Wednesday, May 31, 2017

RLPB 409. May Update, Incl. Pakistan, CAR, Iran, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Egypt, Iraq, Philippines, Sudan, UK

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 409 | Wed 31 May 2017

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by Elizabeth Kendal

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Please Note: A Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin will not be issued next week (7 June) as Elizabeth Kendal will be unavailable to prepare it. Churches and small groups needing an item for their newsletter or intercessory prayers should consider using another of the situations detailed below -- an urgent item this week and a less time-sensitive item next week. May the Lord bless you as you serve him and his precious Church in prayer.

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When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. (Psalm 56:3 ESV)

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

* PAKISTAN (RLPB 405), where the brutal lynching of Muslim university student Mashal Khan -- on campus in broad daylight -- had reignited the debate around the infamous blasphemy law.

UPDATES
PAKISTAN: LAW REFORM STALLS WHILE ISLAMISATION PROGRESSES
Ever since Marshal Khan was accused of blasphemy and lynched, his sisters have been receiving death threats. On 4 May some 500 Muslims in the town of Hub, in Balochistan Province, rioted after police refused to hand over a Hindu man whom they accused of blasphemy; a ten-year-old boy was killed in the melee. Meanwhile, Nabeel Masih -- the 16-year-old Christian boy arrested in September for 'liking' and 'sharing' a Facebook post which supposedly 'defamed and disrespected' the Kaaba in Mecca -- has again been refused bail. Despite doing little or nothing to address the blasphemy law, the Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs has amended the 'Respect for Ramadan' law, unanimously approving ten-fold increases in the maximum fines for fast-breakers, as well as prison terms of up to three months. Eateries are not even permitted to provide food during Ramadan's daylight hours. Rights advocates fear the law will hurt non-Muslims and fuel vigilantism. Ramadan commenced on 27 May and will continue until 25 June. Pray for the Church in Pakistan.

Jacqueline Sultan
PAKISTAN: CHRISTIAN LAWYER THREATENED WITH DEATH
Jacqueline Sultan is a high court advocate and a member of the Karachi Bar Council. She is also a human rights activist and the chairperson of the Global Human Rights Association Alliance. A Christian, she defends people charged with blasphemy and helps victims of forced conversion and marriage. In mid-May, a letter was delivered to her chambers in which she was threatened with death if she did not stop her work. The Karachi Bar Association is taking the threat very seriously and has demanded the state investigate and provide Sultan with extra security. Please pray for Jacqueline Sultan; may the Lord of hosts provide all her needs.

* NIGERIA (RLPB 406), where 82 'Chibok girls' had been released (ransomed) from Musab al-Barnawi's Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). Hundreds of girls, mostly Christians, are still captives of ISWAP and Boko Haram.

* CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR -- RLPB 407), where the de facto partition of the state -- with Christians in the south and Muslims dominating the north -- had brought a degree of peace. However, Islamic militias are fighting each other now for control of roads, grazing land, water and diamond mines. This strife is evolving along ethnic lines. Furthermore, native, non-Muslim 'anti-balaka' militias have allied with non-Fulani Islamic militias against the Muslim Fulani. In retaliation, the Fulani are escalating their attacks on Christians.

UPDATE: CHURCH FACES CRISIS AS VIOLENCE ESCALATES
On 15 May at least 20 were killed, more than 40 wounded and some 20,000 displaced as rebels clashed in Bria, the capital of central Haute-Kotto Province. UN personnel have confirmed that an aid warehouse was pillaged, saying: 'There's fighting taking place but we don't know who's fighting whom.' World Watch Monitor reports that Baptist pastor Ange-Apoléon Ngakolada (36) was among the dead in Alindao; he leaves behind a wife and eight children. It seems Muslims unhappy with his church exploited the chaos of 6-7 May and murdered him in his own home. CAR needs assistance, as it simply does not have enough troops to contain the escalating crisis.

IRAN (RLPB 408), where, faced with a choice between the conservative but pragmatic Rouhani and the ultra-conservative hard-liner Raisi, moderate Iranians came out en masse on 19 May to vote for Rouhani despite Raisi being the regime's preferred candidate.

UPDATE: EMERGING THREAT
As is commonly the case in politics today, the election's loser (in this case Ebrahim Raisi) has moved straight from campaign mode into conflict mode, launching a campaign designed to fire-up supporters, undermine the result and discredit and de-legitimise the winner (in this case, Hassan Rouhani). Raisi has accused Rouhani of electoral fraud and called for an official investigation, even though the Guardian Council has approved the result. Hard-liners have vowed to fight Rouhani and press their ultra-conservative agenda. If the situation arises where Raisi incites Islamic revolutionary rage, and/or President Rouhani feels pressured to appease hard-liners, Iran's Christians will suffer as a consequence. Please continue to pray for Iran, and for Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz and Amin Nader Afshar as their trial continues in Tehran.

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

* AFGHANISTAN: AID WORKER KILLED, ANOTHER KIDNAPPED

On 20 May militants broke into a Kabul guest-house run by Swedish-based charity, Operation Mercy. A German woman who had been working in Afghanistan for 13 years was killed, as was her Afghan guard, who was beheaded. A Finnish woman was kidnapped. Both women (who have not been named) were aid workers with Operation Mercy. As yet, no group has claimed responsibility. Please pray for the captive Finnish aid worker, and for the families and colleagues of the deceased. May the Lord have mercy.

* ERITREA: NEARLY 100 CHRISTIANS ARRESTED IN MAY

World Watch Monitor reports that on 9 May ten Christians were arrested at a home in Ginda, north-east of Asmara, having been betrayed by neighbours. On 17 May more than 35 Christians were arrested from their own homes in Adi Quala, after a compulsory survey exposed them as evangelicals. On 21 May 49 Christians were arrested at a post-wedding celebration outside the capital, Asmara. The totalitarian regime of President Isaias Afewerki is one of the world's worst persecutors. Since May 2002 thousands of Christians have suffered incarceration, hundreds have been severely tortured and at least 28 have died in custody due to mistreatment. Christians attempting to flee routinely fall prey to human traffickers. Eritrean Orthodox Patriarch Abune Antonios (89) has been confined to house-arrest for more than ten years; he had protested the persecution of 'Medhane Alem', a thriving revival movement which exists within the Eritrean Orthodox Church.

* EYGPT: SHAHADA OR DEATH IN THE DESERT 

On Ascension Day (26 May) a convoy of Coptic Christians en route to the Monastery of St Samuel the Confessor was stopped on the desert road some 220km south of Cairo by a group of around 10 men dressed in military fatigues and armed with automatic weapons. Claiming to be security officers, the gunmen ordered the Copts out of their vehicles. After separating the men from the women and children, the gunmen demanded the men recite the shahada (Islamic statement of faith). When the men refused, the militants opened fire, but were forced to flee when they noticed cars in the distance. Twenty-eight Christians are confirmed dead (including two children) and 23 wounded. Islamic State has claimed responsibility. The Copts are grieving and their grief spans the world. One Coptic Christian living in western Sydney, Australia, lost 12 members of his extended family in the massacre. Pray for Egypt.

Copts grieve (26 May) New York Times
photo: Amr Nabil/Associated Press

* IRAQ: CONVERT, BE KILLED, OR PAY JIZYA

Undated footage emerged in early May showing the head of Iraq's Shi'ite Endowment Fund, Alaa Abd al-Sahib al-Musawi teaching that 'the people of the book must be fought ... to compel their conversion to Islam. Either they convert to Islam, or else they are killed, or they pay the jizya.' [Jizya, as mandated in the Qur'an Sura 9:29, is a form of extortion wherein 'the people of the book' agree to pay for their right to life.] Iraq's Christians, most of whom are Assyrian (the indigenous people of Mesopotamia), were horrified. A group of 180 Christian families filed a lawsuit against Musawi, accusing him of hate speech. Musawi rejected the charge, claiming he was teaching on historic matters that are supposedly irrelevant today. He claimed the video was leaked by parties resistant to Muslim-Christian coexistence -- by which he doubtless meant the Assyrian Christians lobbying for a 'safe haven' or autonomous province in their historic homeland of the Nineveh Plains. By accusing the Assyrians of resisting what he calls 'Muslim-Christian co-existence', the cleric has knowingly created an extremely dangerous situation.

* PHILIPPINES: SHAHADA OR DEATH IN MINDANAO 

On 23 May, Philippine forces attempted to apprehend Abu Sayyaf chief Isnilon Hapilon from his hideout in the 99.6 percent Muslim city of Marawi, Mindanao. When Abu Sayyaf called for reinforcements, some 100 Islamic jihadists from an ISIS-inspired group known as 'Maute' stormed the city. They attacked St Mary's Cathedral, kidnapping 15 believers, including the priest Father Chito Suganob, some nuns, and several lay persons who were praying in the church. The Cathedral, a Protestant College and numerous other properties were torched. A truck transporting nine Christian labourers was ambushed at a militant checkpoint. After being pulled from the truck, the men were bound and ordered to recite the shahada (Islamic statement of faith). When they could not, they were executed. The militants have occupied half of the city using their Christian captives as human shields and are engaged in fierce battles with the Philippine military. The Maute group has escalated its activities over recent months as it seeks recognition from ISIS. President Duterte has declared martial law across Mindanao. The Church is pleading for the release of the Christian hostages.

Father Chito Suganob appears in a 5-min jihadist propaganda video, (30 May)
requesting the president end military operations. 

* SUDAN: PRISONERS FREED; CHURCHES DEMOLISHED

On 11 May Christian prisoners the Reverends Hassan Abdelrahim Kodi and Abdelmoneim Abdelmoula were released and reunited with their families. Incarcerated since December 2015, both men were released with a presidential pardon. Their co-accused, Rev Kuwa Shamal and Mr Petr Jasek, were released in January and February respectively. Despite this mercy, the Government of Sudan’s campaign against the Church continues, with 27 churches designated for demolition. Of these, two Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) buildings were demolished in May: one in Algadisia (established in 1983) on 17 May, and one in Soba Al Aradi (established in 1989) on 7 May. The demolition in Soba Al Aradi was particularly significant, for in 2011 Soba Al Aradi had 13 churches and today it has none. Pray for the Church in Sudan.

* UNITED KINGDOM (UK): CHURCHES TO REMAIN ALERT

On 22 May Salman Abedi (22), a British youth of Libyan heritage, blew himself up at a pop concert in the Manchester Arena, killing 22 people, including young children, and wounding over 100. ISIS claimed responsibility, warning: 'What comes next will be more severe on the worshippers of the cross and their allies.' After the attack MI5 lamented being overstretched, commenting that security services are currently ‘looking at 500 different plots’ and have a list of some 23,000 potential terrorists, including a 'top list' of 3,000 deemed high risk. Barnabas Fund UK has advised churches across Britain to 'exercise extra vigilance', providing guidance on how to reduce risk and how to report suspicious activity to police. Pray for a revival of faith and courage in UK.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com