RLPB 508. June Update, incl. Eritrea, Sudan, Iraq-Syria, Azerbaijan, Niger, Nigeria
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 508 | Wed 26 Jun 2019
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— Elizabeth Kendal
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)
JUNE 2019 UPDATE — during this period we prayed concerning
* ERITREA (RLPB 505), where a Christian crisis persists 12 months after Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a ‘declaration of peace and friendship’ and declared the ‘state of war’ over. Eritrean dictator Isaias Afwerki has long justified his brutal, repressive, totalitarian rule by citing the ‘state of war’ with Ethiopia. Hopes that peace would lead to an improvement in human rights are proving vain. In May more than 170 Christians were arrested in three raids across Asmara. Whilst around 50 were subsequently released, incarcerated Eritrean Christians continue to suffer inhumane conditions and brutality that routinely includes torture.
UPDATE: REGIME RETALIATES AGAINST CATHOLIC CHURCH
BACKGROUND: Eritrea is roughly 50 percent Muslim and 42 percent Orthodox, 3.4 percent Catholic and 1.3 percent Protestant Christian. Repression is severe and persecution is brutal; even religious groups that are legal are not actually free. In April 2019, to mark the first Easter since the declaration of peace with Ethiopia, Eritrea’s Catholic Bishops wrote a ‘Pastoral Letter’ entitled ‘An appeal for peace and national reconciliation.’ In it they thank God for the reconciliation between Eritrea and Ethiopia, remember those who have died or who remain in prison because of their faith in Jesus Christ and lament the fact that thousands upon thousands of mostly young Eritreans continue to flee the horrendous human rights situation in the country. ‘Reconciliation and peace,’ note the bishops, ‘are based on truth, justice, respect for human rights and freedom of people and communities.’ This, they insist, is ‘the plan of God for this nation and for this people whom He loves…’. They call for the establishment of a National Commission for ‘truth and reconciliation’, explaining that ‘Reconciliation and mutual forgiveness are the inescapable prerequisites for the birth of a social order full of peace and tranquillity.’ The letter, which is truly beautiful, concludes with this prayer: ‘May the Lord bless our country and keep her, turn his face towards us and give us peace; let the light of his Resurrection shine on us.’
CLINICS SEIZED: In early June, the government of President Isaias Afwerki seized control of 22 medical clinics belonging to the Catholic Church. After closing the clinics and sending their employees and patients home, the regime deployed soldiers to stand guard. While the government does run health clinics, they are less accessible and of a lower standard than the Catholic-run clinics that serve many thousands of poor Eritreans. In a letter dated 13 June, the Church protested, describing their clinics as a ‘labour of love’ that contribute to nation-building. According to BBC Tigrinya journalist, Teklemariam Bekit, many analysts believe the government has closed the clinics to retaliate against the Catholic Church for its Easter ‘Pastoral Letter’ in which its bishops called for reforms to stem the tide of migration to Europe. Please pray.
* SUDAN UPDATE (RLPB 505), after the regime’s infamous Rapid Support Forces (RSF) had crushed protests calling for a ‘New Sudan’ that is proudly multi-ethnic and multi-religious, without Arab chauvinism, Islamic Sharia or military rule. At least 100 protesters were killed and more than 100 wounded, including medics who were beaten and raped by RSF militiamen for treating the wounded. Comprised of Sudanese Arab mercenaries, the RSF (originally known as the Janjaweed, or ‘devils on horseback’) was commissioned by former president Omar al-Bashir for genocide in Darfur. The RSF is a rebellion-crushing killing machine; it is not a police force. Its commander, ‘Hemeti’, is the Deputy Head of the ruling Transitional Military Council and probably the most powerful man in Sudan. Having joined the protests and aligned itself publicly and officially with the protesters, Sudan’s Church is in a very vulnerable position [RLPB 502 (15 May)]. Please pray.
* INDIA (RLPB 506), where the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had secured re-election and even increased its majority through a social media campaign unprecedented in its sophistication and its toxicity. After analysing data, the BJP customised an enemy for every group which they then ‘microtargeted’ with messages through Facebook and WhatsApp. When Christianity is presented as an existential threat for which Hindu nationalism is the only solution, Christian persecution will only escalate. Please pray.
* IRAQ-SYRIA (RLPB 507), where the Christian crisis is far from over; indeed the next stage of conflict is just beginning.
UPDATE: WHO CAN WITHSTAND THE IRANIAN SURGE?
As noted in my book, After Saturday Comes Sunday, who falls is less important than who rises (p117) … and the rising power in the Middle East today is revolutionary Iran! The Battle for Mesopotamia (Iraq-Syria) is a battle between Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, i.e., the Turks, the Persians and the Arabs (who are divided between pro- and anti-Muslim Brotherhood factions). All the various jihadists and militias are mere proxies of these regional imperialist powers, each of which has ruled over Mesopotamia at various times in their history.
Now that the proxy war is coming to an end and Saudi Arabia (on the verge of collapse) is essentially out of the race, who can withstand the Iranian surge? In northern Iraq, where Assyrian lands in the Nineveh Plain are being devoured by Shi’ite proxies of Baghdad and Tehran, the Christian crisis is catastrophic and on-going. But in Syria, where Russia (secular and stabilising) and Iran (sectarian and destabilising) are clashing over their visions for post-war Syria, a window of opportunity is opening. Can the West and Russia co-operate to secure a free and secular Syria not imperilled by Iranian belligerence? US-Russia-Israel talks are underway in Jerusalem as I write. Success will require an abundance of unbiased strategic thinking and level-headed wisdom. Can Iran be convinced to back off and temper its ambitions? Whilst it seems unlikely, miracles do happen! Please pray for that miracle, and for the gravely imperilled Church in Iraq, Syria and the wider Middle East.
JUNE 2019 ROUND-UP — also this month
* AZERBAIJAN: CHRISTIAN COUPLE HIT WITH MASSIVE FINES
Baptists Safqan and Gulnar Mammadov and their two small children live in Qaraguna Village on the western outskirts of Shirvan, 130km south-west of the capital Baku. To support his family, Safqan works in neighbouring Georgia. On 4 June the couple lost their appeal against massive fines imposed on them after they fell foul of Azerbaijan’s harsh Administrative Code which bans the storage, sale or distribution of religious literature not bearing the ‘control mark’ which signifies state approval. In February, after receiving a complaint, the police interrogated Gulnar and raided the couple’s home, seizing 106 items of Christian literature. In December the couple hosted a New Year’s celebration in which treats and state-approved religious literature were gifted to the children. For being found in possession of unapproved religious literature and for hosting a ‘religious gathering’ without state approval, Safqan and Gulnar must each pay the equivalent of more than three months’ average wages.
Please pray that God our Heavenly Father will richly bless the Mammadovs, provide all their needs and encourage their hearts; may the Lord protect and build his Church in Azerbaijan.
* NIGER: CHURCH TARGETED AND INSECURITY ESCALATES
(1) Security forces in Niger foiled three terror attacks on the weekend of 1 & 2 June. Forces were on high alert, having received warnings from foreign embassies that terror attacks were likely ahead of Eid el fitr (4 June), which marks the end of Ramadan. On Saturday 1 June five terrorists were arrested near the international airport in the capital, Niamey, which is in the west, about 100km east of the border with Burkina Faso. Then on Sunday 2 June two terror attacks were foiled in Niger’s eastern Diffa region, which borders north-east Nigeria’s Borno State. Four terrorists were killed near a major fuel depot belonging to Nigerian Petroleum Products Company, while a suicide bomber and his guide were arrested outside the Vie Abondante (Abundant Life) Church. They were also equipped with a firearm and ammunition for maximum carnage. Police were able also to uncover a cache of weapons and explosives. While we thank God that these attacks were thwarted, we are nevertheless reminded that terrorists have the Church in their sights.
(2) On 7 June a Christian woman from Kintchendi Village in eastern Niger’s Diffa region was abducted by Islamists. Three days later she was released bearing an ultimatum: ‘You have three days to go or you will be killed.’ The Christian association of Niger is urging Christians in the rural areas of Diffa region to seek sanctuary in Niamey. Several families have already fled the area. Also, on the night of 15-16 June, Muslims in Maradi — Niger’s third largest city — held a demonstration to protest the arrest of a prominent local imam. During the night, some protesters set fire to the local Protestant church — the Assemblies of God church in Zaria district — which was totally destroyed. Catholic sources report that violence against Christians has been escalating in that area; a violent attack on 13 May left parish priest Fr Nicaise Avlouké wounded in one hand and leg. As insecurity escalates across the Sahel, the Church is increasingly coming under attack. Please pray.
* NIGERIA: CHRISTIAN CRISIS IN THE MIDDLE BELT
On 12 June Nigeria celebrated its inaugural ‘Democracy Day’. A number of African Heads of State travelled to Abuja to celebrate Nigerian democracy with President Muhammadu Buhari, despite Buhari’s re-election being secured through massive fraud. In contrast, not one single Nigerian former Head of State attended, just as they did not attend Buhari’s inauguration on 29 May. Four more years of Buhari misrule will be devastating for Nigeria, especially for the Christians of the North and Middle Belt. These Christians are threatened not only by Islamic terrorism, but by classic Islamic jihad, comprised of ethnic cleansing and colonisation, through which the Fulani herdsmen are securing territorial expansion. Please pray.
KADUNA: On 17 June Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked two villages in Kauru Local Government Area (LGA), south-east of Kaduna City in Kaduna State, killing four. In one attack, more than 200 armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen invaded the predominantly Christian village of Ungwan Rimi in a ‘commando-style’ raid, shooting indiscriminately. Three children were killed, others were wounded. Fulani herdsmen also attacked the predominantly Christian village of Kikoba, killing one and kidnapping a Christian woman named Asabe Deme. Sources told Morning Star News that a total of 93 houses belonging to Christians had been torched, while farms and crops were also destroyed.
PLATEAU: Also on 17 June Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked two villages in Riyom LGA, Plateau State (which borders southern Kaduna), killing nine. In Kangbro Village, three Christians were killed while 185 homes and two churches were burnt: a Catholic Church and a church belonging to ECWA (Evangelical Church Winning All). Six Christians were also killed in a neighbouring village where at least 54 homes were burnt.
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).