Wednesday, July 29, 2009

015. July Update; incl. China, Eritrea, North Korea, Somalia

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 015 | Wed 29 Jul 2009

JULY 2009 END-OF-MONTH UPDATE AND ROUND-UP

UPDATE - During July we prayed for . . .

EGYPT, where communal Islamic violence against Egypt's indigenous Coptic Christians is both escalating and intensifying as government-sponsored 'reconciliation' sessions establish that Muslims may persecute Christians with impunity.

PAKISTAN, where an outbreak of communal Islamic violence against a Christian minority community in north-eastern Punjab left more than 100 Christian families homeless, terrorised and (as in Egypt) without justice.

IRAQ, where churches have once again been bombed in an orchestrated terror campaign designed to drive the indigenous Assyrian-Chaldean Christian community out of Iraq.

RUSSIA, where anti-cult, anti-sectarian (i.e. anti-Protestant) agitator Alexander Dvorkin continues to spread religious intolerance and hatred. Pray that his message will not become popular, take root or spread across the region.


ROUND-UP - Also in July . . .

* CHINA: SYSTEMATIC PERSECUTION AS USUAL

On 23 July 09 Public Security Bureau and Religious Affairs Bureau officials raided a Christian youth summer camp in Nanyang city, Henan Province. The more than 20 student participants -- all under 18 -- were taken into detention, interrogated and then released. Two leaders, Ms Cheng Ping (40) and Ms Miao Miao (30), were sent to the Yongan Lu Detention Centre in Nanyang city and sentenced to administrative detention. The length of sentence is unknown as church leaders have been threatened and warned not to speak of the case to outsiders. Pray that God will confound all the schemes of the wicked with continued, unstoppable Church growth. Pray for China's imprisoned Christians and their families. 'Jehovah jireh' - the Lord will provide.


* ERITREA: ANOTHER CHRISTIAN DIES IN CAPTIVITY

Compass Direct reports that on 23 July 09, Yemane Kahasay Andom (43), a member of the Kale-Hiwot church in Mendefera, died 18 months after being incarcerated in the Mitire Military Confinement Centre in north-east Eritrea. Tortured for refusing to sign a form recanting his faith, Andom was then put into solitary confinement in an underground cell. Weakened by the torture and critically ill with untreated malaria, he died two weeks later. Andom is the third believer to die in custody this year and the ninth since the persecution began in May 2005. In January, Christians Mogos Hagos Kiflom (37) and Mehari Gebreneguse Asgedom (42) died from torture in the same facility. Some 3000 mostly Protestant Christians are imprisoned for their faith in Eritrea, which is one of the world's worst religious liberty violators. Pray for God to intervene in Eritrea.


* NORTH KOREA: EXECUTION, TORTURE AND COLLECTIVE PUNISHMENT

According to a 23 July report from the South Korean Investigative Commission on Crime Against Humanity, the North Korean regime publicly executed Christian mother of three, Ri Hyon Ok (33), in the north-western city of Ryongchon (near the border with China) on 16 June for the crime of distributing the Bible. Ri was also accused of spying for South Korea and the United States and of organising dissidents. The Commission's report stated that her husband, children and parents were sent to a political prison camp in the north-eastern city of Hoeryong the day after her execution. The Commission also reported that North Korean security agents recently arrested and tortured another Christian, Seo Kum Ok (30), near Ryongchon. Likewise accused of spying, it is unknown whether Seo survived. Her husband was then arrested and their two children have since disappeared. Pray for the persecuted church in North Korea.


* SOMALIA: CHRISTIANS HUNTED AND EXECUTED

On 10 July, Somalia's al-Qaeda-linked al Shaabab group publicly beheaded seven people in the town of Baidoa for being 'Christians'. They were also accused of being spies. This news came only days after Compass Direct (CD) reported that in February al Shaabab seized and beheaded the 11- and 13-year-old sons of Somali Christian Musa Mohammed Yusuf (55) after he refused to divulge information about a local church leader. Yusuf, his wife and third son aged seven have fled to Kenya. On 20 July, al Shabaab militants found and executed Somali Christian Mohammed Sheikh Abdiraman who had converted to Christianity 15 years ago. Sources told CD that Abdiraman (a widower with children aged 10 and 15) was the leader of an underground cell group of Christians. 'We are very sad about this incident, and we also are not safe,' one eyewitness told CD by telephone. 'Pray for us.'

~~~~~~

In the face of such severe persecution, please pray that the Holy Spirit will guard and strengthen the faith of every persecuted believer. May God confound all opposition and do 'far more abundantly than all we ask or think' (Ephesians 3:20 ESV) as he continues to build his church as promised (Matthew 16:18).

'Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck.' (Psalm 69:1 ESV)

'I am afflicted and in pain; let your salvation, O God, set me on high!' (v29)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

014. Russia: protests against new 'expert council'

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 014 | Wed 22 July 2009

RUSSIA: PROTESTS AGAINST NEW 'EXPERT COUNCIL'
(By Anneta Vyssotskaia)

For over 1000 years the Russian people lived under the rule of princes, tsars and party leaders. In Russia, serfdom was protected by the laws of the country until 1861. The majority of the people never belonged to themselves but were someone else's property. This lack of freedom resulted in occasional revolts of both peasants and noble people. The Soviet period retained some features of serfdom: people were regarded as the property of the country and everybody was supposed to be of the same mind, i.e. the same mind as the Communist party bosses. Everyone whose thinking was different fell under the category of the enemy of the nation and was punished or totally eliminated. The government wanted the masses to be totally obedient and loyal both in body and spirit. A similar attitude exists today in modern Russia regarding religious policy as expressed in the co-operation of the Russian authorities and the top leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate and some other 'traditional religions'. This causes tensions and lack of acceptance of other Christian and non-Christian 'minorities' as well as different forms of direct and indirect religious persecution.

The news of the 'Expert Council for Conducting State Religious Studies Expert Analysis of Russian Ministry of Justice' appointed in March this year caused a big reaction amongst religious studies researchers, human rights organisations and religious organisations in Russia. The Expert Council was given power to investigate the activities and doctrines of religious organisations and to give its recommendations to the Ministry. The Expert Council is highly criticised by both scientists and religious leaders for its scientific incompetency and religious bias.

The centre of criticism is the Chairman of the Expert Council, Alexander Dvorkin, who actively opposes 'totalitarian sects and destructive cults'. For years, his special targets were Protestant churches of the post-Perestroika generation, which he terms 'Neo-Pentecostal'. Alexander Dvorkin is the author of 'Sektovedeniye' -- a book on 'sectology' (study of sects) -- and lectures in many Russian universities. The word 'sectarian' has a very negative connotation in the minds of Russian people ever since Communist times. Dvorkin applies the term 'sect' to all religious minorities, including Protestant churches. The content and style of Dvorkin's lectures make a strong psychological impact on his audiences, causing them to completely trust his competence. The negative attitude aroused towards 'sectarians' results in religious intolerance and hatred. There have been numerous complaints from the Protestant churches about the escalating religious hostility following Dvorkin's lecture tours. He has trained a whole army of university religious studies experts with a very twisted knowledge of 'sectarians' ready to actively confront them. Dvorkin founded an association of centres across Russia to study religions and sects, closely connected with the so-called rehabilitation centres for 'victims of destructive cults'. His activities have now spread beyond the Russian Federation with his visit to Kazakhstan earlier this year.

Dvorkin is strongly supported by the top leaders of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church. Dvorkin's 'antisectarian' activities being supported by the Expert Council and the Ministry of Justice itself has a most harmful impact on the 'non-traditional' religious organisations and groups, primarily Protestants.

As a form of protest against the appointment of the new Expert Council and its chairing by Dvorkin, a 'No to Inquisitors!' campaign was started on 22 April by the Moscow-based Institute of Religion and Law with the support of many prominent scientists and religious leaders. As a result an open letter signed by thousands of people from all over Russia was sent to Minister of Justice of Russia Konovalov with copies to President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. The campaign against the new Expert Council continues.

(Details of the Expert Council and 'No to Inquisitors!' campaign can be found on the Forum 18 website -- http://www.forum18.org/ )

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY:

* for the government of the Russian Federation to respect and protect the constitutional rights of the people, including their right to worship God.

* that the Russian Orthodox Church will be more tolerant of other Christian churches and seek ways to dialogue for God's glory and benefit of the country.

* that the Expert Council of Ministry of Justice will be completely abolished and religious expertise will be entrusted to religious studies specialists instead of biased 'anti-cultists'.

* that God will stop Alexander Dvorkin and his followers from spreading disinformation and sowing religious hatred in Russia.

* for the Gospel to continue to spread and transform the thinking and lifestyle of Russian people in the likeness of Christ.

'I will call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies.' (Psalm 18:3, NKJV)

~~~~

SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
RUSSIANS PROTEST AGAINST NEW 'EXPERT COUNCIL'

The appointment of the new 'Expert Council for Conducting State Religious Studies Expert Analysis of Russian Ministry of Justice' caused a big reaction in Russia and has been strongly criticised by both scientists and religious leaders. Its chairman is Alexander Dvorkin, an active opponent of minority religious groups, who has specially targeted Protestant churches. Protesting against this, a 'No to Inquisitors!' campaign was started on 22 April by the Institute of Religion and Law, supported by many prominent scientists and religious leaders. As a result, an open letter signed by thousands of people from all over Russia was sent to Minister of Justice Konovalov with copies to President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. Please pray that the government will protect their people's constitutional rights, including their right to worship God.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

013. Iraq: Bombing of churches sends dark message

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 013 | Wed 15 July 2009

IRAQ: BOMBING OF CHURCHES SENDS DARK MESSAGE

Islamic jihadists launched an orchestrated terror campaign against Iraq's indigenous Christian community on Sunday 12 July 09, detonating improvised explosive devices (IEDs) at seven Baghdad churches, killing four and wounding dozens of people. Six of the IEDs were in car bombs, and the churches -- which are set well back from the road behind high walls and guarded gates -- were not severely damaged. But the message of the bombings is clear: Christians should leave. This is a warning from militants whose agenda includes the elimination of Christianity.

The first bombing was actually on Saturday night at St Joseph's Church in western Baghdad where two bombs placed inside the church exploded at about 10 pm. No one was in the church at the time. Then on Sunday 12 July three IEDs detonated between 4.30pm and 4.45pm outside two churches in al-Karrada district, central Baghdad, and one in al-Ghadeer, eastern Baghdad. Eight were wounded as worshippers were arriving for evening Mass. Three others were wounded by a bomb detonated outside St James Church in Dora district, southern Baghdad. Four were killed and 21 injured at the Chaldean Catholic Church of the Virgin Mary in central Baghdad, where a large car bomb detonated just after 7 pm as worshippers were leaving Mass. The blast reverberated across the city, damaging the church and scorching nearby cars. At much the same time, 21 people (including 15 Christians) were wounded when another Chaldean church was targeted.

That morning in Northern Iraq, a senior Christian government official, Aziz Rizko Nissan, head of the provincial audit department, was assassinated at 8.15am outside his home in the volatile, contested city of Kirkuk. Then on Monday 13 July, a car bomb exploded outside Our Lady of Fatima Church in Mosul's Faisalia neighbourhood, injuring three children and damaging both the church and a nearby Shia mosque.

The Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) reports that Assyrian sources received text messages five days earlier warning of the impending attacks. Those warnings were immediately passed on to US forces who notified the Iraqi military. (Under new security arrangements, US forces are not permitted to act.) Despite the advance warnings, no preventative measures were enacted.

The 'real' war for Iraq is looming. This war -- which could well become a regional war -- will pit Arabs plus Turkmen against Kurds (for Kirkuk and control of the north); federalists against nationalists; Sunnis against Shi'ites; militant fundamentalists against moderates. Amidst this, the indigenous Christian remnant are extremely vulnerable, traumatised and at risk of genocide. Since the 2003 occupation their numbers have halved as hundreds of thousands have fled their homeland. According to Youssef Bahgat, a guard outside Baghdad's Evangelical Christian Union Church, 'There is fear among Christians.' Iraqi Christian Sabhan George is concerned about the church bombings. If this continues, he said, 'there will be no Christians left in Iraq.'

'In all their affliction, he was afflicted.' (Isaiah 63:9a ESV)

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* God to rescue, protect, preserve and sanctify his Church.

* God to 'frustrate the ways of the wicked'. (Psalm 146:9 NIV)

* the Holy Spirit to fill the Iraqi Church -- in Iraq and in exile -- with wisdom and insight to know God's will so that in the midst of all this conflict and terror she might walk worthily and please him (Colossians 1:9,10). May the Spirit give her comfort and hope amidst trauma, and grace for her 'enemies'.

~~~~

SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
BOMBING OF IRAQI CHURCHES SENDS DARK MESSAGE

Sunday's string of bombings targeting seven churches across Baghdad is a warning from terrorists who want to see Iraq rid of Christians. This terror campaign, which killed four and injured dozens, sends a dark message: Christians should flee before they are killed. The fatalities occurred outside the Chaldean Catholic Church in central Baghdad, where a large explosion at 7pm hit worshippers as they were leaving Mass. In northern Iraq, a Christian leader was assassinated in Kirkuk on Sunday 12 July and next day a bomb exploded outside a church in Mosul. The Assyrian and Chaldean Christians are the indigenous people of Iraq. Since the 2003 occupation their numbers have halved as hundreds of thousands have fled their homeland. The remnant is extremely vulnerable and at risk of genocide. Please pray for the Iraqi Church.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

012. Pakistan: 'reconciliation' but not injustice

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 012 | Wed 08 July 2009

PAKISTAN: 'RECONCILIATION' BUT NOT JUSTICE

Sharia Law does not allow a Christian to testify against a Muslim. As this becomes the official policy -- or even just the common practice -- Muslims discover they can terrorise and pillage Christians with impunity. Then intolerance and violent persecution soar. Day by day, even moment by moment, Christians are faced with the choice of deadly violence or doing whatever it takes to survive. Shrewd Muslims exploit this situation to extract money and demand deference from the Christians who now live with the all-consuming fear that is intrinsic to dhimmitude.

Last week's Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB), 'Egypt: Impunity Fuels Persecution', highlighted the disastrous consequences for Egypt's Coptic Christians as Muslims find they can persecute with impunity. Indeed, as this prayer bulletin is being written, violence against Coptic Christians has erupted in Bani Swaif and Dakahlia governorates. This week's RLPB looks at an identical situation in Pakistan -- not in the Taliban-ruled North West, but on the other side of the country in Bahmani Wala village, Kasur district, in the north-east of Punjab Province.

On 30 June a Christian named Sardar Masih (38) and his 10-year-old son were driving home on their tractor around 7:30pm when they came to a motorbike parked in the middle of the road. It belonged to Muhammad Riaz, a Muslim who had reportedly been drinking at a nearby celebration. When Sardar Masih asked Riaz to move his bike to let him pass, the Muslim took umbrage, abused Masih and called him a 'low caste'. A quarrel ensued. With help of some influential Muslims, Mohammad Riaz then registered a criminal case against nine local Christians. He further contacted Qari Lateef, a local imam behind various blasphemy charges in the area. Lateef reportedly convinced Riaz to accuse Sardar Masih and other Christians of blasphemy, which he did. Lateef then used the mosque's loudspeakers to call the Muslims to 'teach a lesson' to the 'blaspheming' Christians. A mob of more than 600 Muslims armed with guns, knives, hatchets and clubs erupted into a raging, two-hour-long pogrom, first to the home of Sadar Masih and then against all the Christians of Bahmani Wala Village. Shouting 'Allahu Akbar' (Allah is great) and 'Kill infidels', they looted and torched 110 homes belonging to Christians, as well as cutting off their electricity and water. Two churches were also attacked, with the Bibles being torn up and used to light fires. Some 700 Christians were forced to flee for their lives. Eight women and 12 men from the Christian community received wounds including deep hatchet cuts and burns. Reportedly they were not treated with any sympathy at the hospital. The Muslims then organised a boycott and now will not buy from or sell to Christians.

In response the government set up a committee which had four days to negotiate reconciliation. On 4 July Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani sent Christian MP Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, to Bahmani Wala village to 'make peace'. On 5 July Bhatti announced he had brokered a 'reconciliation': the Christians will drop all charges against the Muslims and receive 100,000 Pakistani Rupees (US$1,400) in compensation. Whilst no Muslims will be charged over the pogrom, the false blasphemy charges by Muhammad Riaz against nine Christians will stand.

[The names here are as they appear in the reports on the Pakistan Christian Post. The names but not the details vary slightly amongst the various accounts.]

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* God will draw the Christian community of Bahmani Wala village closer to each other and closer to him (for Satan will doubtless attack their unity and their faith); may he bless them abundantly as he reveals his love, mercy and power by providing all their temporal, emotional and spiritual needs. 'Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me . . . When I am afraid I put my trust in you . . . This I know, that God is for me.' (From Psalm 56)

* God will reveal his amazing grace and power by convicting many Bahmani Wala village Muslims of their sins, leading them to repentance and salvation; may many Pakistani Muslims be forced to re-examine their faith in the light of this shameful violence.

* the authorities will have the courage to uphold justice and stand against Islamic violence, resisting the temptation to appease Islamists as compensation for fighting the Taliban.

~~~~

SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
'RECONCILIATION' BUT NOT JUSTICE IN PAKISTAN

Following a minor argument between a Christian and a Muslim in Punjab Province on 30 June, the 'offended' Muslim accused that Christian and eight others of blasphemy. After the local imam broadcast a call from the village mosque to 'teach a lesson' to the 'blaspheming' Christians, 600 armed Muslims rampaged. They looted and torched two churches and 110 homes of Christians as well as cars and businesses. Eight women and 12 men suffered serious wounds. The government gave a committee four days to negotiate reconciliation. On 5 July Christian MP Shahbaz Bhatti announced he had brokered a deal: the Christians will drop all charges against the Muslims and receive 100,000 Pakistani Rupees (US$1,400) in compensation. This is a most dangerous precedent; moreover the false blasphemy charges still stand. Please pray.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

011. Egypt: impunity fuels persecution

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 011 | Wed 01 July 2009

EGYPT: IMPUNITY FUELS PERSECUTION

Since early 2007 the Egyptian government has been appeasing Muslim fundamentalists by settling matters of sectarian conflict out of court in line with Islamic Sharia law. That prohibits Christians from bringing evidence against Muslims. The government brokers 'reconciliation' sessions where the Christians are forced to drop all the charges they are making (arson, looting, assault, kidnap, robbery, criminal damage, rioting, torture, rape, murder) in exchange for Muslim guarantees of 'peace'. This 'reconciliation' Egyptian-style emboldens belligerent Islamists by rewarding their violence with impunity. It creates a climate of terror for Christians and is fuelling escalating persecution. Over recent years Muslim pogroms have become more violent; they have attracted more participants; and they have spread from the desert villages to the suburbs of Cairo. Along with this, the Muslims are becoming more demanding. Innocent Christians are losing basic rights and even going to jail just so Muslims can be appeased.

The most recent clash occurred in the village of Ezbet Boshra-East, El-Fashn -- a three-hour drive south of Cairo. Whilst there is no church building in Ezbet Boshra-East the Coptic Church does own a three-storey building there housing the priest and his family, which functions as a place of meeting. Muslims attacked the property in July 2008 in protest that Christian prayers were being conducted there without 'permission'. After that, local authorities ruled that only two visitors could enter the church property at a time. On Sunday 21 June 2009, violence erupted again after a group of 25 Christians from Cairo unknowingly violated the local decree. While six of the visitors entered the property, a Muslim crowd gathering outside harassed the other visitors, suspecting that they were meeting local Christians for prayer. A Muslim woman in the mob slapped the face of a female Christian visitor. As news spread, crowds of Muslim youths swarmed in and began throwing stones and hurling abuse. Then Coptic youths arrived and a violent altercation between the communities ensued.

Police charged Coptic priest Reverend Isaac Castor with sectarian sedition and detained 19 Christians while they searched and ransacked their homes. Eventually a compromise was reached between Bishop Estephanos and State Security forces: the detained Copts were released (some with broken bones) in exchange for an agreement that the Copts would stop praying in the property. According to Mary Abdelmassih, a correspondent with the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), local Muslims were ecstatic that the Copts would be prohibited from praying in the premises. She quotes Lawyer Makkar Watany who lives in the village: 'Muslims went out in the streets, dancing and chanting "Come to Jihad" and the "Cross is the enemy of God", with the security forces chanting along with them!' The Christians have all retreated to their homes in fear and are surviving on stockpiled food. Their crops have been razed and telecommunications have been cut.

Not only is violence against Christian individuals, churches and communities escalating dangerously, but the courts are increasingly subordinating the Constitution to Sharia law. Notably, the courts are refusing to allow Muslims the right to convert. The consequences of this are huge. A woman who is officially registered as a Muslim must by law marry a Muslim and the children of a man officially registered as a Muslim are automatically deemed Muslim by the State. The few who have courageously challenged this have been forced into hiding to preserve their lives.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* the suffering of the besieged Christians of Ezbet Boshra-East will bring them closer to God as they look to him and trust in him alone; may the Spirit of God give them grace to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (Luke 6:27-36) -- a grace beautiful to behold, that points others to Christ and is rewarded in heaven.

* the Egyptian government will realise their present policy of 'reconciliation' in the absence of justice is taking the State headlong towards destabilising and destructive conflict; may God give the government courage to stand up against the Islamists.

* the Holy Spirit will awaken Egyptians to the repressive and destructive nature of Islam and its dictators; may they 'cry out to the Lord because of their oppressors' (Isaiah 19:20 NIV), and in that day may the 'Lord make himself known to the Egyptians' (v 21).

~~~~

SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
IMPUNITY FUELS PERSECUTION IN EGYPT

Serious persecution is escalating in Egypt as Islamic fundamentalism rises against a backdrop of impunity. To appease the fundamentalists the Egyptian government is settling matters of sectarian conflict out of court in line with Islamic Sharia law, which prohibits Christians from bringing evidence against Muslims. The government brokers 'reconciliation' sessions where the Christians are forced to drop all charges (arson, looting, assault, kidnap, robbery, criminal damage, rioting, torture, rape, murder) in exchange for Muslim guarantees of 'peace'. Intolerant Muslims are emboldened as they find they can not only persecute and rob Christians with impunity, but they can use violence as leverage to get the authorities to repress Christians. The situation is most serious and highly dangerous for Christians. Please pray for God's intervention.