Tuesday, August 13, 2019

RLPB 515. China: Gao Zhisheng missing for two years

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 515 | 14 Aug 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)


CHINA: GAO ZHISHENG MISSING FOR TWO YEARS

by Elizabeth Kendal

On 13 August 2017 Gao Zhisheng, Christian human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate, was reported missing [see RLPB 421 (30 Aug 2017)]. It was not the first time Gao had disappeared. Indeed, as Benedict Rogers noted on the first anniversary of Gao's disappearance, 'Gao's personal history reads like a glossary of human rights violations: torture, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance.' On this the second anniversary, we lift him up before our good and loving God, with faith anchored in the promise: 'And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age' (Jesus, in Matthew 28:20).

Gao Zhisheng, a 'top ten lawyer'.
In 2001, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) named Gao 'one of the nation's top ten lawyers' in recognition of his extensive pro bono legal work in defence of the poor. However, when Gao began challenging CCP policy through his defence of persecuted Falun Gong practitioners and house church Christians, he quickly became one of the nation's most persecuted lawyers. Gao was abducted and intimidated in secret detention in November 2004, in December 2006, and again in September 2007 when he was held for 50 days and tortured so severely that he tried to kill himself. He was abducted again in February 2009 and detained for 13 months, during which time his wife and two young children escaped to the USA. A month after his release, Gao was apprehended again in April 2010 and detained for 18 months, after which, in December 2011, he was sentenced to serve three years as a 'criminal who endangers national security' in the remote and infamously harsh Shaya Prison, Xinjiang.

Gao (2017) after a
decade of intense
CCP persecution
When Gao was released in August 2014 he was 'a shadow of his former self' [RLPB 275 (27 Aug 2014)]. He had lost 22kg and was suffering from malnutrition, a condition that had already caused half his teeth to fall out. He looked in a mirror but did not recognise himself, describing the sight as 'a record of hell in a face'. He struggled to walk and string a sentence together, let alone cope with the pain caused by his remaining teeth. Confined to house arrest in his mother's cave-house in the northern province of Shaanxi, Gao was isolated, surveilled and denied medical and dental care. Then, just when the Communist Party were thinking they had crushed him, Gao not only rallied, he wrote a detailed report on CCP repression and persecution, and a memoir -- Unwavering Convictions -- which was smuggled out and published, both in Chinese (June 2016) and in English (January 2017).

On 13 August 2017 a distressed and desperate Gao escaped house arrest. It took the authorities three weeks to track him down. On 5 September 2017 his family finally learned that Gao had been apprehended and taken to Beijing. On 11 November 2017 a 'security maintenance' officer told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that Gao was being held by state security police in Jia County and that he was 'fine'. The very next day RFA reported that the Gao Zhisheng Lawyers' Concern Group had located Gao in a secret prison in Shaanxi Province. According to this group, Gao was being held in solitary confinement, in total darkness and denied access to medical care [see RLPB 432 (15 Nov 2017)].

A secret prison -- officially known as 'Residential Surveillance in a Designated Location' (RSDL) -- is 'a place where the law does not exist -- a black hole'. An exiled Chinese lawyer has described it as 'a system for prolonged, pre-trial detention outside a formal, legal location'. In RSDL, officials have freedom to apply 'more severe, more terrible coercive measures than normal criminal detention ... [consequently] torture has become rampant under RSDL' [Amnesty International Urgent Action appeal for Gao Zhisheng: 16 April 2019]. It is not difficult to understand why the people of Hong Kong are so desperate to resist Beijing's expanding reach [see last's week's RLPB 514 (7 Aug)].

Gao’s daughter, Grace Geng in
Hong Kong with her father’s book,
June 2016. 

(Photo: Kin Cheung, Associated Press)
In his memoir, Unwavering Convictions, Gao writes: 'These torture sessions over the years actually gave me a wonderful gift, which is my faith in God. I was not a believer previously. Although handling the case of Pastor Cai Zhuohua [September 2004 to November 2005] had given me access to the Bible, it did not move me at the time. But once the Beijing authorities started persecuting me, I came to know God and became part of the brotherhood of Christians. I am especially grateful to brother Fan Yafeng [a 'renowned Christian and legal scholar'] for helping me come to know and receive God. This greatly enhanced the quality of my life as well as my psychological strength in these difficult years' (p21). 'For anyone of faith, infinite light and freedom awaits us when we close our eyes' (p139).


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* minister to and intervene for Gao Zhisheng (55); may Gao know with full assurance that his Heavenly Father's 'everlasting arms' are underneath him (Deut 33:27), his Good Shepherd Saviour walks with him (Psalm 23) and the Spirit who indwells him will sustain him (John 14:15-17).

* minister to and intervene for all China's persecuted and incarcerated Christian pastors, evangelists and church members, as well as other peaceful religious people; may he also minister to and intervene for all the persecuted and incarcerated human rights advocates and activists who risk life and liberty in pursuit of justice, truth, righteousness and religious freedom.

* continue to build, equip and sustain his Church in China in preparation for the day when he, the Almighty God, will intervene and the Chinese Communist Party will be 'cast out' and 'cut down' (Ezekiel 31) and 'called to account' (Psalm 10) and China's Church will be free.

Until that day, please pray for the Church in China: may the Sovereign Lord be her strength; may he make her feet like the feet of a deer and enable her to go on the heights. AMEN. (Adapted from Habakkuk 3:19).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
------------------------------------------------------------
CHINA: GAO ZHISHENG MISSING FOR TWO YEARS

Gao Zhisheng (55), renowned Christian human rights lawyer, went missing on 13 August 2017. Desperate for dental care, he escaped house arrest. After three weeks, Gao was apprehended and 'disappeared' into 'Residential Surveillance in a Designated Location' -- a place of pre-trial detention where rule of law is non-existent and torture is rampant. Once a highly regarded lawyer, everything changed in 2004 when Gao started defending persecuted Falun Gong practitioners and house church Christians. Refusing to be silent, Gao has suffered numerous abductions, torture and extended times of solitary confinement. However, when the Communist Party thought they had crushed him, he wrote a memoir -- Unwavering Convictions -- which was smuggled out and published. His condition and whereabouts are hidden from us, but not from the Lord. Please pray.

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

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 6, 2019

RLPB 514. Hong Kong (China): Crackdown or Breakthrough; praying for a miracle

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 514 | 07 Aug 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)


HONG KONG (CHINA): CRACKDOWN OR BREAKTHROUGH
Praying for a Miracle (an extended RLPB)
by Elizabeth Kendal

Home to 850,000 Christians (12.4 percent of the population (OMF)), some 1,500 churches and 35 Bible Colleges, Hong Kong has long been 'a vital nerve centre for [Christian] media' (Operation World 2010) and 'the springboard for evangelising on the mainland' (TIME magazine, March 2018). Indeed, the Hong Kong Church has long maintained that its primary role, in God's great purpose, is to support the mainland Church and its massive missions movement. 'Hong Kong,' writes TIME magazine's Laignee Barron, 'with its greater freedoms and religious liberties, has played a vital role in oxygenating the growth of Christianity on the mainland.' It does this, Barron explains, by maintaining 'a vital lifeline, supplying everything from monetary support, to Bibles, to blacklisted Christian literature, to training and assistance founding new churches. The gospel is smuggled over the border in every format imaginable: broadcast on pirate radio waves and disseminated through USB flash drives. "They need our help," says Hong Kong's retired Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen, "because we are in the freer world and they are not".' This is but a snapshot of what is at stake as Hong Kong teeters on the precipice, faced with the prospect of a violent descent into non-freedom.

As noted in a hugely informative and important piece by Russell Hsiao for The Jamestown Foundation (31 July), the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) began strategically (and subversively) to extend its influence deep into Hong Kong well before the 1997 retrocession (when Britain ceded Hong Kong back to China). However, that process has accelerated markedly under President Xi Jinping, whose goal it is to complete the CCP's '100-year marathon' to end humiliation and 'restore' China to global dominance as the ruler of 'all under heaven' (tian xia). To this end Xi is fuelling the hostile, anti-foreign Chinese nationalism forged by the CCP in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 4 June 1989. By this means, Xi also hopes to perpetuate CCP power and privilege into the future. As the CCP's influence has increased, Hong Kong's cherished liberties and safeguards have diminished. The ill-considered extradition law was simply 'the last straw'. With that, the people lost all confidence in their government and subsequently in their police as well. The situation is now critical and, as noted in last week's RLPB 513 (31 July) under the sub-heading 'Poking the Dragon', 'It is urgent that this crisis be resolved.' Prayer was requested that God would open the door for the Church to take her place as peacemaker, to mediate between the protesters and the Hong Kong government.

'Sing Hallelujah to the Lord'
The unlikely anthem of the Hong Kong Protests.
Reuters, 19 June 2019
British human rights activist and author Benedict Rogers is the East Asia Team Leader at Christian Solidarity Worldwide; he is also the co-founder and chair of Hong Kong Watch. Writing in the Union of Catholic Asian (UCA) News (2 August), Rogers condemned the governments in Hong Kong and Beijing for their 'dangerous' refusal to engage with the protesters. He likens the protests to a David versus Goliath battle and laments: 'There is a massive, unprecedented failure of governance in Hong Kong. All of this heightened tension could easily have been avoided. Hong Kong people are pragmatists, not radicals. Even the young demonstrators who stormed the Legislative Council last month protected books and antiques as they made their protest against the establishment. It would not take much to calm the situation, yet the intransigence of the Hong Kong and Beijing authorities is staggering -- and dangerous.'

As far as Rogers is concerned, there are only two ways to end the impasse: 'One is, God forbid, a Tiananmen-style crackdown, which we are already beginning to see in embryo with the police's widespread use of teargas, batons, beatings, shotgun triggers pulled, and Triad gangsters mobilised.' As Rogers warns, a PLA crackdown would result in the death not only of hundreds of Hong Kong people, but of Hong Kong itself. Some analysts doubt Beijing would be willing to risk such an outcome, considering how critical Hong Kong is to the Chinese economy. Others are not so sure, considering how loath Beijing is to give any ground to any protesters anywhere, lest it encourage protests elsewhere. The alternative,' writes Rogers, 'which is equally hard to imagine but absolutely necessary, is for the Beijing and Hong Kong governments to recognise that the only end to these protests is for some degree of democratic reform to be introduced.' Rogers is certain that if the people in Hong Kong can be persuaded that real democratic reforms will be forthcoming and their human rights and liberties safeguarded, 'then maybe there is hope for a breakthrough.' Failing that, Rogers fears that 'Hong Kong is heading for bloodshed, turmoil and tragedy on a scale it has not yet seen'.

video: SCMP 31 July 2019
SEE ALSO:
20,000 riot police in all-day drill, Shenzhen, Tues 6 Aug,
Asia Times, 6 Aug (includes video)
On 31 July the Chinese military issued a warning by releasing video footage of PLA troops conducting anti-riot drills (left). On Sunday 4 August China's official news agency Xinhua confirmed: 'The central government will not sit idly by and let this situation continue.'

Hong Kong's Church leaders have appealed to the Hong Kong government, urging it to take the initiative and resolve the crisis by withdrawing the extradition bill, launching an independent inquiry into police responses and commencing mediation. The Anglican Bishop of Hong Kong, Paul Kwong, has written to parishioners urging them to resist violence in all its forms, instructing them instead to 'rebuild Hong Kong through the grace of the cross, making her a "Pearl of the Orient" that can shine the glory of Christ and the radiance of humanity.' Leaders of The Vine church, an English-language church in the Wan Chai district of Hong Kong, have expressed deep concern over the escalating levels of stress and anxiety in society, noting that the crisis has driven at least five people to suicide. In its appeal for 'concerted prayer', The Vine church published a prayer for use by the citizens of Hong Kong. I have amended it slightly for international use. Please pray ...

Lord God,

We cry out to You for Hong Kong in its time of need. Please help those in authority to be humble and wise in their decision-making. Help those who are demonstrating to be peaceful and considerate. Please restrain all anger and frustration from creating violence and harm. We need Your intervention to bring about a resolution to this present situation of unrest.

Bring comfort to those who are anxious, fearful and confused by what they see happening around them. Lord, we ask that You listen to their cries for justice. Lord, without You this situation seems to be hopeless, so we ask for Your wisdom to prevail where human wisdom fails and political expediency takes precedence.

Show Your mighty arm of justice and righteousness in Hong Kong and bring about a peaceful outcome to rebuild that broken city.

In Jesus' name,

Amen.

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. Therefore ... keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints (from Ephesians 6:12-18 ESV).

And [David] said, "The Lord has broken through my enemies before me like a breaking flood." Therefore the name of that place is called Baal-perazim [the Lord of breaking through] (From 2 Samuel 5:17-25 ESV).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
------------------------------------------------------------
HONG KONG (CHINA): CRACKDOWN OR BREAKTHROUGH

Praying for A Miracle -- Home to some 850,000 Christians (12.4 percent of the population), some 1,500 churches and 35 Bible Colleges, Hong Kong has long been a hub for Christian media and mission, providing vital support to the mainland Church and its massive missions movement. Beijing began expanding its influence in Hong Kong well before 1997, but the process has accelerated markedly under President Xi Jinping. For the Hong Kong people concerned about the erosion of freedoms, the ill-conceived extradition bill was the 'last straw'. Now at a crossroad, Hong Kong is headed for a crackdown or a breakthrough. Beijing has warned that Chinese troops will restore order if the Hong Kong authorities cannot. This would be catastrophic for the Church in Hong Kong and in mainland China. Please pray.

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

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