RLPB 481. Nov Update, incl. CAR, Australia, Bulgaria, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan.
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 481 | Wed 28 Nov 2018
– Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
NOVEMBER 2018 UPDATE — this month we prayed concerning …
* CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR), a French-speaking and majority Christian (76 percent) nation that in 2012 was flooded by mostly Arabic-speaking local and foreign militants [see RLPB 210 (15 May 2013)]. A large part of the country — the north, centre and west — remains under Islamic occupation to this day. It is widely accepted that these Islamic militants are being armed and funded by foreign powers whose aim it is to destabilise CAR so they might plunder its resources and ‘open the road to radical Islam in the heart of Africa’. On 15 November militants from the mostly Fulani UPC (Union for Peace in Central African Republic) Islamic militia wrought devastation and perpetrated a massacre in the south-central town of Alindao. Overwhelmed and lacking a clear mandate, UN peacekeepers stationed in the town made no attempt to defend the civilian population. The CAR government is again appealing for the arms embargo that prohibits CAR from procuring weapons for its own military to be lifted.
UPDATE: WORLD IGNORES CHRISTIAN CRISIS IN CAR
The Bishop of Bangassou, Mgr Aguirre, has confirmed that the trigger for the massacre in Alindao was the killing of ‘a Nigerian [i.e. foreign] mercenary’. Furthermore, whilst the UN has revised the death toll in the Alindao massacre to ‘at least 60’, unconfirmed sources claim the death toll could be more than 100.
According to Mgr Aguirre, all NGOs have left Alindao; only the ‘Bishop of Alindao and three priests who wanted to remain close to the population’ remain and they are ‘exhausted’. As Mgr Aguirre stressed, ‘We cannot limit ourselves to denouncing these massacres. We need to get to the bottom of what is happening in Central Africa. Groups like the UPC are made up of foreign mercenaries who have occupied parts of our territory for 5 years. They are paid by some Gulf countries and led by some neighbouring African states. They enter [from] Chad through Birao [the capital of Vakaga prefecture in CAR’s far north] with weapons sold to Saudi Arabia from the United States.’ He accuses foreign powers of instigating religious conflict in CAR so they might plunder its resources and advance Islam through resource-rich CAR and into the equally resource-rich Democratic Republic of Congo. ‘This,’ he said, ‘is the game that is behind the massacre of Alindao.’
DAY OF LAMENTATION AND PRAYER: On Saturday 1 December CAR will mark the 60th anniversary of independence since the end of French colonial rule. Rather than celebrate, CAR’s Church leaders have proposed that Sunday 2 December be a ‘day of lamentation and prayer’ in memory of all CAR’s victims. All donations collected on that day — the first Sunday of Advent — will go to survivors. Please pray with and for the Church in CAR, lamenting this truly lamentable situation and pleading with the Lord for a merciful and powerful intervention.
NOVEMBER 2018 ROUND-UP — also this month …
* AUSTRALIA: HOSTILITY RISES
Australia does not have a positive right to religious freedom. Rather, religious freedom exists in negative terms, through exemptions in anti-discrimination law. In December 2017 the Australian parliament voted to legalise same-sex marriage. This triggered a debate on religious freedom which is exposing and fuelling anti-Christian hostility. This month, Christians Luke and Carla Burrell, announced that after 12 years of successful business, White magazine would cease publication. The popular bridal magazine became economically non-viable after LGBTQ activists — who had realised that the magazine did not feature same-sex couples — launched an aggressive campaign that drove off advertisers, frightened staff and included threats of physical harm (including a threat to torch the Burrell’s home). Since its founding in September 2016, the Australia Christian Lobby’s Human Rights Law Alliance has been involved in some 50 cases of Christians being subjected to ‘lawfare’ simply for exercising their faith. Please pray that the Australian Church will grow in faith, wisdom, boldness and grace as hostility rises and religious liberty evaporates.
(For more on the situation in Australia, watch Religious Liberty Monitoring in coming days.)
* BULGARIA: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN THE BALANCE
In mid-November the Bulgarian government in Sofia agreed to revise amendments to the Religious Denominations Act before the bill is put to a second reading. The first draft was so shockingly regressive that it drew prayer vigils and peaceful protests from all Christian denominations — including the Bulgarian Orthodox Church — as well as the Muslim and Jewish communities. Politicians have been criticised for attempting to deal with a national security matter — the spread of jihadist and revolutionary Islam in Bulgaria — through regressive, repressive religious legislation. The Act is now before the parliament and no vote has yet been taken. Christians in Bulgaria have pledged to continue their public prayer vigils and peaceful protests until the nation’s lawmakers either withdraw the legislation or make substantive changes to it. Please pray that the Lord will preserve religious freedom in Bulgaria ‘in answer to the prayers of many’ (2 Corinthians 1:10,11).
*EGYPT: ANOTHER MASSACRE IN MINYA
In what looks like a repeat of last year’s Ascension Day massacre [RLPB 409 (31 May 2017)], seven Coptic Christians from one family (including two children) were killed and 14 injured when Islamic militants attacked Coptic Christians returning from a visit to the Monastery of St Samuel the Confessor in Minya, Upper Egypt. The terrorists — four masked gunmen in a four-wheel-drive vehicle — ambushed the convoy of two church buses on the desert road. While the larger bus managed to escape, the smaller bus was besieged. The massacre leaves Copts asking ‘how can this happen to us twice?’ and ‘why hasn’t this road been secured as the government promised?’ Please Pray for the Church in Egypt.
* IRAN: BELIEVERS MONITORED AND ARRESTED
Behnam Ersali and Davood Rasooli, Iranian Christian converts from Karaj (50km west of Tehran) were arrested on 16 November. According to Middle East Concern, the men had arranged to meet in Mashhad (900km east of Tehran), where Behnam was staying at a friend’s house. However, it seems Iranian intelligence was monitoring the men, having intercepted their phone calls. The men were arrested before they could meet; Behnam in Mashhad and Davood in Karaj. They remain in detention, their condition and whereabouts unknown. Friends suspect that Davood Rasooli is in solitary confinement and undergoing interrogation in Karaj’s infamous, maximum security Rajai-Shahr Prison. As Rob Duncan, regional manager at Middle East Concern notes, ‘It reveals how closely the Iranian authorities are monitoring the Christians.’ Please pray for Behnam Ersali, Davood Rasooli and all Iran’s Christian prisoners. May Christ continue to build his Church in Iran.
* PAKISTAN: ASIA BIBI STILL WAITING
One month ago [RLPB 479 (31 Oct)] Asia Bibi (47) was waiting for a decision from Pakistan’s Supreme Court. Since then the court has acquitted her of blasphemy (31 October); the Islamists have staged mass protests and issued death threats; Pakistan’s spineless Prime Minister has flip-flopped (first supporting the Supreme Court judges, before capitulating to appease and support the Islamists); the judges have gone into hiding and Bibi’s lawyer has fled to the Netherlands. As for Asia Bibi, she is stuck in Pakistan, forbidden to leave the country. In the face of her husband’s pleas for assistance, the West is largely silent; indeed the UK only opened its mouth to reject the prospect of asylum. And all the while the threat facing Pakistan’s Christian minority escalates. It is highly likely that the next time a Christian is accused of blasphemy, Islamists will encourage Muslims to by-pass the courts and kill the accused ‘blasphemer’ themselves. Pakistan is teetering on the brink of a major Christian Crisis. Please pray.
* UZBEKISTAN: PROTESTANTS UNDER PRESSURE
On 19 November police raided a private home in Pap, eastern Uzbekistan, arresting the eight Protestant believers gathered there for a meal and Bible reading. The believers were detained, questioned and forced to sign statements before being released at 3am. The raid was conducted without a warrant and only one of the ‘police’ wore a uniform. The police seized Christian Bibles, booklets, DVD and CDs — all of which had been purchased from the state-registered Bible Society of Uzbekistan. The believers are still waiting for news as to whether or not they are going to be charged with any offence. A group of 31 Protestants who faced court in Tashkent on 30 October also had to contend with multiple violations of due process. Despite the irregularities, the local Protestants in the Tashkent case were fined between five and 20 times the minimum monthly wage, while the four South Koreans in the group were deported. As Forum 18 reports, these are but two of many acts of harassment and persecution unleashed on believers by the police’s Struggle with Extremism and Terrorism Department. Please pray for the Church in Uzbekistan.
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).