Wednesday, August 30, 2017

RLPB 421. August Update; incl. Vietnam, India, CAR, Philippines, China, Eritrea, Kenya, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Turkey

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 421 | Wed 30 Aug 2017

by Elizabeth Kendal

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)

'Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence . . . From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.' (from Isaiah 64:1-4 ESV)

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

* VIETNAM (RLPB 417), where long-persecuted Protestant pastor and religious freedom advocate, Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, had been released from prison on the condition that he and his religious freedom advocate wife Tran Thi Hong leave the county; and where internationally acclaimed human rights attorney and Protestant Christian Nguyen Van Dai (48) had been charged with 'carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People's administration' under Article 79 of Vietnam's Penal Code.

UPDATE: Radio Free Asia reports that four members of an online democracy advocacy group, known as Brotherhood for Democracy (founded in 2013), were arrested on 30 July. The four have all served time in prison before, and all are connected to human rights advocate Nguyen Van Dai. Like Nguyen Van Dai, the four men -- one of whom is 'missing' -- have been charged with 'carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People's administration' and could face anything from 12 years in prison to the death penalty if convicted. One of those arrested and charged is Protestant Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton (45).

* INDIA (RLPB 418), where Christians suffer escalating discrimination and violent persecution in line with the rise of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism with religious apartheid) and where the northern state of Jharkhand was considering enacting an anti-conversion law. The law had been approved by the cabinet of the Chief Minister on 1 August but had yet to come before the Legislative Assembly.

UPDATE: ANTI-CONVERSION LAW PASSED IN JHARKHAND
Jharkhand's 'Religious Freedom Bill 2017' was both introduced to and passed by the Legislative Assembly on 12 August. Under this law, anyone judged to have 'forced' another person to change their religion could face three years' imprisonment and fines of Rs 50,000 (US $800), or four years' imprisonment and a Rs 100,000 fine if the person converted is a minor, a woman or a member of the less-educated classes, such as Dalits. Furthermore, any conversion will require permission from the Hindu nationalist-dominated state government. While the law does not actually ban conversion, it hands anti-Christian forces a weapon with which they can persecute and prosecute Christians while reining in conversions. [Further analysis is available on Religious Liberty Monitoring (RLM) (2 Sept 2017).]

* CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR) (RLPB 419), where Islamic militants, who are reportedly now 'more heavily armed than ever', continue to spread terror despite the presence of UN 'peacekeepers'.

UPDATE: Complaints continue to surface against the UN peacekeepers, in particular the Moroccans. According to Catholic priest Father Jean-Alain Zembi, rector of Zemio on the nation's border with Congo, UN peacekeepers have been abandoning civilians. Going further, others accuse the UN peacekeepers of 'complicity' in the terror. The supreme question of who is funding these 'heavily armed' Islamic militants remains unanswered. According to Catholic priest, Father Desire Kpangou, the attackers wore turbans and spoke neither French nor the local language, Sango, suggesting they had come from nearby Sudan. [For more on Sudan's involvement in CAR see RLM Nov 2013.] In a desperate plea for international assistance to disarm the militants, Father Kpangou declared, 'If you [the UN] don't come soon to disarm these people, we [the priests] will have to organise confessions and a final Mass and viaticum [final administration of the sacraments of Holy Communion before death] and prepare ourselves and the rest of the displaced people here for the worst.' May God intervene in CAR.

* PHILIPPINES (RLPB 420), where some 50 to 60 local and foreign Islamic militants were holding 46 civilians hostage in Marawi's Grand Mosque as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) closed in.

INSIDE 3 | AlHayat Media Center
http://ou7zytv3h2yaosqq.tor2net.xyz/35246
(copy and paste into browser)
UPDATE: On 20 August Islamic State's Al-Hayat Media Centre released a graphic and typically slick and powerful video entitled 'Inside 3'. In line with the Islamic State (IS) strategy of promoting an image of Islamic success, the almost seven-minute ¬English-language production includes scenes of young jihadis firing their weapons, desecrating a church and stepping around the bodies of dead AFP soldiers. The narrator boasts: 'After all [the government's] efforts [to subjugate Islam] it would be the religion of the Cross that would be torn down and broken.' And later: 'After soldiers of the Taghut (infidel government) were left ¬embarrassed and demoralised, [President] Duterte ran to his masters, the defenders of the Cross -- America, along with their regional guard dog Australia and begged them for help.' In reality, it is IS that is begging for help, pleading with Muslims across South-east Asia to come to Marawi and die fighting for Allah.

UPDATE ON HOSTAGES: On the morning of 24 August the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) seized control of Marawi's Grand Mosque. While it is a hugely symbolic victory, the militants had already fled and no hostages were found. Gun battles continue. On Sunday 27 August jihadist sympathiser Cayamora Maute (64), father of the notorious Marawi-based Maute brothers (who have led this rebellion) -- died in a government hospital. Arrested on 6 June, Cayamora Maute had diabetes, hepatitis and hypertension; police rushed him into hospital when his blood pressure shot up. The fact that he died in police custody could complicate the situation for the hostages. Please pray.

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

* CHINA: GAO ZHISHENG 'DISAPPEARED'


Gao Zhisheng (source)
in 2005 (left) and 2017 (right)
Internationally acclaimed human rights lawyer and devout Christian Gao Zhisheng ran afoul of China's communist regime as soon as he started advocating religious freedom and defending the persecuted. First arrested in 2006, Gao has spent many years in China's secret 'black jails' where he was tortured and forced to endure long periods of solitary confinement. After many threats, Gao's wife and children fled to the USA in 2009. Released from prison in 2014 in an appalling state [see RLPB 275 (27 Aug 2014)], Gao has since been under house arrest in his mother's cave house in Shaanxi Province, denied access to dental or medical care. When Gao's wife, Geng He, phoned him early on the morning of Sunday 13 August, nobody answered. When Gao's brother subsequently went to check on him, nobody was there. The Wall Street Journal has surmised that Gao may have been detained because he recently gave an interview to a Hong Kong magazine, or because the regime might be rounding up dissidents ahead of the 19th Party Congress due to be held this Fall. ChinaAid is urging the relevant authorities in China 'to help locate Gao's whereabouts' and asking the international community 'to pray for Gao's safety and freedom'.

* ERITREA: ANOTHER CHRISTIAN DIES IN CUSTODY

Fikadu Debesay had been arrested along with her husband on 17 May, during raids targeting evangelical Christians in the town of Adi Quala [RLPB 409 (31 May)]. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that the Christian mother of three died in Metkel Abiet, a desert camp in Eritrea's Northern Red Sea Region. A relative at the 10 August burial told Morning Star News that Fikadu's body showed signs of torture. Fikadu's traumatised children are amongst the more than 50 children currently without one or both parents because of these raids. The number of Christians detained in desert camps and military facilities since May has risen to 210. In July, 16 teenage Christian girls were arrested while doing their compulsory national service and sent to the Metkel Abiet camp. When family members tried to visit, they too were incarcerated. During the first week of August, a further 23 Christians were rounded up in the capital city, Asmara. Prison conditions are appalling and torture is routine. May God intervene in Eritrea.

* KENYA: SHAHADA OR DEATH IN LAMU COUNTY

On  Friday evening 18 August, al-Shabaab militants killed four Christian men in Kasala Kairu, Lamu County, on Kenya's coast near the border with Somalia. First the militants seized Changawa Muthemba (40s) from his home and dragged him to the home of his brother-in-law, Joseph Kasena (42), an elder in the local church. They then dragged Joseph and his guest, neighbour Kadenge Katana (17), out of the house. When Changawa, Joseph and Kadenge refused to recite the Shahaada (the Islamic statement of faith) the militants tied them up and hacked them to death with machetes. Joseph's wife, Caroline (late 30s), witnessed everything and is 'severely traumatised'. The militants then went to the home of Joseph's mentally challenged older brother, Charo (late 40s), and murdered him. It is well known that the al-Shabaab has established camps in Kenya's Boni Forest which borders Somalia. Furthermore, al-Shabaab militants and their sympathisers are reportedly 'deeply embedded' in the local communities of wider Lamu and Tana Counties where they 'move around freely' while the police do nothing. On 8 July Kenya's Standard reported: 'Last week, 150 Al-Shabaab gunmen prayed at a local mosque [in Lamu county] before launching an attack on the police station, dispensary and school.' This appalling situation requires urgent attention from the Kenyan government. Please pray.

* MALAYSIA: ISLAMISATION FOR POLITICAL GAIN

On 4 August the Malaysia Islamic Development Department (Jakim) established a special national-level committee called the Shariah Courts Empowerment Committee (JKMMS), tasked with 'empowering the shariah judicial system in line with the position of Islam in the Federal Constitution'. Then on 7 August the Malaysian government withdrew the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2016, claiming a new version was required. The new version removes Article 88(A) which had protected children from forced conversion to Islam upon the conversion of one parent. The government has also banned more books promoting moderate Islam, on the grounds that they are 'likely to be prejudicial to public order' and 'likely to alarm public opinion'. In early August, when images went viral showing members of an atheist club enjoying fellowship, the government vowed to 'hunt down' atheists and warned anyone caught propagating godlessness could face prosecution. Analysts surmise that UMNO (the ruling United Malays Nationalist Organisation party) and its leader, Prime Minister Najib Razak, are advancing Islamisation ahead of the August 2018 elections to shore up Muslim votes. Pray for the Church in Malaysia.

* NEPAL: A FURTHER BLOW TO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

In September 2015, Nepali lawmakers passed a new constitution [RLPB 329 (30 Sep 2015)] which defined Nepal as a 'secular' state, while appeasing Hindu nationalists with the inclusion of anti-conversion measures [for details see: RLPB 321 (5 Aug 2015)]. On 8 August 2017 the Nepali parliament passed a bill criminalising religious conversion and the 'hurting of religious sentiment'. Clause 158 of section 9 bans the hurting of religious sentiment and is similar to Pakistan's blasphemy law. Clause 160 in section 9 severely restricts religious conversion and is similar to the anti-conversion laws in force in India. Christians fear it will foster intolerance and provide anti-Christian forces with a weapon to use against them. The law now awaits the approval of Nepal's President Bidhya Devi Bhandari. Tehmina Arora, an expert in human rights law, writes, 'The fundamental right to religious freedom includes the practice and sharing of a belief. The president should veto this new bill and allow her citizens to enjoy basic human rights'. Pray for the Church in Nepal.

* PAKISTAN: ANOTHER CHRISTIAN YOUTH ACCUSED 

Asif Masih (16), an illiterate and mildly mentally challenged Christian youth, worked as a scavenger in Gujranwala District, Punjab Province, scavenging through garbage for salvageable items that could be cleaned up, repaired and reused. On 12 August a rival scavenger named Muhammad Nawaz decided to remove Asif from the scene, so he accused him of having burnt a Quran. Before long a crowd had gathered and Asif was being beaten so savagely that when the police finally arrived he 'confessed' to the crime to save his own life. Asif is now in prison, accused of blasphemy.

* SUDAN: CHURCH UNDER PRESSURE

The Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) in Omdurman (across the Nile River from the capital, Khartoum) continues to face extreme pressure from the Islamic Government of Sudan (GoS). Morning Star News reports that, on Wednesday 23 August, seven SCOC leaders were jailed and interrogated for six hours before being charged with refusing to comply with an order to turn over leadership of their congregation to a government-appointed committee. Among those detained was Rev Kwa Shamaal, head of missions at the SCOC, who was only released from prison in January this year [for background see RLPB 372 (24 Aug 2016)]. The harassment and persecution is all part of the expressed intent of GoS to rid Sudan of Christianity [see RLM March 2013].

* SYRIA: SEVEN CHRISTIAN FAMILIES RESCUED FROM RAQQA


Matay Hanna (left) an MFS fighter,
inspects a map of Raqqa showing
the churches destroyed by IS.
(MEE/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)
Some 95 percent of Raqqa's Christian families managed to flee as the city fell to rebel forces in March 2013. However, when ISIS took control in January 2014, those who remained were trapped. On Tuesday 8 August two Armenian and five Assyrian Christian families were rescued from Raqqa by Christian fighters from the 200-strong Syriac Military Council (MFS; established in 2013), which is fighting with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Sawsan Karabidian (45), who was rescued with six members of her family, said, 'They [ISIS] forced us to wear the headscarf and allowed us to reveal our faces to distinguish us from Muslims. We had to hide our faces to avoid insults. We were forced to pay tribute [jizya/protection money] by hand and we were humiliated and insulted; what a homeland that makes you pay an additional tax because you are different.' MSF fighter Matay Hanna told reporters, 'Some say we are Christians and we must love everyone. But if we do that there will be no Christians left in the Middle East. We are Christians and should defend our people. We don't need another genocide against us; it's enough. ... We must defend ourselves.' The MFS fighters hope Christians will return to Raqqa. 'We will fix the church, or build a new church,' Hanna said. 'We will finish this mission, and let the people go back to their homes.' Pray for the Christians of Mesopotamia (Syria-Iraq).

* TURKEY: US PASTOR CHARGED WITH SPYING AND INSURGENCY 


Rev Andrew Brunson
World Watch Monitor
American Presbyterian Pastor Andrew Brunson was arrested in October 2016 [RLPB 389 (21 Dec 2016)] in the wake of July's alleged coup attempt which the Erdogan regime blamed on the US [see RLPB 367 (20 July 2016)]. Pastor Brunson and his wife, Norine, ministered in Izmir's Dirilis (Resurrection) Church and had lived in Turkey for 23 years. Jailed without charge, Brunson was eventually accused of being a member of a terrorist organisation. Now, World Watch Monitor reports that on 24 August 2017 the state-run Anadolu news agency confirmed that Brunson will now face charges of spying and insurgency with prosecutors demanding he receive four consecutive life sentences in prison. Pastor Ihsan Ozbek, who leads Turkey's Association of Protestant Churches, denounced the charges as 'absurd'. It has long been suspected that Turkey will seek to exploit Brunson to broker a prisoner swap with the US. Please pray.

-------------------------------------------------------------

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 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

RLPB 420. Philippines: Marawi Crisis Needs Urgent Prayer

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 420 | Wed 23 Aug 2017

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


PHILIPPINES: MARAWI CRISIS NEEDS URGENT PRAYER
by Elizabeth Kendal

click on map to enlarge
After a full three months of fighting, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is now in control of all but a half-kilometre grid square of Marawi city. To date, the Battle for Marawi has claimed the lives of 573 militants, 128 soldiers and police and at least 45 civilians. The AFP's progress has been slowed and complicated by the fact that the jihadists -- members of Abu Sayyaf and the Maute Group, both of which have pledged allegiance to Islamic State -- have planted numerous Improvised Explosive Devises (IEDs) and retained civilian captives as human shields. AFP spokesman, Brigadier General Restituto Padilla Jr, told reporters on 20 August, 'The main battle area remains complex with the continued discovery of many IEDs and unexploded ordinance ... But operations are progressing very well, and we have had no one killed in action for the last eight days. Unfortunately, two soldiers lost their legs because of tripping into IEDs that were left in a building that they were clearing.'

Just before midnight on 3 August, four male hostages -- Rumar Marjalino, his brother Rowel, Jimmy Esperat (all from Zamboanga) and Delfin Lapas of Iligan City -- made a daring escape. Using a concealed mobile phone, they contacted the AFP which organised to rescue the men one kilometre out into Lake Lanao. Escapee Rumar Marjalino (38) attributed their success to God's intervention. 'That night,' he reports, 'not a single sniper fired his shot. Not a single sound was heard ... We hurried until we reached the lake and we were told to swim 1,000 meters. Despite the heavy waves, we stayed together. God was there. God is good.'
Thanking God for rescue (13 Aug)
source: Naval Forces Western Mindanao
The men were reunited with their families on Sunday 13 August before being taken to Camp Don Basilio Navarro Hospital for a medical examination. En route to the hospital they all stopped off at La Naval Chapel to offer prayers of thanks for their deliverance.

The escapees report that between 50 and 60 local and foreign jihadists remain holed up in Marawi's Grand Mosque along with 46 civilian captives, of whom 20 are women and 13 are children, the youngest being only two-years-old. During the day the terrorists strap remotely controlled explosive devices to the bodies of the adult male hostages before sending them out to gather food and supplies from abandoned stores and mobile phones from dead bodies. On several occasions male hostages were strapped with explosives, armed and sent out to fire on AFP troops; those who refused were immediately executed. On one occasion, 14 hostages were strapped with explosives, placed on the front-line and ordered to fire on AFP tanks. The AFP returned fire, killing all the hostages, believing they were terrorists. As a last resort, the terrorists plan to use the hostages as human bombs to kill AFP troops. When they are not out performing tasks for the jihadists, the hostages are guarded in the mosque by armed child-soldiers. The escapees report that Father Suganob is alive and that his primary task is to gather gunpowder from firecrackers. The escapees tried to convince Father Suganob to escape with them, but he refused to abandon the other captives.

Bangsamoro (click on map to enlarge)
According to the Chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Murad Ebrahim, jihadist violence is but a consequence of the lack of a political solution in Mindanao where Muslim separatists have been fighting the government for decades. According to Ebrahim, peace can only be secured through the establishment of an autonomous MILF-ruled Bangsamoro political entity under Islamic Sharia law. President Duterte agrees and has vowed to 'support and husband' the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Congress to ensure its passage. The implications for Christians and the Lumad (non-Muslim indigenous tribal peoples) are enormous, despite guarantees that Sharia would not apply to them. Naturally, all Muslims in the Bangsamoro would be subject to Sharia law. Guarantees that constitutional rights would be protected by the Supreme Court will not comfort anyone who has observed similar dual systems in Muslim Malaysia, Indonesia's Aceh or Northern Nigeria.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO:

* preserve, comfort, encourage and deliver the remaining hostages; may his Spirit uplift them and his angels surround them; may the hostages be very aware that no matter how horrific their circumstances, they have not been abandoned, they are not alone. 'My God sent his angel and shut the lions' mouths, and they have not harmed me ...' (Daniel, from Daniel 6)

* bless, encourage, sustain and supply all the area churches whose members are sacrificially opening their homes and expending themselves as they aid and minister to the displaced. 'And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.' (Philippians 4:19 ESV)

* grace Filipino politicians and constitutional lawyers with insight, wisdom and courage as they consider the Bangsamoro Basic Law; may security, prosperity and development in Mindanao be addressed without the loss of constitutional rights.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
MARAWI CRISIS IN THE PHILIPPINES NEEDS URGENT PRAYER

After three months of fighting, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is now in control of all but a small part of Marawi city. The AFP's progress has been slowed by many improvised explosive devices and the presence of 'human shields'. Escapees report that some 50 to 60 local and foreign Islamic State-inspired jihadists remain holed up in Marawi's Grand Mosque with some 46 civilian captives, of whom 20 are women and 13 are children. The more the AFP closes, the more dangerous the situation becomes for the captives, many or most of whom seem to be Christian. May God comfort, preserve and deliver the remaining hostages; and may the situation in Muslim Mindanao be resolved without the loss of constitutional rights. Please pray for the Philippines and its Christians.

------------------------------------------------------

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 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

RLPB 419. CAR: Islamic militias "more heavily armed than ever".

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 419 | Wed 16 Aug 2017

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)

CAR: ISLAMIC MILITIAS 'MORE HEAVILY ARMED THAN EVER'
by Elizabeth Kendal

simple map of divided CAR (WWM)
Gambo is located 70km west of Bangassou, in the Central African Republic (CAR) prefecture of Mbomou. It sits on what is currently the front-line of one of the world's most catastrophic and neglected conflicts. Gambo has been held by ex-Seleka Islamic rebels for the past four years, but this year suffering has escalated markedly as Islamic rebels have split into factions, primarily along ethnic lines, and escalated their attacks on civilians associated with their opponents. Over recent months the ex-Seleka faction known as the UPC (the ethnic Peuhl/Fulani-dominated Union for Peace in the Central African Republic) has escalated its attacks on the local people, especially women. Catholic news-agency, Agenzia Fides, reports that many local women have been abducted from their homes in front of their husbands and later raped. What else is this but a reign of terror?

The Catholic bishop of Bangassou,
the Spanish Comboni missionary
Juan José Aguirre Muñoz.
On 4 August 'anti-balaka' militias (traditional village defence militias turned anti-Muslim and now anti-Fulani vigilantes) entered Gambo to oust the ex-Seleka/UPC fighters. Local Bishop Juan José Aguirre Muñoz of Bangassou, told Agenzia Fides that when the anti-balaka arrived, UN peacekeepers immediately opened fire to repel them. When the anti-balaka returned fire the UN peacekeepers started shooting wildly and indiscriminately, hitting many civilians. When the UN peacekeepers pursued the anti-balaka into the forest, the ex-Seleka/Fulani UPC fighters in Gambo town found a Red Cross team holding a meeting in the hospital and proceeded to slit the throats of all men, women and children present. Six Red Cross volunteers, one a Baptist pastor, were among up to 80 victims. World Watch Monitor reports that Pastor Joseph Tokon had gone to Gambo to work as a medical aid worker. In his 50s, Pastor Tokon leaves behind a wife and seven children.

CAR map showing Batangafo and Gambo
'I ask myself,' says Bishop Aguirre, 'why, once Gambo had been saved from the anti-balaka, did the UN [peacekeepers] leave the people in the hands of the Seleka [Fulani UPC]? These so called peace-keeping troops, whose job is to disarm all the factions in the country, did forcefully disarm the anti-balaka but not the Seleka who appear more heavily armed than ever. Here is a sense of complicity which we fail to understand' (emphasis mine). Fellow peacemaker, Imam Oumar Kobine Layama of the award-winning Interfaith Peace Platform, agrees with Bishop Aguirre that the Moroccan contingent of the UN Peacekeeping Mission is 'trigger-happy' and needs to be removed. Human Rights Watch believes the UN peacekeeping force could do more to protect civilians, noting that in many front-line towns 'Seleka fighters openly circulate with weapons'. Of course the hottest question of all must be: 'Who is funding these Islamic militias?'

Peacemaker Church: a place of refuge
Meanwhile, the situation at the Catholic Cathedral in Bangassou remains explosive [see RLPB 407 (17 May)]. Inside the cathedral, some 2000 displaced mostly Muslim civilians huddle together under the protection of priests and nuns. Outside on the footpath, bands of young Muslim men harass the local people while anti-balaka fighters linger menacingly on the periphery, threatening to kill them all. The violence is spread along the front-line, from the south-east through the centre to the north-west. In the town of Batangafo, 400km north of the capital Bangui, two waves of violence through late July into early August left 24 people dead, 17 injured and more than 10,000 people seeking refuge in the grounds of the hospital after rebels torched the refugee camp and looted its supplies. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) project coordinator Carlos Francisco laments, 'Much of the general population is in a state of complete helplessness.' On 7 August the UN warned of the spectre of genocide, in the hope of arousing some interest from outside powers.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* 'Break the arm [means of action] of the wicked ...' (Psalm 10), so that CAR (which is 76 percent Christian) will be spared catastrophic bloodshed, ethnic cleansing and even partial Islamic domination; may those who are sponsoring Islamic militancy be exposed and sanctioned and all channels of funding to Islamic militias be totally broken.

* intervene in CAR to rebuke and chase away (Isaiah 17:13) all foreign jihadists (mostly Chadian and Sudanese); to disarm and pacify all belligerents; to remove all unhelpful powers and troops; and to empower all those who are working to improve security for this massively traumatised population.

* protect and bless his peacemaker Church, amplifying her message of reconciliation, her exercise of grace and her call to transformative revival through Jesus Christ.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
CAR: ISLAMIC MILITIAS 'MORE HEAVILY ARMED THAN EVER' 

The town of Gambo in CAR's volatile south-east has been in the hands of Islamic militants since 2013. Violence has escalated markedly this year as Muslim militias have split into factions along ethnic lines and escalated their attacks on civilians. In Gambo, women have been specifically targeted. On 4 August anti-Muslim defence militias known as 'anti-balaka' invaded Gambo to drive out the ethnic Fulani Muslim militants. As UN peacekeepers chased the anti-balaka into the bush, the Islamic militants in the town invaded a hospital and slit the throats of men, women and children. Church leaders lament that the UN peacekeepers are failing to protect civilians and that the Islamic militants 'appear more heavily armed than ever'. May God intervene; a breakthrough is needed. Pray for CAR and its peacemaker Church.

------------------------------------------------------

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 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

RLPB 418. India: Serious Threat of Hindutva

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 418 | Wed 09 Aug 2017

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


INDIA: SERIOUS THREAT OF HINDUTVA
-- Church is persecuted; tribals free only to be Hindu

by Elizabeth Kendal

The ideology of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) was formulated in the early 1900s as a means to counter British colonialism. VD Savarkar, the man recognised as the Father of Hindutva, was an Indian pro-independence activist and revolutionary. Savarkar sought to unify India's numerous and diverse peoples under the banner of Hindutva to strengthen the Indian resistance. An avowed atheist, Savarkar objected to Hindu beliefs and sought to redefine Hinduness as race. He wrote his defining work 'Hindutva' while in prison in the early 1900s. Whilst he might have despised the Muslims of the 'Khilafat' (Caliphate) Movement with whom he shared a prison cell, his ideology appears to borrow much from their fundamentalist Islam.

The essence of Savarkar's Hindutva is this: a Hindu is a person for whom 'Hindustan' (the entire Indian subcontinent) is their homeland and holy-land. As the homeland and holy-land of the Hindu race/nation, ‘Hindustan’ should be declared a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu state). The only reason non-Hindus exist in Hindustan is because they or their ancestors were led astray and converted by foreign missionaries, usually through fraud, force or allurement. All non-Hindus are thus called to 'return home' to Hinduism for the sake of Mother India. Refusal to do so is seen as an act of betrayal against the Hindu nation, akin to subversion or separatism. In theory, Hindutva rejects caste, mandating there should be equality within the Hindu race. Non-Hindus however, are to be marginalised as second-class citizens and essentially be punished for their betrayal. The result is religious apartheid with violent persecution.

This pregnant woman and her five children
were thrown out of their village by
her husband and in-laws after she refused
to renounce her Christian faith.
See World Watch Monitor (8 Aug)
It has been a Long (100-year) March, but Savarkar's Hindutva disciples now control the levers of power throughout all India. Formulated to stir up revolution against the British, Hindutva is now used as a political tool to fan majority Hindu pride and dragnet the majority Hindu vote to consolidate the power and privilege of the Hindu elites. The situation facing India's ancient and growing missionary-focused Christian Church is exceedingly serious. Slandered as anti-social elements who instigate strife, threaten social cohesion and risk national security, Christians are increasingly finding themselves without rights or security against a rising tide of politically-orchestrated religious hatred.

As animists who traditionally vote Congress, the tribals have long been the prime targets of Hindutva activists seeking religious conversions for political gain. To their fury, they find themselves competing with Christian missionaries who are almost exclusively Indian nationals working locally or cross-culturally. Along with literacy, education, vocational training and healthcare, these Indian missionaries also introduce peace, love, dignity, grace and abundant life in Jesus Christ to peoples historically disregarded by the Hindu caste system as little more than rubbish. Like the high caste (who recoil at the notion of equity) the Hindutva activists regard Christian missionaries as their number one enemy on earth.

Christian missionary: Gospel for Asia 

ANTI-CONVERSION LAW FOR JHARKHAND

Five northern tribal-belt states have enacted anti-conversion laws (ironically known as 'Freedom of Religion' bills): Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Odhisa. A similar law also exists in Arunachal Pradesh, which as yet has not been implemented. On Tuesday 1 August the Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Bill 2017 was approved by the cabinet of Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das. The law will be enacted later this year when it is approved by the Hinduvta-dominated State Legislative Assembly. As in the other states, Jharkhand's Freedom of Religion Bill will criminalise religious conversion, mandating prison terms and a fine for anyone found guilty of attempting to convert another person by fraud, force or allurement -- all undefined. The penalty is increased if the convert is a minor or a member of a scheduled caste or tribe. As human rights advocate Tehmina Arora notes, 'This law, like the ones in the other States, will only further incite violence against religious minorities.' Similarly, Church leaders warn that such laws merely foster hatred against minority communities and lead to persecution of Christians.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO:

* intervene in power and grace to thoroughly subvert the Hindutva project [which is essentially just another Tower of Babel -- a vain and rebellious project aimed at forging social cohesion without reference to God (Genesis 11)].  'The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.' (Jesus, Luke 18:27 ESV)

* rise up in defence of his persecuted and threatened Church and in defence of India's harassed and helpless masses.

Gospel For Asia 
'O Thou my soul, forget no more
The friend who all thy misery bore
Let every idol be forgot 
But O my soul, forget him not. 
Jesus for thee a body takes, 
Thy guilt assumes, thy fetters breaks, 
Discharging all thy dreadful debt; 
And canst thou e’er such love forget?’ 

(Attributed to Krishna Pal, Bengali convert to Christianity, baptised December 1800.)


DAY OF PRAYER FOR INDIA: the Evangelical Fellowship of India is inviting intercessors worldwide to join with the Indian Church on Sunday 13 August as they observe a 'Day of Prayer for the Nation'. Further resources can be found at https://www.nationaldayofprayer.in/  and https://www.facebook.com/EFoIndia 


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
SERIOUS THREAT OF HINDUTVA IN INDIA

The ideology of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) was formulated in the early 1900s as a way to counter British colonialism. Today, Hindutva is a political tool used to fan Hindu pride and dragnet the Hindu vote to consolidate the power and privilege of Hindu elites. Whilst Hindutva supposedly promotes equality of Hindus, non-Hindus are marginalised as second-class citizens. Refusal to 'return' to Hinduism is viewed as a betrayal against the Hindu nation. The result is religious apartheid with violent persecution. As animists who traditionally vote Congress, the tribals have long been the prime targets of Hindutva activism. These activists view Christian missionaries -- almost exclusively Indian nationals -- as their principal enemies. Five northern tribal states already have anti-conversion laws; another will soon follow. Please pray for India and its Christians.

------------------------------------------------------

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 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

RLPB 417. Vietnam: High Cost of Defending Religious Liberty

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 417 | Wed 02 Aug 2017

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)

VIETNAM: HIGH COST OF DEFENDING RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
plus update on Iranian prisoner Amin Afshar-Naderi

by Elizabeth Kendal

Arrested in April 2011, Lutheran pastor, evangelist and religious liberty advocate Nguyen Cong Chinh was sentenced in June 2012 to 11 years in prison for 'undermining national unity'. In prison he has been subjected to long periods in solitary confinement, torture and other cruel mistreatment and abuse. Meanwhile, his wife Tran Thi Hong, another courageous religious liberty advocate, has been routinely beaten and harassed. Both have paid a high price for their public defence of religious liberty [RLPB 359 (1 June 2016)]. A little over a month ago, urgent prayer was requested for Pastor Chinh, for not only had his health deteriorated, but he was being punished for telling a delegation from the US Consulate about the torture, beatings, cruelty and harassment he has suffered in prison [RLPB 412 (28 June)].
Commissioner Jackie Wolcott advocates on
behalf of Pastor Chinh and Tran Tri Hong.

On 28 July Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, his wife Tran Thi Hong and their five children arrived in Los Angeles, USA, having accepted a deal from the Communist government of Vietnam that saw Chinh released from prison on the condition that he leave the country. While we rejoice that Pastor Chinh and his family are now free and safe, we are saddened that this freedom had to come at the high cost of exile.

Internationally acclaimed Protestant human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate Nguyen Van Dai has already spent four years in prison (2008-2011), followed by four years of house arrest (to March 2015) for the crime of 'spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam'. He was re-arrested on 16 December 2015 as he attempted to meet with European Union representatives [RLPB 354 (27 April 2016)]. Detained without charge, the authorities have extended Dai's detention three times [RLPB 391 (25 Jan 2017)]. Denied contact with her husband, Dai's wife Vu Minh Khanh,  another courageous religious liberty advocate, travelled to raise awareness of his plight [RLPB 359 (1 June 2016)].

Nguyen Van Dai
On 30 July authorities charged Nguyen Van Dai (48), his legal associate Le Thu Ha (35) and four other human rights advocates, including Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton (45), with 'carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People's administration' under Article 79 of the Penal Code. Communist Party mouthpiece, Viet Nam News, reports that the Investigation Security Agency under the Ministry of Public Security has commenced legal proceedings. This is an extremely serious charge. If found guilty, Nguyen Van Dai -- whom Viet Nam News labelled 'the alleged instigator'-- could face 12 to 20 years of imprisonment, a life sentence or even capital punishment, while his 'accomplices' could face sentences of 5 to 15 years.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* bless, comfort, encourage and bring healing to Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, his wife Tran Thi Hong and their five children, as they settle into life in the USA; may the Lord provide their every need and continue to use them in his service and for his glory. May the Lord send out more workers into the 'fields' (Luke 10:2) of the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

* intervene on behalf of Nguyen Van Dai and his co-accused, that justice and reason prevail; may the charge be exposed as ridiculous, malicious and vindictive; may the accused, along with their families, friends and churches, cling to the Lord and remain firm in faith; may God redeem all suffering to bring good from this evil.

'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' (Matthew 16:18b ESV)

UPDATE on Iranian prisoner Amin Afshar-Naderi


Amin Afshar-Naderi
(Mohabat News, 28 July)
RLPB 414 (12 June) called for prayer for believers imprisoned for their faith and witness in Iran, in particular for the nine Iranian men -- pastors and evangelists -- who had recently received extremely harsh sentences. Of these, particular concern was raised over the well-being of Amin Afshar-Naderi. Sentenced to 15 years, Amin wrote a deeply moving letter to the authorities and commenced a hunger strike. After 19 days without food, he had lost some 10kg and his health was failing. On Tuesday 25 July, Amin was temporarily released from prison, pending his appeal, after signing over property deeds worth $US 80,000 to secure his bail.

* Thank-you Lord, that Amin has been able to secure temporary release on bail. Please, Lord, heal and strengthen Amin as he awaits his appeal hearing.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
HIGH COST OF DEFENDING RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN VIETNAM

Arrested in April 2011, Lutheran Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh has suffered heavily for his public defence of religious liberty, as has his wife, Tran Thi Hong. On 28 July Pastor Chinh, his wife and their five children arrived in Los Angeles, USA, having accepted a deal from Vietnam's Communist regime that saw Chinh freed on the condition that he leave the country. On 30 July authorities charged Protestant human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate, Nguyen Van Dai, and five associates with 'carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People's administration'. As the 'alleged instigator', Dai could face from 12 to 20 years in prison, a life sentence or a death sentence. As his 'accomplices', his co-accused could face 5 to 15 year terms. Please pray for Vietnam and its Christians.

------------------------------------------------------

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