RLPB 412. Inc. Pakistan, Iraq, Burma, China, Eritrea, Egypt, India, Philippines, Syria, Vietnam.
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
JUNE 2017 UPDATE — this month we prayed concerning …
PAKISTAN (RLPB 410), where impoverished ‘untouchable’ Christians are helpless to resist exploitation and abuse; and from where Christians with means are fleeing in ever increasing numbers.
UPDATE (1): DEATH OF ‘UNTOUCHABLE’ TRIGGERS LEGAL BATTLE
On 1 June ‘untouchable’ Christian sanitation worker Irfan Masih (28) died at a hospital in Umerkot City, Sindh Province, after doctors refused to treat a man they looked upon as not merely physically but ritually ‘unclean’. Distraught Christians protested. The following day, Masih’s father went to the police and registered a complaint against Civil Hospital Medical Superintendent Jam Kunbhar and others, accusing them of criminal negligence and manslaughter. When Kunbhar was arrested, angry hospital workers protested. Investigators agree that while the hospital did not cause Masih’s death, it does bear some responsibility. Morning Star News reports that, in an effort to pressure the family into dropping the complaint, the hospital has registered a complaint against the Christians. Fortunately the police have not acted, deeming the complaint ‘frivolous’. Pray for justice in Pakistan.
UPDATE (2): ISLAMISTS WINNING THE BLASPHEMY BATTLE
On 13 April, Pakistani Members of Parliament vowed to insert safeguards into the blasphemy law to prevent its misuse [RLPB 405 (3 May)]. Yet, on 10 June a court in Punjab sentenced Shia Muslim Taimoor Raza (30) to death after finding him guilty of using social media to ‘disseminate’ material the court deemed blasphemous. It is the first time anyone has been sentenced to death for a social media post. On 15 June police arrested Christian shop-owner Ashfaq Masih (28) after an observer overheard him explaining to a customer that Christians believe Jesus was the final prophet. The observer reported the ‘blasphemy’ to police, who then came and arrested Masih. It appears the Islamic fundamentalists, who have been calling for swifter and harsher penalties from the courts, are winning the blasphemy battle. Please pray.
KENYA (RLPB 411), where Somalia-based al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab is escalating its terror inside Kenya and inciting Kenyan Muslims against the Church in the hope it might extract concessions ahead of Kenya’s 8 August General Elections.
JUNE 2017 ROUND-UP — also this month …
* IRAQ: ABDUCTED CHILD FOUND AND RESTORED
In early August 2014 Christina Ebada (then aged 3) was literally dragged from her mother’s arms by ISIS fighters as her family fled the Assyrian city of Qaraqosh [RLPB 275 (27 Aug 2014)]. The harrowing story, as told by her distraught mother, was one of the most painful to emerge from the ethnic cleansing of Qaraqosh. Now World Watch Monitor (WWM) reports that Christina has been found and reunited with her family. According to Kurdish media, ‘The family’s efforts to track her through Arab friends were rewarded on Friday (June 8), when they got a call telling them Christina had been found in Hayy al-Tanak, a poor neighbourhood of Mosul.’ Iraqi Security Forces retrieved her and returned her to her family the following day. Healthy, well dressed and wearing gold earrings, it appears Christina had been kept by a family who treated her well. To the Lord Jesus, and all the believers who have prayed for the family over the years, Christina’s mother, Ayda, says, ‘Thank-you.’ We too say, ‘Thank you Lord Jesus.’
* BURMA (MYANMAR): IMPRISONED PASTOR DETERIORATES
Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) pastors Dom Dawng Nawng (65) and La Jaw Gam Hseng (35) were abducted by Burmese military personnel on 24 December 2016, after they helped reporters document destruction caused by Burmese military aggression [RLPB 391 (29 Jan 2017)]. On 24 January the military handed the pastors over to police who accused them of spying and charged them with ‘illegal association’ [RLPB 392 (1 Feb 2017)]. In a recent conversation with Morning Star News, Khon Peng, wife of Pastor Nawng, revealed that her husband is discouraged and his health is deteriorating. Nawng was transferred from Muse, 174km south to Lashio in April and the four-and-a-half hour road trip makes visiting difficult. Peng said her husband — who shares a cell with some 40 other prisoners — ‘suffers from asthma’ and ‘has diarrhoea often’. Attorney U Brang Di confirmed to Morning Star News: ‘He lacks nutrition. As he is old, it makes it worse. He seems very weak.’ The two pastors faced court for the first time on 3 May. Please pray.
* CHINA (1): IMPRISONED PASTOR PUNISHED FOR APPEAL
Communist Party-approved ‘Three-Self’ pastor Zhang Shaojie of Nanle County Christian Church, Henan Province, was arrested in November 2013 along with 23 other church members after they accused the Communist Party of attempting to seize church land. In July 2014 Zhang was sentenced to 12 years’ jail; an appeal in August 2014 failed [RLPB 275 (27 Aug 2014)]. According to China Aid Association (CAA) Zhang recently launched a fresh attempt to appeal his sentence, igniting the wrath of prison officials. His daughter, US-based Esther Zhang, told CAA that her father is now being punished with ‘strict supervision’. Newly released inmates have told her that her father is being subjected to sleep deprivation and starvation and that he is depressed and ‘barely alive’. Please pray.
CHINA (2): CATHOLIC BISHOP ‘DISAPPEARED’ IN WENZHOU
On 26 June the Holy See expressed its ‘grave concern’ over the disappearance of Msgr Pierre Shao Zhumin (54), Bishop of Wenzhou, in the coastal province of Zhejiang. The bishop disappeared on 18 May after being invited to attend an interview at the local office of Religious Affairs. Rumour has it that he is being detained in a police residence in Wenzhou, but nobody has been able to contact him. Fearing this Vatican-approved yet unregistered bishop could be facing pressure to submit to unreasonable Communist Party demands, the Catholic Church in Wenzhou has appealed for prayer.
* ERITREA: ARRESTS CONTINUE
As reported in RLPB 409 (31 May), Eritrean authorities arrested nearly 100 Christians during May. It has now been confirmed that a further 22 arrests occurred at the end of May and the beginning of June. Seventeen Christian men were arrested in the Godaif neighbourhood of the capital, Asmara, on 28 May, while a further five Christians were arrested from their homes in Dongolo on 6 June. While Eritreans (including many Christians) are fleeing at the rate of 5000 per month, it is a high-risk endeavour. While many drown in the Mediterranean Sea, others fall prey to human traffickers who sell them to terrorists in the Sinai or Libya who torture them for ransom. If ransom is not forthcoming, their organs are harvested. Furthermore, Eritreans are increasingly being refused asylum in Europe and Israel. May God intervene in Eritrea.
* EGYPT: COPTIC WOMEN ‘DISAPPEAR’
Suzan Ashraf Rawy (22) disappeared on 5 June as she walked from her home in the Cairo suburb of Al Khosous to her job at the nearby Virgin and Pope Kyrillos Coptic Orthodox Church. Local Copts believe Suzan has been abducted by a Muslim gang, making it the third such abduction since 30 May when a Muslim man was accidentally shot dead by a Coptic man. While the abductions are believed to be ‘retaliatory’, the Coptic shooter was arrested, is in police custody and has been charged with manslaughter. With three local women ‘disappeared’ in three weeks, local Coptic women are now too afraid to leave their homes. Please pray.
* INDIA: NO FREEDOM OF RELIGION IN MADHYA PRADESH
On 21 May police detained 72 tribal children and the eight adults supervising them as they travelled to Nagpur for a church-run Vocational Summer School (VSS). Next day, police detained 11 tribal children and the two adults accompanying them as they travelled to the same VSS. The adults were charged with kidnapping and forcible conversions. However, the case collapsed when parents of the children produced documents to show that they were already Christians. Despite this, six of the Christian leaders remain in detention. On 13 June police detained Sister Beena Joseph of the Carmelite Sisters of St Teresa congregation, along with the four young tribal women travelling with her to a church-run education centre in Bhopal. The women were interrogated and held for some 12 hours before being released at midnight. Emboldened by the rise of PM Modi (nationally and internationally) Hindu nationalist groups are stepping up efforts to ensure nobody violates the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, which makes conversion from Hinduism a punishable offence unless done with the permission of local government (Hindu nationalist) officials. Pray for the Church in India.
* PHILIPPINES: CAPTIVES ALIVE; TERROR SPREADS
On 23 May the IS-aligned Maute Group stormed Marawi, burned the Catholic Cathedral and took its priest and some 15 believers hostage [RLPB 409 (31 May)]. A month later, the battle between the Philippine military and this band of well-trained, battle-hardened, mostly foreign Islamic jihadists rages on. The jihadists reportedly still hold between 10 and 20 percent of the city, along with thousands of civilians who are being kept as human shields. Catholic priest, Father Chito Sugarnob was seen alive on Sunday 25 June, when militants met with Muslim leaders to propose a prisoner swap. The jihadists offered to exchange the priest for Abdullah Maute’s terror-sponsoring parents. President Duterte declined the offer and reiterated the government’s policy ‘not to negotiate with terrorists’.
Meanwhile, on 21 June some 300 militants from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) — which, like Maute, has pledged allegiance to Islamic State — attacked Pigkawayan, a farming town in North Cotabato, 160km south of Marawi City. They ransacked the Catholic church and took civilians hostage in the local school. However, the Philippine military prevailed and the rebels were forced to retreat. Security has been increased across the region. Please pray.
* SYRIA: REMEMBER SYRIA’S CHRISTIANS
In mid-June Russia launched air-strikes at a gathering of IS commanders on the outskirts of Raqqa after receiving intelligence that Islamic State’s founder and leader, Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would be present. The fact that IS has not produced any evidence to suggest al-Baghdadi is alive gives weight to Russia’s claims that al-Baghdadi has indeed been killed. Unfortunately, instead of working with Russia as President Trump promised to do during his election campaign, it seems he may be preparing to launch devastating missile strikes against the Syrian government. Should this happen, the consequences for Syria’s beleaguered Christian community would be dire. The only place Syrian Christians can live securely and with full religious freedom is inside government controlled areas. Please remember Syria’s Christians and pray.
[For more analysis on the situation in the Middle East, watch the Religious Liberty Monitoring blog.]
* VIETNAM: IMPRISONED PASTOR PUNISHED FOR TALKING
Central Highlands Protestant Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh (45) was arrested in April 2011 because of his Christian witness and advocacy. In July 2012 he was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Not only does Pastor Chinh suffer violent persecution in prison, but his wife, Tran Thi Hong, also suffers violent persecution because of her religious liberty advocacy [see RLPB 359 (1 June 2016)]. On 25 May 2017 a delegation from the US Consulate visited Pastor Chinh in prison. Despite having been warned in advance not to say anything negative against the state of Vietnam, Pastor Chinh told the US delegation about the tortures, threats and mistreatment he has endured in prison. These include regular beatings, having shards of glass mixed in with his food, being held in stocks and having to endure long periods in solitary confinement. Now he is being punished for talking and his wife fears for his health and safety. 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).