Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 595 | Wed 28 Apr 2021
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Ramadan (Muslim month of fasting): 12/13 April to 12 May.
Orthodox Easter: Friday 30 April to Sunday 2 May.
APRIL 2021 UPDATE
By Elizabeth Kendal
DURING THIS PERIOD, WE PRAYED CONCERNING:
* RAMADAN [RLPB 592 (7 April)], and the elevated threat that Ramadan brings to some of the world's most vulnerable Christian communities. We prayed specifically for the Church in Iraq, against which Islamic State (IS) has issued a direct threat. We also prayed concerning Syria, where analysts anticipate IS will attempt a Ramadan offensive and Armenia, where observers believe a new war is imminent as belligerent, Turkey-backed Azerbaijan demands a 'Zangezur Corridor' through southern Armenia.
RAMADAN UPDATE: ORTHODOX EASTER THIS WEEKEND
This weekend, Ramadan will coincide with Orthodox Easter compounding, the risk of Islamic terrorism and/or Muslim communal violence against vulnerable Orthodox Christian churches and communities. Countries where Christians will be at risk most significantly this Orthodox Easter include Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Ethiopia, as well as aggressively anti-Armenian Azerbaijan and neo-Ottoman Turkey. Please pray.
* CHINA [RLPB 593 (13 April)], where Christians are increasingly being 'disappeared' into 'mobile transformation facilities' - also known as 'Residential Surveillance at a Designation Location' - where they are mistreated until they 'break' and renounce their faith. We prayed especially for Elder Zhang Chunlei of the long-persecuted Ren'ai [Love] Reformed Church in Guiyang, who has been arrested and placed in criminal detention as a 'fraud suspect'; for Pastor Wang Yi of the long-persecuted Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, who was sentenced in December 2018 to nine years in prison; and for long-persecuted lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, who has been 'disappeared' for more than three years. Please continue to pray.
* TURKEY [RLPB 594 (20 April)], where Father Sefer Bilecen (known as Father Aho) - the Assyrian caretaker-priest at Mor Yakub Monastery in Tur Abdin region, Mardin Province - has been jailed for 25 months charged with 'aiding and abetting a terrorist organisation'. His crime was to give food to two armed militants who came to the monastery asking for food. We also prayed for a resolution on the fate of Mr Hurmuz Diril, an Assyrian Christian abducted from neighbouring Sirnac Province in March 2020. Please pray for the Church in Turkey.
UPDATE: Al-Monitor has released a short two minute but excellent video on the sentencing of Father Aho, which highlights how and why Turkey's Assyrian population has declined so markedly in recent years. Excerpt: 'At one point in the 1980s, the Assyrian population in Turkey was around 70,000. Today however, that number is closer is 20,000 with less than 3,000 in Tur Abdin [region, where Mor Yakub monastery is located]. Many of these families continue to feel pressure to leave ...' Note: Dotted with Christian monasteries, 'Tur Abdin' is Aramaic for 'the mountain of the servants of God'.
APRIL 2021 ROUND-UP - also this month:
* AZERBAIJAN: ESCALATING REPRESSION
According to Forum 18, a bill proposing amendments to Azerbaijan's already highly restrictive Religion Law was due to have its first reading in parliament on 23 April. If passed, the amendments will make it even more difficult for non-Islamic religious communities to function legally. It is already the case that, before a local religious group can be registered (legalised), it must have 50 adult citizens as founding members. An amendment would require that all 50 adult citizens reside in the one administrative district. Furthermore, before a religious group can register a 'religious centre' (i.e., headquarters), the group must have at least five registered communities, located in at least five different towns. Once registered, a 'religious centre' may only operate one religious school. Critically, a State Committee would acquire a veto over non-Islamic religious communities' appointments of leaders. While these and other amendments would cause considerable problems for all Christian communities, they would be catastrophic for small Jewish and Protestant fellowships. Please pray.
* EGYPT: IS-SINAI EXECUTES COPTIC CHRISTIAN
-- another Islamic State message signed in blood
|Nabil Habashy Salama|
On 18 April, Islamic State Sinai Province uploaded a 13-minute video to social media showing the execution of Christian Copt, Nabil Habashy Salama (62). A hardworking, popular and successful businessman, Mr Salama had built the only church in his hometown of Bir al-Abd, in the northern Sinai region. Militants snatched Mr Salama off the street on the early evening of 8 November 2020 [RLPB 577 (25 Nov 2020)]. Initially the terrorists demanded payment of two million Egyptian Pounds (approx. US$127,550) as jizya (protection money) for Bir al-Abd’s Copts. They later increased the jizya to five million Egyptian Pounds (approx. US$321,000). Unable to raise the funds and after numerous death threats, the family accepted advice from security officials and fled the Sinai.
In the video, Mr Salama introduces himself and 'confesses' to having built a church which supported the Egyptian military. He is then shown kneeling and bound before three armed terrorists. Speaking into the camera, the terrorist spokesman sends a message to Egypt's Christians: 'We thank the great Allah who ordered his followers to kill, and the kafirs [apostates/infidels] to be subjugated until they pay the jizya [protection money] while down on their knees [see https://quran.com/9/29 ]. This is a message to Crusaders in every spot on earth: as you fight you will be fought, and as you capture you will be captured. As for you, Egypt's Nassaara [a derogatory word for 'Christian', meaning those who follow the Nazarene (i.e., Jesus of Nazareth)], this is your reward for supporting the Egyptian army.' He then shoots Mr Salama through the head at close range. In its statement, in which it claimed responsibility, IS-Sinai confirmed, 'He kept the faith till the moment he was killed.'
Watching the footage, Mr Salama's son Peter was distressed to see that father's teeth were broken, indicating he had been tortured. Peter's sister, Marina, told Egypt's Watani News that, following the initial shock and grief, she felt proud of her father. 'He lived and died a great man,' she said. 'He is now in a better place, with Jesus whom he loved and served.' Please pray.
* ETHIOPIA: CHRISTIANS MASSACRED; RISK OF WAR GROWS.
On Tuesday evening 30 March at least 28 ethnic-Amhara Orthodox Christians were killed and some 12 wounded when gunmen from the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) Shane faction attacked Babo Gambela district, West Wollega Zone, in western Oromia Region. A report from Amhara Mass Media Agency put the death toll at over 40. It is the latest in a string of massacres of ethnic Amhara Christians by OLF-Shane militants in western Oromia Region.
|Satellite images show 13 fires|
burning near Ataye on 18 April.
Then, on 16 April, deadly violence erupted in southern Amhara Region's North Shoa Zone after OLF-Shane attacked Ataye town (although OLF-Shane denies involvement). The militants rampaged, killing and wounding residents, releasing prisoners from jail, burning houses and torching a church. When Amhara's security forces killed a Oromo shopkeeper and administrator from neighbouring Oromo Special Zone (an area in Amhara Region classed as 'special' because its residents are majority ethnic Oromo), all hell broke loose. Over the next four days armed Oromo civilians engaged in battle with Amhara security forces. As violence spread and numerous other towns came under attack, the Ethiopian Defence Forces and Federal Police forces were simply overwhelmed. By 25 April, authorities were putting the death toll at around 200. Some 250,000 people have been displaced across North Shoa Zone and up to 25 percent of all homes have been burned. Addis Ababa has declared a state of emergency in southern Amhara Region.
Tadesse Gerbretsadik, the head of North Shoa administration, said the OLF-Shane militants were well organised and well armed. Anger is rising against Prime Minister Abiy, who is blamed for failing to end the attacks. But in reality, a complex alliance of local and international enemies - the Egyptian government, the Sudanese military, the Tigray Peoples' Liberation Front and the Oromo Liberation Front - are co-ordinating and working together to break up Ethiopia; something that would trigger a Christian crisis of monumental proportions! Please pray.
* HAITI: CRIMINALS TARGET THE CHURCH
Mired in poverty, crippled by corruption, thoroughly infested with voodoo, hopelessly dysfunctional and increasingly lawless, Haiti is a nation in crisis. Recently, kidnapping for ransom has grown to be a major industry, causing the Catholic Church to lament the situation as 'a descent into hell'. Previously, kidnap victims were nearly always doctors or wealthy business people. But that changed in April when churches were targeted in two mass kidnappings. On 1 April four members of the Seventh-day Adventist Gospel Kreyòl Ministry Church in Diquini, Carrefour, on the southern outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, were abducted during a Maundy Thursday service being broadcast live on Facebook. The church's pastor, pianist and two technicians were held as hostages until Easter Sunday (4 April), when they were released upon payment of ransom. Then, on Sunday 11 April, 10 Catholics - five priests, two nuns, and three laypeople - were abducted at Croix-des-Bouquets, on the eastern outskirts of Port-au-Prince, while en route to attend the installation of a parish priest. Two of those abducted - one priest and one nun - are French citizens. The kidnappers have demanded a $1m ransom. Three of the seven clergy were released on 23 April, leaving seven Catholics in captivity. Please pray.
* IRAN: MORE CONVERTS ARRESTED; HOPES FOR RETRIAL
(1) MORE CONVERTS ARRESTED
On 19 April Iranian intelligence agents arrested four Christian converts in the south-western city of Dezful: Hojjat Lotfi Khalaf, Esmaeil Narimanpour, Alireza Varak-Shah, and Mohammad (Davoud) Ali Torabi. The following day a number of other Iranian converts were summoned for interrogation. On 21 April Hojiat, Esmaeil, Alireza and Mohammad (Davoud) were released because of the COVID pandemic. Esmaeil had been beaten during detention. All must remain available for questioning. This is not Davoud's first arrest. He spent a month in jail in 2017, before being released on bail, at which time he was also forced to sign a blank document. There are concerns that Davoud's signature could have been attached to a 'confession' or a renunciation of faith that could complicate his situation today. Between 10 and 15 other converts were summoned for questioning between 19 and 22 April in connection with the arrests of the four men. Please pray.
|Top: Homayoun and Sara|
Below: Sam and Maryam with Lydia
Iran's Supreme Court is considering two retrial petitions. One relates to the prison sentences given to Homayoun Zhaveh (62, with advanced Parkinson's disease) and his wife Sara Ahmadi (43), for belonging to a house-church [see RLPB 591 (31 March)]. The other relates to a court's decision to remove special-needs child Lydia (2) from her adoptive parents, Sam Khosravi and Maryam Falahi, because they are Christian converts and Lydia is considered Muslim [see RLPB 584 (10 Feb)]. Hossein Ahmadiniaz, an Iranian human rights lawyer now based in Europe, explained to Article18 that, because these cases are considered 'security' cases, they are overseen by the Ministry of Intelligence. This, he notes, 'undermines the principle of judicial independence and undermines a fair and just trial.' He adds: 'However, if the judges act with honour, there is still the possibility they may accept the retrials and overturn the verdicts.' Please pray.
* PAPUA (INDONESIA): MILITARY CRACKDOWN LOOMS
As noted in RLPB 578 'Update on the Papuan Provinces' (2 Dec 2020), 'The situation in Indonesia's Papuan Provinces is coming to a head; tensions are soaring; a clash is looming; a Christian crisis may be imminent.' Since then, Papuan militants have further escalated their attacks on Indonesian interests. On Sunday 25 April a small detachment of Indonesian security personnel was patrolling a crime scene in the Central Highlands Puncak Regency when it was ambushed by Papuan rebels. A firefight ensued and Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) provincial intelligence chief Brig. Gen. I Gusti Putu Danny Karya Nugraha was shot dead in what appears to have been a planned assassination. The long-persecuted, mostly Christian, indigenous Papuans of Papua's Central Highlands are now bracing themselves for yet another massive military crackdown. Please pray.
* SAUDI ARABIA: CONVERT TO FACE COURT
On Thursday 22 April an Arab convert - whom Middle East Concern (MEC) identifies only as 'A' - faced court in Saudi Arabia. Several years ago, A's sister suffered abuse from her husband's family after they discovered she had become a Christian. After A helped her flee the country with her children, the family charged A with stealing money and threatened violence against his wife and children. While A has been dealing with charges of apostasy and spreading Christianity for years now, the theft case was due to be heard on 22 April. If found guilty, A would have ended up in a Saudi prison. MEC rallied supporters to prayer. During the trial, a dispute arose between the judge and the two lawyers representing the accuser and then between the two lawyers themselves. Frustrated and furious, the judge concluded (rightly) there was no evidence against A and acquitted him. MEC reports: 'This answer to prayer was a great encouragement, not only to A, his wife and children, but also to the wider convert community in their city.' Note: God answers prayer and there are convert communities inside Saudi Arabia! MEC reports: 'A. still faces two other court cases. He is accused of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity and of helping his sister leave the country against the wishes of her husband and the wider family. In the past few years A. has faced several prison sentences and flogging due to his faith and his assistance to his sister.' Please pray.
* SOMALILAND: CONVERTS TO FACE COURT
Officially part of Somalia, Somaliland is a self-declared independent state on the Gulf of Aden. A former British protectorate, Somaliland is routinely praised as a beacon of democracy. That may be so, but its constitution is profoundly Islamic and Islamic conservatism has been rising for years. On 4 April, six converts - four of whom were arrested in January and two in February - were charged with offences against the state religion (Islam) and inciting others to disobey laws relating to public order. Among them were Mohamed and Hamdi, a young couple arrested with their new-born baby. On 14 April three of the believers - two women (one from Somalia and one from Ethiopia) and an Ethiopian man - were released and deported. However, Mohamed, Hamdi and one other Christian, were additionally charged with apostasy and spreading Christianity. Their trial was to resume on Tuesday 27 April. Please pray.
There is simply more persecution than the RLPB can cover, much of which is continuous. Consequently, RLPB endeavours to prioritise unreported or little-known persecutions, along with new trends, pivotal events, and looming or unfolding crises.
FOR INFORMATION ON
* the continuous stream of killings and abductions of Christians in Nigeria;
* the endless accusations of blasphemy against poor Christians in Pakistan;
* the non-stop systematic violent and legal persecution of poor Christians in India;
* the horrors increasingly facing Christian minorities in Uganda's impoverished and majority-Muslim Eastern Region
-- (none of which have been covered in this RLPB) -- please visit, sign up to (free) and support the various Christian news and aid organisations that specialise in providing news on the persecuted Church.
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).