Tuesday, February 25, 2020

RLPB 538. Feb Update: Iran, Burkina Faso, Cuba, Hong Kong (China), Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkey

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 538 | Wed 26 Feb 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

FEBRUARY UPDATE - during this period we prayed concerning:

IDP camp in Wamena (August 2019)
* INDONESIA'S PAPUAN PROVINCES [RLPB 535 (5 Feb 2020)], where indigenous Melanesian Christians displaced by Indonesian military (TNI) operations are increasingly dying from totally preventable illness, infection and starvation. More than 260 displaced Papuans have died in overwhelmed and struggling, mostly church-run, camps in the past 12 months. They are dying because the government in Jakarta refuses to withdraw the TNI, meaning the Papuans cannot return to their homes. They are dying because Jakarta refuses to open the region to international assistance, or even to recognise the displaced Papuans as victims of conflict so they might receive humanitarian aid from their own government. This obscene disregard for Papuan life reeks of racial-religious contempt and discrimination. Please pray.

* IRAN [RLPB 536 (12 Feb 2020)], as Iranians headed to the polls to elect a new parliament, and as Christians continue to suffer high levels of surveillance, interference, harassment, intimidation, repression and violent persecution at the hands of a desperate Islamic regime.

UPDATES

(1) ELECTIONS: As was guaranteed (due to the purging of centrists and reformists), conservatives and hardliners now dominate Iran's new parliament (Majlis). In the capital, Tehran (a hotbed of dissent), only around 25 percent of registered voters bothered to participate in the sham election; unsurprisingly, all 30 seats went to conservatives and hardliners. Nation-wide the turnout was only 42 percent - the lowest since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 - presenting the regime with a crisis of legitimacy. Conservatives and hardliners now occupy 221 out of 290 seats, whilst centrist and reformist representation has dropped from 121 to 20 seats. The remaining seats are held by independents. As long as Rouhani (a centrist) remains president, the hardliners will continue to deflect responsibility and blame all economic hardship on him. Persecution will escalate! While it might appear bleak, God is at work. Persist in prayer.

(2) PERSECUTION: as was reported in last week's Update from Iran, Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi (21) has been cruelly beaten, humiliated and incarcerated in the notorious Qarchak prison, where she awaits a decision on whether or not she will be released on bail. Please pray.

* BURKINA FASO [RLPB 537 (19 Feb 2020)], where violence - including Islamic jihadist violence against Christians - is spiralling out of control ahead of this year's general elections, scheduled for November.

UPDATE: The New Humanitarian (TNH) has released a news feature entitled 'How jihadists are fuelling inter-communal conflict in Burkina Faso' (20 Feb 2020). It provides an excellent summary of how the cycle of violence is being perpetuated. As TNH explains, Islamic jihadists recruit disgruntled Fulani youths. These 'young men who have been radicalised' [RLPB 501 (8 May 2019)] subsequently perpetrate acts of murderous violence. Because the government cannot secure the whole country, local self-defence militias are emerging to fill the gap. When communities are attacked, these militias exact revenge on their Fulani neighbours, accusing them of complicity in the jihadi terror. The Islamists then exploit Fulani trauma to recruit more Fulani youths to their cause, which seems to be the destabilisation of Burkina Faso, be that for political and/or economic gain. Christians have not retaliated and remain exceedingly vulnerable. Also, whether they realise it or not, the Fulani are being exploited. Forces with evil agendas are working to shred the social fabric by means of ethnic and religious conflict. May the LORD intervene to prevent it! [See prayer points in RLPB 537 (19 Feb).] Please pray.

FEBRUARY ROUND-UP - also this month

* CUBA: CHRISTIAN JOURNALIST THREATENED AGAIN

Yoé Suárez 
Yoé Suárez (born 1990) is a highly regarded, award-winning independent journalist and author in Cuba. In February 2019 Cuba's Communist regime labelled Christians 'counter-revolutionaries' and 'enemies of the state', primarily due to their defence of Biblical marriage and family, which conflicts with the state's neo-Marxist ideology [RLPB 491 (26 Feb 2019)]. Suárez's problems began when he started reporting on Cuban Church issues - particularly persecution - for various Christian digital news platforms. On 5 February Suárez received a subpoena to report to the police station. There he was questioned for almost three hours. An officer, who identified himself as Captain Enrique, informed Suárez that he was banned from leaving the country and threatened his wife and young son. Suárez has been detained and questioned on four previous occasions, including that reported in RLPB 517 (28 Aug 2019). The pressure on the Cuban Church is unrelenting. Please pray.

* HONG KONG, CHINA: ENTER, XIA BAOLONG

On 13 February Beijing announced that Xia Baolong (67), the Vice-Chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, would now also serve as Director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. Xia Baolong is a close ally and protege of President Xi Jinping, having served as Xi's deputy in Zhejiang. As Communist Party chief in Zhejiang (December 2012 - April 2017), Xia Baolong ordered and oversaw the campaign to remove crosses and demolish churches in Wenzhou and throughout the province [see RLPB 255, The Communist Party and the Cross over Zhejiang (9 April 2014)].

Xia Baolong vs the cross in Zhejiang.
Taking the battle to Hong Kong.
Ying Fuk-tsang, Dean of the Divinity School of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, explains: '[President] Xi has a high estimation of the fact that Xia takes the party's interests first and that he is a ruthless enforcer. That is why Xia has been brought back to the front-line now that cracking down on "anti-China" forces has become [the] top priority in Beijing's policy toward the SAR [Special Administrative Region].' Xia will report directly to President Xi, who will rule Hong Kong indirectly through Xia. China Analyst, Dr Willy Wo-Lap Lam (Jamestown Foundation), believes Beijing will now move decisively to establish 'patriotic education', foil plots that threaten national security and stifle HK's civil society, especially its Church [see: RLPB 514, 'Crackdown or Breakthrough' (7 Aug 2019)]. Beijing's crackdown will not be shocking like a descending sledgehammer. Rather, it will be quiet like a bloodless strangulation. Yes, the situation appears bleak - persecution will escalate - but God is at work. Please persist in prayer.

* NIGERIA: VIOLENCE SPIRALS OUT OF CONTROL

On 8 January unidentified gunmen kidnapped four young seminarians from the Good Shepherd Major Seminary in Kakau, southern Kaduna State [RLPB 534 (29 Jan 2020)]. On 1 February the Seminary issued a statement on the fate of the seminarians. One seminarian had been released, having fallen gravely ill after a severe beating; he had been found dumped on the side of the Kaduna-Abuja Highway in a critical condition on 18 January and transported to St Gerard's Catholic Hospital in Kaduna. On 31 January, after two other seminarians were released, the Reverend Fr Dr Joel Usman issued a call requesting prayer for the remaining captive seminarian, Michael Nnadi (18), a student of philosophy. The next day, however, Fr Usman had to report that Michael Nnadi had been 'found dead'.

Violence and crime are spiralling out of control in Nigeria, especially the violent crime of kidnapping for ransom. Calls for President Buhari's resignation are growing louder by the day. Meanwhile the government is pushing through two highly controversial bills designed to tackle what it maintains is the real problem: 'fake news' and 'hate speech' on the internet. Please pray.

* PAKISTAN: PLIGHT OF THE DHIMMI

Huma Younus (14)
[Dhimmi: 'protected person', i.e., a Christian whose right to life is 'protected' as long as they live as a subjugated, right-less, second-class citizen under Islam. Warning: resistance to dhimmi status triggers removal of 'protection' and resumption of jihad.]

CHRISTIAN GIRL ABDUCTED;
COURT ELEVATES SHARIA


Huma Younus (14) was abducted from her home in Karachi's Zia Colony in Sindh Province on 10 October 2019 while her parents were out of the house. She was transported to Dera Ghazi Khan in Punjab Province (more than 370 miles away), where she was forcibly converted to Islam and married to Abdul Jabbar, her abductor. In Pakistan it is virtually impossible to make a case against forced conversion as many imams are willing to issue conversion certificates, no questions asked! Consequently, Huma's parents sought the court's intervention on the grounds that their daughter is under-age. They maintain that the marriage is invalid because the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act forbids marriage under the age of 18 years. To that end, Huma's parents submitted various documents, including her baptismal certificate, as proof of her age.

However, at the minutes-long hearing on 3 February, Sindh High Court judges Muhammad Iqbal Kalhoro and Irshad Ali Shah ruled that the marriage was valid because Sharia (Islamic Law) mandates that a girl may be married once she has had her first menstrual cycle. To clarify: the judges elevated Sharia over the law of the land. The ruling sets a horrendous precedent. Investigating officer, Akhtar Hussain, has been given one month to determine the girl's age. The family suspects that Hussain is colluding with the abductor and that the results will be falsified. They desperately want Huma to be 'placed in a women's shelter and removed from her rapist'. The next hearing is scheduled to take place on Wednesday 4 March. Please pray!

Father Aho at the
Mor Yakub monastery
* TURKEY: ASSYRIAN PRIEST vs NEO-OTTOMAN STATE

Father Sefer Bilecen (known as Father Aho) is the caretaker-priest at the 1500-year-old Mor Yakub (Saint Jacob) monastery in Nusaybin in Turkey's south-eastern Mardin Province. Arrested on 9 January, Father Aho has been charged with 'aiding and abetting a terrorist organisation' for giving food and drink to militants linked to the banned PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) when they come to the monastery requesting or demanding it [RLPB 534 (29 Jan 2020)]. The charge is absurd; this is pure persecution arising from racial-religious hatred. Father Aho's next hearing is scheduled to take place on Thursday 19 March. 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, February 18, 2020

RLPB 537. Burkina Faso: Terror in Yagha

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 537 | 19 Feb 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)


BURKINA FASO: TERROR IN YAGHA
plus: update from Iran
by Elizabeth Kendal

location of Pansi village,
in Yagha Province, Sahel Region.
 On Sunday 16 February a group of around 20 'armed terrorists' attacked a Protestant church in the north-eastern village of Pansi, close to the border with Niger in Yagha Province in Burkina Faso's volatile northern Sahel Region. The terrorists rode into Pansi on motorbikes and targeted the church, opening fire on believers as the worship service was underway. It was a massacre; at least 10 were killed and 18 wounded. The pastor was among 14 church members who the terrorists abducted and subsequently murdered, bringing the death toll to 24. The militants set fire to the church and forced three abducted youths to help carry looted supplies. Victims were transported to the hospital in the regional capital, Dori, some 180km (110 miles) north-west of Pansi, in neighbouring Seno Province. Seeking safety, traumatised villagers fled to the provincial capital, Sebba, adding to the ever-growing numbers of internally displaced persons.

Pastor Tindano Omar
A week earlier, on Monday evening 10 February, Islamic militants murdered Lankoande Babilibile, a church deacon in Sebba. According to Barnabas Fund, the terrorists then stole Babilibile's car and used it to abduct Pastor Tindano Omar, whom they seized from his Sebba home along with his son, two daughters and two nephews. The bodies of Pastor Omar, his son and two nephews were found on 13 February; his two daughters had been released unharmed. Pastor Tindano Omar is survived by three other children who attend university in another region.

Terror is escalating at an alarming rate in Burkina Faso (BF). In 2018, dozens of troops were killed by roadside bombs and in ambushes that mostly targeted security forces. Since early 2019, however, the militants increasingly have targeted civilians. According to Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, which collects and analyses conflict information, more than 1,300 civilians - Christians and Muslims - were killed in targeted attacks in 2019. That is more than five times the number of civilians killed in 2018. Furthermore, around half a million people were displaced in 2019, over thirteen times as many as were displaced in 2018. This brings the total number of displaced persons to an estimated 760,000. The gross insecurity has forced the closure of around 95 healthcare centres and some 2,000 schools - mostly in the lawless east. More than 1.2 million Burkinabes are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

Unsurprisingly, demonstrations and riots have erupted across the country - especially in the capital Ouagadougou – protesting about escalating hardship and the government's failure to guarantee security. Religious Liberty Monitoring (RLM) is not alone is suspecting that the escalating insecurity and civil unrest is directly linked to the presidential and parliamentary elections and constitutional referendum scheduled for November 2020 [see: RLM, May 2019 and UN Global Dispatches, Jan 2020]. Many suspect that opposition elements - in particular the affiliates and party of exiled former president Blaise Compaoré (the Congress for Democracy and Progress), and indeed Blaise Compaoré himself - are fuelling the insecurity for political gain. It is a familiar scenario: opposition elements fuel conflict which they then blame on the government while proffering themselves as potential saviours. If this is what is happening, then violence is destined to escalate.

Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED)
from dashboard, Burkina Faso

According to Operation World (2010), BF is 52 percent Muslim, 26 percent ethno-religionist, and 21 percent Christian (mostly Catholic). Despite being majority Muslim, BF has a long tradition of peaceful co-existence and religious freedom; it also has a democratically elected Christian president: Roch Marc Christian Kaboré.  The Battle for Burkina Faso has begun!


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* comfort those who mourn, grieve and tremble; heal those who are wounded in body, mind and/or spirit; and provide the needs of all who look to him in faith or even just in desperation.

* be a shield, defender, strong tower and refuge (Psalm 18:2), and guiding good shepherd (Psalm 23; Isaiah 40:11) to his Church.

* be an awakening and revealing light to Muslims and others who are struggling in darkness (John 8:12); and a consuming fire to those who would bring bloodshed, suffering, repression and evil to Burkina Faso (Isaiah 40:10; 59:14-19).

* hear our prayers and grace the government of Burkina Faso - and especially President Kaboré - with all the wisdom and insight, conviction and courage, as well as the international support and assistance they need to turn back the battle (Isaiah 28:5-6) in Burkina Faso, so that peace will be restored and liberty preserved.

'Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me. The Lord will fulfil his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.' (Psalm 138:7-8 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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TERROR IN BURKINA FASO

On Sunday 16 February around 20 armed terrorists attacked a Protestant church in Burkina Faso's northern Yagha Province, killing at least 24 and wounding 18. They torched the church and kidnapped three youths, whom they forced to carry looted supplies. On Monday 10 February terrorists murdered a church deacon in the provincial capital, Sebba, and stole his car. They then abducted Pastor Tindano Omar along with his son, two daughters and two nephews. The bodies of the men were found on 13 February; the daughters were unharmed. More than 1300 civilians were killed in Islamic terrorist violence in 2019, more than five times that of 2018. Elections are due in November 2020. Many suspect that opposition elements are fuelling the violence for political gain, meaning terror will escalate. Please pray.

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UPDATE from IRAN 

Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammedi (21)
Updating last week's RLPB 536 (12 Feb). The condition and whereabouts of Christian convert Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi (21), arrested in early January, are now known. Mary was severely beaten upon her arrest and horribly mistreated during interrogations. She is now incarcerated in Qarchak Prison. Located in a desert just south of Tehran, and with only 600 beds for over 2000 prisoners, Qarchak is regarded as the worst prison in Iran for women. It is one of two Iranian prisons sanctioned by the US for 'gross human rights violations'. Though her family has raised the bail (30 million tomans, equivalent to a year's wages) the court has not yet agreed to release her. 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, February 11, 2020

RLPB 536. Iran: as the Lord shakes the nation.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 536 | 12 Feb 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)


IRAN: AS THE LORD SHAKES THE NATION
by Elizabeth Kendal

Source: National Council of Resistance for Iran (NCR-Iran)
 (more images and updates on site).

On 15 November the Iranian regime announced an increase in the price of fuel, triggering massive protests. By 16 November the initially peaceful protests had spread to over 50 cities and descended into violent riots. Cries of 'death to the dictator', 'clerics get lost' and 'Shah of Iran, return to Iran' filled the air. Banks, offices and Islamic centres were sacked and burned; anti-American billboards and posters of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei were torched. The protest had morphed into an open revolt against the regime. After shutting down the internet, the regime moved to extinguish the protests. Regime forces (including foreign fighters) shot at protesters from rooftops, helicopters and close range, fuelling a rapid escalation in violence. To mask the death toll, regime forces gathered up bodies and trucked them away. Amnesty International put the toll at over 300; Iranian opposition put the toll at 'at least 631'; while Reuters put the death toll at more than 1,500 with some 4,000 wounded. Around 12,000 protesters were arrested; they are being beaten, tortured and forced into televised 'confessions'. The most serious anti-regime violence in the history of the Islamic Republic was mercilessly crushed; at least on the surface.

Ismaeil Maghrebinejad (65)
On 8 January a Civil Court in Shiraz found Christian convert Ismaeil Maghrebinejad (65) guilty of 'insulting Islamic sacred beliefs' and sentenced him to three years in prison. Ismaeil's 'crime' was that he forwarded a message sent to his phone that was deemed insulting to Iran's ruling clerics. Arrested in January 2019, Ismaeil was initially charged with 'propaganda against the state' and 'insulting the sacred Iranian establishment'. At a hearing in October, the charge of apostasy (leaving Islam) was added and his bail increased. In November the charge of apostasy was dropped, presumably because apostasy charges attract international outrage and sanction, something the regime needs to avoid. Advocates suspect that the disproportionate sentence - three years jail for forwarding a text message - reflects the regime's profound hostility towards Christian converts. Middle East Concern (MEC) reports, 'Ismaeil is appealing the sentence, but still faces two other charges: "propaganda against the Islamic Republic" and "membership of a group hostile to the regime".'

Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi (21)
Source: Article 18
On 11 January the regime gave up lying and finally admitted that it was responsible for the 8 January shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752, killing all 176 passengers, including 82 Iranians. Angry protests erupted; anti-regime slogans rang out yet again. Five days of protests ensued until, on 16 January, a massive contingent of anti-riot police was deployed, forcing protesters to back down. Amidst the protests, Christian convert Fatemeh Mohammadi (21) - also known as Mary - was arrested near Tehran's Azadi Square. While Fatemeh was doubtless arrested as a protester, her record as an open and active Christian will complicate her plight. She might be only 21 years old but, as MEC reports, Fatemeh has been arrested and imprisoned before. In November 2017 Fatemeh was arrested at a house church, tried and sentenced to six months in Evin Prison, having been found guilty of 'membership in evangelical groups', 'engaging in Christian activities' and 'acting against national security through propagating against the regime'. Since then, Fatemeh has endured numerous incidents of harassment and intimidation. On 29 September 2018 she was summoned to the offices of the Intelligence services where she was harshly interrogated. In December 2019 Azad University suspended her education without reason. Iranian Christians have requested prayer for Fatemeh, whose condition and whereabouts remain unknown.

[UPDATE: Mary was severely beaten upon her arrest and horribly mistreated during interrogations. She was then incarcerated in Qarchak Prison -- long regarded as the worst prison in Iran for women -- pending a trial.]

Iran is boiling; anger is high, trust is low. The regime is cracking down hard and tightening its grip. Parliamentary polls will go ahead on 21 February. In vetting the candidates, Iran's ruling Guardian Council has performed an extraordinary purge of 'Reformists' (those who advocate more economic openness). Included in the purge are 90 sitting members of the current Reformist-dominated parliament. [For background on the current parliament see: RLPB 408, 'The People Want Change', (24 May 2017)]. So, while the regime might offer voters 1700 approved candidates, the overwhelming majority will hail from just one faction: the 'Principlists'/Conservatives (hard-liners). In 158 of the 290 seats there will be no competition at all. Consequently, motivation to vote is low, for the election result is already a done deal; hard-liners will dominate the new parliament. Reformists are divided, with some calling for an 'unofficial boycott' and for President Rouhani (a 'Reformist') to resign. The idea is to let the hard-liners take full control so they can bear the responsibility and shoulder the blame. [Currently the Principlists blame the dominant Reformists for everything, even though Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and the Guardian Council have the final say on everything.] Persecution of Christians will escalate under a Principlist-dominated regime. However, 'we struggle not against flesh and blood ...' (Ephesians 6:12).

Despite the risks - which are considerable [see 2019 joint report] - more Iranians are choosing to follow Jesus every day; God is doing something new, palpable and very exciting. As God works out his purposes, the Iranian Church will need our prayers: for endurance, wisdom, grace, courage and provision of needs.

Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi (21) protests her groundless suspension
from Azad Univerity on the eve of exams.
source: Article 18


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* continue to 'shake' (Haggai 2:6,7) the nation of Iran to bring down all that is wicked and false so that 'the Lord alone will be exalted' (Isaiah 2).

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5 ESV)
May the light of Christ shine ever brighter as the facade of Islam falls away.

*continue to build his Church inside Iran; may the Spirit of God move powerfully in the nation to awaken Persians to the limits and failings of Islam, and to draw them to the God of the Bible, for 'his way is perfect' and his 'word ... proves true' (Psalm 18:30) while his 'burden is light' (Matthew 11:28-30).

* comfort, encourage, protect and sustain all Iranian Christians currently in prison because of their faith; we especially pray for Fatemeh Mohammadi (also known as Mary) - a courageous Christian woman only 21 years old, arrested in early January, whose condition and whereabouts remain unknown; may the Lord intervene to defend and deliver her. (Luke12:6-7)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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IRAN: AS THE LORD SHAKES THE NATION

Last November Iran experienced the most violent anti-regime protests in the Islamic Republic's history. Some 1,500 protesters were shot dead by regime forces, 4,000 wounded and 12,000 arrested. The regime is cracking down and tightening its grip. Whilst parliamentary polls will go ahead on 21 February, the ruling clerics have purged the 'Reformist' candidates from the lists. 'Principlists' (hard-liners) will dominate the next parliament, meaning persecution of Christians is destined to escalate. On 8 January Christian convert Ismaeil Maghrebinejad (65) was sentenced to three years' jail for forwarding a text message deemed insulting to the ruling clerics. Also in early January, Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi (21), a Christian convert, was arrested amidst protests. In 2017 Fatemeh spent six months in prison for her faith. Her condition and whereabouts are unknown. 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, February 4, 2020

RLPB 535. Papuan Provinces, Indonesia: Christian Crisis in Nduga

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 535 | 05 Feb 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)


PAPUAN PROVINCES, INDONESIA: CHRISTIAN CRISIS IN NDUGA
by Elizabeth Kendal

The Christian crisis in Indonesia's Papuan Provinces is not caused by a lack of religious freedom. Rather, it has its roots in the racial (Javanese) and religious (Islamic) supremacism which undergirds Indonesian government policy and military action there. Indonesia's government and military elites make a lot of money exploiting the region's resources - timber, copper, gold, gas and oil; the military (TNI) also makes lots of money providing security to mining firms. The indigenous people are viewed at best as a problem to be fixed, and at worst as 'infidels', 'blacks' and 'monkeys' to be subjugated and if necessary eliminated! The Indonesian government hides the situation behind a Jungle Curtain of secrecy. Furthermore, because friendship with Indonesia affords economic and geo-strategic benefit, the supposedly human rights-defending West turns a blind eye.

Map showing Nduga and Wamena.
click on map to enlarge.
Perched in virtually inaccessible territory, Nduga Regency in Papua's Central Highlands was cut off from the outside world until missionaries in aeroplanes arrived well into the 20th century. Remote and isolated, Nduga has remained staunchly resistant to Indonesian rule. It can be a dangerous place, not just for the TNI (who are viewed as predators), but for Papuans from other regions (who are viewed with suspicion). Welcome is reserved for the Church, which has blessed the Ndugans with education, health care, grace and new life in Jesus Christ. In December 2018 Papuan rebels abducted and executed nineteen Indonesian labourers in Nduga. The labourers had been working on the hugely controversial Trans Papua Highway which President Widodo believes will solve all Papua's problems by facilitating economic development. The Papuans, however, especially the Ndugans, view it as invasive, destructive and simply a means of facilitating further Javanese Muslim colonisation and Islamisation. The Indonesian government's response to the killings was swift, brutal and wildly disproportionate. Under the pretext of hunting rebels, the TNI 'swept' through Nduga, destroying homes and gardens, schools and churches, and displacing some 45,000 Papuans. 

Months went by but the TNI operations never ended. Unable to return home and denied access to humanitarian aid, the displaced Papuans started to die. By July 2019 the death toll amongst displaced Ndugans in the camps of Wamena was 139 [RLPB 513 (31 July 2019)].  On 21 January 2020 the Executive Director of Amnesty International, Usman Hamid, reported that the death toll amongst displaced Ndugans - from untreated illness, infected wounds (including bullet wounds) and starvation - had risen to 263. As the death toll rises, President Widodo is facing pressure from Members of Parliament, Human Rights organisations and Church groups - including the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) - to pull the TNI out of Nduga, launch a humanitarian response, and commence serious dialogue.

On 24 December Nduga's Deputy regent, Wenius Nimiangge, resigned his post citing deep disappointment with the government in Jakarta. For a year, Wenius had been lobbying the central government to withdraw Indonesian military and police from Nduga so that displaced Ndugans could return to their homes. Wenius, however, was left to lament: 'We are not respected. The central government has never responded to our request.' The last straw for Wenius came on 20 December when his driver and close aide, Hendrek Lokbere, was shot dead by Indonesian forces. Lokbere had been travelling in Yosema village, in Nduga Regency's Kenyam District, assisting local officials with preparations for Christmas celebrations. According to Wenius, the area was peaceful and Lokbere was simply shot dead in the middle of the road. Veronica Koman (Indonesian human rights lawyer in exile) posted images of Lokbere's 24 December funeral to her twitter account. Meanwhile, Indonesia's Co-ordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, Mahfud M.D., scoffed at Wenius' resignation, suggesting it was nothing more than a 'political manoeuvre' based on a fabricated story about a fatal shooting that could not be verified.

If the final fate of the Papuans is dhimmitude (total subjugation under Islam, without rights) or genocide, it will only be partly due to the racial and religious supremacism of the colonial power. International indifference and Western 'interests' and priorities (money and power being valued more highly than people, even co-religionists) will also have played their part.

Ndugan internally displaced children in Wamena
 pray for their safety and family.
Image: Febriana Firdaus/Voice of Papua

PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR GOD WILL INTERVENE TO:

* effect the withdrawal of the mostly Javanese Muslim Indonesian military from Nduga Regency, so that tens of thousands of displaced indigenous Melanesian Christians can return to their lands and homes.

* enable the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian aid - food and medicines - to arrest the trend of Papuan deaths from disease, infection and starvation.

* facilitate a visit by the UN Human Rights Office (which is seeking access and has been promised access) so that the Jungle Curtain of secrecy might be pulled back and the truth about Indonesia's abuses in the Papuan Provinces exposed.

* awaken and sharpen the conscience of all who call themselves Christian - indeed all who profess to care about human rights - so that the plight of Papua's indigenous Melanesian Christians may no longer be met with indifference, but countered with action ... including persistent intercessory prayer.

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit (James 5:16b-18 ESV).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIAN CRISIS IN PAPUAN PROVINCES, INDONESIA

In December 2018 Papuan rebels abducted and executed nineteen Indonesian labourers working on the controversial Trans Papuan Highway in Nduga Regency in Papua's Central Highlands. The Indonesian government's response was swift, brutal and wildly disproportionate. Under the pretext of hunting rebels, the mostly Javanese Muslim Indonesian military (TNI) 'swept' through the Nduga Regency, destroying homes and gardens, schools and churches, and displacing some 45,000 indigenous Melanesian Christians. Today, because the TNI operations persist and because displaced Ndugans are denied access to humanitarian aid, 263 displaced Ndugans have died of sickness, infection and starvation. Human rights abuses, including murder, are committed with impunity, driven by the racial (Javanese) and religious (Islamic) supremacy of the colonial power (Indonesia). The indigenous Melanesian Christians of Indonesia's eastern Papuan Provinces desperately need our prayers.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com