Tuesday, November 23, 2021

RLPB 625. November Update, incl. Algeria, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Burma (Myanmar), North Koreans, Togo and Burkina Faso, Sudan, Uganda.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 625 | Wed 24 Nov 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

View archives at Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog.  The RLPB is sponsored by Christian Faith and Freedom Inc. 

By Elizabeth Kendal

DIARY

Pastor Salah Chalah, June 2021.
Evangelical Focus, 14 July 2021

5 December: An Algerian pastor and two members of his congregation will face court on 5 December charged with 'calling for the disobedience of laws by a clergyman', 'practising non-Muslim rites without permission' and 'calling to organise an unarmed assembly' (a demonstration). Pastor Salah participated in a peaceful demonstration in October 2019 in front of municipal offices in Tizi Ouzou to protest the forcible sealing of his church [See RLPB 531 (3 Dec 2019)]. He also led protests in June 2021 after three more churches were sealed. If deemed guilty, the maximum penalty is a fine plus 5 years in prison. Please pray.

19 December: Chile's potentially explosive presidential runoff will be a contest between two anti-establishment politicians from opposite ends of the political spectrum: the right-wing conservative lawmaker Jose Antonio Kast (55) and left-wing former student protest leader Gabriel Boric (35). Kast is regarded the front-runner as most centrists are ideologically much closer to Kast than to Boric. Please pray for peace: that, no matter the outcome, there will be no resumption of violent protests and church burnings [RLPB 621 (27 Oct)].

24-25 December: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for Catholic and Protestant Christians; a time of joyous celebration and, for many, elevated risk of terror attack. Please pray.

NOVEMBER 2021 UPDATE

DURING THIS PERIOD, WE PRAYED CONCERNING:

* ETHIOPIA [RLPB 622 (3 Nov)], as rebels belonging to the US-trained, Marxist, separatist Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) and the ethno-nationalist Oromo Liberation Army (OLA, formerly OLF-Shane) advanced towards the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, killing, looting and displacing hundreds of thousands as they went. By the end of October, the TPLF had seized control of the strategic towns of Dessie and Kombolcha (where it summarily executed over 100 youths) while the OLA had seized control of Kemise, 53km south of Kombolcha and just 325km north of Addis Ababa. What needs to be understood is that Ethiopia's TPLF is no different to Sudan's al-Bashir regime: human rights abusers par-excellence, ousted by popular uprisings, yet deeply invested at every level, supported by a well-entrenched deep state and totally unwilling to accept their demise. Ethiopia's Future Hangs in the Balance (RLM 11 July).

UPDATE: URGENT PRAYER REQUIRED

By 20 November the TPLF-OLA had captured Shewa Robit, a highly strategic town only 200 km from Addis Ababa. Reportedly, the rebels freed over 3,000 hardened criminals from Shewa Robit prison and are marching them to Debre Berhan, the new frontline, 120km from Addis. Some reports suggest that the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) has collapsed and Debre Berhan is surrounded. Others report fierce fighting on the road between Shewa Robit and Debre Sina, 60km north of Debre Berhan. On Monday 22 November Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (45) announced: 'Starting tomorrow, I will mobilise to the front to lead the defence forces.' On Tuesday 23 November the US Department of State warned of the possibility of a terrorist attack in Ethiopia. The breakup/Balkanisation of Ethiopia would result in a Christian crisis of monumental proportions. Parts of the country would be devoured by Ethiopia's salivating, irredentist, politically troubled neighbours, Islamic jihadists would flood in, and ethno-religious genocidal aggression would be unleashed on the Christian Amhara. Please pray that Baal-perazim - the Lord of the breakthrough (2 Samuel 5:17-20) - might intervene to 'turn back the battle at the gate' (from Isaiah 28:5-6).

And [David] said, 'The Lord has broken through my enemies before me like a breaking flood.' Therefore the name of that place is called Baal-perazim' [the Lord who breaks through] (from 2 Samuel 5:17-20).

* NIGERIA [RLPB 623 (10 Nov)], where the Christian crisis in central, Middle Belt state of Kaduna continues and shows no signs of abating.

UPDATE: A CHRISTIAN CRISIS OF NO PARTICULAR CONCERN

Of the 121 children taken captive from Bethel Baptist High School in the early hours of 5 July, four remain in captivity. Of the 66 believers abducted from Emmanuel Baptist Church on Sunday 31 October, five were shot (two killed and three critically wounded) on 6 November. It appears that one of those wounded has died, while the other two have been discharged from hospital. The 'bandits' have threatened to starve the captives to death unless food is supplied. Community representatives have been delivering food supplies and are negotiating with the kidnappers. Please pray.

Meanwhile, contrary to the recommendation of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the US Department of State has removed Nigeria from its list of 'Countries of Particular Concern' (CPC) with regards to religious freedom. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the new CPC list on Wednesday 17 November, the day before he departed on a tour of Africa. On Thursday 18 November Mr Blinken met with Nigerian President Buhari in Abuja, where he 'reaffirmed with President Buhari the strong partnership between the United States and Nigeria, which is founded upon shared democratic ideals and a spirit of transparency and co-operation'. In a speech delivered in Abuja on Friday 19 November, Mr Blinken referred to Nigeria as a global leader, 'deserving of a prominent seat wherever the most consequential issues are discussed'. He vowed an overhaul of the US approach to Africa that will treat the continent as a 'major geopolitical power' and that will boost development 'with no political strings attached'. Mortified by the inexplicable back-flip, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has requested an explanation. Please pray for the Church in Nigeria.

Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation...Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God... (Psalm 146:3,5 ESV).

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes (Psalm 118:8-9 ESV).

* IRAN [RLPB 624 (17 Nov)], where peaceful Christians - particularly those who are Persian converts from Islam - continue to be repressed, persecuted and jailed by the Islamic regime.

'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it' (Jesus, Matthew 16:18 ESV).

NOVEMBER 2021 ROUND-UP - also this month:

* BURMA: OPERATION ANAWRAHTA UNDERWAY
Update to RLPB 621, Operation Anawrahta Looms, 27 Oct 2021

Background:
The goal of Operation Anawrahta is to crush the ethnic Burman 'People's Defence Forces' (PDFs) that have proliferated throughout the Burman heartland, along with those who support, train, supply and shelter them: in this case, the overwhelmingly Christian ethnic Chin.

CHRISTIAN TOWN TORCHED IN CHIN STATE

Thantlang burns, 29 October.

On 29 October the Tatmadaw (Burmese military) returned to Chin State's predominantly Christian Thantlang Township. Virtually all the town's some 10,000 residents fled after troops first attacked the town on 18-19 September [see RLPB 617 (29 Sept)]. The only residents still living in the town were 20 orphan children who, along with their teachers, remained in the orphanage. The Chinland Defence Force was monitoring the situation when a Chin soldier shot and killed a Burmese soldier who was caught looting stores. The Tatmadaw responded with a barrage of artillery: the Church on the Rock, the Presbyterian church and a building attached to the Thantlang Baptist Church - the town's largest congregation - all caught fire in the shelling. Burmese troops then moved in and set fire to some 200 homes, ensuring the town residents would have nothing to return to.

MILITARY VIOLENCE UNLEASHED ON CHRISTIAN CHIN

On Thursday night 11 November Burmese troops raided and looted at least five homes in Tedim Township, 200km north of Thantlang Township. In one home, three soldiers repeatedly gang-raped a 27-year-old mother of three, including a four-week-old infant. They beat her husband around the head and forced him at gunpoint to squat in the toilet while his wife was repeatedly raped. The family has been evacuated to safety. Devout Christians, the Chin are collectively distraught that such a crime should be inflicted on a Chin family. In another home, soldiers tied up a pregnant woman and beat her husband in front of her. Such atrocities, committed with impunity, have long been the Tatmadaw's trademark. Please pray.

PRAYER FOR BURMA

Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted. Break the arm [mechanism of action] of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none. O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. (Psalm 10:12,15,17,18 ESV)

* NORTH KOREAN REFUGEES IN CHINA
Update to RLPB 612, China Arrests North Korean Wives, 25 Aug 2021

As noted in RLPB 612, 'Many Chinese and Korean Christians chose to live and work [on the China side of the China-North Korea (NK) border] precisely so they might help and witness to NK refugees.' According to Radio Free Asia (15 Nov), China is preparing to repatriate 1170 North Korean refugees. The refugees, who are already in Chinese custody, include an unknown number of NK wives and at least two children. Some of these NK refugees will doubtless have become Christians in China. Once back in NK, they will be incarcerated, severely mistreated and possibly even executed. Please pray that God would intervene in grace and mercy to redeem North Korea. Please pray that NK refugees who have settled in China will not be repatriated. Please pray that if any Christian is repatriated, the Lord will sustain them and bless their testimony with effective power.

SAHEL: TERROR ATTACKS IN TOGO AND BURKINA FASO
Update to RLPB 607, Africa's Afghanistan? Christians Imperilled, 21 July 2021)

Regional map,
showing the location
of Togo's Kpendjal Prefecture.
Click on map to enlarge.

Background: As France is withdrawing from the Sahel, jihadist groups are preparing to fill the security void, consolidate and even expand south into the countries of the Gulf of Guinea: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo and Benin, all of which border Burkina Faso.

On the night of 9 November, Togo suffered its first jihadist terror attack on its territory. The jihadists - reportedly members of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for Supporters of Muslims and Islam (JNIM) - are believed to have crossed from southern Burkina Faso into northern Togo's Kpendjal Prefecture where they attacked a security post. While the Togo military prevailed without casualties, the nation is now on alert for future border clashes and terror attacks as jihadists seek to expand towards the Gulf of Guinea. On 14 November JNIM militants attacked a security post in northern Burkina Faso's Inata town, a gold mining centre in the Sahel region, close to the border with Mali, killing four civilians and at least 49 military police officers, essentially wiping out the Burkinabe base. The Burkina military is being forced to focus on the crisis in the Liptako tri-border (Mali-Niger-Burkina Faso) region, leaving the southern border largely unprotected. 

According to Father Etienne Tandamba, a priest in the diocese of Fada N’Gourma, in eastern Burkina Faso, 120 km due north of the Togo border:  'The security situation in the country is worsening day by day, armed groups are advancing . . . they are subordinating the population to their will... Kidnappings and confiscations are the order of the day... Schools remain closed, as do some chapels, and the state of the city administration is precarious.' The Sahel and Gulf of Guinea states have mixed populations and a tradition of communal harmony, religious freedom and respect for Christian mission. Please pray. 

* SUDAN: HOPES FOR RELIGIOUS REFORMS DASHED
Update to RLPB 621, Hopes of 'New Sudan' Crushed in Military Coup, 27 Oct 2021.

In 2013 the racist and Islamist regime of President Omar al-Bashir, seized administrative control of the Sudanese Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) in Khartoum, ordering the Ministry of Guidance and Endowments, which regulates religious affairs in Sudan, to appoint a committee to administer the church's affairs. This occurred in the context of escalating Islamic belligerence and persecution in the wake of the secession of South Sudan [see RLPB 200 (6 March 2013)]. In 2015 the Supreme Court ruled the move illegal and ordered the illegally-constituted committees be dismissed and administrative control be returned to the churches. The regime ignored the order.

Following the April 2019 ouster of the al-Bashir regime, SPEC filed a case before the administrative court against the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Affairs and the illegitimate committee, seeking the implementation of the supreme court's 2015 decision. In July 2021 the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Affairs agreed to implement the decision, although an administrative court review was required before any action could be authorised. But, on 25 October, the Sudanese military staged a military coup and ousted the civilian members of Sudan's transitional government. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports (18 Nov): 'On 15 November an administrative court judge decided to dismiss the case to return power to the legitimate church committee as the one with the legal authority to act on behalf of the church, rejecting both the [July 2021] agreement and the 2015 Supreme Court decision. The judge failed to give any reasoning for the decision, indicating that the action was political.' The decision may indicate that the religious reforms of recent years are about to be rolled back. Please pray.

* UGANDA: TERROR COMES TO KAMPALA
Update to RLPB 616, D.R.Congo (DRC): Jihad and Conversion, 22 Sept 2021.

Background: Before 2017, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) was just a criminal militia whose origins were in Uganda and whose base was in north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In 2017 its Ugandan leader, Musa Baluku, forged connections with Islamic State (IS). In 2019 the ADF pledged allegiance to IS and became the DRC chapter of IS-Central Africa Province (ISCAP). Since then, ADF violence has escalated markedly. As noted in the more detailed RLM post of 21 September, it seems 'Islamic State is working to consolidate and expand in the remote north-east border regions of DRC. If successful it may well move to expand further, not only into Uganda, but possibly, in the future, into South Sudan and the wider "Christian" region.'

On 23 October Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) claimed responsibility for two minor, low casualty terror attacks in central Uganda: one targeting a pork eatery and one targeting a passenger bus. Then, on Tuesday 16 November, ISCAP suicide bombers perpetrated a far more sophisticated twin terror attack in the heart of Kampala. At around 10am, a suicide bomber detonated himself outside Kampala's Central Police Station. Minutes later, two suicide bombers on motorbikes detonated themselves outside the entrance to the Parliament. Police foiled a third attack, shooting the potential suicide bomber. In all, five people were killed and 33 hospitalised with injuries (21 of whom are police officers). Security has been heightened and President Museveni has warned the public to 'maintain vigilance of checking people at entry points to bus parks, hotels, churches, mosques, markets'. Please pray that God will protect Uganda's churches this Christmas season, not only from ISCAP terrorists, but also from the radicalised fundamentalist Muslims who are escalating their persecution of minority Christians - especially converts from Islam - in Uganda's Eastern Region [see Morning Star News / Uganda].

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The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. . . For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this (the promise of Isaiah 9:2,6,7 ESV).

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Research at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom Inc (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 16, 2021

RLPB 624. Iran: Christians repressed, persecuted and jailed

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 624 | Wed 17 Nov 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Subscribe (free) or view archives at: Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog.  The RLPB is sponsored by Christian Faith and Freedom Inc. 

IRAN: CHRISTIANS REPRESSED, PERSECUTED AND JAILED
- Persian prisoners write letter; groups launch petition over right to Persian worship.
by Elizabeth Kendal

Amin Khaki with his wife Laleh
 and son Ateen (5) outside the
Civil and Revolutionary Court of Fardis,
before his transfer to Ghezel Hesar prison.
10 November 2021

In November 2020 Iranian Intelligence agents raided the homes of Persian converts, Amin Khaki, Milad Goodarzi and Alireza Nourmohammadi, in Fardis, west of Tehran, confiscating phones, laptops and everything relating to Christianity. In May 2021 the three converts became the first Iranian Christians to be charged and convicted under the penal code's newly amended Article 500, when they were fined and handed the maximum sentence of five years in prison for 'engaging in propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam'. In August the fine was removed and the sentences reduced to three years on appeal. Article 18 reports (8 Nov): 'The three men, who have all spent time in prison before because of their Christian faith and activities, have until Wednesday, 10 November, to hand themselves in to the prison authorities in Karaj.'

In June 2020 brothers Sam and Sasan Khosravi and Habib Heydari were among seven Iranian Christians from Bushehr, on Iran's south coast, to be sentenced for 'propaganda against the Islamic Republic by promoting Christianity'. While the men were handed custodial sentences, the women were fined and banned from work. Sam, Sasan and Habib were sentenced to serve one year in prison, after which the Khosravi brothers must also serve two years in internal exile. In January 2021 an appeals court upheld their custodial sentences on the grounds that the men are indeed guilty of 'organisation of house-churches and promotion of Christianity, which are clear examples of propaganda against the state' [see RLPB 584 (10 Feb 2021)]. At that time, Sam and his wife Maryam were also fighting to retain custody of their special needs daughter Lydia (2), whom they adopted from an orphanage as an infant. Because Lydia was 'born Muslim' and Sam and Maryam are Christian, the court deemed them unfit to raise her [see RLPB 571 (14 Oct 2020)]. Their struggle continues. Sasan and Habib began their prison terms on 8 February but were furloughed in March, doubtless due to the stress COVID-19 was inflicting on the prison system. On 11 November Sasan and Habib returned to Bushehr Central Prison to complete their sentences.

Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie (40)
with his wife Marjan and daughter Martha (15),
during a 15-day leave from prison in September 2021.

Meanwhile, Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie (40) - imprisoned since July 2018 - was recently informed that he has been denied parole for a second time. Saheb - whose 10-year sentence was reduced to six years on appeal - was surprised because he had not even applied for parole. Incarcerated in Tehran's Evin Prison, Saheb has consistently refused to apply for conditional release because, as Article 18 explains, he cannot accept the conditions of release; specifically the condition that he have no further involvement with a house-church. The conditions for those charged under the amended Article 500 are even worse, including no contact with 'sect' members in the 'real or virtual sphere' (i.e. in person or on-line; so as to prevent 'mind control' and 'psychological indoctrination'). Saheb Fadaie is one of three Persian Christians currently serving long prison sentences for their membership of a house church who have written a joint letter and recorded video statements, asking the authorities where they should worship once they are released. For, while Armenian and Assyrian Christians are permitted to meet for Christian worship, they are not permitted worship in the Persian/Farsi language or welcome Persian converts into their fellowship. Consequently, Persian converts have no choice but to meet in secret house-churches which the regime has banned as 'sects' and 'enemy groups'.

In support of the prisoners, several Christian advocacy groups have co-authored an open letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet. Dated 9 November 2021, the letter requests the High Commissioner seek answers from the Iranian regime to the question of 'where Persian-speaking Christians can gather to worship freely without risking harassment and imprisonment on excessive charges.' As the letter explains: 'In 2020 alone, there were at least 115 known separate instances of the authorities targeting Christians for the peaceful exercise of their religious belief in which a total of 237 individuals were targeted, and combined prison sentences of 147 years (1,760 months) were handed down. So far in 2021, at least 53 Christians have been arrested, and many more await imminent court hearings. At present, at least 17 Christians targeted on account of the peaceful practice of their religious belief are serving sentences of between two to 10 years. Two more are in state-ordered internal exile, having already spent years in prison.' That number no doubt includes Morteza Mashhoudkari, Ayoub PourRezazade and Ahmad Sarparast, three Persian converts arrested in Rasht at around 10pm on the night of Sunday 5 September - two from a prayer group and one from their home. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

You can read the full text of the letter and sign the petition HERE:  https://articleeighteen.com/news/9587/


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* comfort and sustain Iranian believers - men and women - who are imprisoned, exiled or awaiting trial simply for exercising their Christian faith through prayer, worship and witness; may their Almighty Father protect them; may Christ the Good Shepherd lead them and supply their needs; and may the ever-present Holy Spirit draw them into prayer and fill them with 'the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding' so as to guard their hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (from Philippians 4:3-7). 'But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head' (Psalm 3:3 ESV).

'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body' (Hebrews 13:3 ESV).

* 'carry' Sam, Maryam and Lydia safely into a secure and settled future where they can live as a family to the glory of God. 'Behold, the Lord God comes with might... He will tend his flock like a shepherd... he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young' (from Isaiah 40:10-11 ESV).

* continue to build his Church in Iran (Matthew 16:18); in this, we pray especially for Christ's rapidly growing Church of Persian converts; may their testimony of liberation, transformation, salvation and redemption ensure Christ's light will shine ever brighter until Iran's darkness is no more.

* break through and demolish every stronghold in and over the nation of Iran: having loosened Islam's spiritual grip over the people, may God now break Islam's political grip over the nation - for the glory of Christ, AMEN!

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIANS REPRESSED, PERSECUTED AND JAILED IN IRAN

In May, Persian converts, Amin Khaki, Milad Goodarzi and Alireza Nourmohammadi, were sentenced to five years in prison for 'engaging in propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam'. The sentences were reduced to three years on appeal. The men entered prison on 10 November. In June 2020, brothers Sam and Sasan Khosravi and Habib Heydari were among seven Iranian Christians sentenced for 'propaganda against the Islamic Republic by promoting Christianity'. Furloughed from prison after a month (due to COVID-19) Sasan and Habib recommenced their prison terms on 11 November. Meanwhile, Sam and Maryam continue the struggle to retain custody of their adopted daughter, Lydia (2), after the court deemed them (as Christians) 'unfit' to raise her. Please pray for the Church in Iran.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Research at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom Inc (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