RLPB 391. Jan 2017 Update. Burma, Nigeria, Sudan, Vietnam, Yemen
JANUARY 2017 UPDATES AND ROUND-UP
by Elizabeth Kendal
* BURMA (Myanmar): PASTORS DETAINED AS WAR ESCALATES
The Burmese army has escalated its military offensive against the Christian ethnic Kachin, whose lands they seek to exploit in northern Burma. The humanitarian situation is dire, with thousands of Kachin forced to flee the northern IDP camps to seek refuge in China. According to reports, the government has been preventing humanitarian aid from reaching a number of conflict areas. Burma expert Bertil Lintner comments (19 January): ‘After a 17-year respite [a ceasefire held from 1994 to 2011] and now under an elected government, Kachin State has arguably never witnessed such debilitating and destructive armed combat.’
On 24 December Burmese military officers abducted Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) pastors Dom Dawng Nawng (65) and La Jaw Gam Hseng (35). The pastors had previously helped journalists document the destruction of civilian structures, including St Francis Xavier Catholic Church, in Mong Ko in neighbouring Shan State. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the pastors received a call claiming to be from Byuha Gon military base, in which they were invited to come and secure the release of a married couple. The pastors were last seen on the evening of 24 December, travelling by motor-bike to the military base. On 16 January HRW expressed grave concerns after the government denied that the military had detained the two men. On 19 January the Burmese army confirmed that it had detained the pastors on national security grounds and that they are alive. The KBC has requested that the two men be handed over to Mong Ko police as soon as possible.
It is imperative that the soldiers who abducted and illegally detained the KBC pastors be held to account. As noted by HRW Deputy Asia Director, Phil Robertson: ‘Perpetrators of grievous abuses in Kachin and Shan States need to be brought to justice. Atrocities won’t stop so long as the military can commit them against civilians with impunity.’ Indeed, two years on from the barbaric rape, torture and slaughter of two Kachin missionaries by Burmese troops on the night of 19-20 January 2015 [see RLPB 347 (9 March 2016)], nobody has been held to account. Pray for an end to impunity and for our long-suffering, long-persecuted brothers and sisters in Burma.
* NIGERIA: CHURCHES DEMOLISHED IN DUTSE, JIGAWA
On 11 January government forces supervised the demolition of two long-established churches in the state capital, Dutse. The government justified the demolitions by claiming that the churches had been illegally built in residential zones. Church leaders reject this, noting that several church-owned residential properties were also demolished while nearby mosques were not. Though the government claims to have forewarned the churches, church leaders deny this also, saying the demolitions commenced without warning leaving no time to salvage movable property. Jigawa State is 99 percent Muslim and Sharia (Islamic) law has been in force since 2001. Christians suffer systematic discrimination and are exceedingly vulnerable to persecution. With five more churches scheduled to be demolished, Christians are understandably anxious about the future. Please pray that Governor Abubakar will relent and that the remaining churches will be spared.
* SUDAN: CHRISTIANS EXPELLED, IMPRISONED, ABANDONED
EXPELLED: Morning Star News reports that Pastor Koat Akot of the Sudan Pentecostal Church left Sudan on 9 December after being expelled by Sudan’s powerful National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). Pastor Akot had established three churches in the Khartoum-Omdurman area.
IMPRISONED: On 2 January a Khartoum court acquitted the Rev Kwa Shamaal of all charges, enabling the head of Missions of the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) to walk free. However, his three co-accused were not so fortunate. Rev Hassan Abdelrahim Tawor (SCOC), Darfuri convert Abdulmonem Abdumawla and Czech aid worker, Petr Jasek, have been charged with serious crimes against the state. The judge was expected to deliver his verdict on their cases on 23 January, now postponed until Sunday 29 January. If found guilty, the men could receive long prison terms or even a death sentence. Pray for the Church in Sudan.
ABANDONED: Despite the repression and persecution in Khartoum and the ongoing genocidal jihads and humanitarian blockades in the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and Darfur, the out-going Obama administration announced on 13 January that it was ‘easing sanctions’ on Sudan. The US Treasury Department justified the move, claiming the Government of Sudan has shown ‘sustained progress … on several fronts … .’ Human Rights Watch labelled the statement ‘inexplicable’, while long-time Sudan expert Eric Reeves slammed it as ‘a bald lie’. May the LORD intervene for his people! (See Isaiah 59:14-19)
* VIETNAM: NGUYEN VAN DAI’S DETENTION EXTENDED
At the end of December Communist Party officials extended the detention of Protestant Christian and internationally acclaimed human rights attorney and religious liberty advocate, Nguyen Van Dai (47). It is the third time the authorities have extended his detention. Dai has already spent four years in prison (2008-2011), followed by four years house arrest (to March 2015) for the crime of ‘spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’. He was re-arrested in December 2015 as he attempted to meet with European Union representatives who were in Hanoi to investigate human rights issues. Dai will now remain detained until April. Please pray for Nguyen Van Dai and for the Church in Communist Party-ruled Vietnam.
* YEMEN: CAPTIVE MISSIONARIES IN CRISIS
On 24 December ISIS released a five-minute video in which captive Indian missionary, Father Tom Uzhunnalil (56), makes a fresh appeal for his life. Clearly distressed, despairing and in failing health, Father Tom had lived and worked in Yemen for some 14 years before he was kidnapped by ISIS on 4 March 2016 [see RLPB 348 (16 March 2016)]. Father Tom has appealed directly to the Pope and to ‘bishops everywhere’, imploring them to intervene to save his life. After nearly ten months in captivity, Father Tom appears disturbingly thin, breathless and frail. Click here for video.
On 10 January unidentified Islamic militants released a 12-second video in which captive Australian missionary, Craig McAllister (56), appeals directly to the Australian government as a gun is held to his head. McAllister — who had lived in Yemen for several years and was working with a Christian charity as a football coach when he was kidnapped in September 2016 — assures the Australian government that his captors will kill him if their demands are not met.
Please pray for the captives, the prisoners and the persecuted, as if you were suffering with them (Hebrews 13:3). ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.’ (Matthew 10:29-31 ESV)
Elizabeth Kendal is international religious liberty analyst and advocate and Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF).