Wednesday, July 29, 2020

RLPB 560. July Update, incl. Syria, Iran, Ethiopia, Armenia, Cyprus, Iraq and Nigeria

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 560| Wed 29 Jul 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)
 
JULY 2020 UPDATE
By Elizabeth Kendal

For preparation: Isaiah 40:18, 22-24

JULY 2020 UPDATE - during this period we prayed concerning

* SYRIA AND LEBANON [RLPB 556 (1 July)], where Christian security is being imperilled by a crippling and destabilising economic crisis. In Lebanon, pro-Hezbollah Shi'ite agitators deliberately inflamed sectarian tensions by invading and threatening Christian districts and provoking Sunnis by chanting offensive slogans. In Syria, the area controlled by the government (which is where most Christians live) is now in a state of economic siege [RLPB 554 (17 June)]. Aleppo's Maronite Archbishop Joseph Tobji (49) insists that the US 'Caesar' sanctions are designed 'to increase the suffering of the population to fuel popular discontent and thus produce regime-change'. RLPB agrees with his analysis and his assessment that this 'sacrificing of millions of people, poor people and families' is 'inhumane' - 'a diabolical act' [RLPB 555 (24 June)].

ALEPPO'S MARONITE CATHEDRAL OPENS AFTER RESTORATION


Aleppo's Maronite Cathedral of St Elias, Christmas 2016
On Monday 20 July Aleppo's Maronite Cathedral of St Elias (Elijah) - which is overseen by Archbishop Joseph Tobji - was re-consecrated and re-opened for worship. On three occasions between 2012-2016, the cathedral had been struck by mortar shells fired into the Christian quarter by rebel/jihadist forces, rendering the building unsafe and unusable. In 2013 [RLPB 196 (6 Feb 2013)], the cathedral was desecrated and looted by jihadists who had stormed the city's Christian quarter. The cathedral's restoration was funded through donations, in particular from Aid to the Church in Need, and achieved with the help of volunteers, in particular those from the French Christian charity l'Oeuvre d'Orient (Oriental Work).

Click here for awesome VIDEO (l'Oeuvre d'Orient, 1:10)

Aleppo's Maronite Cathedral of St Elias, 20 July 2020
Before 2012, Aleppo (Syria's commercial capital) was home to some 180,000 Christians; today a mere 30,000 remain. Archbishop Tobji views the restored cathedral as 'a sign of hope and rebirth', not just materially, but spiritually. He hopes it will encourage Aleppo's remnant Christians to feel they have a future in the city. Archbishop Tobji laments the fact that Christians continue to emigrate, not because of war (for government-held Aleppo is peaceful and free) but due to 'the extreme poverty linked to the sanctions imposed on the defenceless population'. Archbishop Tobij appeals for prayer, 'because prayer does a lot, it goes beyond the human, and there [beyond the human] is the Lord who acts.' AMEN. Please pray for the Church in Syria.

* IRAN [RLPB 557 (8 July)], where Shi'ite hard-liners, having consolidated their political power, are now cracking down hard on civil society and Christianity, indeed on anything they perceive as a threat to their rule.

UPDATE: Iranian-Armenian church leader, Joseph Shahbazian (56) - who was one of more than 30 believers arrested on 30 June - still has not been told what charges he faces. Furthermore, the three billion tomans (US$150,000) bail set by the judge is more than twice the previous highest bail set for any Christian. In an effort to raise this unprecedented bail, the family has submitted title deeds for two properties. But because the properties are worth less than the bail, the family must await the judge's decision on whether or not he will accept the deeds in lieu of bail. Please pray. 

* ETHIOPIA [RLPB 558 (15 July)], after 239 mostly ethnic Amhara Christians were killed, some 300 wounded (many critically) and more than 3360 displaced in Oromia Region. The violence, which appeared organised, was led by a militant faction of the ethnic-nationalist Oromo Liberation Front. Deputy Police Commissioner of Oromo Regional, Girma Gelan, has since confirmed that in some cases the killings were purely religious - not ethnic. For example, he said, in East Arsi zone where 35 people were killed, only 13 were ethnic Amhara. 'Twenty-two of [the dead] were Oromos from Shoa [Shewa] and they were killed because they are Christians (Orthodox)'. He also confirmed that some of the dead had been beheaded. Please pray for peace in Ethiopia.

UPDATE ON THE BATTLE FOR ETHIOPIA

The Secretary-General of the Oromo Democratic Party, ‎Addisu Arega Kitessa is one of several Ethiopian officials to accuse Egypt of mobilising unrest in Ethiopia with the aim of bringing down the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Investigations are underway. Egypt - which has a long history of supporting the Oromo Liberation Front - objects to Ethiopia filling its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) without a 'binding agreement'. Egypt's objections are based on speculation that the dam will prove detrimental to Egypt. Ethiopia insists it has no intention of leaving Egypt without Blue Nile water and has offered to sign a 'comprehensive agreement'.

Groundwater source
click on map to enlarge
The GERD is a ground-breaking and potentially transformative project that will, when complete, lift some 100 million Ethiopians out of poverty and provide cheap electricity to Sudan and the wider region. Mainstream media are parroting the Egyptian line that Egypt is imperilled with no other source of water. But this is false. Egypt has phenomenal ground water supplies (which Ethiopia does not). To guarantee water security, all Egypt needs to do is tap into its groundwater aquifers, just as Col Muammar Gaddafi did in 1984 when he launched construction on Libya's 'Great Man-Made River'. An engineering marvel, the world's largest irrigation project was entirely government funded. Today the Great Man-Made River provides 70 percent of all fresh water used in Libya. It is concerning that some in the administration of US President Donald Trump are advocating withholding aid from Ethiopia as they side with Egypt in the dam dispute. This, even as African Union-mediated talks progress. 

The Battle for Ethiopia is heating up. It is a battle between PM Abiy's vision of a strong and united, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and prosperous Ethiopia versus the dream of ethnic-nationalists who would dismantle Ethiopia along ethnic lines. The idea of overthrowing the Abiy government, or even of dismantling Ethiopia, would appeal to an array of hostile state (e.g. Egypt) and non-state (e.g. al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Somali irredentists) actors. Those considering sanctioning Ethiopia - one of the world's poorest nations (with mostly Orthodox Amhara being the poorest region) - need to gather some facts, think strategically and consider the Big Picture. Please pray for Ethiopia.

* SUDAN [RLPB 559 (22 July)], after fundamentalist Muslims protested in Khartoum, North Khartoum and neighbouring Omdurman over the transitional government's legal reforms. The reforms remove a swath of discriminatory and repressive Islamic Sharia provisions. Incited by Islamic political parties and radical clerics, the protesters called for 'jihad' against the 'apostate government' of Prime Minister Hamdock. Please pray for Sudan.


JULY 2020 ROUND-UP - also this month 

* ARMENIA: BETWEEN AZERBAIJAN AND TURKEY

On 12 July clashes erupted between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces on the northern reaches of their international border. While both sides have blamed the other, it seems Azerbaijani troops triggered the clashes when they attempted to seize an Armenian border post. Casualties were recorded by both sides. As Azerbaijan was quick to point out, the clashes took place not far from the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline operated by British Petroleum. On 15 July Azerbaijanis rallied in Baku demanding they be mobilised for war against Armenia. Standing with its ally Azerbaijan, Turkey weighed in by threatening Armenia, warning that it 'will be crushed' and will 'definitely pay' for its actions. Turkey's President Erdogan has long fantasised about the prospect of establishing a pan-Turkic empire spreading eastward. Similarly, Azerbaijani officials have repeatedly been recorded fantasising about wiping Armenia off the map. Whilst most analysts do not anticipate a full-blown war, many are concerned that conflict could escalate. Clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani migrants and diaspora have also erupted in various cities including London, Brussels, Moscow and Los Angeles. Please pray for peace to be restored.

* CYPRUS: BUILD UP OF TURKISH TROOPS


In issue 1,2020 of Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy (ISSA), Greek political scientist and former Special Forces paratrooper, Omiros Fotiadis, reported that 'Turkey is substantially upgrading its military forces in the portion of northern Cyprus which it has illegally occupied since 1974, possibly preparatory to military operations to occupy the entire island.' According to Fotiadis, Turkey has chemical weapons stored in several locations on the island. On 28 July the UN Security Council voted unanimously to extend the mandate of its peacekeeping force on Cyprus, expressing serious concern at violations of the military status quo along the ceasefire line. Turkey immediately slammed the decision. When Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, it ethnically cleansed the north and set about erasing its Greek Christian heritage. The prospect that neo-Ottoman Turkey might attempt to occupy the entire island would greatly concern the roughly 640,000 mostly Greek Orthodox Christians living in Greek-Cypriot controlled Cyprus. Please pray.

* IRAQ: CHRISTIANS DISPLACED BY TURKISH BOMBING


Assyrian village in Dohuk, deserted.
source: K24, 1 July 2020
In mid-June Turkey, in co-operation with Iran, launched an 'anti-terror' operation ostensibly aimed at eradicating PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) positions in northern Iraq. The Turkish air campaign has inflicted terror on the Kurds and Assyrians of far north Iraq, driving them from their homes. Zakho district in Dohuk Province was home to around 12,000 Assyrian Christians. The airstrikes have emptied nine of the district's eleven Christian villages and left vast tracts of agricultural land burnt. In July the Iraqi government responded by establishing five military bases in Zakho's border areas, each manned by Kurdish Iraqi border guards. Because Turkey has no desire to bomb an Iraqi military base, these bases do greatly improve security; indeed, more bases are needed. Prayer is requested for the roughly 80 Christian families forced to flee. Many were already Internally Displaced Persons, having been driven from their Nineveh homes by Islamic State in 2014. May the Lord supply their every need, especially their need for security. Please pray.

ALERT: On 24 June a Turkish official confirmed that Turkey - which already has more than a dozen 'observation posts' inside Iraq - intends to establish three military bases and a 'buffer zone' inside Iraq, something the Iraqi government is bound to resist. If Turkey is serious about establishing bases and a 'buffer zone' in northern Iraq - just as it has done in northern Syria - then might not this bombing be ethnic cleansing?

* NIGERIA: TERROR AND GENOCIDE


The Rev. Shamah Kuyet Ishaya, of the
  Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA);
killed in a Fulani attack in Zikpak,
southern Kaduna state, 24 July 2020.
(Courtesy ECWA for Morning Star News).
On 22 July Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) released video footage of five captive aid workers (three Christians and two Muslims) being executed in the north-eastern state of Borno. Behind each kneeling and blindfolded aid worker is an executioner. Speaking in Hausa language, the spokesman addresses the camera: 'This is a message to all those being used by infidels to convert Muslims to Christianity ... If you don't heed our warning, the fate of these five individuals will be your fate.' At that point, the aid workers are all shot dead. Meanwhile, according to the Atrocities in Nigeria newsletter, in the week from 14-21 July, 93 percent of all violence against Christians in Nigeria was perpetrated by Fulani militias, with Boko Haram (ISWAP) responsible for just 7 percent. Kaduna State's mostly Christian southern Local Government Areas have been hardest hit (see MSN). See also: Silent Slaughter (Incident Tracker). In June, the UK's All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief released a report entitled 'Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide?' The Christian crisis in Nigeria continues; please pray.

P.S. And lest anyone thinks that TURKEY has nothing to do with the Christian crisis in Nigeria, Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy (ISSA) reported in its 1,2019 issue, that Boko Haram's 'supply lines and general logistical support from abroad — nominally from DI’ISH (Islamic State), but actually often engaging assets of the intelligence service of Turkey, MÝT (Milli Ýstihbarat Teþ-kilatý) — have grown stronger.' Please pray that God will intervene in Turkey, for the sake his children, everywhere!

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

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, July 21, 2020

RLPB 559. Sudan: Islamists Protest Law Reform

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 559 | Wed 22 Jul 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)
 
SUDAN: ISLAMISTS PROTEST LAW REFORM
By Elizabeth Kendal

Sudan Justice Minister
Nasredeen Abdulbari
(profile: Harvard Law School)
On 10 July, Sudan's Justice Minister, Nasredeen Abdulbari tweeted: 'The Human Rights and Justice System Reform Commission Act 2020 has been signed, [along with] the Miscellaneous Amendments (Fundamental Rights and Freedoms) Act 2020, the Anti-Informatics Crime (Amendment) Act 2020 and the Criminal Code (Amendment) 2020. The commission established under the law passed will lead a comprehensive and profound process of reforming the human rights and justice system, which during the years of the regime has experienced ruin - an unprecedented devastation in the history of Sudan.' In a televised interview on 11 July, the Justice Minister confirmed that changes to the law will ensure all citizens enjoy religious freedom and equality in citizenship and before the law. 'We have dropped all the articles that had led to any kind of discrimination,' he said. 'We assure our people that the legal reformation will continue until we drop all the laws violating the human rights in Sudan.'

The Miscellaneous Amendments Act removes a raft of Sharia-based provisions. Women are now able to travel with their children without a permit from a male relative. Non-Muslims are now permitted to consume alcohol (although not in public). Public flogging is abolished; while apostasy - previously a capital crime for which Muslim converts could be stoned to death - is now decriminalised. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is now banned and anyone found guilty of performing FGM will face a three-year jail term. Also banned is the practice of 'takfir', which is when a Muslim declares another Muslim to be 'apostate' and, as such, deserving of death.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) welcomed the changes, noting that 'law reform has always been deeply contentious in Sudan.' While agreeing that there is still a long way to go, HRW applauded the move as a 'positive first step'. Similarly, Church leaders and Christians, while pleased with the move, are still waiting for the return of confiscated assets. Kamal Fahmi, a Sudanese Christian activist, has long campaigned against the apostasy law. As founder of Set My People Free, he is dedicated to the right of 1.3 billion Muslims to be able to change their religion. He told Christianity Today (13 July) that, while he anticipates an Islamist push-back, he is praying for God to protect the Justice Minister and remains hopeful that the goals of the revolution - freedom, dignity, justice and peace - will be realised.

As anticipated, Islamists are outraged. No sooner had the announcement been made, Abdulhai Yousef, a well-known hard-line cleric with over 75,000 twitter followers, engaged in takfir by accusing the Justice Minister of apostasy and calling for jihad against Prime Minister Hamdok's government. 'Bringing down this government, which has legalised apostasy and other wrongdoings, is a duty for any Muslim', railed Yousef, who is currently in Turkey evading arrest on charges pertaining to terrorism. Rejecting the law changes, the Islamic Popular Congress Party (PCP) called for protests after Friday prayers. Likewise, the former ruling National Congress Party (NCP) of ousted president Omar al-Bashir urged Muslims to take to the streets after prayers to bring down the transitional government, warning that the 'battle now is between the secularists and Islam'.

Pro-Sharia, anti-government protests, Friday 17 July.
(Poster targets Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari)

On Friday 17 July Muslims emerging from fundamentalist mosques led protests in Khartoum, Khartoum North and neighbouring Omdurman. Ahmed Brair (23) told Turkey's Anadolu Agency (AA) that he joined the demonstrations to stop what he called the 'apostasy government' [more takfir]. 'We're ready', he said, 'for jihad to defend Islam.' As he marched, he chanted, 'Nasredeen is an enemy of Allah'. Others shouted slogans, including 'God's laws shall not be replaced', 'Hamdok, Khartoum is not New York' and 'Sharia, sharia or we die'. They carried banners reading 'No to secularism' and 'God's religion and the Sharia form a red line.' On Tuesday 21 July the trial against ousted president Omar al-Bashir commenced in Khartoum. Al-Bashir has been charged with the capital crime of 'undermining the constitutional order' under Article 96 of the Sudanese Criminal Law of 1983, and 'participation in a criminal act' under Article 78 of the same law. The charges stem from his role in the 1989 coup against the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Sadek al-Mahdi. It would be reasonable to expect that future Friday protests may well grow larger and louder. Indeed, we could be witnessing the early stages of organised Islamic resistance. As noted in RLPB 516 (21 Aug 2019), 'divine help is needed if "New Sudan" is to be realised'.


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL  

* bless and protect Prime Minister Hamdok, Justice Minister Abdulbari, and all who are working for reform in Sudan.

* grant all Sudan's Christian leaders - both civic and religious - an abundance of divine wisdom, patience and grace; may the Holy Spirit guide them as they lead God's people and engage with the government in these pivotal days. 'I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you' (Psalm 32:8 ESV)

* frustrate every evil plot aimed at destabilising the government and derailing reform; may Satan's powerful grip be broken; may the will of the sovereign Lord prevail.

'Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations ... He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth ...' (promise from Isaiah 42:1-4 ESV; see Prayer Fuel from Isaiah's Servant Songs)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
------------------------------------------------------------
ISLAMISTS PROTEST LAW REFORM IN SUDAN

On 10 July Sudan's Justice Minister, Nasredeen Abdulbari, announced that the transitional government had passed a package of laws aimed at ending discrimination and human rights abuses. Numerous discriminatory and repressive Sharia provisions have been removed. Apostasy (leaving Islam) - once a capital crime - has been decriminalised. Whilst law reform still has a long way to go, the move has been welcomed by Sudan's marginalised and persecuted ethnic and religious minorities, along with all who supported the December 2018 - August 2019 revolution for a 'New Sudan' in which all citizens would enjoy freedom, dignity, justice and peace. As anticipated, Islamists are outraged. Islamic political parties and fundamentalist clerics immediately called for protests. On Friday 17 July protesters called for 'jihad' against the 'apostate government' of Prime Minister Hamdok. Please pray for Sudan.

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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, July 14, 2020

RLPB 558. Ethiopia: Slaughter in Oromia

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 558 | Wed 15 Jul 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)

ETHIOPIA: SLAUGHTER IN OROMIA
plus brief update on Turkey and Hagia Sophia
By Elizabeth Kendal

Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali
On Monday evening 29 June popular Ethiopian singer and champion of Oromo interests, Hachalu Hundessa (36), was assassinated in the capital, Addis Ababa. Hundessa's protest songs became anthems for millions of ethnic Oromo during the years of anti-government protests, which commenced in December 2015 and culminated in February 2018 in the resignation of Prime Minister (PM) Hailemariam Desalegn. A month later, the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (a four-party coalition) elected Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali (41) as Ethiopia's first ethnic Oromo Prime Minister. With an ethnic Oromo Muslim father and an ethnic Amhara Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother, Dr Abiy is a convert to evangelical Protestant Christianity. A former soldier, he holds a PhD (2017) in conflict resolution. PM Abiy's reforms have been breathtaking and his brokering of peace with Eritrea earned him a well-deserved Nobel Peace Prize (2019). Like PM Abiy, Hachalu Hundessa was an ethnic Oromo Christian (Ethiopian Orthodox). While Hachalu supported PM Abiy's vision of a united Ethiopia and was critical of militant Oromo ethnic nationalism, some of his song lyrics were unhelpfully xenophobic.

Hachalu's assassination has triggered some of the worst ethnic-religious violence seen in Ethiopia in recent times. The violence appears to have been organised with the intent to destabilise the nation and derail PM Abiy's reform agenda. Though widely reported as 'ethnic clashes', the reality is that gangs of Oromo nationalists specifically targeted ethnic Amhara Ethiopian Orthodox Christians living in some 40 districts of Oromia region. According to Archbishop Habune Henok whose diocese is in Oromia's West Arsi zone, the pogroms began at 4am the next morning (30 June) and the dead, wounded and displaced are all ethnic Amhara Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. The killings were savage, with victims being clubbed, hacked and stoned to death. The official toll to date is 239 dead with some 300 wounded, many critically. More than 3360 Amhara Christians are now displaced and sheltering in churches. Along with businesses, 493 homes belonging to Amhara Christians were torched. The military was deployed and some 4700 arrests made, 1600 in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia's ethnic regions
(click on map to enlarge)
In Addis Ababa, violence erupted over Hachalu's body, with Oromo nationalists demanding he be buried in the capital, while his family, with the support of the government, insisted he be buried in his birthplace of Ambo, 100km west of Addis. Security personnel were forced to intervene when a group of Oromo nationalists - a group which included Jawar Mohammed (an Oromo nationalist leader and fundamentalist Muslim) - attempted to intercept and snatch the body. A policeman was shot and Jawar Mohammed (34) – who, despite having citizenship issues, wants to contest the next election in opposition to Dr Abiy [see RLPB 526 (30 Oct 2019)] - was arrested. Jawar Mohammed's appearance in court is bound to be explosive. Furthermore, on Friday 10 July Ethiopia's Attorney General told a press conference in the capital that two of three suspects were in custody and that the shooter has confessed that Hachalu's assassination was commissioned by the Oromo Liberation Front (Shane Group), a militant faction of the Oromo Liberation Front.

What is at stake is the future of Ethiopia itself. This is a battle between the vision of a strong and united, multi-ethnic, multi-religious Ethiopia versus the dream of ethnic nationalists to rule themselves in independent states. Three decades of ethnic federalism has hardened ethnic identities, resulting in ethnic nationalism and separatism. These movements tend to be led by ambitious politicians (often self-centred megalomaniacs) whose aim it is to ride to power on the back of victim-hood narratives. It must be stated that Jawar Mohammed's Oromo ethnic nationalism is also fuelled by his Islamic worldview, which is no doubt why many Oromo Christians (like Hachalu Hundessa) tend not to support it. In a country like Ethiopia where people have moved around, lived together and intermarried for centuries, ethnic nationalism establishes ethnic minorities; minorities at risk of discrimination, subjugation, slaughter and ethnic cleansing as is being demonstrated so tragically in Oromia.

For a more detailed report see:
Slaughter in Oromia: The Battle for Ethiopia Heats Up
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 15 July 2020


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* intervene to bring peace to Ethiopia, in particular at this time to Oromia region; may 'steadfast love, justice, and righteousness' prevail. 'For in these things I delight, declares the Lord' (from Jeremiah 9:23-24).

* comfort those who are grieving; heal those who are wounded; provide food, water, shelter and medical aid to those who are displaced, and impart wisdom, grace, energy and authority to those who seek to lead according to the will and purpose of the Lord.

* awaken Ethiopia's Oromo nationalists to the fact that separatism can only bring massive bloodshed; may God prick their consciences and fill their hearts with horror; may the Spirit of God draw multitudes of ethnic Oromo away from ethnic nationalism and towards Prime Minister Abiy's vision of a strong, prosperous, reconciled and united Ethiopia. Lord have mercy!

* complete the good work he has begun in Ethiopia; may all evil plots be thwarted; and may the Lord bless our brother PM Abiy with security, wisdom, insight, discernment and strength, all while keeping him humble with 'eyes fixed on Jesus' (Hebrews 12:2).
8
Prayer for Ethiopia: Psalm 140

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
------------------------------------------------------------
SLAUGHTER IN ETHIOPIA

The assassination in Addis Ababa of a popular ethnic Oromo singer has triggered an explosion of ethnic-religious violence. The violence appears organised, designed to destabilise the nation and derail the reforms of Prime Minister Abiy (a Protestant Christian). Commencing at 4am on 30 June, gangs of Oromo nationalists specifically targeted ethnic Amhara Ethiopian Orthodox Christians living in some 40 districts of Oromia region. Victims were clubbed, hacked and stoned to death. The toll to date is 239 dead with some 300 wounded, many critically. Some 3360 Amhara Christians are displaced and sheltering in churches. Along with businesses, 493 homes belonging to Amhara Christians were torched. Some 4700 arrests have been made, including that of Oromo nationalist leader Jawar Mohammed (a fundamentalist Muslim). The situation is explosive. Please pray.

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UPDATE: TURKEY - THE FATE OF HAGIA SOPHIA
For background and prayer points see:
RLPB 552, Erdogan Stokes the Fire of Islamic Zeal, 3 June 2020.

On Friday 10 July Turkey's Council of State ruled that the government decree of 1934, which saw the Church of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) turned into a museum, had been unlawful. President Erdogan immediately signed a presidential decree handing control of the 'Hagia Sophia Mosque' to Turkey's religious affairs directorate, Diyanet. The World Heritage listed Byzantine Cathedral will open for Muslim prayers commencing Friday 24 July. While some opine that Erdogan's move is designed to erase Turkey's Christian heritage, it really is more about Erdogan's Islamist fantasy of supplanting Christianity and replacing it with Islam - a fantasy that extends well beyond Turkey! For Erdogan, this is all about Islamic conquest which, as he explains in his public address on Hagia Sophia, is a benevolent act! The implications for Turkey's Christian remnant - most of whom are Armenian, Assyrian and Greek descendants of genocide survivors - as well as her Turkish and Kurdish converts from Islam, are obvious. Please pray.

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

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

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

See www.ElizabethKendal.com

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

RLPB 557. Iran: Christians Exposed and Vulnerable

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 557 | Wed 08 Jul 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: CHRISTIANS EXPOSED AND VULNERABLE
By Elizabeth Kendal

Pooriya Peyma (27) and his wife Fatemeh Talebi (27),
Maryam Falahi (35) and her husband Sam Khosravi (36),   
Sam and Sasan's mother Khatoon Fatolahzadeh (61), 
Sasan Khosravi (35) and his wife Marjan Falahi (33),
and Habib Heydari (38).
A year ago, on 1 July 2019, Iranian authorities arrested eight Christian converts in the south-eastern Persian Gulf city of Bushehr (pictured right). Khatoon Fatolahzadeh was subsequently released because of her age. [For full details of the arrests, see RLPB 510 (10 July 2019).] In April 2020 the seven believers were convicted of 'propaganda against the state' (Article 500 of the penal code). On 21 June the revolutionary court in Bushehr handed the four men custodial sentences of up to one year in prison each, long enough to guarantee a criminal record. Upon release, brothers Sam and Sasan Khosravi will also face work restrictions and two years internal exile. The three women - Fatemeh Talebi, and sisters Maryam and Marjan Falahi - were fined. Maryam, who is a nurse, was also given a lifetime ban on working for any national institution, including the hospital where she has worked for the past 20 years. They are all expected to appeal.

On Tuesday evening 30 June police raided a house-church in western Tehran's Yaftabad district. All 30 believers present were taken to Intelligence headquarters where an officer read a list of names from an arrest warrant. Having been cited for arrest, six believers - Armenian-Iranian Christian Joseph Shahbazian and five Christian converts named Reza, Salar, Sonya and elderly sisters Mina and Maryam - were handcuffed, blindfolded, and taken away. Phones were confiscated, homes were searched and, according to eyewitnesses, some of the believers, along with some of their non-Christian family members, were beaten. Agents then went to the homes of three other Christian converts whose names were on the arrest warrant. Two men - Farhad and Arash - were arrested, as was Mrs Maliheh Nazari (46) who is married with two sons. Early on Wednesday morning 1 July, Christian converts Sohrab, Ebrahim and Yasser were arrested in the city of Malayer (400km south-west of Tehran). Most devastatingly, London-based Article 18 reports (3 July): 'It is believed that the raids were co-ordinated with the help of an informant, who had infiltrated the group within the past few months and gained their trust. This individual is reported to have accompanied the intelligence agents in their raid on the Tehran house-church, and to have even stood next to the judge as he later read out his bail demands.'

As outlined in RLPB 536 (12 Feb 2020), between November 2019 and January 2020, dozens of Iranian cities erupted in anti-regime protests, unprecedented in this post-Islamic Revolution era. Aware it was losing its grip on the masses, Iran's ruling Guardian Council then engineered February's parliamentary elections to ensure that Principlists/Conservatives (hard-liners) would dominate the new parliament [for results see RLPB 538 (26 Feb)]. NOTE: Principlists/Conservatives differ from Centrists/Reformists, primarily on economic policy. The Principlists seek a self-reliant and quasi-socialist Iran, while the Reformists advocate economic openness and foreign investment. While the Reformists are eager to take infidel money, the Principlists are determined to prevent ideological contagion. Critically, as the 2017 presidential election demonstrated, a majority of Iranians - being more Persian than Islamist - favour the idea of economic openness and engagement with the West [RLPB 408 (24 May 2017)]. Most are deeply disillusioned with the Islamic regime which has long stifled Persian culture and brought nothing but conflict, poverty, and despair.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (81) 
As RLPB warned in February 2020, 'persecution of Christians will escalate under a Principlist-dominated regime'. It is in this context that the parliament, in May, passed amendments to Articles 499 and 500 of the Islamic Penal Code. Those found guilty of 'deviant psychological manipulation' or 'propaganda contrary to Islam', whether in the 'real or virtual sphere', can now be labelled as 'sects' and punished with imprisonment, flogging, fines, or even the death penalty. For at least a decade now, Iran has avoided using religious language in its persecution of Christians, as it attracts criticism of Iran's human rights. Instead, Iran has been charging Christians with non-religious national security offences. The introduction of religious language into laws pertaining to national security, which will see Christians charged as being members of a 'sect', is a display of Principlist resistance that is very threatening indeed. It indicates that a supremely confident Principlist-dominated government no longer seeks or requires the approval of the West. The threat posed by this trend cannot be overstated.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT

* the ever-present Holy Spirit of God will refresh, sustain, comfort and encourage every Christian in Iran, especially those who are appealing fines and prison sentences, serving prison sentences, languishing in internal exile, enduring persecution or struggling with fear, anxiety and confusion. We pray acknowledging that many are young, and many are fragile and vulnerable new believers. Lord have mercy!

* the risen, victorious Lamb of God, who is 'Lord of lords and King of kings', will fulfil his glorious purposes in Iran; may God our loving Father redeem all suffering and bring about the victory of light over darkness (John 1:1-5).

'They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful'. (Rev 17:14 ESV)

'And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light'. (Genesis 1:3 ESV)

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIANS EXPOSED AND VULNERABLE IN IRAN

On 21 June seven Christian converts arrested in July 2019 - four men and three women (aged between 27 and 38) - received their sentences; all will appeal. On Tuesday evening 30 June, Iranian intelligence officers raided a house-church in a western suburb of Tehran. Of the 30 members taken into custody, six were arrested, handcuffed, blindfolded and taken away because their names were among 12 names on an arrest warrant. Six other believers whose names were also on the arrest warrant were subsequently targeted; three were arrested in Tehran that evening, and three were arrested the next morning in Malayer, 400km southwest of Tehran. Most critically, it is believed that the raids were co-ordinated with the help of an informant, who had infiltrated the group and gained their trust. 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).


Wednesday, July 1, 2020

RLPB 556. Syria and Lebanon: Church in Need

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 556 | Wed 01 Jul 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.
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SYRIA AND LEBANON: CHURCH IN NEED
By Elizabeth Kendal

SYRIA: CAESAR'S INHUMANITY

On 17 June the US government enacted its Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act which mandates that any foreign entity (state, business or individual) found to be conducting business with the Syrian government or entering into contracts related to reconstruction in government-held areas (which is where most Christians live) will face US sanctions [see RLPB 554 (17 June)]. Lamenting the move as 'inhuman' and 'diabolical', Maronite Archbishop Joseph Tobji of Aleppo echoed RLPB's assessment, that the Caesar Act is designed 'to increase the suffering of the population to fuel popular discontent and thus produce regime change' [RLPB 555 (24 June)]. It is, as RLPB noted, siege warfare by other means. As Ziad Ghisn (a Syrian journalist who specialises in economics reporting) explains: 'Whenever sanctions have been enforced, whether by a unilateral decision or by the Security Council, it has always been the people who have paid the biggest price – indeed, they are often the sole victim.'

'Syria sanctions indirectly hit children's cancer treatment'
(Reuters, 16 March 2017)
Ghisn's post on the London School of Economics' blog (April 2020) focuses on the devastating impact that years of Western sanctions have had on Syria's once thriving health sector. Syria's pharmaceutical industry too was once one of Syria's most successful, private sector-led industries. While it might be correct to say that Western sanctions do not directly target the health sector, this is a deception. In truth, Western sanctions have crippled Syria's health sector and pharmaceuticals industry by preventing access to raw materials for pharmaceuticals, medicine-enclosing and packaging materials (such as vials and ampules), hospital equipment, laboratory reagents and even repairs and spare parts for life-saving machines. Along with maternal and infant deaths, deaths from entirely treatable conditions have skyrocketed. In February 2019, Archbishop Tobji of Aleppo lamented that, while the bombs and terror had mostly ceased, the‘war of economics’ was hitting Syrians hard. The siege established by the Caesar Act ensures that the humanitarian crisis in government-held areas is set to escalate.

The human rights pretext for the Caesar Act comes from the more than 50,000 images, allegedly smuggled out of Syria by a defector code-named 'Caesar', purporting to show the bodies of Syrian civilians tortured to death in Assad's prisons. On this ground, the US declares, 'Assad must go!' It must be noted that the Caesar Report was commissioned by the pro-Muslim Brotherhood ruling family of Qatar, who are sworn enemies of Assad and integral to the regime-change-alliance. In December 2015, Human Rights Watch released a report titled 'If the Dead Could Speak', in which HRW concluded that these photos are simply unverified photos of dead people, nearly half of whom are Syrian soldiers and victims of rebel car bombs and other violence. So the pretext, too, is a deception! The US is acting on behalf of its human rights-abusing allies, Turkey and Saudi Arabia (who simply want to dominate Syria so they might run pipelines through its territory), and to spite Russia (which backed Assad) and China (which views Syria as integral to its Belt & Road Initiative). May the Lord have mercy on the Syrian people!

LEBANON: SECTARIAN TENSIONS IGNITE

'Lebanon on Precipice of Second Civil War'
(Reuters, 27 Nov 2019)
Nationwide protests against Lebanon's political leaders erupted in October 2019, triggered by an unprecedented economic crisis which has since been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. On 6 June protests descended into sectarian violence as calls rang out for Hezbollah to disarm. As veteran Middle East correspondent Dale Gavlak reports, 'That demand ignited violent rage from supporters of the powerful Shi'ite paramilitary group backed by Iran ...'

Shi'ite agitators aligned with Hezbollah and its ally, Amal, deliberately provoked sectarian conflict. Shi'ite agitators on 'around 200 motorbikes' stormed Ain el-Remmaneh - a poor Christian suburb southeast of Beirut close to the so-called Green Line which divides the city into Muslim and Christian sectors. Ain el-Remmaneh - a hot-spot for Muslim-Christian violence during the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) - is the birthplace of Samir Geagea, who leads the Christian party 'Lebanese Forces' and is an outspoken critic of Hezbollah. Clashes ensued and a tense stand-off persisted throughout the day. The Shi'ite agitators also provoked the Sunnis by chanting Shia sectarian slogans against Aisha, Muhammad's third and youngest wife who waged war against the fourth Caliph, Ali (Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law), a Shia. Sunnis regard this as akin to blasphemy!

President Michel Aoun labelled the unrest an 'alarm bell' and called a meeting for national unity, which most key stakeholders boycotted. Protesters hit the streets again on 11, 12, 13, 18, 25 and 30 June to protest the cost of living, which is soaring as the value of the Lebanese pound continues to plummet. Analysts agree that Lebanon is facing the biggest threat to its stability since the end of the country's civil war. The risk is that the unrest could turn sectarian, something a besieged Hezbollah might assess is in its interests.

PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL
* provide the Church in Syria with her every need, in particular with all the food, water, shelter, medicines and educational resources she requires, not only for herself and her own survival but also for her numerous and varied humanitarian and outreach ministries (see Matthew 6:31-33).

* intervene in Lebanon to subvert all plots to trigger sectarian conflict; may peace reign and those who plot evil fall into their own traps (see Psalm 7:14-16).

* provide Lebanon's Christian leaders - political, civic and religious - with all the wisdom, discernment, courage and grace they will need to lead their people through the storms that lie ahead.

* move by his Spirit in Syria and Lebanon to redeem all suffering, all grief and all anxiety and use it to draw those who are lost towards the Saviour, as well as those who are believers into a deeper relationship with their Saviour. May the Lord bring revival and spiritual unity to the churches of Syria and Lebanon.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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SYRIA AND LEBANON - CHURCH IN NEED

In Syria's government-held areas (where most Christians live), military conflict may be over but a 'war of economics' continues to claim the lives of Syrian civilians, who now die because of Western sanctions. Whilst not directly targeting Syria's health sector, Western sanctions have crippled it by preventing access to raw materials for pharmaceuticals and medical equipment for life-saving treatments. The US Caesar Act sanctions, enacted on 17 June, will escalate this humanitarian crisis enormously. Meanwhile, in neighbouring Lebanon, anti-government protests launched in October last year risk turning sectarian. On 6 June pro-Hezbollah Shi'ite agitators on some 200 motorbikes stormed a Christian area, triggering clashes. Shi'ite agitators also provoked Sunnis with highly offensive sectarian slogans, triggering more clashes. Lebanon's peace is exceedingly fragile! Please pray for the Church in Syria and Lebanon.

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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).