RLPB 434. November Update, Incl. Nigeria, Burma (Myanmar), India, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
NOVEMBER 2017 UPDATE — this month we prayed concerning …
* NIGERIA (RLPB 431), where, after another spat of Fulani violence, a coalition of 25 ethnic nationalities in Plateau State had demanded the State Assembly initiate a bill against open grazing. On 8 November, Jubilee Campaign published a report by Stephanos Foundation which included photos and interviews with survivors of the 16 October attack in Bassa Local Government Area (LGA).
UPDATE: On Tuesday evening 7 November gunmen ambushed and opened fire on Christians in Rim village in Riyom LGA, Plateau State, as they returned home from a nearby market. According to a local eye-witness, whilst some of the gunmen were clearly herdsmen, others were dressed in military fatigues. Eleven Christians were killed and four wounded. In communications with Morning Star News the president of the Church of Christ In Nations (COCIN), Rev Dacholom Datiri, confirmed that nine of the dead were members of the COCIN church. Others were members of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA). Chairman of Riyom LGA, Emmanuel Jugul, was outraged by the attack, telling World Watch Monitor that most of the residents of Mahanga and Gweba have been displaced, adding, ‘Fulanis are saying that they have captured the place.’
BENUE: On 14 November World Watch Research released a report on Fulani violence in Benue State. The report, sponsored by Open Doors International and Voice of the Martyrs Canada, catalogues the crimes committed against Christians by Hausa-Fulani herdsmen between January 2014 and August 2017. With more than 4,200 killed, more than 3,000 injured, more than 30 churches destroyed and some 100,000 people displaced, the report concludes that the violence amounts to ethnic cleansing. Benue enacted anti-open grazing laws on 1 November. The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) has protested and appealed for federal government intervention. In response, Benue lawmakers have appealed directly to President Buhari, requesting he support the Anti-Open Grazing Law to put an end to the ‘carnage and massive destruction’ being caused by ‘heartless terrorists operating under the cover of Fulani herdsmen’.
PRAY for Nigeria and for the suffering Church in the North. Pray especially for a movement of the Holy Spirit amongst the Fulani and that all Nigerians will ultimately be ‘one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:25-28)
* CHINA (RLPB 432), where it was reported Christian human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate Gao Zhisheng — missing since 13 August — had finally been located. According to local sources, state security services are holding Gao in a secret prison in Shaanxi Province, in solitary confinement and in total darkness. Gao Zhisheng is one of many Christians currently being punished for criticising the repressive and violent policies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). What makes his case so significant is that Gao is recognised and respected internationally. Gao is thus a test case: if Gao is not safe then no Chinese human rights or religious liberty advocate is safe.
* BURMA (RLPB 433), where ethnic Kachin pastor Dumdaw Nawng Lat (67) of the Mong Ko Kachin Baptist Church and his nephew, youth pastor Langjaw Gam Seng (35), have been sentenced to prison as punishment for exposing the Burmese military’s destruction of Mong Ko town. The Kachin Baptist Convention is preparing to appeal.
UPDATE on KACHIN IDPs: According to a report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (September 2017), almost 100,000 ethnic Kachin are currently displaced: more than 89,000 in 146 camps throughout Kachin State and more than 9,400 in 33 camps in neighbouring northern Shan State [where Mong Ko is located].
PRAY for Burma (Myanmar) and for her suffering Church. Pray especially for a movement of the Holy Spirit amongst the ethnic Burman Buddhist majority and that all Burmese will ultimately be ‘one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:25-28)
NOVEMBER 2017 ROUND-UP — also this month …
* INDIA: DECEMBER ELECTIONS IN GUJARAT
Elections for a new State Assembly will be held in Gujarat on Saturday 9 and Thursday 14 December, with the result to be announced on Monday 18 December. Though the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has governed Gujarat since 1989, polls indicate that the Congress Party is closing in and that it will be a tight race.
On 21 November the Archbishop of Gandhinagar, Rev Thomas Macwan (65) issued a letter to the state’s Catholics exhorting them to pray. ‘Not a single day goes without an attack on our churches, faithful or institutions,’ he wrote. ‘Pray … we may have such people elected in the Gujarat State Assembly who will remain faithful to our Indian Constitution and respect every human being without any sort of discrimination.’ Hindu nationalists then accused the Archbishop of seeking to ‘generate fear’ and ‘divide people on the basis of caste and creed’, and demanded ‘immediate action’. On 25 November, the Election Commission issued the Archbishop with a notice asking him to explain why his letter should not be viewed as a violation of the Model Code of Conduct. The Archbishop reiterated that he was merely calling his people to pray for ‘humane leaders faithful to the Constitution’. Hindu nationalist zeal will surely escalate in the lead-up to the polls. Pray for India, for her longsuffering persecuted Church and for the elections in Gujarat.
By Shiv Visvanathan, Scroll.in 27 Nov 2017
* IRAQ: ASSYRIANS VULNERABLE AS POWERS CLASH
[Update to RLPB 424: Assyrians request prayer as Kurds ‘play with fire’ (19 Sept).]
Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani’s 25 September referendum on Kurdish independence backfired spectacularly. After brokering a deal with Kurdish opposition leader Jalal Talabani, Baghdad — with support from Iran (and no resistance from Talibani forces) — seized oil-rich Kirkuk from Barzani’s forces in a blitzkrieg. On 1 November Barzani stepped down from the presidency. Tensions are high across the ‘disputed areas’, including the Nineveh Plains, as Kurdish and Iraqi forces, backed by Shi’ite militias (many led by Iranians), fight for control of territory. On 24 October clashes in the Assyrian town of Teleskuf forced hundreds of recently returned Assyrian Christians to flee their town yet again.
The first stage of the Battle for Mesopotamia involved the crushing of the minorities by proxy forces. The next stage, developing now, will see the powers clash as they seek to establish their presence on the ground. The biggest winner in the Kurdish fiasco has been Iran, which has consolidated its military control in Kirkuk and its presence in Northern Iraq. Long-time religious liberty advocate Nina Shea reports that ‘Iran is aggressively establishing schools and mosques and libraries and other structures within the main Christian towns’. For the Assyrian remnant, their very survival as a people is at stake. Pray for the Assyrians; may God intervene to help them.
* IRAN: PERSIAN CONVERT TO STAY IN JAIL
[Update to RLPB 414: Massive Jail Terms for Many Believers (12 July).]
In May, Persian convert Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh and three Azerbaijanis were sentenced to ten years in jail for ‘missionary activities’ and ‘conducting activities against national security’. Whilst the Azerbaijanis were permitted to return home after posting bail, Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh (an Iranian national) was sent to prison. On 12 November an Iranian court upheld all four 10-year sentences; Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh will remain in prison. Pray for Naser and for all Iran’s Christian prisoners.
* PAKISTAN: THE BATTLE FOR PAKISTAN ESCALATES
On 25 November the government of Pakistan capitulated to Islamic fundamentalists whose ‘sit-in’ had paralysed Islamabad for 20 days. Claiming anti-blasphemy indignation as a pretext, the ‘sit-in’ — which attracted some 2000 Muslims daily — was led by Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the leader of the Tehreek-e-Labaik, an Islamist political party which advocates for a pure Islamic State governed by Islamic Sharia Law. Whilst the issues are far too complex to explain in a paragraph, it is enough to say that Rizvi has been playing the religion card for political gain, to raise Tehreek-e-Labaik’s profile ahead of Pakistan’s 2018 general elections. Having forced the government to capitulate to their primary demand — the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid, whom they mischievously accused of blasphemy — Rizvi and Tehreek-e-Labaik have emerged from the ‘sit-in’ victorious and greatly empowered. In this context it must be noted that other demands had included the immediate execution of Asia Bibi. Pray for the Church in Pakistan.
By Asif Aqeel, World Watch Monitor, 27 Nov 2017
By M.K. Bhadrakumar, Asia Times, 27 Nov 2017
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).