RLPB 526. October Update, incl. Papua (Indonesia), Syria, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 526 | Wed 30 Oct 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
INTERNATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2019: Sunday 3 or 10 November.
For prayer material and other resources see: Critical Prayer Requests (CPR) for states where Christians are persecuted and/or where religious liberty is threatened.
‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (Jesus, John 13:34-35 ESV)
OCTOBER 2019 UPDATE — during this period we prayed concerning
* HIMACHAL PRADESH, NORTH INDIA (RLPB 522), after an anti-conversion law passed in 2006 was repealed and replaced with one which is broader in its scope and more severe in its punishments. Now, anyone who ‘abets or conspires such conversion’ — i.e. one the Hindu nationalist government deems illegitimate — risks one to five years in prison. While the Church in this beautiful Himalayan state is growing, it still only comprises 0.2 percent of the population. Clearly, this law has nothing to do with religious conversion or social cohesion. On the contrary, this law is nothing but a political ploy to please the Hindu majority so as to dragnet the Hindu vote. Please pray.
‘About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. […] So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church’ (Acts 12:1-3a,5 ESV).
* PAPUAN PROVINCES (INDONESIA), after riots in Wamena left 33 dead and thousands displaced. Most of the casualties were non-natives — i.e. Muslim settlers [RLPB 522] — raising the spectre of Islamic retaliation. The question of who incited the Papuan highlanders (all outsiders) to invade Wamena and attack settlers has not been answered. As anticipated, it did not take long before Islamic groups in Java were openly recruiting for a ‘Papua Jihad’ [RLPB 523], allegedly to ‘maintain the integrity of the NKRI [Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia]’. Please pray.
UPDATE: Victor Mambor and Syofiardi Bachyul are investigative journalists with the Jakarta Post. They spent a week in Wamena from 3-10 October in an effort to get to the bottom of what happened there. They report (28 Oct) that on 23 September, hundreds of armed highlanders came into Wamena ostensibly to attend an anti-racism rally organised by school children. However, ‘the protest turned violent after a young man, later identified as Kelion Tabuni, a sophomore at the Manado State University in North Sulawesi, was allegedly shot [dead] by security personnel’. Mambor and Bachyul allege that this killing triggered the rioting, a detail the Indonesian authorities have been concealing. ‘The government has never spoken about security forces opening fire at protesters. They have, however, pointed fingers at the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), a self-determination activist group that has close affiliations to the pro-independence movement.’ Governor Lukas told the journalists that he believed the riot had been planned, but not by locals. ‘This happened by design,’ he said. ‘But we don’t know by whom, and it is difficult to prove.’ Please pray that God would intervene to bring peace and justice to the Papuan Provinces.
* NORTHERN SYRIA, where Turkey and its jihadist proxies have unleashed chaos and imperilled Christians [RLPB 524]. Despite extreme danger and hardship, many Christians are choosing to remain in the war zone precisely so they might minister, witness and ‘maintain the presence of Jesus’ [RLPB 525].
[NOTE: Islamic State and al-Qaeda are essentially brothers; they share the same DNA. If Saudi Arabia is their mother, then Turkey is their father. They also desire the same goal — an Islamic Caliphate in the Middle East — and differ only with respect to strategy. The ‘young guns’ of Islamic State (IS) preach ‘Caliphate Now’ and maintain that success is contingent on their implementation of strict Sharia and cultivation of ‘pure’ Islam (including a total rejection of Shi’ites) — all of which pleases Allah. On the other hand, the seasoned ‘old guard’ of al-Qaeda are fighting a ‘long war’, convinced that success will only be possible when the US abandons the Middle East. (Note, they have not yet factored in other giants of the dar al harb (house of war): Russia, China or India). Al-Qaeda is pragmatic; it co-operates with Shi’ite Iran as a ‘resistance’ force and is reserving strict Sharia for later, precisely so it might engage local Muslims as allies. If there is one thing IS and al-Qaeda agree on, it is that Christians must either convert to Islam, submit to Islam as dhimmis (second-class citizens without any legal rights), or leave (otherwise they will be killed).]
(1) TURKEY-JIHADIST WAR CRIMES IN TEL ABYAD
Photos and video footage continue to emerge showing Turkey-backed Islamic jihadists chanting jihadist slogans, committing war crimes and posing with the mutilated corpses of ‘infidels’ and ‘pigs’. Middle East Forum reports: ‘A photo from October 20 shows elements of Jabha al-Shamiya in Tel Abyad, along with members of other groups such as Liwa al-Salam, Faylaq al-Majd of the “Third Legion” painting graffiti on houses belonging to Armenians and Syriac Christians, claiming them for themselves, similar to what ISIS did in Mosul in July 2014. On October 21 a video of a group calling itself Jaish Islam, calls on its members to treat Christians as second-class citizens [dhimmis] … and to make them pay special taxes [jizya] in accordance with discriminatory religious laws [Quran, Sura 9:29].’ Furthermore, Mindy Belz reports for World News Group that ‘doctors at Al-Sha’ab Hospital in Hasakah report potentially 20 civilian and military victims with “burns of unknown origin” after a Turkish warplane bombed a civilian convoy’. Photos have been widely disseminated and at least two experts have assessed the burns to have been caused by chemical weapons, most probably white phosphorus. Please pray.
(2) RUSSIA-TURKEY DEAL
On Tuesday 22 October Russia and Turkey forged an agreement. Turkey would observe a six-day ceasefire during which time Russia would facilitate the withdrawal of Kurdish troops to 32km from the Syria-Turkey border. While it sounds very much like the failed US-Turkey deal, there is a major difference. The US — which was in Syria illegally and with very few troops — was actually in the process of withdrawing. Consequently, a Kurdish withdrawal would have created a security vacuum allowing Turkey to turn the entire ‘safe zone’ into a killing field and war zone. The Russia-Turkey deal is different, precisely because Russian military police and Syrian border guards are replacing the Kurdish YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to prevent a Turkey-jihadist invasion and occupation. The SDF has approved the deal and is redeploying south so as to prevent bloodshed. Damascus has welcomed the SDF withdrawal, noting that it removed ‘the main pretext for flagrant Turkish aggression on (Syrian) territory’.
To seal the deal, Turkey agreed to respect ‘Syria’s territorial integrity’ and ‘political unity’, while Russia agreed to recognise that Turkey has a ‘legitimate security concern’ (concerning the Kurdish nationalist YPG/PKK) and to not challenge Turkey over the gains it has already made between Tel Abyad and Ras al Ayn. Turkey and Russia have agreed to patrol the ‘safe zone’ together; Syrian troops now control the border between Ras al Ayn and Qamishli. True to form, belligerent, neo-Ottoman Turkey has not honoured the ceasefire. Christian aid group ‘Free Burma Rangers’ has released video footage showing Turkish forces and their jihadist proxies fighting and shelling near Tel Tamer right through the ceasefire period.
I (Elizabeth Kendal) agree totally with Amb. W. Robert Pearson, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, who said on 23 October, ‘sooner or later, the Russians are going to say to the Turks, “please leave Syria,” and it will happen’. Indeed, ultimately Russia and Syria will not tolerate the presence of Turkish troops or their jihadists proxies on Syrian soil. It will happen – after all, Turkey is dependent on Russia for more than half its energy requirements. Until north Syria is secure, please pray for the gravely imperilled Christians of northern Syria. May the Lord be their shield and their provider; may the Lord bless all those who help them.
‘Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfils his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!’ (Psalm 57:1-3 ESV)
OCTOBER 2019 ROUND-UP — also this month
* ETHIOPIA: THE BATTLE FOR ETHIOPIA HAS BEGUN.
As noted in RLPB 520 (18 Sep), Oromo activist Jawar Mohammed (33) returned to Ethiopia from USA in August 2018. While in the US, Mr Jawar (now a US citizen) used his Oromia Media Network and social media to lead the Qeerroo protest movement that ultimately forced Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn from office in February 2018. His resignation paved the way for the appointment of Dr Abiy Ahmed, who earlier this month was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2019. Jawar’s Islamic and ‘Oromia First’ ideology is diametrically opposed to PM Abiy’s vision of a united Ethiopia. Many suspect Jawar of being behind much of the ethnic unrest that has erupted across Ethiopia. On 22 October PM Abiy gave a speech in parliament in which he criticised people who come to Ethiopia and instigate strife; many saw it as a veiled criticism of Mr Jawar. That night, when police tried to remove Jawar’s government security detail, Jawar took to Facebook to accuse the government of plotting to kill him. Before long, hundreds of Jawar’s supporters were outside his house calling for the downfall of the Abiy government.
On 23 October, with PM Abiy in Russia for business, Jawar Mohammad’s supporters protested in four cities: Addis Ababa, Adama, Harar and Ambo. Two days of ethnic-religious violence ensued, in which 67 people were killed and more than 200 wounded, including a reporter with VOA Amharic service who was beaten unconscious by a huge mob of Qeerroo youths. Churches, as well as homes and businesses belonging to non-ethnic Oromos and Christians, were attacked and burned. Displaced Christians sought sanctuary in their churches. In Bale Robe, six Christians died when a grenade was thrown into the Tsadiku Gebrekristos Church. In Dodola, dozens were wounded when a grenade was thrown at the Kidane Mehre Church. Later, one of the ambulances transporting the injured to hospital was ambushed and three Amhara Christians were dragged out and killed. Ultimately, troops had to be deployed across Oromia region to restore order.
On 26 October video footage went viral showing an unidentified man delivering an inflammatory speech to a huge crowd in the town of Bale Robe. He called for Oromos to boycott ‘dorzes’ or ‘neftegnas’ — i.e. outsiders (non-Oromos) — and to do no business with them whatsoever. He said anyone who opposes Jawar Mohammed is an enemy of the people of Bale. The footage has triggered fears of ethnic cleansing. Upon his return to Ethiopia, PM Abiy expressed sadness over the violence, which he rightly assessed is aimed at derailing Ethiopia from its path. Ethiopians will go to the polls to elect a new parliament in May 2020. The Battle for Ethiopia has begun. Please pray.
* INDONESIA: IMPORTANT BLASPHEMY TRIAL COMMENCES
On 30 June Suzethe Margaret (52) — a married Catholic mother of four — stormed into a mosque in Bogor, a Jakarta suburb, furiously protesting that the imam had converted her husband to Islam so he could take a second wife. But, as her husband explained, it is all untrue: he remains a Catholic and is not taking another wife. He had, however, been away on business at the time and Suzethe — a certified schizophrenic — had not taken her medication for at least ten days. Unfortunately for Suzethe, she entered the mosque carrying her small dog. Because Islam deems dogs unclean, Suzethe has been charged with blasphemy for desecrating a place of worship.
According to Article 44 of Indonesia’s criminal code, a person who commits a criminal act by reason of a mental health condition cannot be held criminally liable. Regardless, due mostly to public pressure, Suzethe Margaret’s trial commenced this month in a closed court. The procedure is being monitored by the American Bar Association and the Clooney Foundation. Indonesia’s most powerful Islamic body — the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), which is chaired by Ma’ruf Amin, Indonesia’s new Vice President — has demanded Ms Margaret serve the maximum five-year term for blasphemy. University of NSW professor Melissa Crouch insists: ‘This case should be seen as a crisis point in Indonesia in terms of the misuse and abuse of the blasphemy law.’ Please pray.
* IRAN: EBRAHIM FIROUZI SURVIVES RAJAEI SHAHR
Ebrahim Firouzi was arrested in August 2013 and sentenced to one year in prison for Christian evangelism and propaganda against the Islamic Republic. Initially incarcerated in Evin Prison (which houses political prisoners) he was subsequently transferred to the notorious Rajaei Shahr prison in Karaj, a maximum-security prison housing the state’s most violent criminals and terrorists. When his one-year term was complete, he was retried and sentenced to an additional five years for national security offences. During his incarceration he struggled with depression. Middle East Concern reports that Ebrahim was released in good health on 26 October. He must now serve a further two years in internal exile in Sarbaz, a remote town some 1,600km south-east of Tehran with a population of a little over one thousand, most of whom are ethnic Baluch and speak the Baluchi language. May the Lord bless Ebrahim Firouzi and grant him peace. Please pray for Iran’s imprisoned and persecuted believers.
NIGERIA: ENDEMIC INSECURITY; CHRISTIANS IN CRISIS
On Thursday 3 October Fulani gunmen kidnapped six teenage girls and two staff members from a Christian-run high school in southern Kaduna’s Chikun County. The kidnappers have contacted school officials with their demands for ransom. At 4 am on Monday 7 October, Fulani gunmen attacked Chikun County again, this time abducting four members of Godiya Baptist Church in Ungwan Barau village; another member of the church was killed. Meanwhile in neighbouring Plateau State, 13 Christians have been murdered in less than a month, including Bartholomew David (23), a member of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), who on 5 October was dragged from his car and shot. At a recent funeral for slain Christians, the Rev Joshua Bari, chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria in the area, expressed his dismay at the government’s inaction and pleaded for attention to the crisis. For more details see Morning Star News: Nigeria.
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).