Tuesday, September 22, 2020

RLPB 568. Pakistan: 'Blasphemy', a sword over the neck.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 568 | Wed 23 Sep 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to “Follow by email” on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog. ‘The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective’ (James 5:16 NIV). 

PAKISTAN: 'BLASPHEMY' - A SWORD OVER THE NECK
By Elizabeth Kendal

Asif Pervaiz (right) with 
Saiful Malook (centre

On 8 September a court in Lahore sentenced Asif Pervaiz (37) to death for blasphemy. The Christian father of four has been in prison since October 2013, when he was accused of sending blasphemous text messages from his mobile phone. Pervaiz denies the charge and claims his accuser, a former supervisor, had been obsessively pressuring him to convert to Islam, without success. The court ruled that Pervaiz must serve a three-year prison term for phone misuse and be fined 50,000 rupees (US$300), and then be 'hanged by his neck till his death'. His lawyer, Saiful Malook (who secured Asia Bibi's acquittal in October 2018), laments that a judge could issue such a ruling in the absence of any evidence. 'Although I'm greatly disappointed by the ruling in this case, one cannot ignore the fact that it has become a norm of trial court judges hearing blasphemy cases to convict the accused no matter how weak the prosecution's case is.' Malook will appeal the conviction in the Lahore High Court.

top: Shafqat and Shagufta 
below: four children
who miss their parents

Similarly, Shafqat Emmanuel Masih and his wife, Shagufta Kausar, of Gojra, Punjab, have been in prison since June 2013, when they were accused of sending blasphemous text messages to Muhammad Hussain, an Islamic cleric at a Gojra mosque. Shafqat - who is paralysed from the waist down - was tortured during interrogation but only 'confessed' after authorities threatened to torture his wife. In April 2014 a sessions court in Toba Tek Singh, Punjab Province, found Shafqat and Shagufta guilty of sending English language blasphemous texts and sentenced them to death, even though both are illiterate [RLPB 539 (4 March 2020)]. It seems a spiteful neighbour may have framed them. Held in separate prisons, Shafqat and Shagufta have not seen each other since 2014. Their children - Zain (15), Danish (12), Joshua (10) and Sarah (9) - are being cared for by a paternal aunt. The appeal against their sentence was to be heard earlier this year before the COVID-19 pandemic caused massive delays. According to Church in Chains, the appeal will be heard in the Lahore Appeals Court on Thursday 24 September; Saiful Malook will represent the couple.

On 25 August Amnesty International lamented the 'alarming uptick in blasphemy accusations across Pakistan', noting that it 'underscores the urgency with which the draconian laws that enable abuse and risk lives must be repealed'.  As for the 'alarming uptick', Pakistani police registered more than 40 blasphemy cases in a month, from late July to late August, mostly against Shi'ites. Moreover, four people had been brutally gunned down in supposed retaliation for 'blasphemy': two Shi'ite Muslims, one Ahmadi (deemed heretical) sect member, and Tahir Ahmed Naseem (57) - a US citizen, former Ahmadi Muslim, now self-declared prophet who had been lured back to Pakistan. Faisal Khan (15), the teenager who shot and killed Naseem in open court on 29 July, is being glorified and celebrated as a 'holy warrior'. Lawyers are lining up to defend him and Islamists are demanding his release; meanwhile the prosecuting attorney has been forced into hiding. Despite Asia Bibi's acquittal - and possibly because of it (as reactionary Islamists take the law into their own hands) - the situation is not improving but seems to be getting worse by the day. For Pakistani Christians, the blasphemy law is like a sword perpetually hanging over their necks.

Pastor Zafar Bhatti

Pastor Zafar Bhatti (56) has been in Rawalpindi's Adiala Central Jail since July 2012, when he was charged with sending blasphemous text messages. Despite being tortured to extract a 'confession', Zafar insists he is innocent. Pastor Zafar founded and led a small ministry called 'Jesus World Mission'. He and his co-workers used to visit the poor, offering basic medicines, Bible readings and prayer until a local Islamic leader filed a complaint at New Town police station, Rawalpindi, in which he accused Zafar of blasphemy. On 3 May 2017 the court deemed Zafar guilty, but instead of sentencing him to death (as is mandatory for blasphemy) the judge sentenced Zafar to life imprisonment because there was 'no concrete evidence' against him - the phone in question was not even registered in his name. Zafar has suffered terribly in prison; he has been poisoned, savagely beaten, and must be kept in high security for his own safety. Postponed seven times, his appeal is yet to be heard. On 3 September Zafar suffered a heart attack in his cell. He has received medical treatment and is now reportedly stable. His lawyers are appealing for bail to be granted and for an early appeal hearing against his conviction.

PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* intervene on behalf of Asif Pervaiz, Shafqat and Shagufta, Pastor Zafar Bhatti and more than a dozen other Christians (some of whom are mere youths) who are currently in prison (around nine on death row) after being accused of blaspheming Islam.

May the Lord protect them and their families from all harm; may he supply all their needs and cause justice to flow (Amos 5:24); may he draw them close, sustain their faith and assure them of his promise, 'I am with you always, to the end of the age' (from Matthew 28:20 ESV). Lord have mercy!

* protect, defend, sustain, guide and bless Saiful Malook (a principled Muslim, and doubtless Pakistan's most courageous human rights lawyer); may he be blessed with the greatest blessing of all - that is, to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. 'O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see' (from 2 Kings 6:15-17 ESV).

* raise up domestic and international indignation and pressure, not just against the blasphemy law, but the dangerous escalation of genocidal hatred in radicalised Pakistan; may the 'Lord of the Breakthough', Baal-perazim (from 2 Samuel 5:17-21), break through Islam's hold over Pakistan.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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IN PAKISTAN, 'BLASPHEMY' IS A SWORD OVER THE NECK OF CHRISTIANS

Asif Pervaiz (37) has been in prison since October 2013, when he was falsely accused of sending blasphemous texts. On 8 September he was sentenced to death. Shafqat and his wife, Shagufta, have been in prison since June 2013, when they were accused of sending blasphemous texts, despite being illiterate. In April 2014 they were sentenced to death. Pastor Zafar Bhatti (56) has been in prison since July 2012, when a local Muslim leader accused him of blasphemy. On 3 May 2017, despite being found guilty, the judge sentenced Zafar not to death, but to life imprisonment, because there was 'no concrete evidence' against him. On 3 September Pastor Zafar suffered a non-fatal heart attack in his cell. Please pray for these and all Pakistani Christians unjustly imprisoned; pray for the Church in Pakistan.

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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, September 15, 2020

RLPB 567. Sudan: Peace and Liberty; Hope and Resistance

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 567 | Wed 16 Sep 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to “Follow by email” on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog. ‘The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective’ (James 5:16 NIV).

SUDAN: PEACE AND LIBERTY, HOPE AND RESISTANCE.
By Elizabeth Kendal

click on map to enlarge
BACKGROUND
Expansive Sudan is home to numerous ethnic groups and religious traditions. For decades, the central government's racist Arab supremacy (resulting in the marginalisation and persecution of non-Arabs) and totalitarian Islamic supremacy (resulting in Islamic jihad against those who resist the imposition of Islamic Sharia Law) caused nothing but suffering and war; it also led to the break-up of the state. The cost (in life and wealth) was enormous! However, it was a cost not paid by the regime in Khartoum, but rather by the Sudanese people, and especially by the non-Arabs and non-Muslims of the periphery.

Between December 2018 and April 2019 - in what must go down in history as one of the greatest people-movements of the early 21st Century - multitudes of Sudanese rose up declaring, 'Enough!'. Even after the military toppled the regime, the protesters bravely stood their ground declaring, 'No! Still not enough!' and demanded civilian rule. The protesters' insistence that Sudan be recognised as multi-racial and multi-religious, as well as free and democratic was beyond inspirational! [See RLPB 502 (15 May 2019)].

PM Abdulla Hamdok
Ultimately, to move forward without bloodshed, a compromise had to be reached. The Sovereignty Council was established as a transitional administration comprising both civilians and military. After nearly 40 years of Islamist-military rule, the difficulty of freeing Sudan from the grip of an Islamist Deep State cannot be overstated! [See RLPB 516 (21 Aug 2019)]

Despite protests and a failed assassination attempt [RLPB 540 (11 Mar 2020)], Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok is making every effort to bring about the changes so many Sudanese are demanding, including their demand for peace. He deserves all the support he can get.

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SUDAN: PEACE AND LIBERTY, HOPE AND RESISTANCE.

In South Sudan's capital, Juba, on Monday 31 August, after nearly a full year of talks, representatives from Sudan's Sovereignty Council initialled a peace agreement with representatives from the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), a coalition of rebel groups that have been fighting Khartoum's Arab-Islamist regime for years. The deal gives the rebels positions in the transitional government and extends greater autonomy to territories under their control. The voluntary return of millions of displaced and exiled Sudanese will be encouraged and assisted, and humanitarian aid groups - long-banned from rebel-held regions - will be invited to return. Rebel fighters will be required to lay down their arms or join the ranks of the as-yet unreformed Sudan Armed Forces (their long-time enemy); a provision many suspect will prove unworkable at this time. A final agreement will be signed in Juba on Saturday 3 October.

Abdel Aziz al-Hilu 
However, two groups under the SRF umbrella refused to sign. Abdel Wahid al-Nour, who leads a faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army in Darfur, is holding out for a better deal. And while the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army-North (Agar-Arman faction) did sign, the main faction led by Abdel Aziz al-Hilu - which is based in the Nuba Mountains and represents the interests of the Nuba peoples - refused on the grounds that the agreement does not address the 'root causes' of the conflict: Islam and centralisation. As long-time Sudan expert Eric Reeves explains, Abdel Aziz al-Hilu (whom Reeves describes as a man of 'extraordinary integrity, tremendous courage, and the clearest intelligence') is not prepared to see his people, the Nuba, betrayed yet again. For the mostly Christian Nuba, al-Hilu demands that Sudan be secular (the demand that led to the SPLM/A-N split), for the people must have religious freedom.

PM Hamdok meets al-Hilu in Kauda, Nuba Mountains,
South Kordfan, January 2020.
Banner reads: 'Yes to a secular state' (AP).
(click on image to enlarge)
Over 2 to 4 September, PM Hamdok and al-Hilu met in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. On the evening of Thursday 3 September, it was announced that the parties had agreed on the necessity of a full political settlement which addresses the root causes of conflict (Islam and centralisation). The government has agreed 'in principle' to officially separate religion from the state, ending nearly 40 years of Islamic rule in Sudan. The document initialled by the two parties states: 'For Sudan to become a democratic country where the rights of all citizens are enshrined, the constitution should be based on the principle of "separation of religion and state", in the absence of which the right to self-determination must be respected'. Furthermore, the SPLA-N (al-Hilu faction) will be permitted to keep its weapons until 'security arrangements are finalised and religion and state are separated'.

However, as PM Hamdok explains, this 'preliminary agreement' will not be effective until it is approved by 'the relevant institutions'. Unsurprisingly, the proposal to establish Sudan constitutionally as a secular state is hugely controversial. On Friday 4 September, as Nuba in Khartoum exuberantly voiced support for the agreement, Islamists emerged from their mosques to protest against it. It was the eighth consecutive week of Islamic protest against the government's legal reforms [see RLPB 559 (22 July)]. The protesters chanted Islamic slogans, including: 'There is no God but Allah', 'We will not replace the law of God', 'Secularism will not rule us', 'The Qur'an is the constitution'. Islamic protests are expected to escalate against the law reforms and the 'secularism deal'. The stakes could not be higher!

PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* guide and protect Sudan's PM Abdulla Hamdok, Nuba leader Abdel Aziz al-Hilu, along with all those who are working so bravely and defiantly for political, legal and religious reform in Sudan; may they have all the international recognition and support they deserve; may the LORD be pleased to use them to bring peace and liberty to Sudan.

* break Islam's power over Sudan. The Lord of hosts has sworn: 'As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand ...' (from Isaiah 14:24-27 ESV)

* guide and protect those who lead his people, including pastors, teachers and political figures; may the LORD grant them wisdom, discernment, clarity and courage as they seek to lead the Lord's people though delicate, complex and transformative times.

* draw his people into prayer for peace and liberty in Sudan - things long hoped for, now in view, but not yet realised; may the Sudanese Church grow in faith and number as she puts her trust in the LORD (as distinct from 'man' or politics); and may the global Body of Christ stand with her in this pivotal hour.

Praise God for the amazing advances being made in Sudan. May the LORD be praised and glorified! May every evil plot be thwarted, and all resistance stilled. May the LORD have mercy!

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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PEACE AND LIBERTY, HOPE AND RESISTANCE IN SUDAN

Sudan's Prime Minister, Abdallah Hamdok, is pursuing peace with the state's long-marginalised, long-persecuted non-Arab and non-Muslim peoples. Though a peace deal was signed on 31 August, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army-North (al-Hilu faction) - which is based in the Nuba Mountains and represents the mostly Christian Nuba peoples - opted out as the deal did not address the 'root causes' of conflict: Islam and centralisation. On 3 September PM Hamdok and al-Hilu signed an agreement which states: 'For Sudan to become a democratic country where the rights of all citizens are enshrined, the constitution should be based on the principle of "separation of religion and state", in the absence of which the right to self-determination must be respected'. Peace and liberty are in sight! Hope is soaring! But Islamic resistance is mounting. 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 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

RLPB 566. India: Christian Crisis in Koraput, Odisha.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 566 | Wed 09 Sep 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up for a weekly email on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)

INDIA: CHRISTIAN CRISIS IN KORAPUT, ODISHA.
by Elizabeth Kendal

click on map to enlarge
BACKGROUND
Dr Raghumni Naik is a history professor in the north-east Indian state of Odisha. In 2012 Dr Naik published a paper in which he describes the transformative and civilising impact of Christian missionaries on the tribal 'aboriginals' of Koraput district, Odisha (formerly known as Orissa), during the 19th Century. Previously illiterate, superstitious, downtrodden and 'untouchable', the tribals were offered 'a ray of hope'. The missionaries, he says, had to overcome a mountain of bureaucracy and opposition, not from the tribals but from 'the high caste people'. [Blessed with hereditary privilege, most high caste Hindus usually resist any threat to the status quo.] Commending the missionaries for their endurance, Dr Naik writes: 'Thereafter, the history of Koraput witnessed a tremendous transformation in the social, economic, educational, health and religious spheres. There was in fact a historic leap from tradition to modernity, darkness to light, superstition to reason, illiteracy to literacy, ignorance to knowledge, enmity to fraternity, unhealthiness to salubrity, violence to non-violence, immolation to prayer, isolation to assemblage, and casteism to social mobility.' He concludes: 'The tribal and Dalit people will remain indebted forever for the selfless services rendered by the Christian missionaries.'

Source:
'Christian Missionaries and their Impact on Socio-Cultural Development - Undivided Koraput District a Study', By Dr Raghumni Naik, IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science (JHSS), Volume 2, Issue 3 (Sep-Oct. 2012), pp 01-05.

Dr Naik could not have foreseen the impact the Modi government's divide and conquer strategy would have on the tribal and Dalit peoples (formerly Untouchables) of Koraput.

A proud Hindu nationalist, Prime Minister Narendra Modi (centre)
is a member of the BJP (political party) and the RSS (paramilitary).

INDIA: CHRISTIAN CRISIS IN KORAPUT, ODISHA.

In early 2019 in the lead up to the April-May 2019 federal elections, India's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) used data-analytics and micro-targeted messaging - mostly through Facebook and WhatsApp - to revive its flagging fortunes and secure an absolute majority. One data analyst described the strategy as 'creating a customised enemy for every group', and then positing the BJP as the solution. By this means, the BJP was able to lure even tribal non-Hindus - who traditionally have allied with Christians against Hindu caste discrimination - into voting BJP, according to whom their enemy is not caste, but Christianity. [See RLPB 506 'Christian Crisis in North India' (12 June 2019).] This strategy of fuelling communal divisions so as to secure political conversions has served to facilitate violent persecution. Whilst Hindu nationalism (hindutva) has been around for a century, the rise of the BJP (since the late 1980s) and its popularisation under the charismatic Narendra Modi (since 2014) has essentially normalised and legitimised communalism and persecution, transforming it into a seemingly unstoppable force.

Pastor Ayuba Khora has been leading a house church of around 55-60 Christians from 12 families in Badaguda village in Odisha State's southern Koraput district for the past two years. Previously, around 40 Christians would gather to pray every Friday, but now the intimidation and violence has made that impossible. The villagers are tribal animists who believe their own gods are angered by the prayers of Christians. To prevent conversions and force Christians to return to Shamanistic and animistic practises, hostile villagers violently persecute believers (including children) and destroy their homes. Earlier this year the Christians were told they could only meet outside the village. So they built a makeshift shelter 'outside the camp' (Hebrews 13:13), but in March hostile villagers burnt it down. The police are no help. Pastor Ayuba told Morning Star News, 'The 12 Christian families have faced opposition almost every day since the day they decided to follow the Christian faith.'

Persevering through persecution:
Ms Chachiri Muduli (75).
On 21 July - first at 1am and then again at 8am - angry miscreants attacked the home of Deba Bhoi (55) and violently assaulted the 55-60 Christians sheltering there. Eight believers required hospitalisation for serious injuries. Suffering head trauma, Ms Chachiri Muduli (75) will lose her sight if she does not receive further medical attention. At the head of this 100-strong mob are two village youths, Siba Muduli (Ms Muduli's only grandson) and Butia Jani. Siba Muduli is furious that his father, sisters and grandmother have become followers of Jesus Christ. Another area Christian leader, pastor Sudhakar Khosla, told Morning Star News that Siba and Butia are not the main force behind the attacks on the Christian families. Rather, they are only part of a larger contingent of tribal animist villagers who are brainwashed and incited by members of the Hindu nationalist paramilitary organisation, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS is a member of the Sangh Parivar, the Hindu nationalist body of which the ruling BJP is the political arm.

On 19 August the Christians were informed that the magistrate had extended for six months the Code of Criminal Procedure 107 banning all breaches of the peace. Police warned the Christians that if their worship creates disturbances then they (the Christians) will be arrested. [Full report: Morning Star News (6 Sep 2020).]


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* intervene in Koraput to provide his beloved children with all their needs, including shelter, food and water, medical treatment and security; may peace and justice reign.

' ... fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. […] For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, 'Fear not, I am the one who helps you' (Isaiah 41:10,13 ESV).

* pour out his Holy Spirit in Koraput and in grace and mercy awaken those who have been brainwashed and incited against the Church which historically has given them so much (including literacy, health care, dignity and hope); may the miscreants experience conviction of sin and be drawn to repentance; may the hearts of the villagers be opened to the Prince of Peace and his Gospel of grace.

We pray especially for mob-leader Siba Muduli, whose father, sisters and grandmother - as followers of Jesus - are no doubt praying for him right now. May the God of all grace hear their prayers and 'reveal his Son' to Siba, so that God might be glorified in Koraput. (Galatians 1:11-24)

'...children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name's sake' (from Matthew 10:16-25 ESV).

'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you' (from Matthew 5:43-45 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIAN CRISIS IN ODISHA, INDIA

Pastor Ayuba Khora has been leading a house church of around 55-60 Christians from 12 families in Badaguda village, Koraput district, Odisha State, for the past two years. He says these believers 'have faced opposition almost every day' since they decided to follow Jesus. As animists, the villagers believe their own gods are angered by the prayers of Christians. Brainwashed and incited by Hindu nationalists, a large mob of animists has launched a campaign of violent persecution against the Christians, destroying their homes and meeting place. On 21 June a mob of miscreants attacked a home in which all the believers were sheltering together. Eight believers were hospitalised with serious injuries. On 19 August police warned the Christians that if their worship creates disturbances they will be arrested. 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 

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

RLPB 565. Uzbekistan: Religion Law Under Review

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 565 | Wed 02 Sep 2020
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)

UZBEKISTAN: RELIGION LAW UNDER REVIEW
By Elizabeth Kendal

Central Asia's Forgotten Gem
 (Virtual Vacation)
Uzbekistan's repressive Religion Law is currently under review. The law - which has its roots in the Soviet era - was adopted in 1998 during the rule of Islam Karimov. A ruthless autocrat, Karimov ruled over the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic from 1989, before being elected as the first president of an independent Uzbekistan in 1991. Karimov administered Uzbekistan as a Soviet-style police state wherein suffocating repression was enforced by a brutal security apparatus. When Karimov died in September 2016, the Supreme Assembly appointed Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev as Acting President. In December 2016 Mirziyoyev was elected as Uzbekistan's second President. Since then, President Mirziyoyev (63) has been leading Uzbekistan on a path of transformative political and economic reform. His desire to engage and trade with both East and West requires religious liberty to be addressed.

On 19 August 2020 a draft new Religion Law was made available for 'public discussion' on the parliamentary website, which also gave notice that the Law had reached the Oliy Majlis (Legislative Assembly). In June 2020 President Mirziyoyev issued a decree outlining a 'Road Map' for human rights, giving 1 October 2020 as the date for a new Religion Law. But as Forum 18 explains, the decree does not say whether 1 October is the deadline for the draft or for parliamentary approval. Sadly, the draft is deeply disappointing. Virtually all the oppressive measures integral to the 1998 law are retained in the 2020 draft. Despite enshrining the principle of separation of religion and state, the draft law perpetuates the state's repressive interference in religion. All religious activity outside state-approved, registered organisations and without permission from the authorities, remains 'illegal'. Article 11 bans 'any forms of missionary activity and proselytism capable of destroying inter-religious accord and religious tolerance in society'. Religious education and the importation of religious literature remain enmeshed in crippling regulations and vulnerable to repressive, arbitrary prohibitions and confiscations.

President Shavkat Mirziyoyev
Abduvohid Yakubov, an independent rights defender from Uzbekistan's capital, Tashkent, laments the lack of progress. 'The State must not be afraid of giving full religious freedoms,' he told Forum 18. In saying this, Yakubov has touched on the very thing that makes religious freedom in Uzbekistan so fraught: the state is afraid, very afraid, and not without reason! After Uzbekistan declared independence in 1991, Islam literally flooded into the largely Russified and secular state, filling the spiritual void left by decades of enforced, atheistic communism. Funded mostly by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, mosques sprang up everywhere, Islamist missionaries poured in, and Qurans arrived by the tonne. Before long, Uzbekistan was simmering with revolutionary and jihadist, pro-Caliphate, pro-Sharia fundamentalist Islam. Though millions of ethnic Russians, Germans, Koreans and other non-Uzbeks have since left, God has raised-up an authentically Uzbek Church, comprised mostly of Muslim-background new believers. So yes, the government is afraid. But the government is not alone! Not all Uzbeks are happy about their nation's Islamisation. Despite identifying as Muslims, they enjoy their modern lives and are excited by Uzbekistan's new openness and growing prosperity.

Currently the Religion Law exists to enable the government to retain control and maintain order: i.e. if radicalised Muslims are going to riot at the sight of a church, then the church must go! Instead, the law's purpose should be to protect the fundamental human rights of every human being; in which case religious totalitarianism, intolerance and violence must go! Though Uzbekistan is no longer part of the long-dead Soviet Union, the Soviet spirit remains embedded in Uzbekistan. For many in government and the security sector, violent repression is the default position. Changing this will require a profound transformation in culture by way of visionary leadership and extensive education which holds out the prospect of a new and better way to live.

For an extended version of this RLPB, providing a little more insight into the politics and religious history of this fascinating region, please see:
Uzbekistan's Religion Law: Currently Under Review, 
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 2 Sept 2020

PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* intervene in Uzbekistan, to restore the freedom that once existed before the arrival of Islam, when Uzbekistan's Silk Road cities welcomed Christian (Assyrian) missionaries, as well as peoples and trade from East and West; may the Lord God be jealous for this land! (Joel 2:18-29)

* 'send out labourers' into Uzbekistan's dangerous yet fertile fields, for the sake of Uzbekistan's persecuted Church and her 'harassed and helpless' masses; may the Spirit of our merciful and gracious God blow through that land. (Jonah 4:10-11; and Matthew 9:35-38)

* use as his instruments President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov, Justice Minister Ruslanbek Davletov and Senator Sodiq Safoyev as they navigate the delicate and treacherous path to freedom and openness; may the Lord grant them vision, clarity, conviction, authority and plenty of support. May they be a collective 'Cyrus' (Isaiah 45:1-13).

'Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the Lord have created it' (Isaiah 45:8 ESV).

* protect and preserve his precious persecuted Church in Uzbekistan; may he grant her leaders wisdom, grace and endurance as they lead the Lord's people through testing times; may their eyes be fixed on Jesus always. (Hebrews 12:1-3)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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UZBEKISTAN'S RELIGION LAW UNDER REVIEW

Uzbekistan's President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, elected December 2016, is leading the state through transformative reform. His desire to engage and trade with both East and West requires religious liberty to be addressed. Consequently, Uzbekistan's repressive, Soviet-inspired 1998 Religion Law is currently under review. Unfortunately, the draft new Religion Law made public on 19 August is deeply disappointing. Instead of eliminating repression, it would perpetuate it. The government is afraid that religious freedom would enable pro-Caliphate fundamentalist Islam to spin out of control. Furthermore, after a century of Soviet and Soviet-style social control, violent repression is for many the default position. But while the government is afraid, it is not alone! Many Uzbeks are excited by Uzbekistan's new openness and growing prosperity. Please pray for Uzbekistan and its persecuted yet growing 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, August 25, 2020

RLPB 564. August Update, incl. Nigeria, Algeria, Iran, Mozambique, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 564| Wed 26 Aug 2020
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

AUGUST 2020 UPDATE - during this period we prayed concerning

* NIGERIA [RLPB 561 (5 Aug)], specifically the Christian Crisis in Kaduna.

UPDATE: despite appeals, publicity and curfews, Fulani attacks on southern Kaduna's Christian villages continue unabated. Eleven Christians - including a 16-year-old girl, a 48-year-old father of nine children, and a pastor, Rev. Adalchi Usman (39, a father of two) from the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) - perished in attacks on Zangon Kataf and Kajuru LGAs between 16-18 August. In an address to the 15th Synod, the Bishop of Egba (Anglican Diocese), the Rev. Emmanuel Adekunle, urged the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency in Southern Kaduna. He also urged President Buhari to consider replacing security service chiefs. On Saturday 22 August Nigeria's Catholic Church commenced a season of 40 Days of Prayer for Nigeria, timed to conclude on 30 September 2020, the eve of Nigeria's Independence Day. Nigerians are starting to realise that the Christian crisis in Kaduna is but a prelude to what awaits Nigeria if insecurity and impunity are not addressed.

* NIGERIA [RLPB 562 (12 Aug)], where insecurity is enabling terrorist expansion.

UPDATE: On 2 August, as part of a resettlement program, Nigerian troops escorted hundreds of long-displaced residents back to their homes and lands in Kukawa, a village in the Lake Chad basin area of Borno State. At 4 pm on Tuesday 18 August 22 trucks full of armed militants stormed into Kukawa, taking the soldiers tasked with guarding the village by surprise. A fierce, 30 minute firefight ensued, in which the terrorists prevailed. They then abducted 'hundreds' of residents. While no group has claimed responsibility, both Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram's Bakura faction are active in the area.

* NIGERIA [RLPB 563 (19 Aug)], a hugely significant country in every sense - including spiritually - but which is existentially imperilled, primarily because of systemic corruption, which includes elites at the highest levels of government and military, prolonging conflict to profit from it.

In describing his experience of the Great Awakening in Northampton, Massachusetts (USA) - which took place between April 1734 and May 1736 - Jonathan Edwards comments, 'Satan seemed to be unusually restrained.' Then, when the Holy Spirit did ultimately withdraw, 'Satan seemed more on the loose...' However, the revival's effects were profound and enduring. Edwards wrote, 'We remain a reformed people, and God has evidently made us a new people.' [Jonathan Edwards, The Surprising Work of God (Whitaker House, New Kensington, PA, USA, 1997) 148-155.]

Please pray that Satan might be 'unusually restrained' so that Nigerians might be awakened, reformed and renewed, for the sake of the Church and the glory of God. Amen.

'No one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house' (Mark 3:27 ESV).

AUGUST 2020 ROUND-UP - also this month

* ALGERIA: COURT RULING THREATENS CHURCHES

In March 2006 the Algerian government enacted Presidential Order 06/03 which mandates that all non-Muslim worship be regulated by the government. Faced with escalating anti-regime sentiment, the government has ramped up anti-Christian persecution, doubtless to secure the support of Islamists. The government has closed 15 Protestant churches since November 2017, eight since May 2019 [RLPB 531 (4 Dec 2019)]. On 15 October 2019 the governor of Tizi Ouzou Province closed the 500-member Source of Light church in Makouda. The church appealed, claiming the governor is not authorised to sign closure orders. However, an administrative court has just recognised the governor's authority to close the church under Order 06/03. Middle East Concern reports (17 Aug): 'Ten of the closed churches, five in the province of Tizi Ouzou and five in Bejaia, have filed similar cases with the administrative courts. Christians in Algeria are concerned this verdict might be a precedent for similar action by municipal authorities against other churches.' Please pray.

* IRAN: CHURCH IN THE STORM

In July 2017 an Iranian court sentenced Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz (an Assyrian) to 10 years in prison, charged with 'conducting evangelism', 'illegal house church activities' and 'acting against national security' [RLPB 414 (12 July 2017)]. On 6 January 2018 Victor's wife, Shamiram Isavi, was sentenced to five years in prison, charged with 'acting against national security by organising home churches, attending Christian seminars abroad and training Christian leaders in Iran for the purpose of espionage' [RLPB 440 (31 Jan 2018)]. On 19 July 2020 Pastor Victor (65) was informed that his appeal had been rejected. On 11 August Shamiram (64) was informed that her appeal had been rejected and that she had until 16 August to present herself at Evin Prison. On 15 August the couple successfully fled the country. They are reportedly 'safe and well' and will continue their legal battle from abroad. The three young converts sentenced alongside Pastor Victor - Kavian (10 yrs) , Amin (15 yrs) and Hadi (10 yrs) - have also been informed that their appeals have been rejected.

From left: Victor Bet-Tamraz, Shamiram Issavi,
Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi, Amin Afshar-Naderi, and Hadi Asgari.

Joseph Shahbazian and Malihe Nazari  
Joseph Shahbazian (56, an Armenian) was arrested in a raid on a Tehran house church on 30 June [RLPB 557 (8 July 2020)]. On Tuesday 18 August, after seven weeks in prison on unknown charges, Joseph was finally permitted a visit from his wife and son. Of the 35 Christians arrested that night, only Joseph and Malihe Nazari, a 46-year-old woman convert (a Persian), remain detained. Malihe is believed to have been transferred to the notorious Qarchak women's prison, long known as the most dangerous prison in Iran for women. At three billion tomans (US$150,000), the bail set for these prisoners is more than twice the previous highest bail set for any Christian. Please pray for the Church in Iran.

'God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform;
      He plants his footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm'.
(1st verse of William Cowper's poem, 'Light Shining Out of Darkness', written 1773.)

* MOZAMBIQUE: ISLAMIC STATE SEIZES PORT

On 11 August well-trained fighters armed with sophisticated weapons attacked Mocimboa da Praia in Mozambique's northern-most province of Cabo Delgado. Lacking ammunition, the military was ultimately forced to flee. Islamic State affiliate Al-Sunna wa Jama'a (ASWJ) is now in full control of the strategic port city. Locals lament that 'ISIS was more organised and better equipped than the army'. The Catholic Charity, Aid to the Church in Need, has warned that this incident could prove to be the prelude to an Islamist takeover of the north of the country. The roots of the insurgency are complex and need to be addressed. Yet the government seems more interested in shutting out, vilifying and even silencing those who dare challenge its handling of the crisis, including journalists and local Christian leaders. Government troops have returned to the region and a battle for control of Mocimboa da Praia appears imminent. Please pray.

Background:
Kendal, 'Mozambique: A Crisis in the Making', RLM 13 May 2020.

* PAKISTAN: NO CHRISTIAN GIRL IS SAFE

Maira Shahbaz  
According to her birth certificate, Maira Shahbaz was only 13 in October 2019 when she was married to Mr Mohamad Nakash - the already married, reputedly wealthy Muslim businessman who had abducted her six months earlier. On 30 July the Faisalabad District and Sessions Court ruled that Maira be removed from Mr Nakash's house and placed in a women and girl's refuge, pending further investigations. The family was relieved, as reports had emerged that Maira was being groomed for the sex-industry. However, on 4 August, Lahore's High Court overturned that ruling, insisting that as Maira was now a Muslim, she must be returned to her 'husband'. It was a cruel shock for Maira, her family and her attorney, all of whom were distraught; they had expected to see Nakash charged and imprisoned. 'If the courts of this country start validating underage marriages of girls belonging to the minority communities, it will encourage people from the majority faith to target them with even more impunity,' said Lala Robin Daniel, a human rights activist based in Faisalabad. 'With this ruling, no Christian girl in Pakistan is safe.' Please pray.

[NOTE: In Islam, girls may be married once they have attained puberty, and religious identity is inherited from the father. Consequently, the offspring of raped, captive Christian girls are automatically deemed Muslim. The Islamic clerics who issue fake conversion and marriage certificates, along with the police and judges who ignore or endorse the practice, are complicit in what is nothing other than human trafficking across religious lines. Especially widespread in Egypt and Pakistan, the practice is obscenely evil.]

* SYRIA: TURKEY WEAPONISES WATER

Turkish troops invaded northern Syria in March 2018. With them came some 25,000 battle-hardened Islamic jihadists who insisted there will be 'no room for Christians' [RLPB 447 (21 March 2018)]. By June 2018 over 200,000 Sunni Muslim Kurds, about 35,000 Yezidi Kurds and some 3,000 Christians (Kurds, Assyrians and Armenians) had been 'cleansed' out of Afrin, a city in the north of Aleppo Governorate [RLPB 460 (20 June 2018)]. By October 2019 Turkey was shelling border towns and cities in Syria's Hasakah Governorate [RLPB 525 (22 Oct 2019)], while Turkish troops and their jihadist proxies advanced on the ground [RLPB 526 (30 Oct 2019)]. Contiguous with Iraq's northern Nineveh Province, Syria's north-eastern Hasakah Governorate is home to tens of thousands of mostly Assyrian and Armenian Christians. On 13 August, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis and scorching summer heat, Turkey and its jihadist proxies cut off the supply of water from the Alok pumping station near Ras al-Ain, Hasakah Governorate, depriving some 800,000 residents of potable water. Not for the first time, Turkey is 'weaponising water'. In a 21 August letter to the UN Secretary General, Syrian Church leader Ignatius Aphrem II called it 'an in-humane act' and 'a crime against humanity'. Please pray.

* TURKEY: MORE NEO-OTTOMAN ISLAMIC TRIUMPHALISM
-- Chora Monastery Converted to a Mosque

On Friday 24 August President Erdogan announced that the Church of the Holy Saviour / Chora Monastery in Istanbul's Edirnekap─▒ neighbourhood, would be converted into a functioning mosque after a court ruled that its conversion into a museum in 1945 had been unlawful. Built in the 4th Century, reconstructed by Emperor Justinian and renovated over the centuries, the monastery contains some of the oldest and most exquisite Greek Orthodox iconography known to exist. [Video (10:30 mins): Chora Museum- Istanbul Guide.] Yet again, 'The pleas and exhortations of the international community are ignored.' The conversions of World Heritage listed Hagia Sophia (Byzantine Cathedral) and Chora Monastery come four years after Turkish authorities confiscated Surp Giragos - the freshly renovated Armenian Cathedral in Diyarbakir - and left it to looters in a crime that was met with near-total silence from the 'international community' [RLPB 355 (4 May 2016)]. This is neo-Ottoman Islamic triumphalism, and it bodes ill for Turkey's Christian remnant. Please pray.

Surp Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church, Diyarbakir;
(left) Nov 2014 and (right) Feb 2018
(click on collage to enlarge)

'Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity! ... For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea' (Habakkuk 2:12,14 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, August 18, 2020

RLPB 563. Nigeria (3): Corruption is Killing Nigerian Christians

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 563 | Wed 19 Aug 2020
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)
http://rlprayerbulletin.blogspot.com 

NIGERIA (3): CORRUPTION IS KILLING NIGERIAN CHRISTIANS
By Elizabeth Kendal

Part 1: Christian Crisis in Kaduna [RLPB 561 (5 Aug)]
Part 2: Insecurity Enables Terrorist Expansion [RLPB 562 (12 Aug)]

BACKGROUND: CORRUPTION IN NIGERIA

Despite being resource-rich and having the largest economy in Africa, Nigeria has more people living in poverty than any other country on earth. To Nigeria's shame, more than 102 million Nigerians live in poverty, which is more than twice the number in India (50.7 million) despite India's population (1.380 billion) being seven times greater than Nigeria's population (196 million). The problem is corruption. In 2019, Transparency International ranked Nigeria at 146 of 180, confirming it as one of the most corrupt nations on earth.

The issue imperilling Nigerian Christians is that massive corruption at the highest levels of Government and Defence is prolonging the conflict with Boko Haram. Government and military elites are exploiting the conflict as a means of enriching themselves, while depriving rank and file soldiers of basic resources, including food and ammunition! Investigations into the Armsgate scandal revealed massive fraud in military procurement, whereby government funds have been secured on the basis of fake contracts for resources which were never delivered - 'everything from food and ammunition to firearms, helicopters and Alpha jets, totalling as much as US$15 billion'. [See Religious Liberty Monitoring, 'Nigeria's Fraudulent Election: Will Things Fall Apart?' (28 May 2019)].

Corruption explains why Nigerian soldiers are deployed into conflict zones with insufficient rations and malfunctioning weapons, and why those who survive return defeated and demoralised. Corruption explains why insecurity has escalated to crisis levels and why Boko Haram and its offshoots have not been defeated but instead have grown stronger. Corruption explains why a catastrophic Christian crisis involving ethnic cleansing and genocide persists throughout Nigeria's North and Middle Belt, bringing untold suffering to multitudes.

Praying for peace: 3rd 'Black Sunday' service, Kaduna, 16 Aug 2020
source: ng.opera.news 16 Aug 2020
click on collage to enlarge

NIGERIA (3): CORRUPTION IS KILLING NIGERIAN CHRISTIANS

On 29 July Borno state governor Babagana Zulum set out in a heavily-armed convoy towards the town of Baga, in the Lake Chad basin region of Borno's far north-east. The plan was to visit a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Baga and distribute food relief there. But the governor's convoy was attacked on the edge of the town and whilst Governor Zulum escaped unharmed, casualties were reported from among his entourage. Confusion reigned as to who was responsible. The governor's first reaction was to query why Baga was not secure when 1181 Nigerian soldiers are stationed in the army garrison only 5km down the road. A day later, the governor publicly accused the Nigerian military of attacking his convoy. 'As far as I am concerned,' he said, 'there was no Boko Haram yesterday. It was a serious shooting by the Nigerian armed forces while "residing" in Baga.' An Army spokesman subsequently informed the media that footage of the incident showed that the convoy was attacked by Boko Haram.

This incident reveals a lot about the Nigerian crisis. Why would Governor Zulum think soldiers would attack his convoy? Though the army denies it, it has been accused of using Baga to control the enormously lucrative fish business along the Lake Chad area. Why would soldiers want to control the fish industry? Hungry, demoralised, under-resourced, ill-equipped and over-stretched, these soldiers might feel that dealing in fish is a better option than facing Boko Haram on empty stomachs and with empty guns. Governor Zulum also questioned why the Nigerian army is preventing thousands of displaced people from returning home to their fields whilst soldiers are instead cultivating the land.

CFR Security Tracker
(published 1 Aug 2020)
On 26 July Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant general Yusuf Buratai, visited wounded soldiers hospitalised in Kaduna. 'I am equally happy,' he told them, 'that we are living in peace and Nigeria is now safer than (sic) we had five years ago'. On the contrary, as the Council for Foreign Relations' Security Tracker makes clear, the last two years (July 2018 to July 2020) have been deadlier for security service personnel than any other period in the ten-year conflict. Betrayed and abandoned, Nigerian soldiers and the civilians they seek to protect are dying due to corruption.

On 15 June Lance-Corporal Idakpini Martins - 8 Division, Sokoto - published a video on his social media account in which he castigates Lt Gen. Buratai for 'failing to provide adequate resources to soldiers combating Boko Haram'. The video went viral and on 20 June, LCpl Martins was arrested in Abuja and then held incommunicado for over a month. Concerned that his client may have been tortured or even killed, Mr. Tope Akinyode, LCpl Martins' lawyer, secured a court order from the Federal High Court granting him access to his client. The military, however, has continued to deny Mr Akinyode access to LCpl Martins, who has also been denied access to his family. On 15 August Mr Akinyoda confirmed that LCpl Martins had been 'brutalised' and secretly transferred to Sokoto, in Nigeria's extreme north-west (where the offence took place), where he will be appointed a military attorney and court-martialled.

On 10 August a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr Obadiah Mailafia, publicly accused Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai of 'sponsoring Boko Haram' and of being an 'accessory to genocide'. On 12 August Dr Mailafia was arrested in Abuja by the Department of State Services (DSS - security services), only to be released after a national outcry. The stakes are high! With much to lose, corrupt officials have an interest in silence. That silence, however, must be shattered for the sake of our existentially imperilled Christian brothers and sisters who are facing genocidal violence in Nigeria's North and Middle Belt.

PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* protect and sustain the imperilled Church in Nigeria's North and Middle Belt; may he sanctify the believers and redeem all their suffering as he works out his purposes for the benefit of the Church in answer to the prayers of many.

* intervene in Nigeria to overturn every evil plot; may genocidal violence be replaced with a yearning for peace; may greed and impunity be replaced with repentance and justice; may indifference be replaced with passionate solidarity and brotherly love and may the advancing evil be replaced with an advance of the Gospel.

We pray especially for a movement of God's Holy Spirit among the region's Hausa and Fulani Muslims. May it be said of them: 'They who used to persecute us are now preaching the faith they once tried to destroy' (as was said of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 1:24). And many all glorify God because of them.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CORRUPTION IS KILLING NIGERIAN CHRISTIANS

Massive corruption at the highest levels of Government and Defence is prolonging conflict and perpetuating the Christian crisis in Nigeria's North and Middle Belt. Government and military elites exploit the conflict with Boko Haram to enrich themselves while depriving rank and file soldiers of basic resources, including food and ammunition! Corruption explains why Nigerian soldiers are deployed into conflict zones with insufficient rations and malfunctioning weapons and why those who survive return defeated and demoralised. Corruption explains why insecurity has escalated to crisis levels and why Boko Haram has not been defeated but has instead grown stronger. Corruption explains why a catastrophic Christian crisis involving ethnic cleansing and genocide persists throughout Nigeria's North and Middle Belt, bringing untold suffering to multitudes. Please pray for Nigeria and her imperilled, persecuted 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, August 11, 2020

RLPB 562. Nigeria (2): Insecurity Enables Terrorist Expansion

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 562 | Wed 12 Aug 2020
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)

NIGERIA (2): INSECURITY ENABLES TERRORIST EXPANSION
Part 1: Christian Crisis in Kaduna [RLPB 561 (5 Aug)]
Part 3 will be the subject of next week's RLPB 563
By Elizabeth Kendal

BACKGROUND: TERRORISM IN NIGERIA

ORIGINS: Boko Haram (also known as the 'Nigerian Taliban') was founded in 2002, in Nigeria's north-eastern state of Borno, by a religious teacher named Mohammed Yusuf. The group took up militancy and by 31 July 2009, Yusuf was dead (in custody). On 9 August 2009 Boko Haram (BH) issued a statement lauding Yusuf as a martyr and declaring jihad with the aim of rendering Nigeria ungovernable and imposing Islam by force. In June 2010 BH - now led by Abubakar Shekau - formalised its ties with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), giving it access to training, funding and advanced weapons. In June 2011 BH bombed the UN headquarters in the capital, Abuja: a clear declaration of war!

Abubakar Shekau (Nov 2018)
"the longest-lasting jihadist leader globally"
(Jamestown Foundation, 28 July 2020)
FIRST SPLIT: Between 2011 and 2013, BH targeted government offices, markets, businesses, churches, mosques and schools across the north, mostly in Kaduna, Kano and Plateau, mostly using suicide bombers. Shekau is a takfiri: i.e. one who deems Muslims who disagree with him as apostates deserving death. The group suffered a split in 2012 when AQIM-trained jihadist Khalid al-Barnawi broke away in protest against Shekau's indiscriminate killing of Muslims. With AQIM's permission, K.al-Barnawi formed Jama'at Ansar al-Muslimin fi Bilad al-Sudan (Vanguard for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa), popularly known as 'Ansaru'. Divided and lacking local support, BH and Ansaru abandoned the Northwest in 2014. BH returned to the Northeast and set up base in Borno, while al-Qaeda affiliate Ansaru opted to maintain sleeper cells across the Northwest.

SECOND SPLIT: In March 2015 Shekau pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS). However, in August 2016, IS emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi demoted Shekau and appointed Abu Musab al-Barnawi (son of BH founder Mohammed Yusuf) as leader of Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) in his place. Furious, Shekau denounced A.M.al-Barnawi as an 'infidel' and split from the group. Shekau's BH faction, also known as Jama'atu Ahlissunnah Lidda'awati Wal Jihad (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad) or JAS, is based in Borno State's Sambisa Forest (about 60 km south-east of Maiduguri), while its Bakura faction is located in the Chad Basin (in the Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad tri-border region). In February 2019 ultra-radical elements within ISWAP ousted A.M.al-Barwani in a bloodless coup, having rejected his al-Qaeda-inspired 'Long War' strategy which involves winning Muslim hearts and minds while targeting 'apostate' government, army and other bodies. His replacement, Umar al-Barnawi (also known as Ba Idrissa), follows the IS strategy of 'Caliphate Now! Whatever it takes! No mercy!'

These three jihadist factions - Al-Qaeda affiliate Ansaru, IS affiliate ISWAP, and Shekau's BH/JAS - have the same goal: a Caliphate. Personality issues aside, they differ only on strategy. They all view Christians as the enemy and Christianity as a problem to be eliminated.

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

Praying for peace: 2nd 'Black Sunday' service, Kaduna, 9 Aug 2020
(images courtesy Christian Solidarity Worldwide)
click on collage to enlarge

NIGERIA (2): INSECURITY ENABLES TERRORIST EXPANSION

Analysts are warning that gross insecurity is paving the way for Boko Haram/JAS (Shekau faction), Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), and Al-Qaeda affiliate 'Ansaru' to make a comeback in Nigeria's Northwest Region. In a report for Jamestown Foundation published 28 July, terrorism analyst Jacob Zenn sounds the alarm: 'Nigeria should approach Boko Haram, ISWAP and Ansaru in Northwestern Nigeria as the most serious security crisis since the insurgency began [in 2010].' He warns that, while Boko Haram and ISWAP are relatively contained in Borno amongst their ethnic Kanuri kin, if these groups get a foothold among the Fulani in the Northwest, then nothing 'will prevent their continued expansion until northern Nigeria becomes overwhelmed ...' If security is not improved, and if the government does not address the issues that make recruitment attractive - i.e. poverty and ideology (specifically Wahhabi ideology imported from Saudi Arabia) - then Nigeria could come to resemble Syria 2013-2017, with heavily-armed and internationally-backed al-Qaeda and IS-aligned terrorist organisations in control of the north.

On 15 June BH/JAS released a video in which Shekau sent greetings to the group's 'brothers' in the Northwest's Zamfara State. On 10 July Nigeria's Defence Headquarters (DHQ) warned that terrorists from the Northeast were moving to the Northwest with sophisticated weapons. On 7 August AQIM-affiliate, Ansaru, claimed to have attacked a Nigerian Army position in Kaduna State, allegedly resulting in 25 'apostates' being killed and 10 wounded. Analysts suspect that Ansaru is recruiting Fulani herdsmen and bandits into its ranks and that Ansaru jihadists, posing as herdsmen and bandits, are participating in the Fulani jihad.

See also:  VIDEO (8:29 mins), TVC News Nigeria, 6 Aug 2020
Al-Qaeda Expanding in Nigeria, United States Warns Nigeria

Major General Ibrahim Manu Yusuf, the Nigerian-born commander
of the MultiNational Joint Task Force, is seen in Mora, Cameroon,
with DRR director Oumar Bichair, 7 August 2020.
(Moki Edwin Kindzeka/VOA
Cameroon's Centre for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) was established in Mora, in Cameroon's Extreme North region in 2019. The centre works to rehabilitate ex-militants who surrender to the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) in return for amnesty. The program is not 'de-radicalising' Islamist prisoners, which rarely works. On the contrary, it is rehabilitating those who, having risked their lives to escape, have surrendered and are seeking rehabilitation. The facility was built to handle 100 ex-militants at a time; it is currently hosting more than 250. On 7 August Voice of America reported that 109 people had surrendered to the MJTF in the past two weeks. The 109 comprised 45 Nigerian and 3 Cameroonian ex-militants, 45 Nigerian children and 16 women who had been kept as sex-slaves. All of them - including the fighters who had joined voluntarily - report being held captive, threatened with execution should they try to escape, and fed the lie that MJTF soldiers will kill them. Centre director Oumar Bichair has appealed for more resources to accommodate the increasing numbers. They need facilities, workers, psychologists and people who can train ex-fighters in literacy and trade skills. The Church has done this before, for example in northern Uganda; the Church can do it again.

PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* intervene in Nigeria to bless, protect and empower those who would 'turn back the battle at the gate' (from Isaiah 28:5-6).

* frustrate every wicked plot devised by violent men; may Nigeria be liberated from the threat of Islamic terror once and for all.

'As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvellous things without number ... He frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success ... So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts her mouth' (From Job 5:8-16 ESV).

* move powerfully by his Spirit through Borno's terrorist base-camps to bring hope and courage to those held captive behind a wall of terror and lies; may the dam be breached so that the trickle of defectors might become a flood. Lord have mercy!

* protect Cameroon's Centre for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration and supply it with everything it needs to rehabilitate disillusioned and traumatised men, women and children who have risked their lives in search of new life.

'Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful ... [He] preserves the simple [naive, seducible] ... he saved me' (Psalm 116:5-6 ESV).

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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INSECURITY ENABLES TERRORIST EXPANSION IN NIGERIA

On 10 July Nigeria's Defence Headquarters (DHQ) warned that terrorists based in Northeast Nigeria – i.e. Boko Haram (BH) and Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) - were moving to the Northwest with sophisticated weapons. On 28 July terrorism analyst Jacob Zenn warned that if these groups get a foothold amongst the Fulani in the Northwest, then nothing 'will prevent their continued expansion until northern Nigeria becomes overwhelmed'. Analysts already suspect that al-Qaeda affiliate, Ansaru, is recruiting Fulani herdsmen and bandits into its ranks and participating in the Fulani jihad. Meanwhile, Cameroon's Centre for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (launched 2019, in Extreme North region) reports that growing numbers of mostly-Nigerian ex-militants, children and women (sex-slaves) are escaping, surrendering and seeking rehabilitation. The Centre needs help to meet the growing demand. 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