Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 577| Wed 25 Nov 2020
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NOVEMBER 2020 UPDATE
By Elizabeth Kendal
NOVEMBER 2020 UPDATE - during this period we prayed concerning
* PAKISTAN [RLPB 574 (4 Nov)], where once again a Pakistani High Court had validated the 'marriage' of an abducted Christian minor girl to her Muslim abductor, despite child marriage being illegal in Pakistan. However, this time social media lit up and a flood of public indignation shamed the court into action. On 2 November the Sindh High Court ordered that police recover Arzoo Raja (13) and arrest her abductor, Ali Azhar (44).
UPDATE ON PAKISTAN'S 'REAL PANDEMIC'
On 9 November, having determined that Arzoo Raja was indeed underage, the Sindh High Court reversed its decision and invalidated the marriage. However, the issue of forced conversion was not addressed; neither was that of whether Ali Azhar had committed statutory rape. Instead, Mr Azhar has been charged with marrying an underage child in violation of the child marriage act; a bailable offence with a maximum punishment of three years or a fine of 100,000 rupees (US$630) or both. By her own choice, Arzoo was returned to the women's shelter where she had been living while her case was being determined. On Monday 23 November, the court ruled that Arzoo should remain in the government-run shelter until she turns 18. The family's attorney, Jibran Nasir, maintains Arzoo has been well-groomed and brainwashed. Karachi-based rights activist Qayyum Bahadur believes Arzoo is deeply traumatised and that she remains at risk. Please pray.
In court Mr Azhar's lawyer had argued that the marriage was legitimate because Islamic Sharia Law permits marriage to girls who have attained puberty and that Sharia should take precedence. However, this time that argument did not prevail. In February 2020 the Sindh High Court legitimised the forced marriage of Christian minor girl Huma Younus (then aged 14) to her Muslim abductor, Abdul Jabbar, on the grounds that Sharia permits marriage to girls who have attained puberty. And so Huma, now 15 and pregnant, remains his captive. Surely that ruling must now be challenged! Please pray.
Reports have emerged concerning the abduction and forced marriage of Christian minor girl Farah Shaheen (12). According to her father (a poor labourer), Farah was abducted from the family home in Ahmedabad, Faisalabad division, Punjab Province in June. She was then forcibly converted to Islam and married to her Muslim abductor, Khizar Ahmad Ali (45). The police have been both unsympathetic and unhelpful. Commenting on the crime, the group Justice for Pakistani Minorities calls it Pakistan's 'real pandemic'. Please pray.
Churches are preparing to petition the Supreme Court that it might 'give a clear direction to the government, law enforcement agencies and the subordinate judiciary to take concrete steps on this crucial issue'. Let us pray in solidarity with the Church in Pakistan, 'for laws that defend our daughters'. Please pray.
Arzoo Raja (13), Huma Younus (14), Farah Shaheen (12)
Abduction, Conversion and Child Marriage of Religious Minority Girls in Pakistan. Report by Jubilee Campaign, 19 Nov 2020
* ARTSAKH [RLPB 575 (11 Nov)], where a Russia-brokered ceasefire has stopped the killing (for now). However, the threat of Armenian genocide still hangs over Artsakh.
UPDATE ON THE CHRISTIAN CRISIS IN ARTSAKH
The Christian crisis in Artsakh is anything but over; numerous issues need to be addressed. First, there is the threat of cultural erasure. The territory seized by and handed to Azerbaijan is rich in Armenian cultural heritage, including hundreds of Armenian churches, monasteries and khachkars (intricately carved Armenian crosses/headstones), many dating back to the 13th Century and earlier. Most analysts anticipate that Azerbaijan will move quickly to erase as much Armenian heritage as it can get away with, just as it has done in Nakhichevan. Secondly, there is the issue of Israel's support for a genocidal regime against an existentially threatened nation of genocide survivors. This round of conflict was won with drones, in particular cutting-edge Israeli-made drones and loitering munitions. Shushi fell to Turkey-backed Azeri and jihadi forces because an Israeli LORA (super accurate LOng RAnge missile) blew out the bridge into Shushi, leaving Armenian forces cut off and trapped. No wonder Azeris in Baku celebrated with Israeli flags! Some serious prayer and advocacy is needed on this front! Thirdly, despite being sidelined by the Russia-brokered deal, the Turkish parliament has passed a resolution to send Turkish troops to Azerbaijan, supposedly to 'monitor the ceasefire' with drones. Russia insists the Turks must be confined to the joint monitoring centre in Baku. But who is to say the drones will not be used less for 'monitoring' and more for reconnaissance ahead of a 'final solution'? Please pray.
|Armenians say farewell to Dadivank Monastery |
(Caucasian Knot, 21 Nov 2020)
Left Behind? Churches, Monasteries Due For Handover To Azerbaijan.
RFE/RL photo gallery 14 Nov 2020
* ETHIOPIA [RLPB 576 (18 Nov)], where a battle (both spiritual and physical) for Ethiopia is underway. Opposition forces - particularly the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF, which dominated, terrorised and exploited Ethiopia from 1991 to 2018) - are threatening to destabilise not merely the nation, but the entire Horn of Africa. It is imperative that the battle currently raging in Tigray between Ethiopia's reformist government and the TPLF end quickly and that the Ethiopian National Defence Force prevails. The battle for Mekelle (the capital of Tigray) looms. Please pray that God will deliver the TPLF's human shields and facilitate civilian flight to safety. May God intervene to deliver justice, liberty, security and peace. Not only would destabilisation be catastrophic for Ethiopia's Christians (who comprise around 63 percent of the population); the chaos would be a gift for the region's Islamic jihadists who are already primed and ready to pounce. Please pray.
NOVEMBER 2020 ROUND-UP - also this month
* CYPRUS: OTTOMAN STORM AHEAD
As noted in RLPB 573 (28 Oct), 'the status quo is over!' Not only has neo-Ottoman Turkey been building up its troops in Turkey-occupied northern Cyprus, it has also managed, through massive interference, to engineer an electoral coup which saw pro-unification premier Mustafa Akinci (vilified in Turkish media as a 'Greek lover') replaced with neo-Ottoman hardliner Ersin Tatar (recognised widely as an Erdogan lover). Greek Cypriots are alarmed, as are many Turkish Cypriots, especially youths born and raised on Cyprus who see themselves as Cypriots as distinct from Turks. When Turkey's President Erdogan visited northern Cyprus on 15 November, he was met with protests from Turkish Cypriots who do not want to see the island partitioned and northern Cyprus annexed into Turkey, something many analysts believe is on the cards. After all, Turkey's Foreign Ministry insists that Cyprus is 'an extension of the Anatolian Peninsula'. At Erdogan's instigation, Ersin Tatar will soon visit Azerbaijan. 'After 28 years, the Azerbaijanis are beginning to return to their native lands,' Erdogan told Turkish Cypriots on 15 November. 'As long as we are united, we can overcome any problems and obstacles. May Allah have mercy upon our martyrs, thanks to whom we are able to live in these glorious days.' The situation on Cyprus - long a hub for Christian mission into the Middle East - warrants close attention and ardent prayer. Please pray.
* EGYPT: 'BLASPHEMY' AND ABDUCTION
In recent weeks, Egyptian authorities arrested numerous citizens accused of 'blasphemy', including several Christians. On 11 November, police arrested Christian teacher Youssef Hany and a female Muslim student over comments they had made on Facebook deemed to have defamed Islam. Both were charged with insulting a 'heavenly religion' and released on bail. Social media subsequently lit up with threats to kill the blasphemer (Hany). Also on 11 November Coptic Christians Ayman Rida Hanna and Mounir Masaad Hanna were referred to the criminal court, accused of mocking Islam and insulting religion. The men had been arrested in June 2019 after they appeared in a video discussing prayer in Islam and held in pre-trial detention ever since. Furthermore, on the evening of 8 November, Nabil Habashy Salameh (61), was abducted near his home in Bir al-Abd, North Sinai Province, a region long-plagued with terrorism and largely 'cleansed' of Christians [see RLPB 396 (1 March 2017)]. A Coptic Christian businessman, Mr Salameh, is responsible for building the only church in Bir al-Abd. Mr Salameh was snatched off a busy street by three gunmen who forced him into a stolen get-away car and sped away firing shots into the air. The family holds grave fears for his life. Please pray.
* INDONESIA: 'BLASPHEMY' AND THREATS
In 2016, as leader of Indonesia's Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), Rizieq Shihab (55) led the 212 (2 December) anti-blasphemy protests against Jakarta's former ethnic-Chinese Christian governor Basuki Tjahaha 'Ahok' Purnama [see: RLPB 383 (9 Nov 2016)]. In April 2017 Shihab fled pornography charges in Indonesia after he was found sex-texting with a woman not his wife; the charges were subsequently dropped.
|The return of Rizieq Shihab (10 Nov)|
On 10 November, after three years in self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia, the firebrand Islamist anti-blasphemy campaigner returned to Indonesia to launch a 'moral revolution'. Many thousands of white-clad Islamists filled the airport and lined the highway to ensure Shihab received a rapturous hero's welcome. The Indonesian government has been rocked by the cleric's obvious popularity. The 212 anti-blasphemy movement might have fragmented in Shihab's absence, but the cleric has announced a 212 reunion for 2 December 2020. Tensions are soaring.
On Sunday 15 November a 40-second video clip was uploaded to FPI's YouTube channel. It shows Rizieq Shihab demanding the Indonesian government act swiftly against anyone accused of blasphemy. 'To the government, especially the police, let us tell you: If you don't want what happened in France, where someone who insulted the Prophet was beheaded, then we implore you to [follow up on] reports on blasphemers. If [the police] fail to process [accusations of blasphemy], then don't blame the Muslims when a head is found on the streets.' The trend bodes ill for Indonesian Christians. Please pray.
* IRAN: JAIL AND INTIMIDATION
On 17 November, Article 18 reported that four more Christians had received prison sentences in Iran. 'Mehdi Akbari, Fatemeh Sharifi and Simin Soheilinia were given 10 years, and Mehdi Roohparvar five, all under the same charge of "acting against national security by forming a house-church".' Article 18 can verify that 'Mehdi A and Mehdi R are both now serving their sentences in Ward 4 of Tehran's Evin Prison. ... It is therefore assumed that Fatemeh and Simin are in the women's ward of the prison ...' Little is known about their case. Article 18 also reports that on 11 November intelligence agents raided 12 Christian homes in Fardis, on the western outskirts of Tehran. Nobody was arrested, but phones, laptops, Bibles and everything that had anything to do with Christianity were confiscated. Please pray for the Church in Iran.
* IVORY COAST: CHRISTIAN CRISIS LOOMS
Deeply divided Ivory Coast went to the polls on 31 October [see RLPB 572, 'Election Peril' (20 October)]. Violence erupted before the election after the incumbent Alassane Outtara (a northern Muslim backed by colonial power France) announced he would run for a third term, violating the constitution, which sets a two-term limit. Leading opposition candidates (non-Muslim southerners) called for a boycott. On 9 November the same Constitutional Council that approved Outtara's unconstitutional candidacy confirmed his victory, having secured 94 percent of the vote. Opposition supporters took to the streets, only to be attacked with stones, machetes and firearms. Amnesty International reports 55 deaths and 282 injuries between 31 October and 10 November. At least 20,000 southerners have been displaced, with some 8000 fleeing into neighbouring states, particularly Liberia and Ghana. Numerous leading political opposition figures have been arrested, including presidential candidate Pascal Affi N'Guessan who has been charged with 'attack and conspiracy against the state authority, murder and acts of terrorism'. President of Laurent Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front party, N'Guessan served as Prime Minister under President Gbagbo (a Christian) from 2000-2003; his whereabouts are unknown. Once a hub for Christian missions into West and North Africa, Ivory Coast is again on the brink of an ethno-religious civil war and full-blown Christian crisis. Please pray.
* UGANDA: PASTOR MURDERED FOR HIS MINISTRY
|map: location circled.|
Mourners at burial of slain pastor David Omara.
Wednesday 4 Nov. (Morning Star News)
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).