Wednesday, August 26, 2009

019. August Update; incl. India, Iran, Somalia, LRA in Sudan

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 019 | Wed 26 Aug 2009

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

PAKISTAN, where eight Christians were murdered (six burned alive) during an orchestrated Islamic pogrom in the city of Gojra in the Faisalabad region of Punjab Province on 1 August. Responding to incitement from the mosques, Muslims attacked the Christian community after a police investigation cleared a Christian falsely accused of desecrating a Qur'an. This has resurrected the debate about Pakistan's infamous and oft-exploited Blasphemy Laws.

* UPDATE: AsiaNews reports (25 Aug) that police in Gojra have filed reports against 29 Christians and 100 unidentified persons for alleged involvement in the Gojra violence. One of the Christians accused by the police is Anglican Bishop John Samuel of the Church of Pakistan in Faisalabad. It is quite possible the government is planning to use Christian 'hostages' as leverage to force Christian leaders into reconciliation agreements that require dropping charges against Muslims. (That happens in Egypt -- see RLPB 011, Wed 1 July 2009, Egypt: Impunity fuels persecution.) Watch and pray!

VIETNAM, where Catholics hold courageous public prayer vigils for religious freedom in response to the government's refusal to return confiscated church properties. Both Catholics and Protestants are facing increased persecution, prosecution, police brutality and anti-Christian propaganda as traditional communist repression escalates.

* UPDATE: RLPB 017 noted police brutality against Catholics at the historic Tam Toa Cathedral. The government has since resolved this issue in true totalitarian fashion: on 20 August they bulldozed the church.

MUSLIMS, that increasing conflict and disillusionment within Islam might lead many Muslims to consider Christ. We acknowledged the need for revival in the Church, so that we might be worthy and able servants of the Lord.


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

* INDIA: BJP IN CONFUSION; GOVERNMENT IN DENIAL; CHRISTIANS IN PRAYER

On 23 August 2008, Indian Maoist (anti-caste) rebels assassinated Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a senior Hindutva activist in Kandhamal, Orissa, north-east India. When Hindutva leaders blamed Christians, local Hindus went on an anti-Christian pogrom that crushed the Christian community of Kandhamal and spread into several other states.

The Hindutva violence of Aug-Sep 2008 brought shame and destruction to India, leading many to reject the Hindu nationalist BJP in the May 2009 polls. Hindutva ideologues are now conflicted over issues of leadership, ideology and strategy. Last week, senior BJP officials discussed the issues in a three-day meeting. (Psalm 70:2.) Meanwhile the Indian Government has disputed the US Commission on International Religious Freedom's accusation that it is not doing enough to protect its Christian minority. Protest as it may, the facts speak for themselves. Pray that the Government will be compelled to move beyond rhetoric, posturing, fantasy and wishful thinking to really tackle the dangerous and destructive issue of Hindutva, which is essentially Hindu fascism. On 23 August 2009, Christians across India fasted and prayed 'for peace and harmony and a spirit of reconciliation'.

'Oh Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. Oh Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because . . . your people are called by your name.' (Daniel 9:19 ESV).


* IRAN: FAITHFUL IN THE FIRE

Between 29-31 July, 32 Christian converts from Islam were arrested and interrogated in Iran as part of an intensifying campaign of intimidation. Seven remain detained, their whereabouts unknown. Then on Sunday 9 August, imprisoned Iranian Christians, Maryam and Marzieh, appeared before a Tehran court. Elam reports that, whilst the chief interrogator had recommended a verdict of 'apostasy', no verdict was actually delivered. Instead, the women were questioned about their faith and ordered to recant. Both courageously refused to renounce their allegiance to Jesus Christ and were returned to Evin Prison. Arrested on 5 March, they are now in failing health with Marzieh in considerable pain and in desperate need of medical attention. Please pray. (Hebrews 13:3.)


* SOMALIA: FIVE MORE CHRISTIAN MARTYRS

International Christian Concern (ICC) reports that four Christians caring for orphans in the coastal town of Merca, southern Somalia, were kidnapped by al Shabaab militants on 27 July. Fatima Sultan, Ali Ma'ow, Sheik Mohammed Abdi and Maaddey Diil were accused of promoting religious discord and beheaded for their apostasy. ICC said one eye witness reported: 'All the four apostates were given an opportunity to return to Islam to be released but they all declined the generous offer.' Then on 18 August, al Shabaab militants shot and killed Somali Christian convert from Islam, Ahmed Matan (41, father of three) in Bulahawa, southern Somalia. Somali Christian leaders have told Compass Direct that they believe al Shabaab intends to totally 'cleanse' Somalia of Christians.


* SUDAN: KHARTOUM, THE LRA AND THE CHURCH

The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is a northern Ugandan tribal guerrilla force that declared war against the Ugandan government over 20 years ago. LRA leader, former Catholic Joseph Kony, is a spirit-medium who orchestrates unparalleled violence, claiming to be led by the Holy Spirit. Driven by occultic forces and deeply influenced by Islam, the LRA commonly targets churches and Christian communities. The Islamist government in Khartoum, Sudan, has long supported and armed the LRA as a proxy militia against Christian communities in Southern Sudan and Uganda. Today the LRA no longer has any ideological or political goals and simply kills, raids and pillages to exist, regularly replenishing its ranks with kidnapped children. The LRA is presently terrorising Western Equatoria, Southern Sudan, possibly with arms and support from Khartoum. On 12 August, LRA fighters abducted 10 girls from a church in Ezo district near the border with DR Congo. The violence has forced the withdrawal of the World Food Programme from parts of Western Equatoria. The rag-tag LRA has been outwitting and outrunning Africa's largest armies for two decades.

Please pray, seeking the intervention of Jesus Christ, 'who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him' (1 Peter 3:22 ESV).

FOR complete background on the LRA - includes earlier prayer initiatives see Religious Liberty Monitoring, label: Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

018. Conflict and disillusionment within Islam

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 018 | Wed 19 Aug 2009

CONFLICT AND DISILLUSIONMENT WITHIN ISLAM

Muslim states have gained independence, Islamists have risen to power and Sharia Law has been widely adopted, but the promised utopia is not materialising. In fact the Islamic world seems more corrupt, violent, conflicted and insecure than ever. Now Islamic fundamentalists are rising up against Islamic pro-Sharia regimes accusing them of not being Islamic enough! No amount of appeasement is ever enough. Many Muslims are becoming disillusioned as tensions rise and conflicts rage within Islamic states, as the demands of Islamic fundamentalists become increasingly severe and unpalatable, and as Islamic dictators show how corrupt, repressive, power-hungry and violent they can be.

In Somalia, al Shabaab (the militant wing of the ousted Islamic Courts Union) has been waging jihad against the Western-backed Transnational Federal Government (TFG) since December 2006, even though the new TFG is Islamist and pro-Sharia. Al Shabaab wants a government that will implement Sharia Law fully and support regional and international jihad (Islamic 'holy war').

In Pakistan, Islamic fundamentalists in Islamabad's Red Mosque were demanding full implementation of Sharia Law and support for jihad as a 'great sacred religious duty of Muslims'. The government crushed them in May-June 2007. Al Qaeda responded by declaring jihad against the government and the battle for Pakistan has been raging ever since.

Likewise, tensions have been escalating in Nigeria's northern Sharia states for several years as uncompromising Sharia enforcers known as Hisbah frequently clash with the more pragmatic police and State authorities. On 26 July 2009 Boko Haram (the 'Nigerian Taliban') launched an uprising with an attack on a police station in the northern Sharia state of Bauchi. The resulting conflict between Boko Haram and government forces spread to Kano, Yobe and Borno, all northern Sharia states. Fighting raged for five days and claimed hundreds of lives, mostly Boko Haram fighters. During the uprising, three pastors captured by Boko Haram in Maiduguri, Borno state, were beheaded for refusing to renounce Christ and convert to Islam.

Most recently heavy fighting broke out in Rafah, Gaza, on 14 August as Hamas confronted the al Qaeda-aligned Jund Ansar Allah ('Warriors of God'), one of several fundamentalist groups in Gaza to denounce Hamas as being simply not Islamic enough. Some Islamic fundamentalists are comparing Hamas' siege of Rafah's Ibn Taymiyya Mosque to the Pakistan government's siege of Islamabad's Red Mosque.

Ahmad Al-Khanawy (41) is a filmmaker struggling with the narrow no singing, no dancing, no mixing, no laughing, legalistic Sharia provisions in Kano, northern Nigeria. He told the Washington Post (12 August): 'People want sharia. But not this kind of sharia.' But is there another kind of Sharia? Is there another kind of Islam? Or is what the people really want actually another kind of faith?

In Isaiah 2:1-4 it is promised that eventually the God of 'Zion' will be recognised as the one true God and the nations will flow to 'Zion' seeking God's instruction so they can walk in his ways. But not only is it promised that many peoples will flow in to 'Zion' seeking God, it is also promised that God's law and word will flow out from Zion. We need to be praying for both spiritual awakening amongst the lost and disillusioned and for revival in the Church -- the two will go together.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* bring revival to his Church so that in these days of increasing darkness the Church may be a true servant of the gospel of light and that its message and righteousness will be magnetic as disillusionment, distress, conflict and insecurity grow in the world.

* awaken Muslims to the truth of the gospel.
May the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf be unstopped (Isaiah 35:5); the desert become fertile (vv1,2,6b,7) and be filled with joy and singing (v10).

* protect, preserve and build his Church in the Middle East and throughout the Muslim world (Isaiah 3:10).

* strengthen the faith and comfort the hearts of all persecuted believers (Isaiah 35:3,4).

Ramadan starts on 22 August. Please consider participating in the Thirty Day Muslim Prayer Focus. See http://www.30-days.net/ for booklet, PDF and email resources.
(NOTE: Following the tradition of Mohammed, the Taliban has reported that it is preparing for a Ramadan offensive in Swat, Pakistan.)


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CONFLICT AND DISILLUSIONMENT WITHIN ISLAM

Islamic fundamentalism has taken root in the Muslim world and Sharia Law has been widely adopted, but the promised Islamic utopia is not materialising. In fact the Islamic world seems more corrupt, violent, conflicted and insecure than ever. Fundamentalist groups in Somalia, Pakistan, Northern Nigeria and Gaza have risen up against their Islamic governments accusing them of not being Islamic enough! These groups use barbaric violence to force onto the masses Sharia provisions rejected by more pragmatic Islamist regimes. This is breeding confusion and disillusionment amongst many Muslims. So we pray for revival in the Church and for the awakening of Muslims. Also see 'Thirty Day Muslim Prayer Focus' http://www.30-days.net/ to pray through Ramadan starting on 22 August.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

017. Vietnam: brutality confronted through prayer

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 017 | Wed 12 Aug 2009

VIETNAM: BRUTALITY CONFRONTED THROUGH PRAYER

As reported in the Religious Liberty Prayer bulletin of 17 September 2008 (link below), a prayer movement erupted in Vietnam's Catholic Church in December 2007 after Vietnam's religious liberty advocates, mostly Catholic priests frustrated by years of futile political activism, simply asked the people to pray. And pray they did. In Hanoi, some 10,000 Catholics came onto the streets to sing hymns and pray for religious liberty. They held flowers and crosses, and candles on dark nights and umbrellas on rainy days. The Hanoi prayer vigils for religious liberty have been the largest public demonstrations Vietnam has seen since the Communists came to power. As the prayer vigil movement spread, the clearly rattled Government lashed out with a virulent anti-Catholic propaganda campaign in the State-run media while blocking access to at least six major Catholic news agency websites. The authorities also started physically attacking the vigils -- beating even women, publicly shaming young children, arresting priests and their lawyers, and demolishing church properties. But despite abuse, slander, beatings and imprisonments, the public prayer vigils continue.

The parish of Tam Toa in Vinh Diocese (300km south of Hanoi) is a historic parish for Vietnamese Catholics. Founded in 1631, it quickly became the largest parish in the diocese, running a convent, orphanage and school. A beautiful Cathedral, opened there in 1887, was destroyed in an American bombing raid during the Vietnam War. The parishioners, whilst unable to rebuild the church, continued to meet and worship at the site in the open air until March 1996 when the Communists seized the property and declared it a War Memorial. Ever since then, the church has been seeking the property's return. The parish has over 1,000 parishioners.

On Monday 20 July, a team of Catholics was erecting a cross and temporary shelter at the site when they were confronted by some 100 police. Using tear gas, stun guns and batons, the police brutally beat the Catholics into submission. About 20 were arrested while others were made to sit on the ground where a Communist vigilante group was given permission to beat them. One of the wounded, Father Paul Nguyen Dinh Phu, suffered broken ribs and head injuries. When Father Peter Nguyen The Binh visited Fr Phu in hospital he was beaten and hurled from a second floor window. Fr Binh is now hospitalised in a coma. On the night of 8 August, all 178 parishes in Vinh Diocese held simultaneous processions that saw some half-a-million parishioners come out onto the streets holding candles and signs calling for religious freedom. According to several reports, many locals came out and applauded the Catholics for having the courage to stand up against tyranny. Standing in solidarity with Vinh Diocese were some 3,000 Hanoi Catholics who held a simultaneous prayer vigil at the Thai Ha Church. The next day some 2,500 Catholics in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) held a prayer vigil in solidarity at the Redemptorist Monastery.

Meanwhile, as reported in the RLPB 009 of 17 June 2009 (link below), Vietnamese Protestants have been experiencing escalating persecution ever since December 2006 when the US deemed Vietnam's religious liberty reforms sufficient to be rewarded with Permanent Normal Trading Relations status. Communist authorities, who will not register Protestant house churches, are raiding and breaking up house church meetings on the grounds that they are unregistered and therefore illegal. Pastors are beaten, publicly denounced and sentenced to 're-education' while members are fined and terrorised. Church leaders say the harassment is so widespread that it must have approval from the top level of the central government and be part of an unofficial policy to stop the spread of Christianity.

During raids on Protestant house churches, not only do the police confiscate property (from hymn books and Bibles to motorbikes and cash), they also tend to be very violent. Compass Direct reports that the Agape Baptist house church in Hung Yen province, led by Pastor Duong Van Tuan, was raided several times in June. On one occasion police assaulted Pastor Tuan's wife, Nguyen Thi Vuong, seizing her by her arms and repeatedly banging her head against a wall until she collapsed unconscious.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* God will build and sanctify his Church through these trials.

* Those praying in prayer vigils will be drawn to put their faith in Christ alone -- as our one mediator (1 Timothy 2:5), Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14), and divinely appointed Head (Ephesians 1:22,23); may all idols be brought low and may God alone be exalted.

* God will expose the ugly truth about the cruel brutality and corruption of atheistic totalitarianism, and its inability to produce an equitable, free and peaceful society.

'Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at his word: "Your brothers who hate you and cast you out for my name's sake have said [scoffed], 'Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy'; but it is they who shall be put to shame".' (Isaiah 66:5 ESV)

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BRUTALITY IN VIETNAM CONFRONTED WITH PRAYER

Protestants and Catholics in Vietnam are facing growing repression and violence at the hands of the authorities. Police brutality is a serious issue, as is police use of Communist vigilantes to beat up Christians. Police raiding the Protestant house church of Pastor Duong Van Tuan in June viciously assaulted his wife until she collapsed unconscious. Catholics seeking the return of seized properties likewise are being assaulted and imprisoned. The Government has combined a virulent anti-Catholic propaganda campaign with blocking Catholic news agency websites. In December 2006 the US deemed Vietnam's religious liberty reforms sufficient to reward the country with normal trade relations. Since then, persecution has kept escalating. Please pray in solidarity with multiple thousands of Vietnamese courageously confronting all this oppression with public prayer vigils.

Pictures:
http://www.vietcatholic.net/News/Html/70046.htm
http://www.vietcatholic.net/News/Html/69774.htm
Report (with pictures) from Communist media
http://www.nhandan.com.vn/english/life/290709/life_q.htm

BRUTALITY IN VIETNAM CONFRONTED WITH PRAYER

Protestants and Catholics in Vietnam are facing growing repression and violence at the hands of the authorities. Police brutality is a serious issue, as is police use of Communist vigilantes to beat up Christians. Police raiding the Protestant house church of Pastor Duong Van Tuan in June viciously assaulted his wife until she collapsed unconscious. Catholics seeking the return of seized properties likewise are being assaulted and imprisoned. The Government has combined a virulent anti-Catholic propaganda campaign with blocking Catholic news agency websites. In December 2006 the US deemed Vietnam's religious liberty reforms sufficient to reward it with normal trade relations. Since then, persecution has kept escalating. Please pray in solidarity with multiple thousands of Vietnamese courageously confronting this oppression with public prayer vigils.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

016. Pakistan: blasphemy laws and impunity must end

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 016 | Wed 05 Aug 2009

PAKISTAN: BLASPHEMY LAWS AND IMPUNITY MUST END

Pakistan's infamous Blasphemy Laws (Articles 295 b and 295 c of the Penal Code) were introduced in the 1980s as the nation was undergoing a process of Islamisation under General Zia. Defiling of the Qur'an and blasphemy ('derogatory remarks') against Muhammad, the founder of Islam, are criminal offences punishable by life in prison or death. The blasphemy laws are frequently used as instruments of persecution, most commonly by Muslims with non-religious motives such as a desire to seize Christian land or close a Christian business. A simple uncorroborated accusation is enough to have the accused (who is guilty until proven innocent) removed through imprisonment or murder (honour killing).

As reported in RLPB 012, after a local Christian was falsely accused of blasphemy, a rampaging mob of some 600 armed Muslims looted and torched 110 homes belonging to Christians on the evening of 30 June 09 in Bahmani Wala, Punjab Province. A 'reconciliation' was brokered in which the Christian victims were encouraged not to press charges or protest, but to accept a 'compensation' payment. This was despite the fact that impunity only encourages more persecution.

On Sunday 26 July Muslims in the Punjabi village of Korian allegedly found pages of an Islamic book in a garbage tin outside a Christian's home. Police registered a case against the Christian. Muslims then rampaged against the local Christian community on the night of Thursday 30 July, torching 47 homes and forcing the village's 500 Christians to flee for their lives.

Also on 30 July, Muslims rioted against Christians in Gojra, a small city about 350km south-west of Islamabad in the Faisalabad region of Punjab Province, after a rumour spread that a Christian had desecrated a Qur'an. The accused Christian was arrested but subsequently released after an investigation cleared him of the charge. The next day (Friday) prayer leaders called through their mosque loudspeakers for every Christian to be killed. On Saturday 1 August, hundreds of militants armed with fuel and weapons flooded in from Jhang, a neighbouring district that is a militant stronghold. When about a thousand Muslims had gathered in Gojra, they advanced on the Christian colony. Before long, one church and at least 40 homes were in flames, six Christians had been burnt to death and two more were fatally shot. Numerous other Christians are wounded, many with burns. Christians say the police ignored their pleas for help.

Dotted with fundamentalist madrassas, the Faisalabad region is a stronghold of the Pakistan Muslim League led by former premier Nawaz Sharif. The Pakistan People's Party, which leads the government in Islamabad, draws most of its support in Gojra from minority communities. Investigations by Asia Times Online confirmed that the attackers came from two distinct groups: Muslim clerics and militants, and non-political activists including traders' associations. It appears likely that a false blasphemy accusation was made against Christians by Muslims with vested political, land or business interests. After a rudimentary investigation cleared the accused Christians, Islamic fundamentalists and militants moved to exploit the heightened Islamic zeal and social tension for their own ends.

Justice is imperative if the pogroms are to be stemmed. Concerning the Gojra pogrom, Bishop Almas Hameed Masih has registered with the police a complaint case against 800 unknown and 15 named individuals. It includes the province's administration which failed to protect the Christian community despite advance warnings that a murderous pogrom was being planned. Also at the behest of the Pakistan Christian Congress, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in Lahore has agreed to conduct an investigation into the 30 June pogrom against Christians in Bahmani Wala.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws will be repealed.

* impunity will end, and those who have made false accusations, those who have incited violence and those who have perpetrated violence will be identified and prosecuted according to the rule of law.

* Pakistan's Muslim masses will reject the sectarian incitement of Islamic fundamentalists and militants, opting instead for peace.

* God will protect his vulnerable, embattled Church in Pakistan and give deep peace and comfort to those who are grieving and living in fear; may he be their provider and the Rock of their Refuge in these troubled and frightening times.

'I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.' (Psalm 61:2b NIV)

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PAKISTAN'S BLASPHEMY LAWS AND IMPUNITY MUST END

Pakistan's infamous Blasphemy Laws (Articles 295 b & c of the Penal Code) deem defilement of the Qur'an and blasphemy against Muhammad as criminal offences punishable by life in prison or death. The blasphemy laws are frequently exploited for personal gain and false accusations are frequently made to effect the removal of a person who is unwanted for any reason. As Islamic fundamentalism spreads, more Muslims are responding to incitement from the mosques and engage in appalling violence against local Christians over rumours of blasphemy. Impunity is adding fuel to the fire. In just over a month, three pogroms in Punjab Province have left hundreds of Christian families homeless and feeling very insecure. In Gojra, eight Christians were murdered: two shot and six burnt to death. Please pray for God to intervene in Pakistan.