Wednesday, June 25, 2014

RLPB 266. June Update, Incl. Laos, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sudan, Vietnam

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 266 | Wed 25 Jun 2014

By Elizabeth Kendal

'... Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.' (Zechariah 4:6 ESV)

JUNE 2014 UPDATE -- During June we prayed concerning ...

* LAOS (RLPB 263), where persecution continues to bring great suffering to Laos' small but growing Christian community.

UPDATE: NOT EVEN IN DEATH
In recent months, Mrs Chan and her eight children (four who are married) became the fifth family in Savannakhet Province's Saisomboon village to embrace the Christian faith. When Mrs Chan died on 22 June, the family sought permission to give her a Christian burial. The authorities would only grant permission if the family renounced its faith in Christ. So the family held a private ceremony, while waiting for permission to bury Mrs Chan on the family property. The next day, 24 June, the village police and military arrested Mrs. Kaithong, the leader of Saisomboon village church and Mr. Puphet (leader of Donpalai village church), Mr. Muk (leader of Huey village church), Mr. Hasadee (leader of Bunthalay village church,) and Mr. Tiang (a believer), all of whom were present at the ceremony. The village chief then led Buddhist monks and Mrs Chan's Buddhist relatives into Mrs Chan's house. They conducted a Buddhist ceremony and took Mrs Chan's body away to the village cemetery. The five believers arrested are being detained at Bouthong sub-district police station with their hands cuffed and their feet in stocks. [See Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (Advocacy Alert No. 04/2014)]

* SCOTLAND (RLPB 264), where a law has been passed mandating that all Scottish children under 18 be appointed a guardian who will monitor their development and report any concerns to the authorities.

UPDATE: Opposition to the 'named person' -- dubbed 'legalised spying' -- is growing. At the very least, a real debate has begun, along with a real struggle. Continue to pray for a great awakening in Scotland.

* UPPER MESOPOTAMIA (RLPB 265)
UPDATE IRAQ
On 12 June, just days after seizing control of Iraq's Nineveh Province, ISIS distributed leaflets calling on families to 'offer their unmarried women so that they can fulfil their duty of jihad by sex to their brotherly mujahideen. Failure to comply with this mandate will result in enforcing the laws of Sharia upon them.' According to the fatwa (religious edict), the women, whether they were virgins or not, will be 'cleansed' through sex jihad.

The Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) reports (23 June) that according to a member of the Iraq High Commission for Human Rights, Dr Sallama Al Khafaji, ISIS members recently entered the home of an Assyrian family in Mosul and demanded jizya (protection money). When the Assyrian family said they did not have the money, three ISIS members raped the mother and daughter in front of the husband and father, who was so traumatised that he committed suicide.

ISIS now controls all the crossings on the Iraq-Syria border. ISIS has also encircled the Haditha dam on the Euphrates River north-west of Baghdad. Haditha Dam makes the largest hydroelectric contribution to Iraq's power system. Meanwhile, in the absence of government engineers, the hastily and poorly constructed ever-fragile Mosul Dam upstream of Mosul on the Tigris River, is more  vulnerable than ever. Collapse of the dam (naturally or otherwise) would be absolutely catastrophic and the death toll would be horrendous.

THREAT TO JORDAN 
On 22 June ISIS militants took control of the Turaibil crossing on the Jordanian border. Whilst the Hashemite Kingdom does have a formidable military and US backing, the regime also faces formidable opposition from Bedouin tribes, the Muslim Brotherhood, and a restive Palestinian demographic majority. Throughout 2012 American and Saudi Arabian elements trained takfiri (anti-Shi'ite) militants (including Jordanians) in Jordanian camps and sent them into Syria to fight Assad. Now the takfiris are back with ISIS via Iraq. ISIS has posted a video on YouTube threatening to 'slaughter' the 'tyrant', King Abdullah, and there is concern that ISIS might have considerable support inside Jordan which has been a 'ticking time bomb' for a long time. Jordan's 145,000 Christians comprise 2.23 percent of the population. They are mostly Eastern Orthodox (Greek, Syrian and Armenian) and Catholic as well as several Protestant denominations.

JUNE 2014 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

* EGYPT: FIVE YEARS' JAIL FOR CHRISTIAN FREELANCE JOURNALIST 

In 2007 convert Muhammad Hegazy launched a landmark case against the Egyptian government, suing for his right to change his religion. In compliance with Sharia (Islamic) Law, the court ruled against him. Muhammad, who is now known as Bishoy Boulous, was arrested on 5 December 2013 while freelance-reporting on the anti-Christian pogroms in Upper Egypt. The government accused him of spreading 'inaccurate images of oppression' [see RLPB 240 (10 Dec 2013)]. Middle East Concern updates his situation: 'Bishoy Boulous was sentenced on 18 June 2014 to five years' imprisonment for inciting sectarian strife and disturbing public order under Article 176 of the Penal Code. Official publication of the judgment is expected in approximately one month, after which the appeal process can begin, though Boulous' legal team believes an appeal is unlikely to be accepted.'  It appears it is now considered criminal to portray Egypt in a bad light. This will make things extremely difficult for Egypt's human rights and religious liberty advocates.

* INDIA: CHOOSE FAITH OR FOOD

In India's northern state of Chhattisgarh, 52 Christian families in Sirisguda, Bastar town, Jagdalpur, are being denied food rations purely due to their faith. On 16 June around 100 of the Christians approached the food inspector in Jagdalpur, only to be savagely attacked by a Hindu mob. Ten of the Christians required hospitalisation. Some had broken bones and one was in a coma for two days. The village head is proposing that non-Hindus should lose their lands. One Christian told Morning Star News, 'They may kill us, but we are not going to leave  Jesus who loves us.'

* INDONESIA: CHURCHES ATTACKED IN YOGYAKARTA

On 29 May Islamic militants attacked a prayer meeting in the home of Julius Felicianus (52) attended by members of the St Francis Agung Banteng Church. Dressed in robes and armed with knives, the attackers claimed to be loyal to the cleric Jafar Umar Thalib, the former commander of Laskar Jihad. Six of the believers, including women and a child (8) who was electrocuted, had to be taken to hospital. Julius Felicianus's own neighbours were amongst the attackers. They have threatened to return if Christian worship ever takes place in that house again. On Sunday 1 June a Protestant church was attacked in the same area. Fortunately the service had been short and the congregation had already left. The attackers had to content themselves with stoning the property and smashing all the stain-glass windows. Police were present but did not intervene. This was the third time the El Shaddai Pentecostal Church had been attacked since construction began in 2012, before the local authorities sealed the building. Each time the believers have re-opened the church for worship they have faced violence. The fellowship has existed since 1990. The Islamic Jihad Front (FJI), one of the groups involved in the attack, claims to be fighting against 'Christianisation'. 

* PAKISTAN: ASIA BIBI MARKS FIVE YEARS IN PRISON

On 19 June Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in November 2010, marked five years in prison, away from her husband and five children. On 27 May her appeal to the High Court in Lahore was delayed for the fifth time and no new hearing date was set. It is clear no judge wants to hear this case. For the judge it will be a lose-lose situation: if the judge upholds the death sentence he will attract widespread international condemnation, but if the death sentence is overturned, Pakistan's radicalised Islamic fundamentalists will riot. Asia's life is gravely imperilled. Reportedly one cleric has offered to reward anyone who kills her.

* PAKISTAN: CHRISTIAN MP ASSASSINATED IN QUETTA
On 14 June Handery Masih, MP for Balochistan, was killed outside  his home in Quetta, shot in the head and neck by his own bodyguard. Mr Masih has been described as a committed Christian who was known as an advocate for the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan, in particular, those who are persecuted for their faith. The motive for the killing is not yet known. Local Christians are distraught.

*SUDAN: MERIAM, FAIZA AND COMPULSION IN RELIGION
Meriam Ibrahim, a Christian woman who had been sentenced to death for apostasy, as well as to 100 lashes for adultery [see RLPB 261 (21 May)], walked out of prison on Monday 23 June, into a seriously dangerous environment. Merian's conviction was overturned after an appeal brought by the Commission for the Defence of Women. The family was placed in a safe-house. Along with Islamists across Sudan, Meriam's brother has repeatedly called for her execution.  Dani Wani, Meriam's husband, has long feared for the lives of his family. 'I am scared for all our lives,' Wani told CNN on 1 June, 'me, my wife and my children -- if we have to remain inside Sudan, even a day after her release.' On Tuesday 24 June, the family was preparing to leave the country when they were stopped at Khartoum airport by more than 40 members of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). Fundamentalist Muslims were not happy to see Meriam acquitted. At the time of writing, Meriam is being held in a security building at the airport while US officials are getting her papers in order.

Meanwhile, Faiza Abdalla (37), a Christian woman arrested on 2 April in similar circumstances, [see RLPB 262 (22 May 2014)] remains in prison accused of adultery (for marrying a South Sudanese Christian) and apostasy (because of her Muslim name). Some years ago, Faiza's husband fled to South Sudan to escape persecution; today South Sudan is wracked with civil war and famine. Alone, without connections, Faiza is at risk of being forgotten and abandoned by the West, which should care as much about her plight as about Meriam's. Faiza's parents, who converted from Islam before she was born, are also at risk.

* VIETNAM: MENNONITES PERSECUTED

Morning Star News (MSN) reports that at 11pm on 9 June, police woke the students of a Mennonite Bible School in southern Vietnam's Binh Duong Province demanding to conduct an 'administrative search'. What followed was a night of violence. According to MSN, more than 300 plain-clothed police and 'citizens' subsequently smashed fences and swarmed into the property. The 76 Christians present were kicked, beaten, hauled away in trucks and detained overnight. In the morning, 20 of the students had injuries requiring medical attention. The process was repeated over the next three nights. MSN believes this is nothing other than a campaign of intimidation against a church group whose leader, Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang, is an outspoken advocate for religious freedom. Even since the initial assault, raids and persecution have continued: the electricity and water have been cut, and phones and motorbikes have been confiscated. Fifty-two students and leaders, including the Rev Quang, were summonsed to appear before officials for interrogation. On 12 June the Mennonite leaders sent the authorities a 'petition of accusation', protesting the abuse. According to MSN, a nearby Catholic church has agreed to provide safe haven for Mennonite victims of persecution if needed. What a wonderful example of risky 'cross-sharing'. May the Lord protect and preserve them all.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)