Tuesday, November 24, 2020

RLPB 577. November Update, incl. Pakistan, Artsakh, Ethiopia, Cyprus, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Ivory Coast, Uganda.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 577| Wed 25 Nov 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to “Follow by email” on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog. http://rlprayerbulletin.blogspot.com  ‘For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV).

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)


RECOMMENDED:

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)
MORE images:
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)

On Saturday 31 October a mob of fundamentalist Muslims ambushed and murdered Pastor David Omara (64) of Christian Church Center, presumably to end his Gospel ministry. Well known as a radio preacher, Pastor Omara had just finished a radio broadcast, in which he compared Christianity and Islam, when he received a phone call supposedly from an appreciative inquirer requesting a meeting. Pastor Omara and his son, Simon Okut, left the studio in Aduku (24km east of Apac), Kwania District, Northern Uganda Region, at around 9pm. Simon Okut told Morning Star News: 'As we arrived at the said [meeting] place, there came out of the bush six people dressed in Islamic attire, and they started strangling and beating my father with blunt objects.' Upon learning the news of her husband's death, Pastor Omara's wife wailed, fainted with shock and had to be admitted to hospital. The couple have eight children aged 30, 26, 22, 20, 18, 15, 13 and 10. Concerning Omara's ministry, a colleague remarked, 'He worked tirelessly for the kingdom of God to the day he breathed his last breath.' 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, November 17, 2020

RLPB 576. Ethiopia: Collapse Would Trigger Christian Crisis

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 576 | Wed 18 Nov 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to “Follow by email” on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog‘For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV). 

ETHIOPIA: COLLAPSE WOULD TRIGGER CHRISTIAN CRISIS
By Elizabeth Kendal

BACKGROUND: THE BATTLE FOR ETHIOPIA

Ethiopian children (source: Compassion)

God is forever at work in this world; and forever his work is both old and new. It is old in that his message has never changed: 'repent and be reconciled to God', yet new in that the message is constantly being heard in new and exciting ways and in new and exciting places as the Spirit of God sweeps like waters through a land, or blows like wind through a people. It is clear today that God is doing a new and unprecedented work among the world's Muslims. One of the first countries to experience this was Ethiopia - an empire comprising both Semitic and Cushite peoples. In 1910, Shaikh Zekaryas (an Amharic Muslim) converted to Christianity, took the name Niwaiye Kristos ('Property of Christ') and was baptised along with 3000 of his disciples. Blessed with freedom, thousands more Muslims subsequently followed. Today, according to reports, the Spirit of God is moving again in Ethiopia (see Operation World 2010). Unsurprisingly, resistance is mounting. [See: Reforms and Resistance, Religious Liberty Monitoring (25 June 2018).] Disgruntled forces both inside and outside the country are plotting to unleash mayhem, bring down the government and fragment the state. Indeed, a major battle has begun! 'For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places' (Ephesians 6:12 ESV).

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ETHIOPIA: COLLAPSE WOULD TRIGGER CHRISTIAN CRISIS

On 29 October the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) released a report by its Senior Study Group on Peace and Security in the Red Sea Arena. Its warnings with regard to the situation in Ethiopia should drive us to our kneels. The report notes that political transitions in Sudan and Ethiopia have 'set the region on a transformative new trajectory toward reform and stability'. However, it warns that state failure 'would send a tidal wave of instability across Africa and the Middle East' (page 4). On page 10 we read: 'Given their populations of approximately 45 million and 105 million, Sudan and Ethiopia are respectively more than two times and six times the size of prewar Syria. Fragmentation of either country would be the largest state collapse in modern history, likely leading to mass inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflict; a dangerous vulnerability to exploitation by extremists; an acceleration of illicit trafficking, including of arms; as well as a humanitarian and security crisis at the crossroads of Africa and the Middle East on a scale that would overshadow the existing conflicts in South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen.' 

Political map of Ethiopia
(click on map to enlarge)
Within days of the USIP report's publication, the 32-month-long Cold War between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray Peoples' Liberation Front (TPLF) had turned hot in Tigray. [Explanation in English by Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed.] As noted in last week's RLPB 575 (11 Nov) 'Update on Ethiopia', with the government now focused on fighting the TPLF (as distinct from 'Tigraens') in Tigray, 'the security situation elsewhere in Ethiopia could deteriorate quickly and markedly'. Consequently, it is imperative that the government's 'law enforcement operation' against the TPLF be both successful and rapid. To that end, it is imperative that the new government in Khartoum (Sudan) not follow the course of its predecessor - President Omar al-Bashir, who supported the TPLF - but support the Ethiopian government's vision for a strong and united Ethiopia, as much for its own sake as for Ethiopia's. If Khartoum backs Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), as does Asmara (Eritrea), then the TPLF will be besieged, lacking support and supply.

On 9 November there was a military operation by the Ethiopian Defence Forces (EDF) and Amhara Special Force against the Tigray Special Police and militia at a place called Lugdi, in which the government forces prevailed. In retaliation, that night the TPLF sent forces into Mycadra - a nearby market town - where they led a quiet (no gunfire) massacre of non-Tigraens. When government forces entered the town the following day they were met with scenes of bloodshed, slaughter and the bodies of as many as 500 non-Tigraens (mostly day-labourers) hacked to death with knives and machetes. [See report by Amnesty International (12 Nov).] Dr Abrham Amare, a surgery resident at Bahir Dar University, Amhara, reports that the dead are almost all Amharan. He laments: 'Everyone has killed his neighbour. Wife killed her husband' (who was brought to the hospital but could not be saved). On 14 November the TLPF claimed responsibility for rocket strikes on Asmara (the capital of Eritrea), Bahir Dar (the capital of Amhara State) and historic Gondar, and threatened more. According to reports, TPLF troops have retreated from southern Tigray's Raya and Alamata towns. Headed for Mekele (Tigray's capital) they were taking with them some 10,000 hostages, mostly youths (probably pro-government) they had rounded up and detained before fighting commenced.

Meanwhile, on 14 November, gunmen in the western Benishangul-Gumuz region (an ethnically mixed region bordering Sudan's Blue Nile State) slaughtered at least 34 people in an attack on a passenger bus. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said there were reports of 'similar' attacks, particularly in Wubgish, Yamp and Kido districts, and of people fleeing the violence. According to unconfirmed reports, the victims of the bus attack were mainly ethnic Oromo and Sinasha, while the attackers were 'anti-peace' agents backed by the TPLF'. Also, on 14 November, the government announced it had arrested 14 al-Shabaab and Islamic State (IS) terrorists who were on a mission to attack targets in the capital, Addis Ababa, and other parts of the country. Ethiopian security and intelligence forces had been tracking the terrorists, who had hoped to exploit the current insecurity to commit a terror attack in Addis.

PLEASE PRAY: MAY OUR SOVEREIGN, ALMIGHTY AND MERCIFUL GOD

* intervene in Ethiopia to thwart all evil plots designed to unleash mayhem, bring down the government, and fragment the state; may God's good plans for Ethiopia prevail. (Psalm 146)

* intervene for Ethiopia to provide the reformist government with all the international support it needs to advance reforms and tackle resistance; may the government have wisdom to know how to move forward in a way that pleases the Lord and advances HIS good purposes.

* raise up peacemakers in the Church who can lead, heal and unify the people (Matthew 5:9), and open doors for humanitarian aid to be delivered; may God prove himself faithful to those trusting him for food, water, medical aid, shelter and protection.

* redeem this crisis to draw ever more Ethiopians to Christ and the Ethiopian Church ever closer to Jesus who 'always lives to make intercession for them' (Hebrews 7:25). May all Satan's plans be turned upside-down.

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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COLLAPSE IN ETHIOPIA WOULD TRIGGER CHRISTIAN CRISIS

The Spirit of God is active in Ethiopia. Furthermore, Ethiopia's new government is enacting major reforms that will benefit not only the state, but the whole region. However, resistance is mounting (Ephesians 6:12). Disgruntled internal and external forces are at work to unleash mayhem, bring down the government and fragment the state. This would be catastrophic for Ethiopia, but especially for Ethiopian Christians. State collapse would trigger massive ethnic-religious cleansing while a security vacuum would open the door for criminals and militant Islamists. Today, the government is fighting oppositional forces in Tigray State; massacres of ethnic minorities are increasing, and al-Shabaab and Islamic State terrorists have been arrested in Addis Ababa. The risk of state collapse and the crisis this would create for Ethiopian Christians cannot be overstated. 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, November 10, 2020

RLPB 575. Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh): Genocide Postponed?

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 575 | Wed 11 Nov 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to “Follow by email” on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog. ‘For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV). 

ARTSAKH / NAGORNO KARABAKH: GENOCIDE POSTPONED?
plus Update on Ethiopia
By Elizabeth Kendal

Stepanakert: Cathedral basement
as bomb shelter.

On 8 October shells struck Shushi's Ghazanchetsots (Holy Saviour) Cathedral [see RLPB 573 (28 Oct)]. Perched atop a strategic high point, Shushi - Artsakh's second largest town - sits at the top end of the Lachin Corridor (the strategic mountain pass and link to Armenia) and just 14km south of the Artsakh capital Stepanakert. On Sunday morning 8 November, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev announced that Shushi ('Shusha' in Azeri) had been 'liberated'. 'The adhan [Islamic call to prayer] will be heard in Shusha after 28 years,' he declared triumphantly. Armenian officials denied the reports, insisting that Shushi had not yet fallen. That said, video footage and updates on Live Map clearly indicated that Azeri troops were inside the city. With the fall of Shushi, the Lachin Corridor was closed and Stepanakert was cut off from Armenia, leaving many tens of thousands of Artsakh Armenians trapped.

The fall of Shushi was a decisive, pivotal moment in the Battle for Artsakh. With a humanitarian catastrophe looming, Russia and neo-Ottoman Turkey brokered an agreement to end the fighting. In the early hours of Tuesday 10 November Armenia's Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, announced that 'after a deep analysis of the military situation' he had made the 'very painful decision' to sign the deal which came into effect at 1:00am local time. Artsakh President, Arayik Harutyunyan, explained the decision to sign the agreement: 'I do not know how history will evaluate the decision we made yesterday [Monday night, 9 November], but we were obliged to. Had the hostilities continued at the same pace, we would have lost the whole of Artsakh in a matter of days.'

The Agreement stipulates that both sides will maintain their current territorial positions, meaning Azerbaijan will retain all the military gains it has achieved since the start of the conflict, including the strategic mountain fortress town of Shushi. Furthermore, Armenia will return the seven raions/districts surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh which it seized during the 1988-94 war for the purpose of establishing a buffer zone. [These districts were majority Azerbaijani and were ethnically cleansed during the course of that conflict.] With Shushi now under Azerbaijani control, a new corridor will be established from Lachin (town) to Stepanakert. Almost 2000 Russian peacekeepers have been deployed to uphold the ceasefire. Over the past six weeks, some 100,000 Artsakh Armenians have fled into Armenia; it is uncertain how many will return to their homes. Russia is demanding the removal of all Syrian Arab mercenaries/jihadists; a hope unlikely to be realised.

Armenian authorities interview Syrian Arab mercenary.
source: PM Nikol Pashinyan via twitter 

On 4 November Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan posted video footage of a captured Syrian Arab mercenary being questioned by Armenian authorities. The illiterate farmer and father of four, testified to having been recruited in Idlib, Syria, with an offer of $US2000 per month to participate in military exercises in Azerbaijan. Though his whole family was opposed, he went anyway; he reasoned they needed the money. Once in Azerbaijan he was thrust onto the front line and ordered to slaughter Armenians. After he was wounded Azerbaijani soldiers essentially abandoned him. Suffering bullet wounds, he eventually surrendered himself to Armenian soldiers who gave him food and water, treated his wounds, and assured him he would not be harmed. He said the Armenians had surprised him by treating him so well and consequently he wanted to testify against those he maintains lured him to Azerbaijan on false pretences. From the 6:58minute mark he says:

'Abu Hamshan [the Idlib-based warlord who recruited Syrian Arab mercenaries and handled them inside Azerabaijan] had been telling us not to spare anyone's life; he said that all Armenians should be slaughtered and killed. At the same time, Turkish and Azerbaijani soldiers were also giving us similar orders, kill and slaughter Armenians. Abu Hamshan, as well as the Turkish and Azerbaijani soldiers were telling us that each person who beheads an Armenian would receive $US100 for each beheading. Let me also mention that we were armed with long knives. For those of us who were scared, the Azerbaijani Armed Forces servicemen provided special drugs which inhibit fear...'

From 1 December Turkey-backed Azerbaijani forces (and doubtless hundreds, if not thousands, of foreign jihadists) will soon surround Nagorno-Karabakh and occupy its strategic high ground. Azerbaijan, neo-Ottoman Turkey and their jihadist proxies are infested with toxic racial-religious hatred of Orthodox Armenians. They are driven by racial-religious Turkic and Arab-Islamic supremacism and Islamic imperialist ambition. The question must now be asked: is this a case of genocide averted or genocide postponed? These are challenging and indeed pivotal days for the Armenian people and the Armenian Church.

Winners and Losers 
Greek City Times, 11 Nov 2020
(NB: place names are in Azeri. Khankendi = Stepanakert.) 


PLEASE PRAY: MAY OUR GOD WHO REIGNS IN HEAVEN

* intervene on behalf of the Armenian people; may God be their shield and defender, their advocate, and their provider; and may 'justice roll down like waters' (Amos 5:24 ESV).

* be a palpable presence to all Armenians who are grieving, traumatised, displaced and fearful; may the Spirit of God move amongst them to draw them ever deeper into prayer and ever closer to the Lord Jesus Christ. 'But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head' (Psalm 3:3 ESV).

* grant the Armenians an abundance of amazing grace, so they might love their enemies, do good to those who hate them, bless those who curse them, and pray for those who abuse them (from Luke 6:27-36).

Thank-you Father, that a genocide has been averted. Please intervene to ensure it will never eventuate.

'Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord ... The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples ... Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love' (excerpts from Psalm 33).

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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ARTSAKH: GENOCIDE AVERTED OR POSTPONED?

On 7 November Artsakh's mountaintop town of Shushi fell to Azerbaijani, Turkish and jihadist forces. Consequently, the Lachin Corridor was closed and the capital, Stepanakert, was cut off from Armenia, leaving remnant Artsakh Armenians trapped. With a humanitarian catastrophe looming, Russia and Turkey brokered an agreement to end the fighting. Armenia's Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, signed the deal which came into force at 1:00am Tuesday 10 November. Azerbaijan will retain all it has gained, and Armenia will withdraw from the seven districts around Nagorno-Karabakh which it seized during the 1988-94 war for the purpose of creating a buffer zone. Some 2000 Russian peacekeepers have been deployed to uphold the ceasefire. Has genocide been averted or merely postponed? These are pivotal days for the Armenian people and the Armenian Church. Please pray.

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UPDATE - ETHIOPIA: MASSACRE, WAR AND PERIL

Map showing location of massacre.
Click on map to enlarge.

On Sunday evening 1 November, in Guliso district of West Wollega zone in Oromia regional state, an unconfirmed number of mostly Orthodox Christian ethnic Amhara were rounded up by some 60 ethnic Oromo who turned out to be members of the Omoro Liberation Front's militant offshoot, OLF-Shene group. The Amhara were taken into a school and summarily executed. Officials put the death toll at 32, but acknowledged it could be much higher. One survivor counted '50 corpses'. The National Movement of Amhara (NAMA) claims 'up to 200 Amharas were ruthlessly murdered'. Others were wounded, many critically. More than 20 homes were torched and some 750 Amhara were displaced. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has demanded an investigation into why the military withdrew from the area just moments prior to the attack. 

The Cold War between the government and the Tigray Peoples' Liberation Front (TPLF) has turned hot in Tigray in a war which threatens to spin out of control. Consequently, the security situation elsewhere in Ethiopia could deteriorate quickly and markedly. As RLPB has warned repeatedly, the destabilisation of Ethiopia would be catastrophic for Ethiopian Christians, and disastrous for security across the whole region. The only beneficiary would be militant Islam. 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, November 3, 2020

RLPB 574. Pakistan: A Cry For Justice

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 574 | Wed 4 Nov 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to “Follow by email” on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog.For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV). 

PAKISTAN: A CRY FOR JUSTICE
plus further updates below
By Elizabeth Kendal

Once again a Pakistani High Court has validated the 'marriage' of an abducted Christian minor girl to her Muslim abductor, despite child marriage being illegal in Pakistan. The High Court has rejected proof-of-age documents submitted by the victim's Christian parents (birth certificates, baptismal records, school records etc.) in favour of fraudulent documents submitted by the Muslim captor. Once again a High Court has accepted a certificate of religious conversion to Islam - something easily obtained through any fundamentalist mosque - without question and accepted the testimony of a captive given in the presence of her captors, without concern as to whether this testimony was made under duress. This time, however, it seems Pakistanis of conscience have had enough. Recognising the shame and disgrace this injustice brings to their nation, liberal Pakistanis are raising their voice.

On 13 October Arzoo Raja (a Christian aged 13) was abducted from her home in Karachi, Sindh Province, forcibly converted to Islam and married to her abductor, a Muslim neighbour named Ali Azhar (44) [RLPB 573 (28 Oct)]. On 28 October, when the case came before the Sindh High Court, Arzoo's captors prevented her from accessing her parents who were not even permitted to enter the court. At the end of the hearing, Sindh High Court Justice K K Agha ruled the 'marriage' valid and instructed police not to 'harass the newlywed couple'. In February the same court validated the 'marriage' of Huma Younus (a Christian, then 14) - who had been abducted and forcibly converted to Islam - to her Muslim abductor, Abdul Jabbar of Punjab Province [RLPB 538 (26 Feb)]. Now pregnant, Huma is reportedly being kept as a captive, confined to one room of the house. Courageous Christian lawyer, Ms Tabassum Yousaf has represented both girls before the Sindh High Court.

Lawyer Ms Tabassum Yousaf (first on left)
at a rally for Huma Younus, Dec 2019.

As Pakistani commentator Hammad Saleem observes (31 October), 'The trend of forced marriages has increased with high speed in Pakistan.' This trend - which is driven by impunity - is not limited to Sindh Province. On 4 August Lahore's High Court validated the 'marriage' of Maira Shahbaz (a Christian,13) - who had been abducted and forcibly converted to Islam - to her Muslim abductor, the already-married and reputedly wealthy Mr Mohamad Nakash [RLPB 564 (26 Aug)]. Maira has since escaped and is currently in hiding with her mother and siblings [RLPB 573 (28 Oct)]. Human rights groups in Pakistan estimate that up to 1000 religious-minority girls are victims of forced conversion and marriage every year; up to 300 Hindus and up to 700 Christians. Not all are minors and not all are abducted. Some girls and parents are groomed, until they reluctantly become convinced it is the only way to escape poverty and persecution. By this means Christian and Hindu girls are either lured or trafficked from their own community into the Muslim community where they are exploited, abused and forced to produce Muslim babies.

Rehana Raisat with a photo of her daughter, Shizam (15, a Christian) at a madrassa in Gujranwala, Punjab. On 11 Feb 2019, Shizam was abducted, forcibly converted and married to a Muslim. Riasat Masih, Shizam's father, comments on the photo saying his daughter (left, in white) looks 'almost unconscious'. Source: UCAnews 20 May 2019   












Various Pakistani politicians have attempted to introduce legislation banning forced conversions and child marriages. However, their efforts are denounced by Islamic organisations - including the Council of Islamic Ideology (a constitutional body that advises the legislature) - and doomed by radical Islamist outfits that threaten to mobilise their members and paralyse whole cities in defence of Islam.

On 24 October Christians, Hindus and Muslims raised awareness of Arzoo's case when they rallied together outside the Karachi Press Club. Subsequently, the 28 October ruling sent social media buzzing. Protests proliferated as high-profile activists and celebrities took up the cause of Justice for Arzoo Raja (and on twitter #justiceforarzoo). On Monday 2 November the Sindh High Court ordered that police recover Arzoo and move her to a shelter where she will undergo medical testing to determine her age before returning to court on Thursday 5 November. Police from the Anti-Violent Crime Cell then rescued Arzoo and arrested her abductor, Ali Azhar. The court had been shamed into action. 

Arzoo Raja (13) flanked by police in Karachi, with Ali Azhar (44) on far right.
See: MSN (3 Nov)

It is imperative that we pray that this indignation not fade (as indignation is wont to do) and that change be achieved, for the sake of Pakistan's vulnerable, long-persecuted religious minorities and their precious daughters.


MAY OUR SOVEREIGN GOD INTERVENE IN PAKISTAN

* to protect and deliver Huma Younus and every Christian (and Hindu) girl who has been groomed or trafficked into the Muslim community through forced conversion and marriage; may the Lord roar from Zion (Amos 1:2a) and may 'justice roll down like waters' (Amos 5:24a ESV).

* to protect Arzoo Raja, Maira Shahbaz and their families, along with all Christians who are at risk of Islamist retribution for having challenged their subjugation (Psalm 57).

* to protect, embolden and amplify the voice of every courageous lawyer, activist, journalist and politician prepared to risk Islamist retribution by challenging the Islamists, insisting on justice, and demanding an end to shameful persecution.

* to stir up indignation among Pakistanis of conscience; may Pakistan's moral crisis be redeemed for the awakening of many!


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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A CRY FOR JUSTICE IN PAKISTAN

The case of Azroo Raja, a 13-year-old Christian girl who was abducted, forcibly converted and then married to her Muslim abductor, is attracting considerable attention in Pakistan. After the Sindh High Court validated the 'marriage' on 28 October, social media lit up and protests erupted as Pakistanis of conscience demanded #justiceforArzoo. By 2 November the Court had relented. Police have rescued Arzoo and arrested her abductor, Ali Azhar (44). The case will return to the court and hopefully start a process that will end impunity for Muslim groomers and traffickers and set in motion steps to improve religious freedom and security for Pakistan's exceedingly vulnerable, long-persecuted religious minorities. Please pray for God to redeem this situation, to achieve more than we could ever ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).

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UPDATES to last week's RLPB 573 (28 Oct).

ARTSAKH: Artsakh's Armenian defenders have so far prevented Azerbaijan, Turkey and their jihadists proxies from capturing the Lachin Corridor (a strategic mountain pass through which runs the sole highway linking Armenia to Artsakh). [See Turkish media.] That said, a fierce battle is under way and the death toll is soaring. Some 5000 lives have been lost since fighting erupted on 27 September. Please pray for peace in the South Caucasus. 

ETHIOPIA: Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia have resumed talks on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Please pray, for it is imperative that Ethiopia not be destabilised. The destabilisation of Ethiopia would be catastrophic for Ethiopia's Christians (many of whom who would face massacre), for Ethiopia (which is at risk of dismemberment), and for regional security (including Egypt!). The only beneficiary would be militant Islam. Please pray for a breakthrough!

IVORY COAST: Incumbent president Alassane Ouattara has been comfortably re-elected amid an opposition boycott. Everything is in dispute. The opposition is demanding a transitional government be established to oversee transparent elections according to the constitution. Across the south, thousands are fleeing into Liberia, Ghana and Togo. Security forces have surrounded the homes of opposition leaders and are using tear gas against opposition supporters. Tensions are soaring. Once again, Ivory Coast is teetering on the brink of major political violence playing out along ethic-religious lines. Please pray for a peaceful resolution.

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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