RLPB 513. July Update incl. Iran, Cuba, Hong Kong (China), India, Nigeria, Papua (Indonesia), Sudan, Syria.
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 513 | Wed 31 Jul 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
JULY 2019 UPDATE — during this period we prayed concerning
* VIETNAM (RLPB 509), where freedom of speech and freedom of religion are deteriorating as the Communist Party of Vietnam moves to consolidate and strengthen its power and control. Please pray for Vietnam, for her Church and for the Christians imprisoned for their faith.
* IRAN (RLPB 510), where Christians — both Persian and non-Persian — are experiencing increased repression as the regime tightens its grip amidst crippling sanctions and escalating tensions with the West.
UPDATE: According to the NGO, Article 18, the seven Persian converts jailed on 1 July were released on 16 and 17 July, after posting hefty bail payments. They have been charged with ‘actions against national security’, ‘gathering and collusion against the state’ and ‘membership of an illegal organisation’ (i.e. a house church). The maximum penalty for these crimes would be 15 years in prison. Please pray. Concerning the confiscation and desecration of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Tabriz — a National Heritage site belonging to the Assyrian Presbytery — Middle East Concern (MEC) reports: ‘Local Christians were encouraged on 9 July to see workmen replacing the cross on the church tower.’ According to MEC, Assyrian member of parliament Yonathon Betkolia had written an open letter to President Rouhani requesting the church be re-opened, the cross restored and the Christians respected. One of the president’s senior legal advisers even questioned the legality of the action against the church. Praise God! As one Iranian church leader notes, the restoration of the cross is indeed a significant event; however, ‘the congregation still needs to receive back the keys and have permission to worship freely.’ Please pray for Iran, for her Church and for the Christians imprisoned for their faith.
* CUBA (RLPB 511), where repression has been escalating since the February constitutional referendum which saw Christians — particularly evangelicals — labelled ‘counter-revolutionaries’ for their defence of Biblical values.
UPDATE: Regarding the Christian investigative journalist Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre, who had been arrested and ‘disappeared’ on 12 July while documenting religious freedom violations, Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that he has been released. After spending four days detained incommunicado in Havana, Ricardo was dressed in prison clothes, handcuffed and transferred to a regular prison cell in Camaguey. On 19 July he was released without explanation. Doubtless the authorities consider this a warning! Pastor Ramon Rigal and his wife, Ayda, remain in prison for home-schooling their two children. Please pray for Cuba, for her Church, and for the Christians imprisoned for their faith.
* PAKISTAN (RLPB 512), where two teenage Christian boys have become the latest victims of a predatory misuse of Pakistan’s infamous blasphemy law. Particular attention was paid to the plight of Christian couple, Shagufta Kausar and her husband, Shafqat Emmanuel Masih. The illiterate couple, who have four children, have been languishing on death row since 2014 after ‘confessing’ under torture to sending blasphemous texts to an Islamic cleric. Saif-ul Malook, the lawyer who secured Asia Bibi’s release, has agreed to take up their case. Please pray for Pakistan, for madrassa reform, for the vulnerable and severely persecuted Church and for the Christians imprisoned for their faith.
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:3 ESV)
JULY 2019 ROUND-UP — also this month
* HONG KONG (CHINA): POKING THE DRAGON
The situation in Hong Kong has taken a dangerous and risky turn. While hard-core protesters have not (generally) targeted or sought to harm people, they have generated considerable property damage, specifically and provocatively targeting symbols of the Chinese state. Not only has the escalating violence split the protest movement, it has played into the hands of Beijing. The over-confident protesters risk over-playing their hand. According to a report in Asia Times, several brigades of the Huizhou-based 74th Army Group have been transferred to a purpose-built facility where they are receiving specialist training on how to control crowds and manage riots in urban environments. A retired Army colonel told Hong Kong reporters that, if Hong Kong becomes ungovernable, Chinese troops will cross the border to restore order.
Please pray that God will open the door for the Church to take her place as peacemaker, to mediate between the protesters and the Hong Kong government. It is urgent that this crisis be resolved. May reason, self-control and moderation prevail so that Beijing has no grounds to intervene.
* INDIA: HINDUTVA AND IMPUNITY
Morning Star News (MSN) reports that on 14 June twelve Christian families in Mahuatoli Village in Jharkhand’s Gumla District were forced to flee their homes. Already denied access to water and electricity, the Christians fled after they were threatened with death if they did not renounce Christianity and return to the tribal Sarna religion. [For background see Religious Liberty Monitoring, September 2017]. Pastor Munda told MSN, ‘It has been a month since the Christians [were] scattered … It is the monsoon season, so if they can’t return back to cultivate their land, they will have to go hungry for the next year.’ The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been fostering communal hatred for both political and economic gain. The result is escalating communal violence and a Christian crisis in the northern tribal belt [see RLPB 506 (12 June)]. In fact persecution with impunity has become the order of the day. Pastor Shelton Viswanathan (46), who ministers in the northern state of Bihar, was recently mobbed by eight Hindu militants who dragged him from his scooter and beat him savagely. Despite suffering broken bones, the pastor didn’t dare call police, afraid it would only make the situation worse. It is the same with other believers; despite beatings, boycotts and expulsions, they generally will not report abuse out of fear it would only make things worse. Please pray.
* NIGERIA: CHRISTIAN CRISIS CONTINUES IN NORTH AND MIDDLE BELT
(1) BOKO HARAM TERROR IN NORTH-EAST
CAPTIVES: On 24 July video footage emerged showing six aid workers (five men, one woman) from the Paris-based charity Action Against Hunger. Islamic militants had ambushed their convoy on the road to Damasak in Borno State, killing their driver. Wearing a blue hijab, the woman — a Christian named Grace — pleads for assistance from the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Nigerian government to save their lives. According to Grace, Christian captives, Leah Sharibu (16, a student) and Alice Loksha Ngaddah (24, a nurse and mother of two small children), were killed because the government did nothing. (NOTE: nobody has been able to corroborate the claim that Leah and Alice are dead; it remains unconfirmed.) Please pray.
MAYHEM AND SLAUGHTER: On 25 July dozens of Boko Haram militants raided a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) at Dalori, just 15km from Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno State. They chased away soldiers stationed at the neighbouring military base before looting and then burning the camp’s storage facilities. Two people were killed in the camp which is home to 50,000 IDPs. Then, on Saturday 27 July, Boko Haram fighters attacked a funeral gathering in Budu Village, which also is not far from Maiduguri. Twenty-three people were killed in the initial attack, while a further 47 were killed when they pursued the militants. The attack is believed to be retaliation for the deaths of 11 militants, killed as they attacked Budu village two weeks earlier, by residents who fought to defend their homes and families. Due primarily to systemic high-level corruption — specifically the ‘Armsgate’ scandal — the war against Boko Haram is being not only prolonged but lost [see RLPB 488 (6 Feb)]. Four more years of the Buhari government will be catastrophic for the people of the North. Please pray.
2) FULANI JIHAD IN MIDDLE BELT
In mid-July, suspected Fulani herdsmen attacked two villages in the Bassa Local Government area of Plateau State, killing four. One woman was killed in Ancha village while Margaret Wakili (27, and 6 months pregnant) was killed as she visited her husband on their farm. Her husband managed to escape, but heard the herdsmen crying ‘Allahu Akbar’ as they slaughtered his wife. In Tafigana village, Thomas Wollo (46) and his son Nggwe Thomas (7) were killed and beheaded when they returned home from choir practice. The attackers also destroy crops and farmlands. These attacks are part of an Islamist-backed Fulani jihad aimed at displacing the mostly Christian peoples from their lands which are then colonised by Fulani Muslims. Four more years of the Buhari government will be catastrophic for the Christians of the Middle Belt. Please pray.
* PAPUA (EASTERN INDONESIA): HUMANITARIAN CRISIS IN WAMENA
In December 2018, nineteen Indonesian laborers were killed in Nduga Regency while working on the controversial Trans Papua Highway. The Indonesian military responded by launching a military operation in Nduga, forcing some 32,000 mostly Christian indigenous Melanesians to flee their homes [see ‘Papua: the Christian Crisis in Eastern Indonesia,’ RLM, April 2019]. Seven months later, thousands remain displaced and a humanitarian crisis is setting in. The region is closed to outsiders, and because the Indonesian government does not recognise the displaced Papuans as victims of conflict, it refuses to provide trauma counselling or humanitarian assistance. Instead, the burden of care falls on local (Papuan) government agencies, charities, civil society groups, youth groups and churches. Efforts to distribute food, medicines and other supplies to thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) spread across 23 locations in Wamena (the capital of Jayawijaya Regency) — let alone those in more remote locations or those trapped in the jungle — are largely unco-ordinated.
At one camp, established on church grounds in Wamena, there are some 5200 displaced Papuans from Nduga Regency, including more than 700 children. According to a report by aid group Solidarity Team for Nduga — released on 18 July and dismissed by the Indonesian military as a ‘hoax’ — many of the displaced are suffering from respiratory infections, diarrhea, dysentery and trauma. Access to food, clean water, clothing, health care and education is limited; and 139 people from Nduga have died in the camp, mostly from disease and malnutrition. Betrayed, abandoned and persecuted, the indigenous Melanesians of Papua are a Christian people. Please pray.
* SUDAN: HOPES FADE AS TENSIONS SOAR
(1) CRIMINAL CASE AGAINST CHURCH LEADERS
In August 2017 eight leaders of the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) were arrested for ‘trespassing’ on church land while resisting a government take-over of their church property [RLPB 421 (30 Aug 2017)]. In August 2018 the case against the church leaders was dismissed. However, that verdict was appealed and now the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court have determined that a new criminal trial should proceed. The SCOC is a predominantly Nubian denomination and has experienced both religious and ethnic discrimination. Please pray.
(2) LURCHING TOWARDS CIVIL WAR
Sudan is lurching ominously towards civil war. Tensions are escalating between forces loyal to former president Omar al-Bashir — i.e. Islamists, particularly those within the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) — and forces loyal to the Transitional Military Council (the TMC, which deposed Bashir) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The TMC is waging a crackdown on Islamists, with some 140 arrested in recent days. Meanwhile, the RSF is slowly taking over the security space. Tensions are soaring. If conflict erupts, then foreign powers with interests may well be drawn in: anti-Muslim Brotherhood Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt on the side of the TMC; and pro-Muslim Brotherhood Turkey and Qatar on the side of the Islamists. The stakes are high, especially for Sudan’s Forces of Freedom and Change and for the Church which is comprised mostly of ethnically distinct Nubians. Please pray.
* SYRIA: CHRISTIAN CRISIS CONTINUES
(1) TERROR IN QAMISHLI (NORTH-EAST)
Located on the border with Turkey, in Syria’s north-east Hasakah Province, Qamishli is the de facto capital of the Kurdish-dominated Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (also known as Rojava). On Thursday 11 July, 12 people were wounded in the Christian-majority neighbourhood of al-Wasta when a car bomb exploded outside the Virgin Mary Church as a service was concluding. The bomb caused significant property damage, but fortunately no fatalities. Islamic State has claimed responsibility. According to Joan Garcia of the Rojava Information Centre, ‘This attack is the eleventh in eleven days in Hasakah Province and the fourth in a month in [Qamishli]… This particular attack targeted worshippers leaving a church … Similar attacks have targeted churches in Hasakah City and the Khabur region in recent weeks.’ Please pray for the Christians of north-east Syria.
(2) TERROR IN IDLIB (NORTH-WEST)
Islamic jihadists backed by US-ally and NATO-member Turkey have savagely murdered an Armenian woman in Idlib Province. Syuzan Der Karkur (Suzanne Der Karkour) was one of only a handful of Christian women to remain in the once Armenian-populated town of al-Yakube (Al-Yaqoubiyeh) which lies just north of a jihadist base in Jisr Al-Shughour. Almost all of Idlib’s Christians fled in March 2015 as Jayesh el Fatah — a jihadist coalition led by al-Qaeda and backed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia — seized Idlib City [RLPB 307 (29 April 2015); After Saturday Comes Sunday pp 214-215]. Syuzan and her husband, an Arab Christian, had repeatedly refused offers to relocate to Aleppo. They loved their home and their village where Syuzan taught Arabic and volunteered at the local church, helping youths with their studies. When Syuzan did not show up on Tuesday 9 July, the local priest sent parishioners to search for her. Her body was found on 12 July, dumped in a field. An autopsy determined that Syuzan had been raped and tortured for at least nine hours before being stoned to death. Please pray for the Christians of north-west Syria.
‘Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.’ (The Apostle Paul, just days before his execution; from 2 Timothy 4:6-8 ESV)
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).