Tuesday, September 29, 2020

RLPB 569. September Update, incl. India, Sudan, Pakistan, Armenia vs Azerbaijan, Laos, Nigeria, Papua (Indonesia)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 569| Wed 30 Sep 2020
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SEPTEMBER 2020 UPDATE
By Elizabeth Kendal

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." (Matthew 28:18 ESV)

SEPTEMBER 2020 UPDATE - during this period we prayed concerning:

* UZBEKISTAN [RLPB 565 (2 Sep)], where a highly repressive Religion Law is currently under review. Unfortunately, the draft law made available on 19 August was very disappointing, especially as the government of reformist President Shavkat Mirziyoyev had indicated a willingness to address the issue of religious liberty. As a key Silk Road hub, Uzbekistan is a highly strategic country. Please pray that God will give the government courage to amend the draft religion law and to uphold, protect and defend religious freedom, free speech and security. May God protect and bless his Church in Uzbekistan.

* INDIA [RLPB 566 (9 Sep)], where the Hindu nationalist Sangh Parivar - of which the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the political arm - continues to incite communalism and exacerbate India's Christian Crisis.

UPDATE: LAW TO CRIPPLE FOREIGN FUNDED NGOs

The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment (FCRA) Bill, 2020, was introduced into the Lok Sabha (House of the People, the lower house of parliament) on 20 September. As reported in The Hindu (21 Sep): the Bill passed on Monday 21 September, 'even as the Opposition raised concerns that the legislation may be used to target political opponents and religious minorities'. The Hindu explains: 'The FCRA regulates foreign donations and ensures that such contributions do not adversely affect the internal security of the country.' The Wire elaborates (22 Sep): only a person 'registered to accept foreign contributions' may receive them; and 'organisations receiving foreign funds will no longer be able to transfer them to small NGOs [non-government organisations] working at the grassroots level'. As NGOs note, this will 'kill' the entire sector.

Staines family

Most Indian critics of the Bill seem very accepting of the fact that the law's purpose is to weed out NGOs that engage in 'dubious activities' and which 'cause mischief', specifically those which attract hostility because they have 'engaged in [religious] conversion'. In his defence of the Bill, the honourable Member from Uttar Pradesh, Mr Satya Pal Singh, raised the case of Mr Graham Staines. The Australian missionary cared for poor lepers in the north-eastern state of Odisha (then known as Orrisa) from 1965 until January 1999 when he and his two sons, Philip (10) and Timothy (6), were martyred, burnt to death by militants belonging to the Hindu nationalist youth militia, Bajrang Dal. Ignoring 30 years of compassionate humanitarian service, proponents (and opponents!) of the FCRA cite the Staines' ministry as an example of the sort that needs to be stopped. In the view of the Hindu nationalist-dominated Indian parliament, the problem is not the religious intolerance of Hindutva, but religious conversion, something previously regarded as a fundamental human right (as per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18). The Evangelical Fellowship of India has protested the besmirching of Graham Staines' legacy and requested the record be corrected.

Please pray that the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment (FCRA) Bill, 2020, and the attitudes behind it, will attract all the international criticism and indignation that it deserves until it is amended. And may the LORD provide his servants with everything they need as they continue, in the face of escalating violent persecution, to bring light and life to India.

* SUDAN [RLPB 567 (16 Sep)], where the transitional government of Prime Minister Hamdok is advancing peace and liberty, despite the ever-present threat of Islamic resistance.

UPDATE: A PLEA FOR SUDAN

Sudan is straining under the burden of severe economic crisis. The transitional government of Prime Minister Hamdok desperately wants the US to remove Sudan from its state sponsor of terrorism list so it can receive aid and investment. PM Hamdok has pleaded with the US not to link sanctions relief to recognition of Israel, for not only is the situation in Sudan simply too volatile at this stage, but the transitional government does not have a mandate to alter foreign policy. Like many others, PM Hamdok believes Sudan deserves sanctions relief precisely because, since its transformative revolution - which ousted the terror-sponsoring Islamic regime - the transitional government has been advancing peace, freedom (including religious freedom) and democracy. The state is fragile; the situation is volatile. Without sanctions relief the government might collapse, which would give Islamists and the military the opportunity they crave. Please pray for Sudan.

* PAKISTAN [RLPB 568 (23 Sep)], where, despite the October 2018 acquittal of Asia Bibi (a well- known Christian victim of Pakistan's notorious blasphemy law), Christians continue to suffer disproportionately - even sentenced to death - due to malicious accusations of 'blasphemy'. (There are currently no updates on the cases mentioned.) Please pray.

UPDATE to 'Pakistan: No Christian Girl is Safe' [RLPB 564 (26 Aug)]

Maira Shahbaz (14) has escaped from the home of her Muslim captor and abuser, the already married businessman Mr Mohamad Nakash, whom the Lahore High Court deemed to be her husband. Maira, her mother, Nighat, and three siblings have together gone into hiding. Nakash has threatened to kill them all. A family friend told Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need, 'Maira is traumatised. She cannot speak. We want to take her to the doctor, but we are afraid we might be spotted. We are all very frightened, but we place our trust in God'. Please pray.


SEPTEMBER 2020 ROUND-UP - also this month

* ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN, NAGORNO-KARABAKH AND TURKEY

On 27 September fighting erupted between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Orthodox Christian ethnic Armenian enclave inside Turkic Muslim Azerbaijan. [For a helpful explanation, see 'Nagorno-Karabakh: Europe's Post-Soviet "Frozen War"' (Now This World, 28 Jan 2018) YouTube 4:19; and RLPB 560, July Update (29 July 2020)]. Provocations and accusations aside (for now), the clashes portend a serious escalation and an existential threat to the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh. Neo-Ottoman Turkey (a NATO member and the biggest threat to peace in the region) immediately expressed its support for Azerbaijan and appealed for international action against Armenia which it labelled 'the biggest threat to peace in the region'! Azerbaijani forces have captured six Armenian-held villages and the strategic 3000-metre-high Murovdag peak in Karabakh. According to Nagorno-Karabakh leader, Arayik Harutyunyan, the Turkish government has airlifted hundreds (or thousands) of Syrian mercenaries/jihadists into Azerbaijan. His claim is supported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR, 28 September) and independent Turkish media (Ahval, 27 September). Turkey's President Erdogan has long dreamt of establishing a neo-Ottoman Islamic empire. A century after the Armenian Genocide, neo-Ottoman Turkey still dreams of eliminating Armenians. Please pray.

* LAOS: THE NEED FOR THE GOSPEL

Lao Christians expelled form their homes 
RFA Feb 2020
According to reports, the Communist government in Laos has passed a law aimed at improving the situation for evangelical Christians. Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports (23 September): 'The Law on the Evangelical Church, approved and signed into law on December 19, 2019, allows Lao Christians the right to conduct services and preach throughout the country and to maintain contacts with believers in other countries. Lao churches must fund their own operations, however, and must obey other Lao laws, rules, and regulations.' In rural areas, tribal animists have long viewed Christians as 'bad elements' who attract the wrath of belligerent spirits. Christians have been denied food and driven from their villages by angry, fearful animists. Despite immense suffering, the Church is growing [see RLPB 287 (19 Nov 2014)]. According to RFA, church members are working with the Interior Ministry - holding seminars and meeting with local authorities - to make the law more widely known. This is truly amazing! Please pray that as the law is explained, the light of Christ and the liberty he offers might also shine through. Pray for the Church in Laos.

Laotians need Jesus; which is why the Church needs liberty. For a wonderful story of how Christ is at work through his Church in Laos, see Christian Aid Mission, news (24 September).

* NIGERIA: CHRISTIAN CRISIS RAVAGES THE NORTH

(1) KIDNAPPING AND DEATH IN KATSINA AND KANO

Hassana and Hussaina 
At 10:30pm on Friday 18 September in Nigeria's northern state of Katsina, well-organised criminal elements (suspected Fulani) shot Ibrahim Garba through the stomach and kidnapped his teenage twin daughters, Hassana and Hussaina, both of whom are Christians. Ibrahim, who is an elder in the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), survived the shooting and was hospitalised. The family was attacked in their home beside the church in Kwakware village, Kankara Local Government Area. Kwakware area resident Charles Yahaya told Morning Star News (22 September): 'This is one incident among many. It is the sustained and targeted kidnapping of Christian girls in northern Nigeria, after which they are forcefully converted to Islam and married off, thereby becoming sex slaves. Something is going on in our country that needs to be addressed systematically and collectively by all well-meaning citizens.' Meanwhile kidnappings and killings continue to plague Kaduna, despite a curfew (see MSN). Please pray.

2) BLASPHEMY IN KANO; SHARIA UNCONSTITUTIONAL

Several blasphemy cases have been registered recently in Nigeria's northern state of Kano; one in particular has attracted worldwide attention. On 25 April the head of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, Mubarak Bala (36 - an apostate) typed a post to Facebook in which he called Islam's prophet, Muhammad, a terrorist. Kano lawyers registered a complaint. Three days later Bala was arrested; he has not been seen since. Yahaya Sharif-Aminu (22) - a singer with the Tijaniya sect - was accused of blasphemy in March after he composed and sang a song in which he elevated another 'prophet' above Muhammad. In August, a sharia court sentenced Yahaya to death by hanging. Also in late August, a court in Kano sentenced Omar Farouq (13) to 10 years' jail for blasphemy because of remarks he made to another child during an argument. On 25 September the head of the Auschwitz Memorial in Poland, Piotr Cywinski, wrote to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, not simply requesting his intervention, but offering to gather 120 adult volunteers (of which he would be one) each of whom will serve a month of the boy's sentence. While President Buhari might opt to pardon the boy in an effort to make the now embarrassing case go away, the issue of sharia in northern Nigeria simply must be addressed for it is unconstitutional, discriminatory and contributes enormously to Islamic radicalisation and the persecution of Christians. Please pray.

* PAPUA (INDONESIA): PASTOR KILLED

Rev Yeremia Zanambani. 
On 19 September Rev Yeremia Zanambani was shot dead while tending to his pigs. Jakarta Post reports (21 September): 'Yeremia was the head of a theological school in Hitadipa district in Intan Jaya and a pastor in the Imanuel Hutadipa congregation of the Indonesian Evangelical Christian Church (GKII). He was also a Bible translator and a community leader of the Moni tribe.' Terrified locals - members of seven Christian congregations - have fled into the bush. Executives of the GKII and the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI), as well as figures from the Moni tribe, are currently probing the incident and have appealed to President Widodo, requesting a full investigation. Papuans believe Yeremia was shot dead by Indonesia troops (TNI). Meanwhile, the TNI insists that a separatist militia shot the pastor to discredit the TNI ahead of the UN General Assembly (commencing 22 September). The situation in the mostly Christian Papuan Provinces is at crisis point; calls for a referendum grow louder by the day. 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