Tuesday, June 23, 2020

RLPB 555. June Update. Incl. Turkey, Syria, Hong Kong, Iraq, North Korea, Pakistan

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 555| Wed 24 Jun 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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JUNE 2020 UPDATE
By Elizabeth Kendal

In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.  Psalm 18:6 (ESV)

JUNE 2020 UPDATE - during this period we prayed concerning

* TURKEY [RLPB 552 (3 June)], after a 'Conquest Day' spectacular in which neo-Ottoman and Islamist Turks celebrated the 567th anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine capital, Constantinople; a conquest which saw the city ransacked, the churches looted and the citizens raped, slaughtered and enslaved. This is how the now UNESCO world-heritage listed Greek Orthodox cathedral, the Church of Hagia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom), became the booty of imperialist Ottoman Islamic forces.

UPDATE: COUNCIL OF STATE TO RULE ON 2 JULY

Turkey's Council of State will rule on the status of Hagia Sophia on Thursday 2 July. In a poll run by pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak, 73.3 percent of 2,414 respondents answered 'Yes' to the question of whether Hagia Sophia should be converted into a functioning mosque. Bolstered by the poll, President Erdogan expects the Council of State will rule that the cabinet decree of 1934 - which saw Hagia Sophia converted from a mosque to a museum - be annulled. Expectation is high that Hagia Sophia will at least be open to Muslim prayers, even if it must retain its status as a museum (for now). Hagia Sophia's conversion to that of a functioning mosque would signify a great leap forward in the Turkish Islamist long march to reverse Ataturk's secularising reforms. The issue of Hagia Sophia's status serves as a barometer with which we can measure imperialist and supremacist, ethnic (Turkish) and religious (Islamic) pressure, now clearly rising in Turkey. The trend bodes ill for Turkey's remnant Greek, Assyrian and Armenian Christians (the descendants of genocide survivors), as well as for Turkey's growing cohort of Christian converts from Islam. Please pray for the Church in Turkey.

* INDONESIA [RLPB 553 (10 June)], after Indonesia's Communications and Information Ministry had a local language Bible app removed from the Google Play Store at the behest of the governor of West Sumatra. This further consolidates the terrible precedent already established in West Java (where local officials have even defied the Supreme Court) that governors are free to enforce Islamic norms depriving citizens of their liberty, contrary to the spirit of Pancasila and the religious freedom provisions guaranteed in Indonesia's constitution. Please pray.

* SYRIA [RLPB 554 (17 June)], after the US government's 'Caesar Act' came into force, essentially placing long-sanctioned, war-ravaged Syria in a state of economic siege.

UPDATE: 'A DIABOLICAL ACT'

Archbishop Joseph Tobji of Aleppo
Maronite Archbishop Joseph Tobji (49) of Aleppo recently spoke to the Vatican's Fides news agency concerning the US Caesar Act, which elevates sanctions against Syria to the level of an economic siege. The Archbishop told Fides that the US claim that the sanctions are 'targeted' is a lie 'that not even a child would believe'. The Archbishop insists the sanctions are designed 'to increase the suffering of the population to fuel popular discontent and thus produce regime-change. But,' he adds, 'this way of acting is criminal. Putting an entire people in distress at a time like this, where there is also the spectre of the pandemic around the world, is inhuman.' Archbishop Tobji laments that the US government is willing to go to any lengths to pursue its goals, 'even to sacrificing millions of people, poor people and families'. He condemns this as 'a diabolical act'. [More on this next month.] Please pray for the Church in Syria. [See: RLPB 554 (17 June) for prayer points.]

JUNE 2020 ROUND-UP - also this month

* HONG KONG, CHINA: AUTONOMOUS NO MORE

On 22 May China's Premier Li Keqiang announced that the National People's Congress would write national security legislation into Hong Kong (HK) law, bypassing HK's legislative council [see RLPB 551 (26 May 2020)]. A three-day legislative session was held in Beijing over 18-20 June, in which senior Chinese lawmakers reviewed the draft legislation for the first time. Another three-day session will commence on 28 June, during which many believe the new national security law will be passed in time for the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule on 1 July. According to reports, Beijing will set up a dedicated central government office in Hong Kong to manage national-security affairs; provisions in the new national-security law will supersede existing Hong Kong legislation; and China's legislature will be empowered to issue judicial interpretations on the law, meaning Beijing will have the final say over how the law will be implemented. As RLPB has warned repeatedly, the impact this will have on the Church in HK - and indeed on the Chinese Church long served by the Church in a free and autonomous HK - will be devastating. Please pray: may the Lord grant divine wisdom to the Church in China.

* IRAQ: TURKEY BOMBS NORTHERN BORDER REGIONS

In August 2014, ISIS ethnically cleansed Northern Iraq's Nineveh Plains of its indigenous Assyrian Christian inhabitants. While some 70,000 Assyrians fled east to Erbil, some 60,000 headed north to Dohuk Governorate, historically an Assyrian region. On 20 and 21 June, Turkish jets bombed the area around Dohuk's Zakho district. Close to the Turkish border, Zakho is home to almost 200,000 mostly Kurdish and Assyrian civilians. While NATO-member Turkey claims to be fighting 'PKK terrorists', anxious Christians are preparing to flee yet again. On 20 June bombs fell close to the Christian village of Bersev, home to some 300 minority families. Civilian casualties and property damage have been reported. Please pray for Iraq's betrayed, abandoned and gravely imperilled indigenous Assyrian Christians.

* NORTH KOREA: HOPES FADE AS TENSIONS SOAR

On 16 June the Kim regime in Pyongyang blew up the inter-Korean liaison office at Kaesong, North Korea. The next day it announced that it would deploy troops to the demilitarised zone (DMZ), particularly to the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the Mount Kumgang Resort. Located in the currently defunct Kaesong Industrial Zone, the inter-Korean liaison office was opened in 2018 as a venue in which officials from the two Koreas could meet and work through the details of various projects aimed at reducing tensions and facilitating rapprochement. The sensational demolition sends a clear message: co-operation is over. Pyongyang claims to be retaliating against North Korean defectors and activists in the South who regularly launch balloons carrying anti-regime leaflets and other 'unauthorised materials' into the North. However, the reality is more complex. In January, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, NK closed its only active border, its border with China. The border closure has served to compound the difficulties caused by US sanctions; the result is a serious shortage of food and medicines throughout the state. The Kim regime is frustrated and growing increasingly desperate. On Thursday 25 June, the Koreas will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. Activists on both sides of the border are preparing to launch propaganda leaflets (hopefully that will be all that is launched!). Tensions are soaring. Please pray.

Once the centre of Korean Christianity [CBN video], Pyongyang under the Soviet-appointed Kim Il-sung sank to become one of the world's most severe human rights abusers and persecutors of Christians. 'There can be little doubt that an intensive and furious spiritual battle is underway over North Korea, and over its integration into East Asia (the spiritual powerhouse of the future!)' [RLPB 490 (20 Feb 2019)]. Please pray that the unprecedented steps taken in 2018 and 2019 will not have been in vain. Please pray that this extraordinary opportunity for positive change will not be lost. Please pray for the long-suffering, severely persecuted Church in North Korea ... may the Lord deliver her.

Background: (in chronological order)
North Korea: Reasons for Hope (RLM, 13 March 2018)
RLPB 446, A Step in the Right Direction (14 March 2018) 
RLPB 458, US-NK Summit (Singapore) (6 June 2018)
RLPB 471, A Stalemate in need of a breakthrough (5 Sept 2018) 
RLPB 490, US-NK Summit (Hanoi) (20 Feb 2019)

* PAKISTAN (1): WAITING FOR JUSTICE

Imran Masih 
(Aid to the Church in Need)
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pakistan's courts face a massive backlog of cases. Unfortunately, appeals against blasphemy convictions are not on the court's priority list. Having spent six years on death row, Shafqat Emmanuel Masih (who is paralysed) and his wife, Shagufta Kausar (who worked as a caretaker in a Christian school), were due to have their appeal heard by the Lahore Court of Appeal on 8 April [RLPB 539 (4 March)]. The Christian couple from Gojra, Punjab, were tortured and sentenced to death in 2014 for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages to an Islamic cleric, despite being illiterate. Their appeal has been delayed without a new date being announced. Please pray. Christian grocer, Imran Masih of Faisalabad, received a life sentence for blasphemy in July 2009. He was cleaning out his shop and burning off the rubbish when he was accused of burning pages that allegedly contained Arabic-language verses from the Quran. According to his lawyer Khalil Tahir Sandhu, Imran's appeal has been postponed almost 70 times over the course of nearly eleven years. Imran Masih's next hearing date at Lahore High Court has been set for Monday 6 July. Please pray.

PAKISTAN (2): THE LAW AS A WEAPON

Anwar Masih of Lahore was arrested on 2 June for insulting the Prophet Muhammad. In a case that may be the first of its kind in Pakistan, the complainants are the man's wife and daughter. It is alleged that Anwar's wife, Kausar Parveen, and daughter, Samreen, ran a beauty parlour in Lahore and that Kausar had an illicit affair with Akash Maqsood, a Muslim. She also secretly married him, converted to Islam and become pregnant with his child. When Anwar discovered the deception, he was understandably shocked and furious. In his anger he railed against his unfaithful wife and against Islam. The daughter filmed the outburst on her phone and presented it as evidence. The Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement UK is a Christian charity dedicated to helping persecuted Christians in Pakistan. Its director Nasir Saeed explains: 'This is another example of the misuse of the blasphemy law where a daughter gets rid of her father and a wife her husband, simply because he cannot accept what they have done. Masih will have to wait years and years to prove himself innocent and has no future.' Please pray.

Shagufta (l) and Shafqat (r)
[NOTE: In the case of Shafqat Emmanuel Masih and Shagufta Kausar (pictured right), it seems likely that a 'Christian' neighbour with whom the couple had a dispute may have framed them for the capital crime of blasphemy so as to punish or get rid of them. Lord have mercy!]

* IN BRIEF

* Violent persecution against Christians continues without relief across Hindu Nationalist India. See https://morningstarnews.org (South/Central Asia / India). Please pray.

* Islamic jihad in the form of farm invasions, ethnic cleansing, abductions and terror continue without relief throughout the north and volatile Middle Belt of President Muhammadu Buhari's Nigeria. Visit https://silentslaughternigeria.com and check the incident tracker; and https://morningstarnews.org (Sub-Saharan Africa / Nigeria). 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).