Wednesday, August 28, 2019

RLPB 517. August Update, incl. Algeria, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, Papua (Indonesia)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 517 | Wed 28 Aug 2019
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by Elizabeth Kendal

AUGUST 2019 UPDATE -- during this period we prayed concerning

* HONG KONG, CHINA (RLPB 514), where protesters fear a crackdown but hope for a breakthrough. We prayed for the authorities to have wisdom, for the protesters to be peaceful and for a breakthrough leading to a resolution, noting the strategic role Hong Kong has long played in supporting and resourcing the Church in mainland China. Please continue to pray for Hong Kong.

'For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.' (Ephesians 6:12 ESV)

* CHINA (RLPB 515), in particular for the severely persecuted Christian human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate Gao Zhisheng, now missing for two years. Persecution and repression are escalating at an alarming rate and will only get worse in the coming years as the Social Credit System [see RLPB 415 (19 July 2017)] becomes fully operational. Please pray for the Church in China.

* SUDAN (RLPB 516), after the signing of a Constitutional Charter supposed to facilitate democratic transition. The Charter is ground-breaking in that it is not based on Islamic Sharia law and enshrines equality of all Sudan's ethnically and religiously diverse peoples. However, it fails to address the issues facing the non-Arab peoples of the conflict-ridden periphery, including the Christians of South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains. Sudan's Islamists (who dominate a 'Deep State' 30 years in the making) have rejected the Charter as un-Islamic. Of course, it is very possible that one of the signatories -- the Transitional Military Council (TMC) -- might have no intention of honouring the Charter and might even view the signing as a mere stalling tactic ahead of further violence. Also, over everything, foreign powers cast their shadow: in particular, Saudi Arabia and UAE (which back the TMC) versus Iran-aligned Turkey and Qatar (which back the Islamists). Sudan's current peace and security remains tenuous. Please continue to pray for Sudan.

AUGUST 2019 ROUND-UP -- also this month

* ALGERIA: SPIRITUAL STRUGGLE IN KABYLIE REGION

On 6 August officers of the National Gendarmerie sealed shut the church in Lekhmis Village, Boudjima, upon the orders of the governor of Tizi Ouzou Province. The church had been given three day to remove all contents form the building before it was sealed. According to Middle East Concern, the church commenced meeting in 2003, joined Algeria's official Protestant Alliance (EPA) in 2006 and today has around 100 members. Before the police left, Pastor Messaoud Takilt told them, 'Know that we will continue to celebrate our worship outside, whether under the sun or in the rain.'

Church in Ighzer Amokrane,
Monday, 26 Aug 2019.
(Morning Star News) 
On Monday 26 August, when a brigade of gendarmerie sought to execute an order to seal shut yet another Protestant church in Tizi Ouzou Province, they were shocked to meet with resistance. Inside the 300 member Church of the Prince of Peace in Ighzer Amokrane, were some 200 Christians and evangelical leaders from 33 churches who had gathered for prayer. Pastor Salah Chalah, who is president of the Protestant alliance (EPA), told the police he would not comply with the closure order or order those present to disperse. After examining the closure order, the EPA's attorney, Wahab Chiter, deemed it invalid on the grounds that it carried the signature of the provincial chief who is not empowered to sign such an order which, to be valid must be issued by a court. After telephoning his superior, the police chief departed, taking his officers with him. The struggle is not over; indeed, it is just beginning. Please pray.

* CUBA: REGIME ESCALATES PERSECUTION OF EVANGELICALS

Rev Alayn Toledano Valiente of Emanuel Church in Santiago de Cuba (in Cuba's south-east) is a leader in Cuba's Apostolic Movement and a founding member of Cuba's recently formed Alliance of Evangelical Churches. He was one of several evangelical pastors prevented from travelling to the US for a conference in July [RLPB 511 (17 July)]. On 8 August Pastor Valiente was interrogated by police at the station for almost three hours. He was told that if his church went ahead with the women's event scheduled for 8-10 August then Valiente would be arrested and charged with disobedience. Despite the threats, the church's 'Deborah 2019' conference went ahead as planned.

Deborah 2019, at Emanuel Church, Santiago de Cuba.

On 22 August police warned Pastor Valiente that if the youth event that evening went ahead without permission then he would be arrested and charged with disobedience. Not only did Valiente refuse to sign a pre-arrest warrant, the youth event went ahead as planned. On 23 August Pastor Valiente was questioned by police in the station over the legality of the church's meeting place. Several years ago, the authorities demolished the church's building and allowed the neighbours to appropriate the land. Consequently, the church now meets in an improvised shelter on a parishioner's land. Police have threatened the landowners with the confiscation of their property. Pastor Valiente and his family have suffered much persecution stretching over two decades, including eviction from their home and violent beatings. 'I ask above all for your prayers,' he wrote on Facebook, 'God covers our lives'. Please pray.

On 9 August evangelical Christian journalist Yoé Suárez was detained by State Security Police in Guantanamo City in Cuba's south-east, where he had scheduled a series of interviews with various persecuted Christians. Suárez was detained, questioned and intimidated for several hours before being released with a warning. Persecution has escalated markedly since the regime deemed evangelicals 'counter-revolutionaries' [see RLPB 491 (26 Feb)]. Please pray.

* ERITREA: REGIME ESCALATES PERSECUTION OF DISSIDENT CHURCH

In May more than 170 Protestant Christians were arrested in three raids across Asmara; 50 were subsequently released. In early June the government seized control of 22 medical clinics belonging to the Catholic Church [see RLPB 505 (26 June)]. Now, Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that, on 13 June, five Orthodox priests from the Debre-Bizen Monastery in the country's Northern Red Sea Region were arrested for protesting government interference in Church affairs. On 23 August World Watch Monitor reported that 150 Christians have been arrested since 23 June.

On 23 June Eritrean security officials arrested 70 members of the Faith Mission Church of Christ in Keren. The believers -- including 35 women (some pregnant) and 10 children -- were taken to Ashufera prison, a vast system of underground tunnels and cells where conditions are extremely harsh. Authorities also closed the church-run school. The Faith Mission Church of Christ was the last church still open in the majority-Muslim city 90 km north-west of Asmara. The government clampdown has sent other Christians in Keren into hiding. Please pray.

On 18 August Eritrean security officials detained 80 Christians from Godaif, on the southern outskirts of Asmara where they are being held at the police station. On 16 August six Christian government employees from Keren, Eritrea's second city, were taken to a court in Asmara where the judge told them to renounce their faith. All six responded by saying they would 'not negotiate their faith' and would 'continue following Jesus'. The judge has not yet delivered his decision. Please pray.

* IRAN: PRAYING FOR JUSTICE (Amos 5:24)

On Tuesday 3 September there will be an appeal hearing at which the sentences given to six Iranian Christian believers will reviewed. According to Middle East Concern, the hearing will combine three long-standing and related cases. The first case involves Assyrian Pastor Victor bet Tamraz and Persian Christian converts Amin Nader Afshari and Kavian Fallah Mohammadi, who were arrested in December 2014 and sentenced to 10 and 15-year jail terms in July 2017 [RLPB 414 (12 July 2017)]. The second case also involves Amin Nader Afshari (re-arrested in 2016) [RLPB 373 (31 Aug 2016)] along with two others. The third case involves Pastor Victor's wife, Shamiram Issavi Khabizeh who was sentenced to five years in prison in January 2018 [RLPB 491 (27 Feb 2019)]. Please pray that the Lord will direct Judge Ahmad Zargar and that the believers will know God's supernatural peace.

* NIGERIA: LAND OF SPREADING TERROR

KADUNA: TERROR IN THE MIDDLE BELT

On Sunday 4 August Pastor Jeremiah Omolewa of Living Faith Church had finished leading three services and was travelling with his wife on the outskirts of Kaduna when Muslim Fulani herdsmen shot at his car. Pastor Omolewa was killed and his wife was kidnapped but released four days later after ransom was paid. On 8 August some 20 armed Fulani herdsmen attacked a Roman Catholic parish in Kasuwan Magani Town, south of Kaduna City. The Rev Joseph Kato Kwassau escaped but a security guard was killed. At 1am on 14 August, Fulani herdsmen kidnapped Emmanuel Nom and his 60-year-old father, Pastor Elisha Noma of Nagarta Baptist Church in Makiri, Kaduna State. Emmanuel was subsequently released with the demand that he raise the ransom for his father.

On 8 August Rev Joseph Hayab, chairman of the Kaduna State Chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), spoke in Kaduna concerning the crisis. According to Pastor Hayab, more than 500 Christians have been kidnapped in Kaduna State in the past four years. 'Pastors and church members are being kidnapped, and huge sums of money are being demanded, and nothing has been done by the Nigeria government to halt the situation. As I speak to you, a daughter of a Baptist pastor in the area of Kasuwan Magani is under the captivity of the herdsmen. So we are really concerned that Christians and their pastors in Kaduna State are no longer safe.' According to Hayab, one 'Reverend Father' was killed even after ransom was paid. On Monday 26 August Hayab reported that two people who had gone to deliver ransom for two children of a Kaduna-based bishop were now also being held hostage by the gunmen who still refuse to release the children. Please pray.

click on map to enlarge
ENUGU: TERROR IN THE SOUTH EAST

On 1 August Fulani herdsmen ambushed the car of a Catholic priest, the Rev Paul Offu, as he drove along Ihe-Agbudu Road in Awgu Town, south of Enugu City. They dragged him out of his car and shot him dead before kidnapping his passenger, a parishioner named Kenneth Igwe. Police found Igwe's corpse four days later. On 15 August Fulani herdsmen shot at another Catholic priest, the Rev Chimezie Ani, as he was driving near the Catholic university in Amorji-Nike, north of Enugu City. His windscreen shattered, Ani sped off in reverse gear, only narrowly managing to escape unhurt. According to Ani, Fulani herdsmen have been attacking Christian commuters along that highway 'for some time now'. NOTE: this is not the Muslim north or the mixed, volatile Middle Belt. This is Enugu in Nigeria's 'South East' zone, i.e. the Ibo heartland. If the Fulani want to trigger another civil war/jihad, then this would be the place to do it. Please pray.

* PAPUA (INDONESIA): 'ENOUGH' OF RACIAL-RELIGIOUS HATRED

Every 15 August, Papuans (mostly Christian Melanesians) hold demonstrations to protest the controversial and unjust New York Agreement signed on 15 August 1962. Every 17 August, Indonesians (in particular, the mostly Javanese Muslims) celebrate Indonesia's Independence Day. And every year there are clashes. This year, however, after footage went viral showing Indonesian soldiers using excessive force while police and radicals aligned with various nationalist and Islamist militia groups yelled racist abuse and threats at Papuan students in Surabaya, East Java, Papuans decided they'd had enough. Papuans have since rallied in 30 cities across Indonesia, including in Jakarta, to protest racial-religious violence and abuse.

On Monday 19 August thousands of Papuans protested in West Papua's capital, Manokwari (where the local parliament was torched) and Sorong (where 250 inmates escaped after the jail was torched), as well as in Papua's capital, Jayapura. Clashes have been reported in Fakfak, a Papuan regency known to harbour Indonesian nationalist and Islamist militias. The Indonesian government has deployed an additional 1200 troops to the region and on 22 August shut down Papua's internet. On Monday 26 August some 5000 Papuans took to the streets of Deiyai, a highlands town some 500km south-west of Jayapura, carrying four banned Morning Star flags. Papuans are calling for a new, fair and just referendum on Independence. As Indonesian Papuan expert Darmawan Triwibowo told Jakarta Post, 'There's a human rights issue behind the desire ...' Indeed, Papuans have had enough of genocidal, racial-religious hatred. Please pray.

For a more detailed version of this item on Papua, see:
'Papuans have had enough of racial-religious hatred and persecution,'
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 27 Aug 2019.

NOTE: This RLPB ministry has been warning for some time [see RLPB 426 (4 Oct 2017)] that the mood in Papua is changing and the situation is likely to get much worse yet. [See also 'Papua: The Christian Crisis in Eastern Indonesia' (RLM, 14 April 2019).] Please Pray.

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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