; may the Lord flood his Church with all the faith and grace believers will require if they are to 'shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life' (from Philippians 2:14-16 ESV).

* awaken men and women of influence in this world -- in particular those who formulate foreign policy -- to the folly of trusting that 'money is the solution' -- as if money can solve the problem of sin!


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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VIETNAM'S COMMUNIST PARTY PERSECUTES WITH IMPUNITY

Since 2016, human rights have deteriorated markedly in Vietnam as the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) has moved to consolidate and strengthen its control. Police violence and CPV-commissioned thuggery are escalating, draconian laws are accumulating and prisons are filling with peaceful activists being sentenced to increasingly lengthy prison terms. One such prisoner is Protestant Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton (48), severely beaten and serving 12 years in prison, ostensibly for his religious liberty advocacy. Another is Nguyen Nang Tinh (42), a Catholic parishioner and singing teacher, arrested without warrant in May for a Facebook post deemed anti-state. Ethnic minority, mostly Protestant Hmong and Montagnard Christians face the most egregious persecution, including physical assault, detention, banishment and forced statelessness. Vietnam, her Church and her many courageous Christian advocates need our prayers.

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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