Wednesday, September 30, 2009

024. September Update; incl. Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 024 | Wed 30 Sep 2009

SEPTEMBER 2009 UPDATE -- During the month we prayed concerning . . .

UZBEKISTAN, where 'foreign and non-traditional' Christian fellowships (i.e. not Russian Orthodox) are afflicted with the same security provisions designed to repress 'foreign and non-traditional' Islamic groups: Wahhabi fundamentalists and jihadists, and Hizb-ut-Tahrir Islamic revolutionaries. Even though the government knows the evangelical minority are peaceful, another reason they are targeted is because their very existence causes social tension with the Muslim and Russian Orthodox majority, a tension the government would like eliminated. Donam Protestant Church, a registered (and therefore legal) church in Tashkent pastored by Vladimir Tyo, is being attacked by the government. Also Pentecostal pastor Dmitry Shestakov remains incarcerated in the third year of his four-year prison sentence for illegal religious activities.

LAOS, where ethnic minority Christians are being specifically targeted for persecution by an increasingly paranoid and insecure government whose hatred and brutality is no longer being restrained. The registered Boukham Church is experiencing serious persecution under the supervision of the local police chief, Thao Somphet. Church elder Thao Oun is in prison (where torture is routine) and being threatened with death. New believer Thao Aom was expelled from his village because he refused to renounce Christ throughout three hours of police 'interrogation'. Please pray for the Church in Laos.

PAKISTAN, where decades of Islamic radicalisation, primarily through the free education provided by hundreds of thousands of fundamentalist Islamic madrassas, has prepared large swathes of the Muslim population for exploitation by the Islamic fundamentalists. They are now specifically targeting Christian communities so as to inflame Islamic zeal in the general Muslim grassroots. Islamic clerics have incited four large-scale violent pogroms against Christian communities in Punjab in the past three months -- with impunity. Also, on 14 September a Christian boy named Fanish Masih (19) was tortured to death in a Pakistani prison. He had been falsely accused of blasphemy, but the real reason for his imprisonment was his romance with a local Muslim girl. Fear and anxiety is rising in the Christian community. Please pray for them.

SEPTEMBER 2009 ROUND-UP -- also this month . . .


Though the Saudi and US-backed, Sunni-dominated, pro-West March 14 Alliance won Lebanon's June 2009 elections with 70 seats to 58, the Syria and Iran-backed, Shia-dominated, Hezballah-led opposition actually won the popular vote with 55 percent of the ballot. Moreover, Hezballah is still the strongest military force in the state. In such circumstances it is not entirely surprising to find the minorities allying themselves to Hezballah in the hope that when fighting breaks out they will be on the winning team. Some 70 percent of Lebanese Christians (including many evangelicals) are allied to Hezballah in what must certainly be a 'covenant of death' (Isaiah 28:14-22). Now Walid Jumblat, leader of the Druze-led Progressive Socialist Party, has deserted the March 14 Alliance and, while feigning neutrality, is aligning himself with Hezballah and Iran for security's sake. He regards the Maronite Catholic commitment to the 'March 14' liberal ideals as 'suicidal'. Lebanon's Daily Star reports (28 Sep 09) that over 70,000 Christians have fled Lebanon since mid-2006. Pray for the church in Lebanon.


A new group has emerged called the Alternative Movement for the Defense of Individual Liberties (MALI). It has declared its intention to defend 'all freedoms . . . including freedom of worship' ( 24 Sep 09). MALI's founder, Ms Zineb El-Rhazoui (a journalist) appealed through the group's Facebook site for supporters to join her in an act of civil disobedience on 13 September. With Article 222 of the Moroccan Penal Code criminalising public eating during Ramadan, the group planned to hold a public picnic during fasting hours in the woods outside the town of Mohammedia. However, on 13 September a large contingent of police besieged the Mohammedia railway station and recorded the details of the religious dissidents. Outraged Islamic clerics have demanded their punishment and MALI's leaders have received death threats. Reportedly the 'Moroccan blogosphere' is now abuzz with debates about 'freedom of conscience in a Muslim society' (LATimes 21 Sep). The Moroccan Association of Human Rights is very concerned about Ms Zineb El-Rhazoui, who has 'been disappeared' since 17 September. Pray for religious liberty in Morocco. Pray for King Mohammed VI (46), a visionary Arab leader and force for modernity, democracy and liberty.


The first privately funded university in North Korea, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) , was officially opened on 16 September after a two-year delay and will eventually have 2000 undergraduate students. PUST is being built mostly with donations from international religious groups and South Korean individuals as well as with $1 million from the South Korean Ministry of Unification. Its founder, American entrepreneur Dr James Kim, refutes suggestions he 'paid-off' Kim Jong Il to get permission for the project. As a faithful Christian Dr Kim gives all the glory to God, while rejoicing that he (Dr Kim) has 'unlimited credit at the Bank of Heaven' (Daily NK, 16 Sep 09). Dr Kim, who spent 40 days in a North Korean prison cell in 1998, acknowledges the project is totally dependent on the grace of God as it is constantly being held hostage to geo-political agendas and whims. Pray for this miracle to continue; that God will frustrate the way of the wicked (Psalm 146:9c); and that PUST will achieve 'immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine' (Ephesians 3:20 NIV).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

023. Pakistan: Islamic fundamentalists target Christians

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 023 | Wed 23 Sep 2009

By Elizabeth Kendal

Christians in Pakistan are suffering escalating and intensifying persecution. Writing in Pakistan's 'Daily Times' (21 September), commentator Syed Mansoor Hussain said he believed recent attacks on Christian communities are part of a new strategy by Islamic fundamentalist organisations. The Taliban has lost a lot of grassroots support through its widespread killing and repression of Muslims. So now the fundamentalists are inciting their militants to launch Islamic campaigns specifically targeting Christians. This fires up Islamic zeal and keeps the radicalised followers engaged whilst not threatening or offending the general Muslim population. And as Hussain notes, while Islamic apologists 'keep repeating the mantra that Islam is a tolerant religion', too many politicians, police and lawyers are either too intimidated by, or too supportive of, the militants to bring them to justice. So the killings in Islam's name continue with impunity. (See Syed Mansoor Hussain: Looking for justice)

Hussain wrote this piece because of yet another attack against a Christian community in Pakistan's Punjab Province -- the fourth in ten weeks. On 30 June, the Christian community of Bahmani Wala Village was attacked (see RLPB 012, 8 July). Christian communities were then attacked in Korian on 26 July and in Gojra on 1 August (see RLPB 016, 5 Aug). They were all incited by Islamic clerics using false accusations of blasphemy or Qur'an desecration. The cost to the Christian communities has been immense and horrific.

Then on Friday 11 September hundreds of Muslims rioted in Jatheki village near Sialkot city in Punjab Province, responding to incitement from their local mosques. A Muslim woman discovered that her daughter, Hina Asghar, was romantically involved with their neighbour, a Christian boy named Fanish Masih (19). Enraged, she told her imam that Fanish had desecrated Hina's Qur'an. During Friday prayers, the imam called upon Muslims to punish the Christians. In the ensuing pogrom against the Christian community, many members were stripped and severely beaten. The local Protestant Calvary Church was torched and the police stood by as the senior pastor was mercilessly bashed.

Police arrested Fanish the next day. On Sunday 13 September some 600 Muslim women demonstrated in Sialkot to refute the notion that a Muslim woman could ever fall in love with a Christian man. (Note: the Qur'an does not permit Muslims to have friendships with Jews, Christians or any other unbelievers -- e.g. Sura 5:51). On 14 September Fanish was relocated to a prison in Sialkot city where the next day the prison superintendent reported that Masih had 'committed suicide'. Though Fanish Masih is alleged to have hanged himself, his broken ribs and the signs of torture all over his body led Christians to charge that he was murdered. Thousands turned out for the funeral. Clashes erupted when mourners sought to take Fanish's body home to Jatheki village, the police responding with batons, tear gas and live ammunition, wounding three. Around 100 Christians were arrested. Whilst the official autopsy results have not yet been released, the two Christian doctors who observed it have publicly stated they believe Fanish was tortured to death.

Religious freedom advocates are lobbying for the repeal of the Blasphemy Law. Whilst that would be right and just, its repeal will not save Pakistani Christians from deadly Islamic hatred. In fact, it has usually been the case that repealing Islamic laws leads to massacres as hate-filled Islamic fundamentalists will kill Christians rather than yield anything to them.


* draw all Pakistani Christians into his holy presence (i.e. sanctuary -- Isaiah 8:13,14a) where they will receive comfort, peace and divine strength (Isaiah 40:27-31). 'When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.' (Psalm 56:3 ESV)

* frustrate the way of the wicked (Psalm 146:9) and rescue his children from the hands of their persecutors (Psalm 31:15).

* bring a spirit of shame on Pakistan about the way their vulnerable Christian minority is being treated and many Muslims will take a moral stand against the lawlessness and violence.

* bring a spirit of enlightenment to Pakistan so that, despite widespread radicalisation, many Muslims will grasp that Islam is clearly not the 'tolerant religion' its apologists proclaim.

* inspire many disillusioned Muslims to turn to Jesus Christ; may it be as was said of the Apostle Paul, 'He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.' (Galatians 1:23 ESV)



In the fourth anti-Christian pogrom in Punjab Province in 10 weeks, Muslims rioted against the Christian community in Jatheki town on 11 September. Once again it was incited by Islamic clerics using a false accusation of Qur'an desecration. However, the real reason was a Muslim woman's anger that her daughter was romantically involved with a Christian neighbour, Fanish Masih (19). After the rioting Muslims had beaten many Christians and torched the local Protestant Calvary Church, the police arrested Fanish. On 15 September it was reported that Fanish had 'committed suicide' in prison. However, Fanish's ribs were broken and there were signs of torture all over his body. The two Christian doctors who observed the official autopsy have stated they believe Fanish was tortured to death. Please pray for Pakistan's besieged Christians.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

022. Laos: persecution of 'imported religion'

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 022 | Wed 16 Sep 2009

By Elizabeth Kendal

Since around 1950 Laos has been torn between pro- and anti-Communist forces. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, ethnic minorities in both Vietnam and Laos sided with US troops in the fight against Communist forces across Indo-China. After the Communist victory, some two-thirds of Laos' Christian population fled the country. Since 1975 Laos has been ruled by the communist Lao People's Revolutionary Party. During the early 1990s Laos moved towards a
more market-based economy, necessitating greater openness and global engagement. However, by 1996 it was applying the brakes, fearing that the regime's hold on power was being threatened. Increased openness had led to a rise in social unrest, with Laotians protesting government repression and corruption. Human rights abuses soared as the authorities cracked down, reining in dissent.

In October 1998, the US Government passed its International Freedom from Religious Persecution (IFRP) Act that tied religious freedom to foreign policy. At that time, religious persecution in Laos was severe and torture routine. However, as a desperately poor country without wealthy powerful friends, Laos could not ignore the US IFRP Act. So the regime began tentatively reforming its religious policy to avoid sanctions and secure trade agreements. By 2005 the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) was able to drop Laos from its Watch List. However, the situation has swung back again. Laos now has strong ties to other developing but totalitarian states including the ascendant, economic powerhouse, China. Furthermore the financial situation in America has greatly diluted its leverage, which was the power behind the IFRP Act. Over the past year, persecution has escalated so much that in May 2009 the USCIRF returned Laos to its Watch List.(See Annual Report of the USCIRF May 2009: LAOS.)

USCIRF reports that over 500 Christians around the country were pressured to renounce their faith in July 2008 alone. Christians are threatened with eviction from their villages, confiscation of livestock, denial of government identity cards, denial of education and the withholding of food from prisoners. Ethnic minority Protestants are being specifically targeted. The Communist regime abhors Protestant Christianity as an 'American import' that threatens the communist political system. Government suspicion and hostility is only heightened because it is being embraced with such joy and dedicated commitment by the ethnic minorities who have long struggled against communist repression.

The Boukham Church has endured sustained persecution over the past year. Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) reports that on 3 September 2009 Lao officials arrested church elder Thao Oun, taking him from his home in Lainsai village at gunpoint. He was then detained, interrogated and terrorised for over five hours. HRWLRF writes: 'Thao Oon was charged with bringing destruction to the Lao nation and government due to his embracing of the Christian faith.' The police chief demanded that Thao Oun denounce Christianity or face eviction from his village. He also threatened Thao Oun that if word of his arrest and interrogation got out to the international community he would be put to death, adding that he wished for the death of all believers in Boukham Church. HRWLRF has gone public with the report believing that shining a global spotlight on Thao Oun's case is actually the only way now to guarantee his safety. Furthermore, the authorities are pressuring the church by denying schooling to ten of its children and denying believing families access to water, medical care and the protection of the law. Then on 5 September, the authorities arrested Thao Aom, 'a new believer of 10 months'. After three hours of police 'interrogation' Thao Aom was still refusing to renounce his faith and so was evicted from his village. On Sunday 6 September, authorities surrounded the Boukham Church and stopped believers entering for worship. (See HRWLRF Advocacy Alert No. 04/2009. 9 September 2009.)


* stir up and then bless international prayer and advocacy for Thao Oun and the Boukham Church; may police illegal abuse of authority be reined in, and may the church be encouraged, strengthened and built up as a result of God's merciful intervention.

* stir up a sense of injustice and indignation within the Lao Buddhist majority (who are spared persecution for pragmatic reasons); may voices for peace, liberty and justice arise from the most surprising places. (This would create far more pressure than anything external!)

* bless the persecuted and imprisoned Laotian believers with everything they need at this time, in particular water, health and security; may the ever-present Holy Spirit comfort and sustain them as they wait upon the Lord for justice.

[Elijah said to the woman:] For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.' [. . .] The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah. (1 Kings 17:14-16 ESV)



Laos' Communist authorities abhor Protestant Christianity as an 'American import' that threatens the communist political system. Government suspicion and hostility is only heightened because it is being embraced with such joy and dedicated commitment by the ethnic minorities who have long struggled against communist repression. Human Rights Watch for Laos Religious Freedom is reporting severe persecution against Boukham Church. Elder Thao Oun was arrested at gunpoint on 3 September and has been threatened with death. The authorities are pressuring the believers to renounce their faith by denying them schooling for children and access to water, medical care and police protection. They also arrested a new believer named Thao Aom, and evicted him from his village when he refused to renounce Christ after three hours of 'interrogation'. Please pray for the Church and people of Laos.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

021. Sudan: Christians' future bleak as war looms

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 021 | Wed 09 Sep 2009

By Elizabeth Kendal

In July 2002, with a very powerful and angry post-9/11 USA breathing down its neck, Sudan's ruling National Islamic Front (NIF) somewhat reluctantly signed the historic Machakos Protocol, putting Sudan on the path towards a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The regime's Islamic backers were strongly opposed to peace on anyone's terms other than their own -- and they were demanding the full Islamisation of all of Sudan. The 31 Dec 2004 signing of the CPA was extremely important because Khartoum had been investing its new found oil wealth on logistical development. Elevated dual-purpose roads together with sophisticated weaponry and security -- mostly Chinese -- were means for a military victory. The CPA provided hope for the predominantly Christian African Southerners who had spent decades fighting Arabisation and Islamisation.

The CPA gives the Southerners a 2011 referendum on secession, which was essential to bring them to the negotiation table. However, it was always known that the North would never just let the South secede as most of Sudan's oil reserves are in the south. This was one reason why Southern leader Dr John Garang advocated a united, equitable, secular and democratic 'New Sudan' -- something to benefit all Sudanese. Garang planned to unite the opposition and win the CPA-mandated national elections in mid-2009. Then (theoretically), Sudan's new, more representative government could work at making unity more attractive than secession, averting war.

But the elections, now postponed until April 2010, have been irretrievably compromised. The most important element of the process is the national census, as the census results will determine the proportional representation in the national assembly. But the census was shamelessly rigged and its results have been clearly revealed as fraudulent. The regime's aim is to secure (albeit fraudulently) an absolute majority in the new assembly so they can re-write
the terms of the CPA and scuttle the Southern Self-Determination Referendum (SSDR). With the elections ruined and the SSDR under threat, Southern leader Pagan Amum has warned that the South might be forced to declare independence unilaterally, something the Islamist-regime in Khartoum has described as a 'red-line'. There is much concern that Sudan is heading towards a war that would lead to disintegration, chaos and a humanitarian catastrophe of unprecedented scale.

Meanwhile, Khartoum is believed to be behind the massive escalation of violence in the south. Some 2000 people have died and over 250,000 displaced across southern Sudan since January -- more than in Darfur! Moreover, the belligerents are using sophisticated, high-powered weapons and are targeting women and children, developments that are unprecedented in inter-tribal violence. Notoriously, the Arab-Islamist regime in Khartoum is earning massive funds exporting agricultural produce to Arab states while most non-Arab Sudanese are starving and dependent on foreign aid.

Our Christian brethren whom we prayed for through years of Islamic jihad and a tortured peace process are facing a seriously bleak future as war looms. Last week, Christians in Western Equatoria, South Sudan, held three days of prayer and fasting for an end to LRA terror (see RPLB 019). Hundreds of believers took part in a 20km walk for peace led by Bishop Edward Hiiboro Kussula of the Catholic diocese of Tombura-Yambio and Bishop Peter Munde of the Episcopal Church of Sudan.


* intervene to bring an end to LRA leader Joseph Kony and the Khartoum-sponsored LRA terror he commands.

* frustrate all Khartoum's efforts to destabilise the South with LRA and inter-tribal conflict; may supply lines be severed and communications confused.

* awaken Southern tribesmen to Khartoum's divide-and-conquer strategy and to
resist manipulation and exploitation, with hearts inclined toward peace.

* provide the churches of Southern Sudan with everything they need to care for
their communities, both physically and spiritually.

* expose Khartoum's duplicity and wickedness in their starving of African Sudan, in arming belligerents and rigging the census.

Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted. . . . Strengthen their hearts and do justice, . . . so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. (Psalm 10:12,17,18 excerpts ESV)



National elections hopefully would have provided Sudan with representative government, making unity attractive and averting war. But the Arab Islamist regime in Khartoum has rigged the national census, irretrievably compromising the elections scheduled for April 2010. The regime aims to secure -- fraudulently -- the majority in the national assembly so they can re-write the 2004 Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the mostly Christian African South and scuttle the Southern Self-Determination Referendum (SSDR). With the elections ruined and the SSDR jeopardised, the South has threatened to declare independence unilaterally. Meanwhile, Khartoum is believed to be behind the massive escalation of violence in the south, where more have died this year than in Darfur! Moreover Khartoum is exporting food to Arab states while letting its own non-Arab citizens starve. Please pray for God's intervention in Sudan.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

020. Uzbekistan: imprisonment after church service raided

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 020 | Tue 01 Sep 2009


(By Anneta Vyssotskaia)

As Uzbekistan authorities are preparing for the celebration of Independence Day and the 220th anniversary of the capital city Tashkent on 1 September, they want to ensure everything is 'in proper order'. The city is checked for homeless people, street kids and people without local registration, who are temporarily removed from the city. Hundreds of policemen are mopping up in search of 'unwanted elements' as part of a preventative anti-terror operation 'Tozalash-Antiterror'. The families of political prisoners and religious groups are under special surveillance. Although this control never stops, it increases significantly before various important events.

Possibly as part of this pre-festive clean-up, some 20 anti-terror police raided the registered Donam Protestant church in Tashkent on 23 August during the regular Sunday service, claiming it was an 'unauthorised' religious meeting. Threatened by the police officers the church members, including pregnant women, children, elderly and sick people were not allowed to leave the church grounds for several hours. They were forced to give their names and addresses, which created confusion and panic. A few hours later, the church pastor, Vladimir Tyo, and several other church members were arrested and Christian literature and videos were confiscated. Although the church leaders presented all the necessary documents proving the church's registered status this fact was ignored by the police. The next day the court sentenced the pastor and three other church workers to 15 days' imprisonment as well as destruction of the confiscated materials. Although police raids on churches are common in Uzbekistan, this was the first case of a raid on a registered church during worship and the arrest of its leaders -- an unprecedented violation of human rights. Twenty-eight church members signed a letter of protest about the unlawful actions of the authorities to Uzbekistan's Interior Minister, the Tashkent Justice Department and President Islam Karimov.

Uzbekistan is tenth on the Open Doors World Watch List of countries that are the worst persecutors of Christians. Earlier this year a deacon of a registered Baptist church in Tashkent, Pavel Nenno, was sentenced to 15 days' imprisonment for his ministry to street kids -- he gave food and taught Bible to them. Pentecostal pastor Dmitry Shestakov is serving his third year of a four-year imprisonment sentence for illegal religious activities. The authorities give amnesty twice a year when hundreds of criminals are released from prison: before Independence Day and Constitution Day. Shestakov's friends asked for amnesty for him in 2007 but their request was refused. Numerous Christians in Uzbekistan are sentenced to pay huge fines for being God's witnesses, worshipping God together or having Christian literature. Christians in Uzbekistan live under constant threat of persecution.

As fire melts pieces of gold together so persecution brings churches to greater unity. Living under persecution, the Christians in Uzbekistan receive many important lessons from the Lord and are growing in faith and God's discipline. The church leaders regularly come together for prayer and fasting. The churches are also learning about their rights and how to stand up for them together, which results in the growth of unity.

Read more about the raid on the Donam church on .


* that God will change the attitude of the Uzbekistan Government to Protestant churches so it will stop seeing Christians as enemies and persecuting them.

* for all the Christians in Uzbekistan to be bold and courageous despite persecution and to continue being faithful witnesses of Christ to the community.

* for those who are in prison, especially for Pastor Dmitry Shestakov and believers from the Donam church, along with their families and churches.

* that God will turn the situation in the Donam church for his glory and the church members will not be fearful of this situation but feel blessed to be persecuted for Christ.

'Many are those who are my vigorous enemies; those who hate me without reason are numerous. Those who repay my good with evil slander me when I pursue what is good. O Lord, do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God. Come quickly to help me, O Lord my Saviour. (Psalm 38:19-22, NIV)



On 23 August some 20 anti-terror police officers raided the registered Donam Protestant church in Tashkent during their regular Sunday service, claiming it was 'unauthorised'. The church members were threatened and not allowed to leave for several hours and forced to give their names and addresses. The pastor and three church workers were sentenced to 15 days' imprisonment and confiscated Christian literature was destroyed. The church members wrote a letter of protest to Uzbekistan's Interior Minister, the Tashkent Justice Department and President Islam Karimov. The pastor of another church, Dmitry Shestakov, is serving the third year of a four-year imprisonment for illegal religious activities. Please pray for Christians in Uzbekistan who live under constant threat of persecution. Persecution results in more unity amongst Christian churches as they learn to stand together in fellowship.