Tuesday, December 5, 2017

RLPB 435. Philippines: Battle for Mindanao far from over.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 435 | Wed 06 Dec 2017

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PHILIPPINES: BATTLE FOR MINDANAO FAR FROM OVER
-- plus, Risk of Advent and Christmas Terror 

by Elizabeth Kendal

In a military offensive on 16 October the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) killed Isnilon Hapilon (former leader of Abu Sayyaf and Islamic State's 'emir' for Southeast Asia) and Omarkhayam Maute, leader of the pro-ISIS Maute group and the last of the Maute brothers to be killed. Commenting on the killings, Singapore-based terrorism expert Kumar Ramakrishna warned (16 October): 'Just because the Marawi siege is coming to an end does not mean the threat is over. ISIS-linked militants there will regroup ... and lay low for a while, while rebuilding their strength.' Recent reports from Mindanao indicate that this is precisely what is happening.

Mindanao: displace children,
fed by local evangelical church (Oct 2017)
Whilst the Battle for Marawi is now over, the conflict has left Marawi City uninhabitable. The city is mostly rubble, all the banks have been emptied and every house and business has been looted and destroyed. Eager to exploit the situation, Islamic State recruiters target displaced Muslims and Islamist sympathisers who are furious about the destruction of Marawi, which they blame on the AFP (rather than on the jihadists whose plot to seize Marawi for their Caliphate started the conflict). Sources report that ISIS is actively recruiting across Mindanao, including in Western Mindanao State University (WMSU) in Zamboanga. Recruits receive a 'sign-up purse' (one-off payment) with the promise of further payments and benefits if they join a battlefront. Rommel Banlaoi from the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research warns that cashed-up 'sleeper cells are everywhere'.

Ominously, Banlaoi also warns that Islamic State is encouraging the Philippines' four main pro-Islamic State groups -- the Bangsamoro ¬Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the Abu Sayyaf Group, Khilafah Islamiyah Mindanao and Ansarul Khilafah Philippines -- to unify. Lt-General Carlito Galvez Jr, commander of the Western Mindanao Command, warns that Cotabato City (around 60 percent Muslim and 35 percent Christian) in Mindanao's Maguindanao Province 'could be the next Marawi'. 

Philippines
click on map to enlarge
Furthermore, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is exploiting the situation for political gain. During the conflict, MILF (which seeks to rule an autonomous Islamic sub-state Mindanao) took up arms against IS-linked BIFF, which split from MILF in 2010. Though it was doubtless little more than a power struggle, it afforded MILF the opportunity to present itself to Mindanao's Muslims and to the Philippine government as a rescuing counterforce to the ultra-hardline transnational ISIS, and the best hope for peace. MILF maintains that peace on Mindanao can be secured only through the creation of an autonomous Islamic sub-state, with local Muslim (MILF) rulers and Islamic Sharia Law. Not only would MILF defend this Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, it maintains that Muslims living there would no longer have any reason to sympathise with transnational groups like ISIS which threaten the central government. President Duterte (a 'Catholic') does not need convincing -- he is eager to see the potentially unconstitutional Bangsamoro Basic Law passed and enacted by March 2018.  Pressure is mounting and Christians in western Mindanao are exceedingly anxious about the future. While the predominantly Christian cities of Zamboanga and Davao would not be forced to join the Bangsamoro political entity, thousands of Christian villages throughout western Mindanao will be offered a plebiscite, which (I fear) could trigger ethnic-religious cleansing.

An analysis of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, see:
Philippines: Bangsamoro Basic Law Looms over Mindanao
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 11 Dec 2017

Vandalised chapel, Shariff Aguak
images
On 9 November vandals broke into a Catholic chapel in a village in Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao Province. The intruders gathered the Catholic icons onto the central table, dowsed them in gasoline and burnt them. No group has claimed responsibility and residents suspect that jihadists (possibly from BIFF) are attempting to generate religious conflict between the town's Muslims and minority Christians.  Late on Sunday 3 December some 30 BIFF fighters attacked a village in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, killing two and wounding seven (including four pre-schoolers) in homes adjacent to a military base. The Battle for Marawi is over, but the Battle for Mindanao most certainly is not.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* the Lord to protect, bless, fortify and sanctify Mindanao's Christian minority; may the Church grow in prayerfulness, faith and grace, that God will be glorified in Mindanao.

* the Holy Spirit to energise, empower, sustain and bless all those who minister to Mindanao's multitudes of harassed and helpless Muslims and displaced persons; may the Lord provide all their needs and send out more workers into that harvest field. (Matthew 9:35-38)

* the Almighty Creator God -- for whom 'nothing will be impossible' (Luke 1:37) -- to intervene in the political process so that conditions in the south will be improved as constitutional freedoms are retained.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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PHILIPPINES: BATTLE FOR MINDANAO FAR FROM OVER

With the battle for Marawi City over, ISIS and its affiliates are recruiting and regrouping across western Mindanao. They target displaced Muslims and Islamist sympathisers who are furious about the destruction of Marawi, which they blame on the Philippine military. Senior intelligence officials warn that cashed-up 'sleeper-cells are everywhere' and that Cotabato City 'could be the next Marawi'. Exploiting the situation for political gain, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is insisting that peace in Mindanao is only possible with the establishment of an autonomous Islamic sub-state. President Duterte agrees and is eager to have the potentially unconstitutional law enacted by March 2018. With continuing Islamic guerrilla war and the prospect of MILF rule, there is much to concern Mindanao's Christian minority. Please pray for the Philippines and its Christians.

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RISK OF ADVENT & CHRISTMAS TERROR

Islamic State (IS) and its affiliates are taking a battering from the Philippine military in Mindanao, the Egyptian military in Sinai, the Nigerian military in northeast Nigeria and from Russia and the West in Syria. Consequently, we should assume that IS will seek to inflict pain and send a symbolic message to these governments by bombing a Philippine, Egyptian, Nigerian, Russian or Western Cathedral over Christmas. Failing that (should security prove too tight) IS will doubtless seek out softer targets, such as Christmas or New Year festivities. May the Lord be powerfully present, working in and through his Church. May the Lord watch over and protect his precious children (Psalm 121:7) and 'frustrate the ways of the wicked' (Psalm 146:9 ESV).

THREATS TO THE WEST:  Using posters and videos, IS has issued Christmas threats against London, New York, a Mormon Temple in San Diegothe Vatican and Europe's Christmas markets. Melbourne, Australia, is on alert, after a major terror plot targeting St Paul's Cathedral was averted last Christmas and one plot for a New Year's Eve massacre has been foiled so far this season.

May the message of Christmas ring out loud and clear: 'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.' John 1:5 ESV

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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).


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

RLPB 434. November Update, Incl. Nigeria, Burma, India, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 434 | Wed 29 Nov 2017

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)

by Elizabeth Kendal

NOVEMBER 2017 UPDATE -- this month we prayed concerning ...

Shot in the face while fleeing her
burning home, Lisa Bono lost five
members of her family in the attack.
(courtesy: Stephanos Foundation)
* NIGERIA (RLPB 431), where, after another spat of Fulani violence, a coalition of 25 ethnic nationalities in Plateau State had demanded the State Assembly initiate a bill against open grazing. On 8 November, Jubilee Campaign published a report by Stephanos Foundation which included photos and interviews with survivors of the 16 October attack in Bassa Local Government Area (LGA).

UPDATE: On Tuesday evening 7 November gunmen ambushed and opened fire on Christians in Rim village in Riyom LGA, Plateau State, as they returned home from a nearby market. According to a local eye-witness, whilst some of the gunmen were clearly herdsmen, others were dressed in military fatigues. Eleven Christians were killed and four wounded. In communications with Morning Star News the president of the Church of Christ In Nations (COCIN), Rev Dacholom Datiri, confirmed that nine of the dead were members of the COCIN church. Others were members of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA). Chairman of Riyom LGA, Emmanuel Jugul, was outraged by the attack, telling World Watch Monitor that most of the residents of Mahanga and Gweba have been displaced, adding, 'Fulanis are saying that they have captured the place.'

BENUE: On 14 November World Watch Research released a report on Fulani violence in Benue State. The report, sponsored by Open Doors International and Voice of the Martyrs Canada, catalogues the crimes committed against Christians by Hausa-Fulani herdsmen between January 2014 and August 2017. With more than 4,200 killed, more than 3,000 injured, more than 30 churches destroyed and some 100,000 people displaced, the report concludes that the violence amounts to ethnic cleansing. Benue enacted anti-open grazing laws on 1 November. The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) has protested and appealed for federal government intervention. In response, Benue lawmakers have appealed directly to President Buhari, requesting he support the Anti-Open Grazing Law to put an end to the 'carnage and massive destruction' being caused by 'heartless terrorists operating under the cover of Fulani herdsmen'.

PRAY for Nigeria and for the suffering Church in the North. Pray especially for a movement of the Holy Spirit amongst the Fulani and that all Nigerians will ultimately be 'one in Christ Jesus' (Galatians 3:25-28)

* CHINA (RLPB 432), where it was reported Christian human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate Gao Zhisheng -- missing since 13 August -- had finally been located. According to local sources, state security services are holding Gao in a secret prison in Shaanxi Province, in solitary confinement and in total darkness. Gao Zhisheng is one of many Christians currently being punished for criticising the repressive and violent policies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). What makes his case so significant is that Gao is recognised and respected internationally. Gao is thus a test case: if Gao is not safe then no Chinese human rights or religious liberty advocate is safe. 

* BURMA (RLPB 433), where ethnic Kachin pastor Dumdaw Nawng Lat (67) of the Mong Ko Kachin Baptist Church and his nephew, youth pastor Langjaw Gam Seng (35), have been sentenced to prison as punishment for exposing the Burmese military's destruction of Mong Ko town. The Kachin Baptist Convention is preparing to appeal.

Displaced Kachin children in a camp
run by the Kachin Baptist Convention.
The Kachin are a Christian people.
UPDATE on KACHIN IDPs: According to a report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (September 2017), almost 100,000 ethnic Kachin are currently displaced: more than 89,000 in 146 camps throughout Kachin State and more than 9,400 in 33 camps in neighbouring northern Shan State [where Mong Ko is located].

PRAY for Burma (Myanmar) and for her suffering Church. Pray especially for a movement of the Holy Spirit amongst the ethnic Burman Buddhist majority and that all Burmese will ultimately be 'one in Christ Jesus' (Galatians 3:25-28)


NOVEMBER 2017 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

* INDIA: DECEMBER ELECTIONS IN GUJARAT

Archbishop Macwan
Elections for a new State Assembly will be held in Gujarat on Saturday 9 and Thursday 14 December, with the result to be announced on Monday 18 December. Though the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has governed Gujarat since 1989, polls indicate that the Congress Party is closing in and that it will be a tight race.

On 21 November the Archbishop of Gandhinagar, Rev Thomas Macwan (65) issued a letter to the state's Catholics exhorting them to pray. 'Not a single day goes without an attack on our churches, faithful or institutions,' he wrote. 'Pray ... we may have such people elected in the Gujarat State Assembly who will remain faithful to our Indian Constitution and respect every human being without any sort of discrimination.' Hindu nationalists then accused the Archbishop of seeking to 'generate fear' and 'divide people on the basis of caste and creed', and demanded 'immediate action'. On 25 November, the Election Commission issued the Archbishop with a notice asking him to explain why his letter should not be viewed as a violation of the Model Code of Conduct. The Archbishop reiterated that he was merely calling his people to pray for 'humane leaders faithful to the Constitution'. Hindu nationalist zeal will surely escalate in the lead-up to the polls.  Pray for India, for her longsuffering persecuted Church and for the elections in Gujarat.

See also: Gujarat bishop’s plea to save India from nationalist forces is an act of citizenship we must support
By Shiv Visvanathan, Scroll.in 27 Nov 2017

* IRAQ: ASSYRIANS VULNERABLE AS POWERS CLASH
[Update to RLPB 424: Assyrians request prayer as Kurds 'play with fire' (19 Sept).]

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani's 25 September referendum on Kurdish independence backfired spectacularly. After brokering a deal with Kurdish opposition leader Jalal Talabani, Baghdad -- with support from Iran (and no resistance from Talibani forces) -- seized oil-rich Kirkuk from Barzani's forces in a blitzkrieg. On 1 November Barzani stepped down from the presidency. Tensions are high across the 'disputed areas', including the Nineveh Plains, as Kurdish and Iraqi forces, backed by Shi'ite militias (many led by Iranians), fight for control of territory. On 24 October clashes in the Assyrian town of Teleskuf forced hundreds of recently returned Assyrian Christians to flee their town yet again. 

The first stage of the Battle for Mesopotamia involved the crushing of the minorities by proxy forces. The next stage, developing now, will see the powers clash as they seek to establish their presence on the ground. The biggest winner in the Kurdish fiasco has been Iran, which has consolidated its military control in Kirkuk and its presence in Northern Iraq. Long-time religious liberty advocate Nina Shea reports that 'Iran is aggressively establishing schools and mosques and libraries and other structures within the main Christian towns'. For the Assyrian remnant, their very survival as a people is at stake. Pray for the Assyrians; may God intervene to help them.

* IRAN: PERSIAN CONVERT TO STAY IN JAIL
[Update to RLPB 414: Massive Jail Terms for Many Believers (12 July).]

In May, Persian convert Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh and three Azerbaijanis were sentenced to ten years in jail for 'missionary activities' and 'conducting activities against national security'. Whilst the Azerbaijanis were permitted to return home after posting bail, Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh (an Iranian national) was sent to prison. On 12 November an Iranian court upheld all four 10-year sentences; Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh will remain in prison. Pray for Naser and for all Iran's Christian prisoners.

* PAKISTAN: THE BATTLE FOR PAKISTAN ESCALATES


Young Barelvi Muslims
(normally regarded as moderate)
protesting 'blasphemy' - Nov 2017.
(courtesy: World Watch Monitor)
On 25 November the government of Pakistan capitulated to Islamic fundamentalists whose 'sit-in' had paralysed Islamabad for 20 days. Claiming anti-blasphemy indignation as a pretext, the 'sit-in' -- which attracted some 2000 Muslims daily -- was led by Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the leader of the Tehreek-e-Labaik, an Islamist political party which advocates for a pure Islamic State governed by Islamic Sharia Law. Whilst the issues are far too complex to explain in a paragraph, it is enough to say that Rizvi has been playing the religion card for political gain, to raise Tehreek-e-Labaik's profile ahead of Pakistan's 2018 general elections. Having forced the government to capitulate to their primary demand -- the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid, whom they mischievously accused of blasphemy -- Rizvi and Tehreek-e-Labaik have emerged from the 'sit-in' victorious and greatly empowered. In this context it must be noted that other demands had included the immediate execution of Asia Bibi. Pray for the Church in Pakistan.

Recommended:

Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy protests showcase minorities’ plight
By Asif Aqeel, World Watch Monitor, 27 Nov 2017

Shadows from history hang over Pakistan’s present and future
By M.K. Bhadrakumar, Asia Times, 27 Nov 2017

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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