Tuesday, June 29, 2021

RLPB 604. June Update: Incl. Algeria, Azerbaijan, China, Eritrea, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Mexico, Pakistan.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 604 | Wed 30 JUNE 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

To subscribe (free) or view archives, visit the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog. The RLPB is sponsored by Christian Faith and Freedom Inc. 


JUNE 2021 UPDATE

By Elizabeth Kendal 

DURING THIS PERIOD, WE PRAYED CONCERNING:

* AFGHANISTAN [RLPB 600 (2 June)] and its imperilled Church, as the West withdraws, Islamic State plots, and the Taliban (still closely aligned to al-Qaeda) advances. Please continue to pray: may the Lord preserve and continue to build his Church in Afghanistan.

* PAKISTAN [RLPB 601 (9 June)] after 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 citing a lack of evidence. Aware that the acquittal would trigger Islamic rage, prayer was requested for safety – for Shafqat and Shagufta, and their lawyer Saif ul-Malook. 

UPDATE: KILL THE BLASPHEMERS AND GO TO PARADISE!

On 15 June, Morning Star News reported that Islamic extremists had started a campaign calling for Shafqat and Shagufta to be killed when they are eventually released from prison. Included in the incitement is the promise that whoever kills Shafqat or Shagufta or their attorney Saif ul-Malook, will be assured of paradise. ‘The social media are being flooded with hate posts against us and the two judges who ordered the couple’s release,’ Malook said. ‘The lives of all of us involved in the case are at great peril.’ Malook told the BBC that he considered the current threats against him the ‘most dangerous’ he had ever received. He also criticised the government for not providing him with adequate security; ‘Not even a clerk from the Pakistani government has contacted me,’ he said. Clearly, Malook and the judges need to be granted security. Meanwhile, Shafqat, Shagufta and their family need to be granted asylum, for as long as they are in Pakistan, their lives are gravely imperilled. Please pray.

* BURMA [RLPB 602 (16 June)] as the junta – which has long been at war with the Karen and Kachin – expands its war to the Chin and Karenni. Military aggression saw some 42,000 Chin and 103,500 Karenni displaced in June. As the Tatmadaw (Burmese military) advances, it leaves in its wake a trail of devastation, including destroyed property (including homes, clinics and churches) and torched and ruined food stocks. With the junta also blockading food and medical aid, it is a Christian crisis of monumental proportions. Please pray.

* PAPUA (INDONESIA) [RLPB 603 (23 June)], as the indigenous ethnic Melanesian, predominately Christian Papuans face Islamic terror at the hands of jihadists, and state terror at the hands of the Indonesian military. Please pray.


JUNE 2021 ROUND-UP - also this month:

ALGERIA: CHURCH FACES DIFFICULT DAYS

ELECTIONS: On 12 June, around 23 percent of eligible voters participated in Algeria’s parliamentary elections. It was the lowest voter turnout in at least 20 years for legislative elections; the previous lowest turnout being 40 percent 2017. Supporters of the ‘Hirak’ pro-democracy protest movement boycotted the polls, as did the traditional opposition parties, and virtually the whole indigenous (non-Arab) Berber-dominated Kabylie region. The ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) secured the most seats, winning 98 of 407 seats (down from 164 in 2017, and 208 in 2012). Having failed to secure a majority, the FLN will need to form a coalition with at least three minor parties in order to govern. Meanwhile, the Islamist Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) party secured 65 of 407 seats (up from 33 in 2017). The ‘old guard’ (in power since 1962) might have managed to retain its grip on power, but disillusionment is soaring. Consequently, it is highly likely that repression will escalate, especially in Kabylie region. A desire to appease Islamists could also fuel an escalation in repression and persecution of Christians, many (or most) of whom live in the Kabylie region. Please pray.   

PERSECUTION: THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES
Update to RLPB 588, ‘Fragile State; Intense Spiritual Struggle’, 10 March 2021. 

Pastor Rachid Seighir

On Sunday 6 June, Pastor Rachid Seighir of Oratoire Church in the coastal city of Oran, and Nouh Hamimi, the salesman who managed Pastor Seighir’s Christian bookshop in Oran, were sentenced on appeal to one-year in prison (suspended) and a fine of 200,000 dinars (US$1,494). They had previously been sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 500,000 dinars (US$3,745). Their crime: ‘distributing publications or any other propaganda undermining the faith of a Muslim’; a charge many Christians would be guilty of! Refusing to submit to injustice and persecution, Pastor Rachid will appeal all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. Just days earlier, on Wednesday 2 June, the administrative court of Oran issued an implementation order to close Pastor Rachid’s Oratoire Church, along with two other churches, one in El-Ayaid (35 km east of Oran) and one in Ain-Turk (35 km west of Oran). This brings the number of churches shuttered in Algeria to 16. Everything indicates that the persecution is coming from the highest levels of government. Please pray for the Church in Algeria.

‘Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 6:10-12 NIV). 

AZERBAIJAN: RELIGION LAW AMENDMENTS APPROVED
Update to RLPB 595, ‘Escalating Repression’, 27 April. 

 Pan-Turk presidents:
Erdogan (Turkey) (l) 
 Aliyev (Azerbaijan) (r)
On 16 June, President Ilham Aliyev signed into law Religion Law amendments that will make it even more difficult (if not impossible) to conduct Christian ministry legally in Azerbaijan. For the first time in Azerbaijan’s short history, non-Islamic religious communities will be required to get permission from a State Committee to appoint individuals as religious leaders. The first test will come soon, for the Russian Orthodox Diocese is due to name a new Archbishop to replace Archbishop Aleksandr (Ishchein), who died on 10 June. Many of the amendments simply add to the Church’s burden. For example, as in the original law, local religious communities still require 50 adult citizens as founders. However, an amendment adds that these founders must live in one administrative district. Then, 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, making it highly unlikely that any group other than the Russian Orthodox will be able to establish a ‘religious centre’. Furthermore, once registered, a ‘religious centre’ may only operate one religious school. It seems the increasingly Turkic-nationalist and Islamist government is determined to drive non-Turks and non-Muslims from Azerbaijan. Full report: www.forum18.org (17 June). Please pray for the Church in Azerbaijan; specifically for grace, wisdom, solidarity and creativity.  

CHINA: CHENGDU CHURCH ENDURES FIERCE PERSECUTION
-- the persecution of Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC) Chengdu, Sichuan. 

Pastor Wang Yi (ERCC)
left: at home pre-Dec 2018,
right: in prison March 2020
June 2021: health deteriorating

PASTOR WANG YI of ERCC, Chengdu, was arrested in December 2018 and sentenced in December 2019 to nine years in prison for ‘inciting subversion of state power’ and ‘illegal business operations’. A photo taken secretly in March 2020 and leaked to Wang’s appointed lawyer showed a thin and pale Wang, handcuffed in a cell [RLPB 548 (2 May 2020)]. China Aid Association (CAA) reports, ‘It looks as if Pastor Wang Yi is being treated very badly in prison right now… kept in solitary confinement in [Chengdu’s] Jintang Prison, with two other prisoners guarding him.’ It appears that the authorities are preventing family members and lawyers from visiting, withholding medical treatment, and feeding him ‘mouldy rice’. CAA founder Bob Fu suspects the authorities are engineering Wang’s ‘medical deterioration’. Please pray.

Pastor Wu Wuqing

PASTOR WU WUQING of ERCC, Chengdu, has been repeatedly arrested and persecuted since the authorities shuttered the church in December 2018; he lives under 24-hour surveillance. On 4 June, Chinese officials forcibly detained Pastor Wu, his wife Xiong Meifang, and their two children, in their apartment, chaining their door and posting a security guard in the hallway. The family is not permitted to leave, and visitors are not permitted to enter. Church members have only been permitted to deliver supplies of food and water to the door. It seems the authorities are working to either subjugate Pastor Wu or drive him away from Chengdu. CAA anticipates that Pastor Wu’s imprisonment will end after Thursday 1 July – i.e. after the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. The persecution, however, will only get worse. Please pray.

ERITREA: GOVERNMENT SEIZES CATHOLIC SCHOOLS

In June 2019, the repressive government of President Isaias Afwerki (who has ruled Eritrea since 1993) seized control of 22 medical clinics belonging to the Catholic Church [RLPB 508 (26 June 2019)]. In September 2019, the government seized control of seven mostly Catholic secondary schools. On 21 June 2021, Catholic media reported, ‘procedures have begun for the confiscation or, alternatively, the closure of our remaining educational institutions, from pre-schools to intermediate primary schools, scattered throughout the Country’. Some of the schools being seized were built by Italian missionaries more than 70 years ago. The government seizure of Church-owned and run schools and health clinics is a terrible blow to the Church, which stands to lose assets and influence. Critically, it is also a terrible blow to Eritrea’s poor and needy who have long benefited from these services. Please pray for God to intervene in Eritrea.

ETHIOPIA: THE BATTLE CONTINUES

PM Abiy campaigns in Jimma,
southwestern Oromia,
16 June (image: Reuters).

ELECTIONS: On 21 June, Ethiopians living in non-conflict zones voted to elect a new parliament in what PM Abiy noted was the country’s ‘first attempt at a free and fair election’. Due to insecurity, elections were not held in around one-fifth of the country’s 547 constituencies, including all 38 seats in Tigray and 64 others across Ethiopia. Most of the delayed polling is scheduled for 6 September, although no date has been set for voting in Tigray. The turnout was high, and the election was peaceful; results are yet to be announced. Then, on Monday 28 June, a re-grouped and re-armed Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) force stormed the Tigray capital, Mekelle. Surprised and overwhelmed, government forces were forced to retreat as TPLF forces took control of the city. Along with the military, Tigray’s interim administration – which has suffered a string of assassinations – is also on the run. A unilateral ceasefire has been declared so that humanitarian needs can be addressed. 

The Battle for Ethiopia pits the government’s vision of a strong, prosperous, and united Ethiopia against ethno-nationalists who would tear Ethiopia apart for personal (political and economic) gain. Leading the ethno-nationalist cause is the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front (TLPF, which dominated, terrorised and robbed Ethiopia for three decades) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Not only are these groups working together, but they receive support in the form of arms, funding and training from Egypt and the Sudanese military. During the Cold War, the US backed the Marxist TPLF against the Soviet-backed Derg; and ties remain strong. The US administration also backs Egypt against Ethiopia because it needs Egypt to mediate in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and because Egypt buys a lot of US weapons (whereas Orthodox Ethiopia buys from its long-time ally, Orthodox Russia). Citing the war in Tigray, the US has imposed sanctions on Ethiopia (one of the poorest countries in the world). If Ethiopia were to collapse it would trigger a Christian crisis of monumental proportions. Please pray for Ethiopia.

INDIA: REPRESSION TO ESCALATE IN GUJARAT 

On 1 June, a law came into effect in India’s north-western state of Gujarat which Christians fear will erode the Christian character of church-own schools, and eventually bring them under the control of the Hindu nationalist state government. The Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education (Amendment) Act stipulates that the appointment of teachers and principals in church-owned school will now be undertaken by a Central Recruitment Committee rather than by the schools themselves. On 7 June, Gujarat’s religious minorities jointly filed a petition in the state’s High Court challenging the new law. Church leaders suspect that if the Gujarat state government succeeds in taking control of Church-run schools, then other BJP-ruled states will follow suit. In April, Gujarat amended its 17-year-old anti-conversion law to define sponsorship of a child’s education as an attempt at religious conversion, a crime that can be punished with up to 10 years in jail. Please pray.

IRAN: CHURCH FACES DIFFICULT DAYS

ELECTION: On 18 June, 48.8 percent of eligible voters participated in Iran’s presidential election. It was the lowest voter turnout ever for an Iranian presidential election, below the previous low of 51 percent in 1989. The entire process had been engineered to ensure that Ibrahim Raisi would be elected. As was expected, Raisi won with 62 percent of votes. Second place went to informal votes (mostly blank), with the other candidates lagging far behind. In 1988, Raisi served as deputy prosecutor of the Revolutionary Court which oversaw the execution of more than 30,000 dissidents over a four-month period. Journalist and author Amir Taheri incisively explains, ‘Raisi’s victory is the victory of a coterie that cares neither for Iran nor for revolution as long as it can advance its position of power and protect its ill-gained assets.’ And as Taheri explains, now that coterie has their man in the presidency, they will have no-one to blame but themselves if the domestic situation deteriorates and disillusionment skyrockets. Christians might be anxious, but they know that God is at work in their nation. INcontext International quotes a ministry leader in Iran: ‘The new Iranian president will [undoubtedly] start cracking down and arresting Christians. It’s going to be a dark time in Iran, but God will move even more powerfully.’ Please pray.

‘The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord’ (Proverbs 16:33 ESV) ‘who works all things according to the counsel of his will’ (from Ephesians 1:11 ESV).

 Milad, Amin and Alireza

PERSECUTION: On 21 June, three members of the ‘Church of Iran’ (a non-Trinitarian Branhamite sect) faced court in the 4th Chamber of the Revolutionary Court of Karaj. [As the late Nabeel Queshi explains, the Trinity can be an especially difficult hurdle for Muslims, who are taught from birth that Allah is ‘one and indivisible’ (https://quran.com/112) and that belief in a Trinity is polytheism.] Milad Goudarzi, Amin Khaki, and Alireza Nourmohammadi – all converts from Islam – are the first known examples of Christians being charged – and now convicted – under the newly amended Article 500 [see RLPB 586, ‘President Signs Law to Facilitate Persecution’ (24 Feb)]. They were denied a lawyer. The men were informed of the verdicts on 26 June: each will serve five years in prison and pay a fine of 40 million tomans (US$1,800) for ‘engaging in propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam’, a charge most Christians would be guilty of! They will appeal. Please pray for the Church in Iran.

MEXICO: COUNTER-REFORMATION CONTINUES IN CHIAPAS 

Pastor Alejandro Jiménez and his sons – five families comprising 30 people – were expelled from the indigenous community in Mitzitón, San Cristóbal de las Casas, in Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas on 10 January 2021. The Catholics accused them of establishing a Protestant church and refusing to participate in Catholic festivals. Since then, Alejandro and his family have been living in the Alas de Águila [Eagles Wings] refuge house in San Cristóbal de las Casas. On 17 June, Pastor Alejandro returned to Mitzitón to visit his ailing mother. When the Catholics learned that he had arrived, they proceeded to arrest him and transfer him to the town centre, where he was imprisoned for an hour. The Catholics then proceeded to destroy and burn five houses belonging to Pastor Alejandro and his sons. Since 1982, Catholics in Mitzitón have staged five attacks in which 180 houses of evangelicals have been destroyed. The 180 families have all relocated and established churches elsewhere. The anti-Protestant persecution is driven by superstitious fear and jealousy, and fuelled by impunity. Please pray. 

PAKISTAN: GOVERNMENT SEIZES CHURCH SCHOOL

Church of Pakistan (Anglican) Bishop
Humphrey Peters of Peshawar (centre)
at Peshawar Press Club, 11 June.
 

Founded by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in 1853, Edwardes College in Peshawar is the oldest missionary education institution in Pakistan’s north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. It has been managed by the Church for 180 years. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government took over the college in 2019 through an administrative action validated by the provincial High Court. On 3 June 2021, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Khyber Pakhtunkhawa government. On 11 June, Protestants took to the streets in protest. ‘The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party has committed a hate crime against the church,’ Church of Pakistan (Anglican) Bishop Humphrey Peters of Peshawar told a press conference. The bishop called for the college to be returned to the Church and denounced its nationalisation as ‘a violation of the constitutional rights of the weak religious minorities’. As rights activist Zeeshan Yaqub of Peshawar explained to Fides, ‘the Christian community in Pakistan is making great efforts in the fields of education, health and other humanitarian services, which benefit the entire population, people of all religions. We ask for the protection of the rights of minorities, as provided for by the Constitution of Pakistan, even in their properties.’ Pray for the Church in Pakistan.

NO JUSTICE YET FOR PASTOR ZAFAR BHATTI
Update to RLPB 568, ‘'Blasphemy', a sword over the neck’, 23 Sep 2020. 

Pastor Zafar Bhatti
Pastor Zafar Bhatti has been in Rawalpindi’s Adiala Central Jail since July 2012 when an Islamic cleric accused him of sending blasphemous text messages; a charge the pastor strongly denies. In May 2017, a court deemed Pastor Zafar guilty, but instead of sentencing him to death (as is mandatory for blasphemy) the judge sentenced him to life imprisonment because there was ‘no concrete evidence’ against him. As is common in Pakistan, his appeals have been repeatedly adjourned. In September 2020, Pastor Zafar (then 56) suffered a heart attack in his cell. Though treated and stabilised, his health is clearly fragile. On Tuesday 22 June, an additional sessions judge in Rawalpindi District upheld Bhatti’s life sentence despite there still being no evidence against him. His lawyers will now appeal to the High Court. 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 22, 2021

RLPB 603. Papua (Indonesia): Islamic Terror Plot Foiled; State Terror Continues.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 603 | Wed 23 Jun 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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

PAPUA: ISLAMIC TERROR PLOT FOILED; THREAT REMAINS
- meanwhile state terror continues unabated, as does internet blackout.
by Elizabeth Kendal

Archbishop of Merauke,
Petrus Mandagi.

In a series of raids commencing 28 May, Indonesia's counter-terrorism squad, Densus 88, arrested 12 Islamic terror suspects in Papua's south-eastern Merauke Regency. According to Merauke district police chief, Adjunct Senior Commissioner Untung Sangaji, the terror suspects were preparing to carry out suicide bombings in at least two police stations and several churches in Merauke city, Jagebob, Kurik, Semangga and Tanah Miring. They were also plotting to kill the Catholic Archbishop of Merauke, Petrus Canisius Mandagi. It is the second time the Archbishop has been targeted for assassination. On 1 January the would-be assassins turned up at the Archbishop's residence, only to find he was out of town. On Sunday 30 May the would-be suicide bombers made their way to Merauke's Cathedral of St Francis Xavier only to find that the Archbishop was out of town and the police were ready and waiting in place.

click on map to enlarge.

The 12 terror suspects are members of the Islamic State-affiliate Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) group, the same group that carried out the suicide bombing at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Makassar, South Sulawesi, on Sunday 28 March, killing themselves and wounding some 20 church officials and members [RLPB 591 (31 March 2021)]. JAD is just one of several jihadists groups to have threatened to wage jihad in the Papuan Provinces [RLPB 523 (9 Oct 2019)]. Consequently, whilst this plot may have been neutralised, the jihadist threat remains.

Meanwhile, in the Central Highlands, state terror continues unabated. Speaking from Papua's capital, Jayapura, Catholic priest Father John Djonga explains that as soon as Jakarta labelled Papuan armed groups 'terrorist', it gave Indonesian troops a licence to 'shoot anyone'. Experts at Melbourne University agree, warning that the anti-terror approach will 'further embed a culture of impunity for state violations of rights' and 'fuel the cycle of violence that has claimed the lives of many ordinary people, from schoolchildren to pastors'.

Reverend Laban Hagabal.
Shot dead by Indonesian counter-terror
forces, 4am, 16 May 2021.

With the internet still down, news is scarce. However, Human Rights Papua reports that on 15 May security forces attacked the Central Highland villages of Toegi, Mayuberi, Kabuki, Amungi, Olenki, Maki and Ayali with ground troops and two attack helicopters. A Kingmi Papua church (Protestant) in Kabuki was reportedly damaged during the air raid. [The Indonesian military has long accused the Gereja Kemah Injil Papua (Gospel Tabernacle Church Papua), or Kingmi Church, of being actively pro-OPM (Free Papua Movement).] Shortly after the attack, all villagers from Toegi, including Kingmi pastor Reverend Laban Hagabal, decided to flee to Demaju Village. Shortly after they arrived, a group of West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN PB) fighters also arrived in Demaju. At around 4.00 am the next morning, security forces launched an attack on Demaju Village. As panicked Papuans fled in every direction, Reverend Laban Hagabal and one TPN PB member were shot dead. As of 1 June, relatives, church representatives and a tribal leader had not been permitted to retrieve the bodies.

On 25 May a group of Church leaders, including Archbishop Petrus Mandagi of Merauke, Papua, Indonesian Bishops' Conference president Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo of Jakarta and Reverend Ronny Mandang, chairman of the Fellowship of Indonesian Evangelical Churches and Institutions, Jakarta, met with Co-ordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD and offered to mediate talks between the Indonesian government and Papuan armed groups. With thousands of ethnic Melanesian, predominantly Christian, indigenous Papuans now displaced throughout the Central Highlands - many without food, clean water, medical aid or shelter - it is urgent that military violence cease and that a door be opened for humanitarian assistance. Human rights-affirming democracies must take a stand against Indonesian state terror in Papua.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* intervene in Papua for the sake of his precious people! Lord in your mercy, protect Papua's churches and pastors from Islamic jihadist terror and state-sanctioned military violence. Lord in your mercy, grant Christian leaders engaged in mediation, advocacy and decision-making an abundance of wisdom, discernment, creativity and authority.

'You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you' (Psalm 89:13-14 ESV).

* open a door so that displaced Papuans might receive all the humanitarian assistance they require! Lord in your mercy, supply their every need for shelter, food, clean water, medical aid, security and spiritual comfort.

* facilitate the entrance into Papua of international observers so that we might know what is happening in the Central Highlands. May the Indonesian government be held to account! May the nations and organisations that first betrayed and then abandoned the Papuan people repent and make things right!

For background and more prayer points see RLPB 597 (12 May)

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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TERROR IN INDONESIA'S PAPUA PROVINCE

In raids commencing on 28 May, Indonesia's counter-terrorism squad arrested 12 Islamic terror suspects in Papua's south-eastern Merauke regency. All were members of JAD, one of several jihadist groups threatening to wage jihad in the Papuan Provinces. They had been preparing to attack police stations and several churches throughout Merauke. Meanwhile state terror continues unabated in the Central Highlands. On 15-16 May Indonesian forces backed by two attack helicopters attacked a string of villages in Puncak Jaya Regency driving thousands of Papuans from their homes. Protestant pastor Reverend Laban Hagabal of Kingmi Church Papua was shot and killed in a pre-dawn raid. Thousands of mostly Christian Papuans are displaced; many in the bush. The internet remains down, and the region remains closed; hunger and death loom. 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 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, 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.

-------------------------------------------------------

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 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

RLPB 600. Afghanistan: Christians Imperilled as West Withdraws

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 600 | Wed 02 June 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

To join this mailing list, or to view or search archives, visit the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. 

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and ‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves . . .’ (from Proverbs 31:8-9 NIV). 

DIARY UPDATE

  •     Postponed: Ethiopia's general election has been postponed to Monday 21 June. The future of Ethiopia hangs in the balance [see RLPB 589 (17 March)].
  •     12 June: Algerian parliamentary election [see RLPB 588 (10 March)]. Islamist parties are expecting to make great gains as pro-democracy forces boycott the polls.
  •     18 June: Iranian presidential election. A total sham, with candidates hand-picked by the ruling Guardian Council who believe they control the whole show. However ...

'The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord' (Proverbs 16:33 ESV) 'who works all things according to the counsel of his will' (from Ephesians 1:11 ESV).

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AFGHANISTAN: CHRISTIANS IMPERILLED AS WEST WITHDRAWS
by Elizabeth Kendal

Famous photograph of Afghan
  women in Kabul, 1970s.

In the late 1970s, Islamist agitation rose across the Middle East as fundamentalist Muslims revolted against their either US- or Soviet-aligned and insufficiently Islamic, modernising dictators. The trend culminated in 1979 in the Islamic Revolution in Tehran and the Siege of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. With Iran on its western border and Saudi-allied Pakistan to its south and east, the trend was bound to bleed into Afghanistan. In 1979 Afghanistan's communist government appealed to its long-time ally, the Soviet Union, for help to contain an Islamic insurgency. Seizing the opportunity to wage a proxy war against the Soviets, the US armed and backed the mujahideen. In 1989, as communism collapsed across Europe, the Soviets opted to abandon Afghanistan. Into the resulting power vacuum rushed an array of warring groups. Seizing the opportunity to expand its strategic depth, and needing to secure its trade routes into Central Asia, Pakistan trained, armed and backed the Pashtuns, many millions of whom also live in the tribal regions of north-west Pakistan. The Pashtun students of jihad became the Taliban (Taleban being Pashto for 'student'). For many Afghans, the Taliban might have been brutally repressive, but they were preferable to the criminal warlords who exploited and terrorised the people with impunity.

On 11 September 2001 the US suffered a spectacular terrorist attack. The attack was organised by al-Qaeda from its sanctuary in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and was designed to draw the US into a long war of attrition inside Afghanistan. The US campaign commenced on 7 October 2001. By the end of 2001, Bin Laden had escaped, the Taliban had collapsed and an interim government had been established. By March 2002 the US had shifted its focus to Iraq. In the summer of 2005, al-Qaeda facilitated the influx into Afghanistan of thousands of foreign jihadists. As violence escalated, the Afghan government moved to appease the Taliban by ramping up Islamisation and cracking down hard on apostasy [RLPB 059 (9 June 2009)]. 

Kabul

By 2011 the US was talking about pulling out of Afghanistan, despite escalating Taliban violence [RLPB 155 (18 April 2012)]. By 11 September 2021, 20 years after al-Qaeda triggered the war, US troops will have withdrawn. As in 1989, the power vacuum will be filled by an array of warring groups. Afghans face the prospect of civil war: the Afghan government (which is weak) vs regional warlords (who control the drug trade) vs the Taliban (which is backed by al-Qaeda) vs Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) which cites a prophetic hadith (an alleged saying of Muhammad) to justify its claim on Afghanistan. As in 1989, outsiders - including Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, Iran, and China - will move to exploit opportunities and either defend or advance their strategic interests. The biggest losers will be the Afghan people, in particular Afghan women, children, and Christians. Despite severe repression and persecution, a 2013 estimate put the number of Christians in Afghanistan at between 2000 and 3000, up from a couple of hundred a decade earlier. Most converted while living outside of the country.  

The US-led campaign in Afghanistan achieved little in terms of enduring freedom. However, it did open a window of opportunity, enabling some amazing Afghans to achieve amazing things. In an article for World News Group, Mindy Belz gives some insights into what may be about to be lost. Concerning the Christian community, a foreign worker inside Afghanistan told her: 'Among Afghanistan's non-Muslims are Christians who have seen a revival of faith and rapid growth since the US-led liberation from the Taliban in 2001. There are basically three types of believers: those who have been forced to leave the country, those who survive by exercising their faith underground, and those who are dead.' Yet, as Belz writes, Muslims continue to come to faith across the country. 'Internet access coming even to remote parts of the country has brought online evangelism and private discipleship. Some Afghan church leaders became Christians while living as refugees abroad and they teach online or have returned to disciple others.' Furthermore, 'Conversion from Islam continues to carry a high cost in the Afghan honour-and-shame culture. It often means loss of family, inheritance, and a job.'

source:
  Cause to fear a Taliban victory,
By Salman Rafi Sheikh,
Asia Times, 26 April 2021

'For these reasons,' continues Belz, 'fellowship among believers can be rare, often taking place in online chat rooms accessed through VPNs [Virtual Private Networks], a secure connection to the internet that makes the user hard to trace. When believers do gather, they do so in small groups over lunch at an office or behind curtains in a safe house in an otherwise nondescript neighbourhood of dusty streets. Bibles are usually contraband, so Scripture is shared using the internet or with cell phone SIM cards. For all the risks, bold church leaders evangelise Muslims and baptise new believers.' In Afghanistan, as in most places where Islam has brought nothing but repression, misery and death, many Muslims are yearning for a different way or path, and increasingly they are open to the way of Jesus Christ as imaged or modelled by Christians who love them. As researcher David Garrison has observed, 'Something is happening, something historic, something unprecedented. A wind is blowing through the House of Islam.' And as Jesus explained to Nicodemus, 'The wind blows where it wishes ...' (John 3:8). Whilst nothing can stop the mission of the Spirit, the Afghan Church will need our prayers.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* give Afghan Christians all the wisdom and understanding they will need to navigate these darkening days; in particular praying for those who lead his imperilled Church, along with those who work with them and advise them, including from afar (Proverbs 2:6-8); may the Lord preserve his Church in Afghanistan.

* give everyone who works with or ministers to Afghans inspirational creativity so they might always stay ahead of - or be able to overcome - every evil scheme designed to silence, crush and eliminate the Afghan Church. 'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it' (Jesus, from Matthew 16:18 ESV).

* redeem these terrible days of fear and uncertainty; may more and more Afghan Muslims seek and find that better way - the way of Jesus Christ.

'For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.' John 3:17 ESV

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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AFGHANISTAN: CHRISTIANS IMPERILLED AS WEST WITHDRAWS  

The US-led campaign in Afghanistan (2001-2021) achieved little in terms of enduring freedom. However, it did open a window of opportunity, enabling some amazing Afghans to achieve amazing things. Despite severe repression and persecution - from the government, the Taliban and Muslim society - a 2013 estimate put the number of Christians in Afghanistan at between 2000 and 3000, up from a couple of hundred a decade earlier. As Western troops withdraw, that window will close. Afghans face the prospect of civil war: the Afghan government vs regional warlords vs the Taliban vs Islamic State Khorasan Province. Outsiders - including Pakistan, Russia, Turkey and China - will move to exploit opportunities and either defend or advance their strategic interests. Please pray for the Afghan Church, and that disillusioned Muslims will seek and find Jesus.

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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