Wednesday, August 25, 2010

070. August Update; Incl. Afghanistan, Egypt, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 070 | Wed 25 Aug 2010

'For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength."' (Isaiah 30:15 ESV)

AUGUST 2010 UPDATE -- During August we prayed concerning . . .

IRAN, where persecution is escalating in line with Iran's ascendency.

BEKASI, West Java, Indonesia, where churches have been forced to close and Islamic militants have been violently attacking worshipping Christians with impunity.

* UPDATE: On Sunday 15 Aug 2010, some 1200 Indonesians -- predominantly Christians -- protested in Jakarta against government inaction in the face of escalating Islamic intolerance and violence. The rally was organised by the Forum for Religious Freedom Solidarity. Some protesters marched with their mouths taped and some waved Indonesian national red-white flags at half-mast. According to the Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy, there were 17 incidents of violence against churches in 2008, 18 in 2009, and the tally for January through July 2010 is 28, with seven attacks in Bekasi and six in Greater Jakarta. If the government does not act against the militants and allows the trend to continue, then the 2010 total will eventually triple that of 2009. These are watershed days for Indonesia.

PAKISTAN, where chaos and lawlessness, combined with widespread radicalisation is resulting in a dramatic escalation in persecution of Christians. This is the culmination of decades of Saudi-funded Islamisation via mosques and madrassas. The situation is very serious indeed when local Muslims -- as distinct from the totalitarian dictators or trained paramilitaries -- are so radicalised they commit violent hate-crimes including gang-rape, torture and murder against their Christian neighbours. If radicalised Muslims come to be confident that subjugating and killing Christians will be rewarded with impunity, then jihad and religious cleansing will be inevitable. Pray for the Church in Pakistan.


AUGUST 2010 ROUND-UP -- also this month . . .

* AFGHANISTAN: AID WORKERS EXECUTED AS TALIBAN CONSOLIDATES


On 5 August 2010 eleven aid workers returning to Kabul from a medical expedition were ambushed by militants in Badakhshan, north-eastern Afghanistan. Whilst one Afghan who recited portions of the Qu'ran was spared, the other ten -- six Americans, two Afghans, one Briton and one German -- were massacred. On 7 August Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahed, claimed Taliban responsibility for the attack saying, 'They were Christian missionaries and we killed them all.' Badakhshan Province fell from NATO to Taliban control in the weeks prior to the massacre. As the Taliban consolidates, the risk to Christian aid workers will increase, for even if they never 'preach' they will always be guilty of 'fitna'. (Fitna is absolutely anything -- including Christian grace -- that could shake the faith of a Muslim. Islam requires fitna to be eliminated.)

* EGYPT: SHARIA MEANS NO EQUALITY BEFORE THE LAW

The Assyrian International News Association (AINA) reports that on 13 August Sheikh Tobah, Imam of the village of Shimi 170km south of Giza, used Friday prayers to incite local Muslims to wage jihad against the local Coptic Christian community. Within hours an Islamic hard-liner named Mohamed Ali Almstaui had attacked a local Copt, Maher Amin, who was washing his taxi. That evening Almstaui led a mob of some 20 Muslims against the Amin family home. When the security forces arrived they arrested the Christians, ignoring their injuries, so they could pressure them to accept 'reconciliation'. (To uphold the Sharia provision that Christians may not testify against Muslims in court, the Egyptian government enforces 'reconciliation' whereby Christians are forced to drop charges in exchange for Muslim assurances that the conflict has ended.) Less than 24 hours after 'reconciliation' was brokered, Almstaui led a Muslim mob in a fresh persecution attacking Copts in their homes, on the streets and in their fields. The Copts are greatly distressed by their evident helplessness, knowing that in the absence of legal protection they are essentially without rights and are extremely vulnerable to further violence. Since the government started enforcing 'reconciliation' in 2007, violent persecution has soared. The situation in Egypt is very serious indeed. Pray for the Church in Egypt.

* KENYA: CHURCH SPLIT OVER REFERENDUM ISSUES

On 4 August Kenyans voted to accept a new constitution which the government strongly supported. While the constitution contains many positive and essential political reforms, some church leaders have opposed the softening of abortion laws, the enshrining of khadi (Islamic) courts and the establishment of ethnic federalism. As the referendum approached, splits emerged in the church and clerics came out supporting the government line, even denouncing the 'sharia-phobia' of the 'No' campaign clerics. Since the referendum the 'No' clerics have appealed for amendments. On 21 August Kenyan Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka urged church leaders to put aside their concerns and support the constitution for the sake of unity and harmony. In other words, the government wants the concerned clerics to keep quiet. The pro-constitution clerics agree, denouncing the concerns of the 'No' clerics as 'intolerant' and 'divisive'. The Kenyan Church has entered a new and risky era. (See Religious Liberty Monitoring)

* SAUDI ARABIA: CHRISTIANS THREATENED -- AND HONOURED

On 11 August deputy leader of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Said al-Shihri, posted an audio message to the Internet calling for the overthrow of the al-Saud regime, attacks on Israel and killing all Christians living in the kingdom. Meanwhile, quite a stir has been caused by the popular sitcom 'Tash Ma Tash' ('No Big Deal') which screens every Ramadan and pokes fun at the problems of daily living in Saudi Arabia. The writers' stated purpose is to 'criticise social customs, traditions, administrative procedures and political habits'. While the royal family is protected, religion is not. Naturally, Saudi clerics hate and denounce the show, but it gets spectacular audience ratings and every day Saudi newspapers devote pages to discussing its episodes and themes. This year a two-part episode entitled 'Uncle Boutros' has ignited intensive debate over its positive portrayal of Arab Christians as pleasant, honest and charitable. Outraged Islamic clerics have urged Muslims to stop watching the series as it could shake their faith. Pray that God will shake the faith of Saudi Muslims that truth might prevail. Pray that God will protect all Christians living in Saudi Arabia, especially his Saudi Church, which is a reality despite Saudi claims to the contrary.

* UZBEKISTAN: BELIEVERS HARASSED AND INTIMIDATED IN TASHKENT


On 28 July twenty-three Baptists from an unregistered church were meeting informally in the home of Yuriy Garmashev in Tashkent's Mirzo-Ulugbek District, when police raided the home, confiscating Bibles and songbooks. The officers aggressively manhandled the believers and their children, taking them in waiting cars to the District Police Station. Ten of those held were cautioned and released the next day, whilst the others had to face the District Criminal Court which imposed short-term detentions or heavy fines for meeting illegally and 'obstructing' police. Yuriy Garmashev was detained for five days, nine others spent three days in detention and the remaining three were each fined 80 times the minimum monthly salary. The police continue to harass and intimidate the church.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

069. Pakistan: Christians' plight critical

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 069 | Wed 18 Aug 2010

PAKISTAN: CHRISTIANS' PLIGHT CRITICAL (an extended RLPB)


RLPB 066 (July Update) noted two appalling attacks against Pakistani Christians: that of Christian trainee nurse Magdalene Ashraf, who had been beaten, tortured, gang-raped and thrown from a hospital window; and the case of brothers Rev Rashid Emmanuel (32) and Sajid Emmanuel (30) who had been arrested on a false blasphemy charge, imprisoned, tortured, and then shot dead outside the Faisalabad courthouse. Islamic intolerance is escalating unchecked across Pakistan. Original Muslim teachings emanating from mosques and madrassas cultivate hatred which is then fuelled by the impunity the perpetrators enjoy. As chaos and lawlessness escalate, the situation for Christians deteriorates.

KHYBER PAKHTOONKHWA (formerly North West Frontier Province {NWFP}). On 14 June Samuel John, a Christian psychology professor at the University of Peshawar, was savagely beaten by students outside his home for refusing to convert to Islam. When his wife rushed to his aid she too was beaten. Both required hospitalisation, with the professor in a critical condition. The police refuse to register a First Information Report (FIR) and John continues to be threatened with death unless he converts to Islam or leaves the University.

PUNJAB PROVINCE. Sunil Masih, Shazia Masih and Nasir Naeem, three Christian 8th grade students in Danna village, southern Punjab, have long faced pressure from teachers to convert to Islam. On 16 June, after their parents complained, the principal backed his staff and told the parents that if the students would not convert to Islam then they would have to leave the school. When the police refused to help, the three Christian families fled the area. On 19 June Rehmat Masih (85) of Faisalabad district was arrested and jailed after a hard-line Muslim, Muhammad Sajjid Hameed, filed a false blasphemy charge against him. Hameed and Masih had both made application for the same parcel of land.

Jamshed Masih, a policeman and a Christian, was recently transferred to the predominantly Muslim Mustafa Colony in Jhelum, south of Islamabad. However, local Muslims were not willing to have the Christian family living amongst them. On 21 June a mob led by local Muslim religious leader Maulana Mahfooz Khan descended on the family's home after Masih had left for work. Sensing trouble Masih's wife, Razia, had already phoned her husband and asked him to come home urgently. Khan accused the eldest son (11) of blasphemy, drawing a crowd. As Razia pleaded for mercy someone in the crowd hit her on the head with a hard object, causing her to bleed and her children to cry. The agitated crowd began baying for blood, and by the time Jamshed Masih got home, his wife and four children lay murdered. Masih tried to file a complaint, but the Station House Officer refused to register a FIR.

In Farooqabad in eastern Punjab, three Muslim co-workers of a Christian man allegedly raped his 16-year-old daughter at gunpoint on the night of 21 July. On 29 July, after Masih had complained to police, two other Muslims who work for his employer kidnapped him and took him to the employer's farmhouse. There they reportedly shackled and tortured Masih, leaving him in a critical condition.

In Rawalpindi district students from the local Jamia Islamia Madrassa (Qur'anic school) have been harassing Christians in the villages around Gujar Khan. According to a local pastor they routinely beat Christian children and throw stones at the church. 'They openly announce that "the Christians are our enemies, we should not talk to them, eat with them or do business with them".' (The Qur'an repeatedly commands Muslims to maintain enmity towards and separation from Christians.) On 22 July a 12-year-old girl from a local Christian family was gang-raped by seven or eight madrassa students. A teacher who witnessed the incident overheard one of the 16-strong student mob saying, 'We will teach these Christians a lesson they will never forget.' When the girl's distraught parents went to the police station to file a complaint, the officer in charge refused to register it, yielding to local Muslim pressure. According to the Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), 'Such vicious incidents are not being stopped by the government, and day by day the rate of rapes of Christian girls is escalating instead of plunging.' This would be expected when rape is rewarded with impunity.

SINDH PROVINCE. On 15 July Pastor Aaron John, Rohail Bhatti, Salman John, Abid Gill and Shamin Mall were shot dead and six others were wounded when a dozen masked men opened fire on them as they left their church property in Sukkur, Sindh Province. The church members had been meeting to discuss security in the light of recent threatening letters the church had received. Students from a local madrassa have been threatening the church since 2008. After the shooting the police and ambulance took 45 minutes to arrive. A church member told Compass Direct News that, not only had the police refused to register an FIR in relation to the threats, they have also yielded to Muslim pressure and refused to register a FIR in relation to the killings.

FLOODS. Pakistan's devastating floods are the result of unprecedented monsoonal rains and bad governance, for Pakistan has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world. Pakistan today has less than five percent forest cover. The floods have wiped out millions of homes and millions of acres of prime agricultural land. A humanitarian crisis of monumental proportions is unfolding. Further to this, Bishop Humphrey Peters of Peshawar warns that aid is unlikely to reach marginalised minority Christians. The people are angry, hungry and desperate. That combined with the government's virtual collapse in credibility, along with the Army's diversion into rescue and relief, provides the al-Qaeda-Taliban with a phenomenal window of opportunity.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* our sovereign God and compassionate Father will make provision for his desperately needy people: material provision in the midst of calamity; spiritual provision in the midst of persecution; and sanctuary in the midst of insecurity.

* Yahweh Sabaoth -- the 'Lord of Hosts' / the Commander of Heaven's forces -- will frustrate the ways of the wicked (Psalm 146), obstructing and confounding any al-Qaeda-Taliban attempt to exploit Pakistan's catastrophic flood for the advancement of their own evil agenda.

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PAKISTANI CHRISTIANS' PLIGHT CRITICAL

Islamic intolerance is mounting unchecked across Pakistan as the original Muslim teachings emanating from mosques and madrassas cultivate hatred. As chaos and lawlessness proliferate, the situation for Christians deteriorates. The frequency of Christian girls being raped is escalating, and Muslims increasingly reject having Christians live amongst them. Police are more frequently unwilling to register complaints against Muslims who assault, extort, rape, torture or murder Christians, so that the impunity fuels the persecution. The blasphemy law continues to be exploited for religious hatred and personal gain, and a false accusation of blasphemy is as good as a death sentence. Furthermore when catastrophe like the flood strikes, aid rarely reaches marginalised minority Christians. The Church in Pakistan greatly needs our prayers. (See Psalm 146.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

068. Indonesia: worshippers attacked in Bekasi, West Java (plus Nth Korea)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 068 | Wed 11 Aug 2010

Before turning our attention to the deteriorating situation in West Java, Indonesia, the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin ministry must share some news from North Korea. North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity (NKIS) has learned that 23 residents of Kuwal-dong, Pyungsung, South Pyongan Province, North Korea, were arrested in mid-May for their involvement in religious activities. After interrogating the believers, the regime executed three 'leaders' who had reportedly been converted while on business in China and incarcerated the others in concentration labour camp 'No. 15 Kwanliso in Yoduk', where they will surely also die.

Pray for North Korea's incarcerated Christians in their extreme suffering, for those grieving the loss of loved ones and for those gripped by fear. May our ever-present God be their strength, enabling them to rise above their circumstances (Isaiah 40:27-31; Habakkuk 3:19). May God deliver North Korea (Isaiah 35:4).

INDONESIA: WORSHIPPERS ATTACKED IN BEKASI, WEST JAVA

[For background on the extremely serious situation brewing in West Java see: Religious Liberty Monitoring under 'Indonesia'; and RLPB 063 (07 July 2010) which reported earlier strife in Bekasi.]

The 1500-strong Batak Christian Protestant Filadelfia Church (HKBP Filadelfia) in Bekasi has been meeting in homes for the last 15 years because the local authorities will not grant them permission to build a dedicated meeting place. Though the church is ethnic Batak and worships in the Batak language (not Javanese or Indonesian, i.e. not a local language) local Islamic fundamentalist groups have accused it of 'Christianisation'. Now the church is not even permitted to gather for worship in a home because the local authorities claim the local residents don't want a church in their area.

Over recent weeks, a small core group from this fellowship has been meeting for prayer and worship in the open air on the church's own land. On Sunday 31 July the group worshipped in the open, guarded by some 300 police, while a mob of Islamic fundamentalists chanted Islamic Arabic slogans. The New York Times reported (31 July): 'As the congregants filed home, a knot of Muslim men pushed forward with raised fists at the passing Christians, but were bottled up by a linked-arm chain of other Muslims.' So it seems a significant number of local Muslims are not only happy to have the church meeting in their area, but are willing to risk their own bodies to defend it.

On Sunday morning 8 August at least 300 militants from the Islamic People's Forum (FUI) and the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) pushed through a police barricade and attacked the 20 Filadelfia Church Christians worshipping the Lord on the church's land. The hundreds of police present were either unable or unwilling to prevent the attack. Armed with sticks and stones, the militants chased, caught and beat the fleeing Christians, several of whom required medical treatment for their injuries. Berliana Sinaga (22) suffered bruises to her face after several militants caught and beat her. Risma Silalahi (45) is still in pain after militants beat her around the head. Franky Tambunan (26) was struck in the face and kicked while trying to protect his elderly father. The attack was well orchestrated with the militants dispersing quickly afterwards.

The Islamic fundamentalist and militant organisations are not only hoping to terrorise the church into submission, they are also testing the authorities to see how far they can go. The government has to choose: will it uphold the constitution and guarantee religious liberty or will it yield to the Islamists? If the government refuses to guarantee the constitutional rights of Indonesian citizens, if it shows weakness and buckles in the face of Islamic belligerence, then West Java's Christians will be at risk, especially as Ramadan progresses. This is a watershed moment for Indonesia. The government can no longer straddle the ridge. It must come down either on the side of religious freedom and equality before the law or on the side of Islam and dhimmitude.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* God will deliver the Church in West Java from this terrible threat, so the believers can worship in peace, and so West Java might retain the light, salt, yeast and Good News that the Church brings into its midst (2 Thessalonians 3:1-3).

* if there is to be no deliverance at this time, then may God fill the believers with faith, courage and peace, protect and comfort them in the midst of the persecution and reassure them of his everlasting love.

* God will take what man intends for evil and use it for his own good purpose. As Islam shrouds the people in the darkness of dictatorship, may the light of Christ just shine ever more radiantly, visibly and attractively.

'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)

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INDONESIA: WORSHIPPERS ATTACKED IN BEKASI, WEST JAVA

Religious tensions are escalating, particularly in the outer suburbs of Jakarta, and specifically in Bekasi where Muslim fundamentalists have threatened war on the Christians. The situation turned violent on Sunday 8 August, when some 300 Islamic militants pushed through a police barricade to attack 20 Christians praying on church-owned land. (They are not permitted to gather for worship in their homes or build a meeting place.) The police were apparently unable or unwilling to prevent the attack. The militants, armed with sticks and stones, chased and beat the fleeing Christians, some of whom required medical treatment. The government must choose to defend religious freedom and equality before the law, or it will buckle in the face of Islamic belligerence and open the door for Islamisation, talibanisation and dhimmitude. Please pray.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

067. Iran: persecution surges

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 067 | Wed 04 Aug 2010

IRAN: PERSECUTION SURGES

Biblical revelation preaches freedom in love. Islam -- like all man-made religions -- demands submission to law. While the God of the Bible demands perfection in love, he freely provides a remedy for sin -- Jesus Christ -- and the Holy Spirit as helper. This is indeed Good News! On the other hand, while Islam demands submission to law, it provides no remedy for sin and so can only culminate in failure. Meanwhile, the dictators of Islam employ religious forces -- Revolutionary Guards, Basij, muttawa, hisba, taliban and others -- to police 'vice and virtue'. To protect their own privilege and hegemony they deny Islam's failure and deflect scrutiny from Islam by blaming the victims. Driven by apostaphobia, they strive to eliminate fitna (anything that could tempt a Muslim to doubt Islam). Sunni reformation (as in Saudi Arabia) and Shi'ite revolution (as in Iran) have only produced repressive, totalitarian police states wracked with poverty, cruelty, despair and disillusionment.

In Iran the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) was set up to defend Islam. The Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) was established to eliminate all opposition and dissent which they virtually did through purges, terrors and serial killings. When President Khatami (1997-2004) pressed for reforms in the style of 'glasnost' (openness) and 'perestroika' (restructuring), Ayatollah Khamenei engineered his removal. Through the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad since 2005, the hegemony of the blood-stained IRGC and MOIS hardliners of the 1980s-90s has been restored. The regime has just announced a massive boost in funding for the Basij (state-sponsored Islamic vigilantes) and will establish 7000 new Resistance Bases across Iran. All this is unsurprising, for whilst Christianity requires radical, personal, spiritual transformation, Islam merely demands the enforcement of Islamic law.

Persecution of the Church escalated through 2009, aided because the US no longer has leverage -- due to Iraq, the US now needs Iran more than Iran needs the US. As noted in RLPB 041 (3 Feb 2010), the regime is escalating repression to curtail unrest due to widespread social dissatisfaction and economic distress. A wave of persecution hit the Church in late December 2009 and early January 2010 when many Christians were harassed, interrogated, threatened and arrested. Whilst most have been released on bond, some remain incarcerated and others have been added to their number.

Pastor Behrouz (Marco) Khanjani was arrested on 11 January when he responded to a request from the authorities to come in for questioning in Chiraz. He was bailed on 17 March only to be re-arrested on 16 June. His wife, Fatemeh (Marie) Torkkajouri, was arrested the next day and placed in solitary confinement in Evin Prison. After informing Pastor Behrouz of his wife's fate, the authorities reportedly incarcerated him in 'Plate 100', a dungeon of the intelligence services in Chiraz. Their daughter Esperance is in the care of Muslim family members.

Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani was arrested in Rasht on 13 October 2009 for protesting the regime's plans to force Islamic education on all children in violation of the constitution. He has reportedly been sentenced to death. Furthermore Pastor Yousef's wife, Fatemeh (Tina) Passandideh, was arrested on 8 June 2010 and is in solitary confinement in Evin Prison. The authorities have threatened to put the couple's children, Yoel and Daniel, in an Islamic institution.

A group of 15 new believers were travelling by bus to the provincial town of Bojnoord on 18 July 2010. Security forces were informed and ambushed and arrested them in the city of Mashhad. After a week of harsh interrogation, believers who signed 'confessions' were freed on conditions including due payment of all bail. Mr Reza (48, also known as Stephen) and Mr Ehsan Behrooz (23) refused to co-operate and so remain incarcerated in the 901st branch of the Revolutionary Court in Mashhad.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT THE SPIRIT OF GOD WILL:

* fill Iranian believers with courage and faith to face persecution in a way that brings glory to God.

* fill persecuted Iranian believers with the inner peace and joy that comes from trusting the LORD, from assurance of salvation, and from the experience of God as 'sanctuary' (Isaiah 8:14a).

* give all Iranian Christians -- especially pastors -- great spiritual wisdom to be 'wise as serpents and innocent as doves' (Matthew 10:16 ESV).

* awaken multitudes of Iranian Muslims to the deficiencies of Islam (and not just Iranian economics and foreign policy) and the Good News of Jesus Christ.

* enlighten especially the Muslim relatives, friends and neighbours of Iran's persecuted Christians that they may be so shocked and challenged by Islamic injustice, and so surprised and moved by Christian grace, that they will seek love over law and find truth in Jesus Christ.

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PERSECUTION SURGING IN IRAN

Dozens of Iranian believers have been harassed, threatened, detained and tortured in recent months. Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani has reportedly been sentenced to death whilst his wife Fatemeh suffers in solitary confinement in Evin Prison. The authorities have threatened to place their two young children in an Islamic institution. Pastor Behrouz Khanjani and his wife Fatemeh are both detained and their daughter is in the care of Muslim relatives. Mr Reza (48) and Ehsan Behrooz (23) were arrested on 18 July and are being held in the Mashhad branch of the Revolutionary Court. Many other arrested believers are now free only because they were coerced into signing 'confessions' and paying bail. Their freedom remains conditional and tentative. Please pray for the Church in Iran facing intensive pressure.