Tuesday, June 15, 2021

RLPB 602. Burma (Myanmar): War Comes to Chin and Kayah States

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 602 | Wed 16 Jun 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

To subscribe (free) or view archives, visit the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog.  

DIARY
Friday 18 June: Iran's presidential election.
Monday 21 June: Ethiopia's general elections.
Please pray.

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BURMA (MYANMAR): WAR COMES TO CHIN AND KAYAH STATE
- thousands displaced; famine looms.
by Elizabeth Kendal

Just as RLPB 590 'Christian Crisis Looms' (24 March) predicted, a Christian crisis is unfolding in Burma 'as the front-line moves outwards, from the Burman-dominated centre to the ethnic minority periphery'. Since the outset, the Karen and Kachin armies have offered protection to senior ethnic Burman dissidents and training to young ethnic Burman fighters. This has attracted the wrath of the junta, which has responded with air-strikes, displacing many thousands. Now smaller groups that do not have armies are also being punished simply for defending themselves against unprovoked Tatmadaw (Burmese military) violence. On 8 May the junta announced that essentially anyone who resists it would be placed on its list of 'terrorist organisations'.

Villagers flee from fighting in Mindat,
Chin State, 19 May 2021. (RFA, 20 May)

The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) estimates that some 40,000 predominantly Christian Chin have fled their homes in Chin State since intensive fighting erupted in mid-May. Unlike the Kachin (in the north) and Karen (in the east), the Chin (in the west, bordering Mizoram (India), do not have an army. To defend their citizens from unprovoked Tatmadaw violence, the Chin have established the Chinland Defense Force (CDF), comprised of volunteers, armed mostly with slingshots and crude flintlock 'Tumee' rifles. What they lack in firepower, the long-marginalised Chin make-up for in skill, for they are experienced hunters. Having inflicted some casualties in defence of their citizens, these reluctant fighters are now facing a typical Tatmadaw crackdown. On 12 May some 1000 Tatmadaw troops, supported by helicopter gunships, occupied Mindat Town in southern Chin State and sprayed gunfire throughout the town while using civilian captives as human shields. Fighting continued until 16 May, when the CDF withdrew. However, the peace was short-lived. Fighting resumed on 3 June after the Tatmadaw fired into camps housing internally displaced persons (IDPs). Thousands of Chin Christians are now displaced in the jungle, without food, medicines or shelter, as the rainy season sets in.

Meanwhile, in the east, an estimated 100,000 civilians have fled heavy fighting in Kayah/Karenni State, north of Kayin/Karen State, bordering Thailand. That amounts to 25 percent of the Karenni population, of which around half are Christian. Most IDPs are in the jungle without food, medicines or shelter. Seeking refuge in churches and monasteries has proved untenable, as the Tatmadaw has been targeting church properties, accusing them of harbouring terrorists. On 24 May four civilians were killed in Kayan Thar Yar village when the church in which they were sheltering was targeted by artillery.

Loi Ying village, 8 June: A local searches for
rice among the wreckage / PKPF.
 (The Irrawaddy, 11 June)

Father Celso Ba Shwe is Vicar General of the diocese of Loikaw, the capital of Kayah State, where the military has now imposed martial law. Last week he told Catholic media that his greatest fear was of 'imminent famine, given that all the access to food, goods and gasoline from outside the state of Kayah are blocked'. Unable to sow and cultivate, the people are now dependent on aid. The Irrawaddy reports that on 8 June junta forces burned 80 bags of rice, three barrels of cooking oil, dried food, medicines to treat diarrhoea, and two vehicles (including an ambulance) in Loi Ying village, Pekon Township, after fighting the day before forced locals to flee. Some 3000 IDPs are now sharing what little they have left. It seems the junta is engineering famine as a weapon of war. 'We entrust ourselves every day to God,' said Father Celso Ba Shwe, 'praying that, through these trials and difficulties, he may once again give a peaceful and prosperous life to the people of Myanmar.'

On 11 June the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Myanmar (CBCM) released an open letter in which it appealed for humanitarian corridors to be established so that aid might reach the many thousands of people in ethnic minority areas who are starving in jungles after fleeing their homes. Baroness Cox, Chief Executive of Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), has also appealed for 'urgent international assistance' and 'emergency cross-border humanitarian aid'. Benedict Rogers, the Senior Analyst on East Asia for Christian Solidarity Worldwide, is likewise urging the 'international community to increase pressure on the military regime to stop its reign of terror'.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* YAHWEH SABAOTH (the Lord of Hosts, the commander of Heaven's angelic armies) will protect, preserve, sustain, vindicate and glorify his precious Church in Burma.

* JEHOVAH JIREH (God our provider) will provide the Church with everything she needs to navigate, endure and survive these horrendous days of war, displacement and hunger; may humanitarian corridors be established so that food, clean water, medicines and shelter might reach those most desperately in need. May God provide world leaders with creative strategies and political will so that international pressure might be effectively applied that will force the junta to end its terror. In asking this we recognise that we are indeed requesting a miracle. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer!

* GOD OUR REDEEMER will redeem all this suffering to break the chains of military and spiritual oppression so that Burma might emerge as a free, open and democratic federation ... for the sake of the Church and all Burma's 'harassed and helpless ... sheep without a shepherd' (Matthew 9: 35-37).

(prayer points developed from RLPB 580 (24 March))

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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WAR COMES TO CHIN AND KAYAH STATES IN BURMA (MYANMAR)

Unlike the Kachin and Karen, neither the Chin of Chin State (85 percent Christian) nor the various tribes of Kayah/Karenni State (49 percent Christian) have an army. Instead, volunteers armed with crude weapons defend their people against unprovoked attacks. In response the junta has unleashed overwhelming military violence. Since mid-May some 40,000 predominantly Christian ethnic Chin have been displaced as the military expands its brutal war. Most of the displaced are in the forest without food, medicines or shelter. Meanwhile, up to 100,000 civilians have been displaced in Kayah/Karenni State. Churches, monasteries and camps housing the displaced have been attacked with heavy artillery. Tens of thousands are now in the forest without food, medicines or shelter as the junta blocks aid as the rainy season sets in. 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, June 8, 2021

RLPB 601. Pakistan: Acquitted but still imperilled.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 601 | Wed 9 June 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

To subscribe (free), or to view or search archives, visit the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog.  

DIARY
Saturday 12 June: Algeria's parliamentary election. Please pray for the Church in Algeria.

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PAKISTAN: ACQUITTED BUT STILL IMPERILLED
by Elizabeth Kendal

top: Shafqat and Shagufta (undated),
children: Danish, Zain, Sara, Yeshua (2016)

On Thursday 3 June the Lahore High Court accepted the appeal of Christians Shafqat Emmanuel (49) and his wife Shagufta Kausar (52) and acquitted them of the charge of blasphemy. Arrested in 2013, the illiterate couple were accused of sending blasphemous English language text messages to a local Islamic cleric. While the phone did belong to Shagufta, it had been missing for a month and sources suspect a spiteful neighbour might have framed the couple. Shafqat and Shagufta were sentenced to death in 2014 on the basis of Shafqat's 'confession', which he provided when police threatened to torture his wife. This was after their torture of Shafqat had proved unsuccessful [see RLPB 568 (23 Sep 2020)]. According to the couple's attorney, Saif ul-Malook (who also represented Asia Bibi), the couple were acquitted on the basis of 'adulterated evidence and manipulated testimonies of the prosecution witnesses'. Malook's main concern now is the family's safety. A source in the government told Morning Star News (MSN) that security agencies have been directed to ensure protection of the couple and their lawyer. Regardless, Shafqat, Shagufta and their four children will need asylum abroad.

Along with competent and trustworthy security, the most immediate need is that of medical care. Partially paralysed and confined to a wheelchair since fracturing his backbone in 2004, Shafqat has spent most of the past eight years confined to a prison bed with minimal assistance or medical care. Visitors have reported seeing him 'covered in bedsores'; many thought he would die in prison. In April 2021 Amnesty International reported: 'The health of Shafqat Emmanuel … is rapidly deteriorating … his pain is worsening every day. In March, his family alleges, he was in a coma for three days and was not taken to the hospital.' Separated from each other and their four children, both Shafqat and Shagufta have struggled with depression. Speaking to MSN, Bishop Azad Marshall, president of the Church of Pakistan, said, 'While it is heartening to note that the court has delivered justice after eight years, our hearts are weeping over the suffering the poor family has endured all these years. This atrocity in the name of religion must end now. Mere allegations are enough to destroy the lives of the accused and their families, and it's time the Pakistani government deals with this critical issue [problematic blasphemy law] on priority.'

Asia Bibi's acquittal met with three days of protest.
(RFE/RL, 2 November 2018 - includes video

Dealing with Pakistan's blasphemy law - Penal Code, Chapter XV (offences relating to religion), Article 295 - has always proved extremely difficult. Attempts to amend the legislation are normally met with death threats, assassinations, destructive riots, and paralysing 'sit-ins' courtesy of Pakistan's inordinately powerful Islamic fundamentalists. Bishop Marshall believes that nobody should be permitted to register a police report of blasphemy before the accusation has been thoroughly investigated by an independent and impartial authority. He also believes that the law should mandate harsh punishments for those found to have issued vexatious accusations and provided false witness. The fact that it does not, means impunity reigns.

In December 2017 the European Union (EU) warned Pakistan that its GSP+ Trade Agreement with the EU - which removes import duties (enabling Pakistan to earn billions of dollars of trade income) - would be at risk should Asia Bibi be denied justice. By linking its moral stance against injustice to its considerable economic leverage, the EU has played a major role in securing justice for Asia Bibi, shining a spotlight on the blasphemy law and helping victims like Shafqat and Shagufta. Determined to maintain its pressure on Pakistan, the EU passed a motion in April 2021 to review Pakistan's GPS+ trade status. While the EU's action is right and good, nobody should be tempted to put their faith in politics. God expects those in authority to 'speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy' (Proverbs 31:8,9 NIV). Whilst we are obliged to encourage them to do so - through our advocacy - we'd be foolish to put our faith there. 'It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man' or 'princes' (Psalm 118:8,9 ESV). After all, the EU might matter today but not tomorrow and unless the Lord builds the house, we labour in vain (Psalm 127:1). And so we pray!

PLEASE GIVE THANKS TO THE LORD OUR GOD:

* that this long-suffering family has finally received justice in the courts; may the Lord bless Shafqat and Shagufta with healing and peace; may this family receive all the security, medical care and assistance they require; may the family unit - so cruelly torn apart - be knit back together, overcoming all obstacles through God's all-sufficient grace (2 Corinthians 12:9); may a place of refuge be made available overseas.

* for the courage and faithfulness of attorney Saif ul-Malook who has defended accused and persecuted Christians despite protests against his work and threats on his life; may the Lord grant him the greatest gift and open his heart to receive the Gospel.

* for the courage and moral conviction displayed by Justice Shahbaz Ali Rizvi and Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh who ruled rightly, despite threats and intimidation from Islamic fundamentalists. Surely this courage was a gift from God 'in answer to the prayers of many' (2 Corinthians 1:11).

AND PLEASE PRAY FOR PAKISTAN:

* that the God of all grace will mercifully intervene to bring transformation to this dark, chaotic and needy land; may Islamic terrorism, jihadism and rabid fundamentalism cease; may the blasphemy law, the abduction of religious-minority girls and religious discrimination, repression and violent persecution all come to an end. May Pakistan's Muslims be totally disillusioned with Islam and graciously awakened to the way of God our Saviour 'who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth' (2 Timothy 2:4 ESV).

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIAN COUPLE ACQUITTED BUT STILL IMPERILLED IN PAKISTAN

On 3 June the Lahore High Court accepted the appeal of Christians Shafqat Emmanuel (49) and his wife Shagufta Kausar (52), acquitting them of the charge of blasphemy. In prison since being falsely accused in 2013, the couple have been on death row since 2014. Their appeal was handled by attorney Saif ul-Malook (who represented Asia Bibi). They urgently need trustworthy security, medical care and asylum overseas. Partially paralysed since 2004, Shafqat has spent the last eight years confined to a prison bed with minimal assistance or medical care. He is covered in painful bedsores and is seriously unwell; many feared he would die in prison. Separated from each other and their four children, Shafqat and Shagufta have suffered depression. Please pray for this family and for the Church in Pakistan.

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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