RLPB 440. Jan 2018 Update: Incl. Burma, Syria, Cameroon, China, India, Iran, Kyrgyzstan
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
JANUARY 2018 UPDATE — this month we prayed concerning …
* BURMA (RLPB 438), where intensive fighting is underway in Burma’s northern Kachin State with the military eager to seize control of valuable gold, amber and jade mining areas.
BURMA UPDATE (1): Ndup Yang Camp sits on the bank of the Malikha River, east of Sumprabum, some 200km north of the Kachin capital Myitkyina. Clashes between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Burmese military erupted in the area on 17 January. With Burmese troops firing artillery from the opposite bank of the river, residents of the Ndup Yang Camp — a total of 260 households consisting of 949 people — fled for their lives into the jungle, many with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The camp is now empty and the whereabouts of the displaced Kachin are unknown. Reverend Bang Seng, who is in charge of Ndut Yang Camp, has been informed that one pregnant woman has since given birth in the jungle. Please pray for Burma’s long-suffering Kachin believers.
BURMA UPDATE (2): On 2 January the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) elected General N’Ban La (70) as its new chairman. Gen. N’Ban La also serves as deputy chair of the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC), an alliance of seven armed ethnic groups yet to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). [They refuse to sign while the junta’s preconditions include disarmament and acceptance of the flawed 2008 constitution.] Pursuing economic interests, the West has essentially abandoned the Christian Kachin, citing their refusal to sign the NCA. Eager to advance its own interests, China is now wooing the Kachin, offering to facilitate the flow of humanitarian aid into Kachin State from China. Observers expect that under Gen. N’Ban La, the KIO will give up on the West and will instead look East. Of course this will leave the Kachin vulnerable to the machinations of the Chinese Communist Party. Please pray.
* SYRIA (RLPB 438; updated in RLPB 439), where, on 8 January, Christian properties in the Old City of Damascus were hit by rebel shells; and where Christians in northern Afrin are imperilled due to Turkish shelling and aerial bombardment, as well as from Turkish-backed al-Qaeda-linked jihadists.
SYRIA UPDATE (DAMASCUS): Nine civilians were killed and 21 wounded in Bab Touma on Monday 22 January, when jihadists based in Eastern Ghouta shelled the predominantly Christian district of the Old City. Three-year-old Elias, whose parents were critically wounded, was among the dead. The shelling commenced just as school had finished for the day; several youths from the Church-run Al Riaya School were among those killed and seriously wounded. Please pray.
SYRIA UPDATE (AFRIN): Rev Abdalla Homsi, of the Evangelical Christian Alliance Church of Aleppo, has issued a statement condemning Turkey’s ‘unjustified aggression’. With Turkish forces fighting alongside rebel and Islamic factions, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, Mar Ignatius Aphrem II appealed (again) for the West ‘to put an end to all forms of external support for irregular militias and armed groups operating in Syrian territory’. Turkey’s President Erdogan has declared his intention to launch an attack on Manbij (100km east of Afrin) and to continue the fight eastward until no ‘terrorist’ (read: Kurd) is left ‘right up to our border with Iraq’. In reality, the Turkish military is struggling to hold on to its gains. Failure could trigger a nationalist backlash against minorities in Turkey. The situation is extremely volatile and dangerous. Please pray.
‘Cast all your anxiety on him [God, v6] because he cares for you’ (1 Peter 5:7 NIV).
* NIGERIA (RLPB 439), where the extra-legal arrest of a convert from Islam and her Christian friend has triggered a religio-political crisis, because Nigeria’s constitution guarantees religious freedom. No further news is available. [See also The Islamisation of Nigeria, Religious Liberty Monitoring (23 Jan 2018)].
JANUARY 2018 ROUND-UP — also this month …
* CAMEROON: BOKO HARAM TORCHES ROUM
On the night of 15 January Boko Haram militants stormed Roum village in Cameroon’s Far North region (which borders Nigeria’s Borno State), setting it ablaze. Two churches (one Evangelical, one Catholic) were destroyed, along with 93 huts, 20 food storehouses, and 11 motorbikes. Not far from Roum, a health centre belonging to the Evangelical Church was also attacked. One church leader told World Watch Monitor (29 Jan) that the violence and looting has become routine. It must be terrible to live with such insecurity; please pray.
* CHINA: NEW RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS REGULATIONS IN FORCE
China’s new Religious Affairs Regulations come into force on 1 February. The regulations give the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) full control over religion. Unregistered religious activity will be illegal and all approved religious activity will be heavily regulated and monitored. Resistance will result in demolitions and administrative detentions. [See: The Return of ‘Mao-style Terror and Control’, Religious Liberty Monitoring (25 Jan 2018).] Meanwhile, the Vatican has already capitulated, retiring one bishop so he might be replaced by a CCP appointee. Hong Kong’s Cardinal Joseph Zen (retired), who in November 2016 urged the Vatican not to take this path [see RLPB 387 (5 Dec 2016)], has accused the Vatican of ‘selling out the Catholic Church in China’. Meanwhile, having already demolished much of the residential accommodation at Larung Gar (possibly the largest centre of Buddhist learning in the world), the CCP is now preparing to take over all administration, installing scores of CCP cadres at the site — in every department, at every level and in every corner — to ensure total compliance [see report by Human Rights Watch]. Pray for China. May God give his precious Church much wisdom and grace to navigate the ‘New Era’.
* INDIA: HARASSED, THREATENED AND MURDERED
JHARKHAND: Morning Star News (MSN) reports on several incidents of violence against Christians over Christmas. In each case, Christians had been engaged in peaceful worship when they were violently attacked by Hindu nationalists. As MSN reports, Jharkhand’s Adivasis (indigenous tribes) are also harassing and threatening Christians. This is because Jharkahand’s Hindu nationalist (BJP) state government is exploiting the issue of religious conversion deliberately to divide the tribals. The BJP’s goal is to set the Adivasi animists against the Christians who have been leading a campaign for land rights, justice and equity. [See: The Shameful Politics Behind Jharkhand’s Anti-Conversion Law, Religious Liberty Monitoring (1 Sep 2017).] Pray for the Church in Jharkhand.
TAMIL NADU: Morning Star News reports that on 20 January, church members discovered the body of their Pastor Gideon Periyaswamy (43) who had been murdered. It seems that upper caste Hindus in the area had been unhappy that persons of lower caste were entering the area, drawn in by Pastor Gideon’s Gospel ministry. Only one week earlier, Pastor Gideon informed police that Hindu nationalists were threatening him. Pray for the Church in India.
* IRAN: MORE BELIEVERS INCARCERATED
On 6 January, in a Revolutionary court in Tehran, Shamiram Isavi, the wife of Assyrian Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, was sentenced to five years in prison. Judge Ahmadzadeh found Shamiram Isavi guilty of ‘acting against national security by organizing home churches, attending Christian seminars abroad and training Christian leaders in Iran for the purpose of espionage’. Isavi denies that she ever acted against Iran’s national security. Isavi and her husband were arrested in their home in Tehran on 26 December 2014, along with their son, Ramin Bet Tamraz, and 12 Christian converts. In June 2016, Pastor Victor and three converts were sentenced to 10- and 15-year prison terms [see RLPB 414 (11 July 2017)]. Their appeals are pending. Furthermore, On 28 December converts Eskandar Rezaei and Pastor Soroush Saraei were each sentenced to eight years in prison for ‘acting against national security’. Pray for the Church in Iran.
* KYRGYZSTAN: PERSECUTION CULMINATES IN CHURCH BLAZE
Located in Kyrgyzstan’s north-eastern Issyk-Kul [Ysyk-Kol] Region, Kaji-Sai Baptist Church (established 1990; registered 1994) has long endured harassment and threats. Led by government-appointed imams, local Muslims are resisting the Christian presence. The police unashamedly back their fellow Muslims. Forum 18 reports that in January 2011 the police in Karakol responded to one attack by convening what was essentially a ‘reconciliation session’ (as occurs in Egypt). Under duress, the Christians were coerced to write a letter of forgiveness, essentially absolving their Muslim attackers. With Muslims now confident of impunity, persecution has only escalated. The persecution culminated on 2 January when unidentified attackers attempted to burn down the church. On Sunday 7 January the Baptists worshipped in the ashes. They have vowed to continue services and restore the church. Without police protection, this situation could get much worse yet. Please pray.
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ (Psalm 91:1-2 NIV)
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).