RLPB 425. September Update, incl. Nigeria, Iraq, Afghanistan, CAR, Egypt, Kenya, Pakistan, Philippines, Turkey.
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.’ (Matthew 5:9 ESV)
SEPTEMBER 2017 UPDATE — this month we prayed concerning …
* NIGERIA (RLPB 422), where a coalition of Northern Muslim youth groups issued a chilling ultimatum in Kaduna on June 6. The ‘Kaduna Declaration’ gave the Igbo (the mostly Christian Africans indigenous to Nigeria’s south-east) a deadline of 1 October (Nigerian Independence Day) to leave the North, after which time they would be forcibly ejected. Subsequently, anti-Igbo hate speech has proliferated across the north, sending ethnic-religious tensions soaring.
See also: ‘The Kaduna Declaration: Nigeria in the Shadow of Biafra’
Religious Liberty Monitoring 6 July 2017.
UPDATE: In early September the government of President Muhammadu Buhari launched Operation Python Dance 2 and sent military forces into Umuhia, the capital of Abia state, to arrest IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu. [IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) advocates for the independence of Biafra/Eastern Nigeria. It is not a militant group and does not have an armed wing.] On 12 September tanks and other armoured vehicles descended on Kanu’s home, triggering protests from horrified IPOB supporters. Clashes ensued, resulting in numerous deaths. Video footage posted to social media showed Nigerian soldiers beating, torturing and killing unarmed Igbo. This in turn triggered ethnic-religious skirmishes in other cities in neighbouring states as Igbo sought revenge.
JOS: On 14 September the cycle of violence escalated further as Hausa-Fulani Muslims attacked Igbo traders in Jos, capital of the volatile Middle Belt state of Plateau. At least three Igbo were killed (including two known Christians) and several injured before the police managed to calm the situation. Security was strengthened at churches on Sunday 17 September to prevent further attacks.
SOKOTO: On 17 September a mob of some hundreds of Muslim youths attacked Igbo traders in Sokoto, the capital of Sokoto State in Nigeria’s far north-west. The Igbo fled for their lives as their properties were looted and torched.
BLAME THE VICTIM: The government subsequently proscribed IPOB as a terrorist organisation, rendering anyone who participates in the group’s activities liable to a jail term of 20 years. Catholic Cardinal John Onaiyekan slammed the move noting: ‘The title of terrorists should not just be thrown at anybody. And there is a danger that if we continue this way, it may become more and more difficult for us to arrive at a peaceful solution.’ He wondered why IPOB had been deemed terrorists while the Fulani herdsmen ‘who are armed, lethal, murderous, vicious and have been killing people in our communities’ were not. Operation Python Dance 2 — which one commentator has likened to ‘killing a fly with a sledgehammer’ — is ongoing in five south-eastern states.
The situation in Nigeria is absolutely dire. The stage has been set for a serious ethno-religious crisis. Please pray! May the Lord protect and preserve his precious people.
* NORTH KOREA (RLPB 423), as the leaders of North Korea and the USA continue to ramp up the war rhetoric. Please pray for God to intervene to the benefit of his beloved Korean/Chosun people — in particular, his long-suffering persecuted remnant Church in the North.
* IRAQ (RLPB 424), ahead of the highly controversial 25 September Kurdish referendum on independence.
For a more detailed analysis see: Assyrians at risk as Kurds ‘play with fire’
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 19 Sept 2017.
UPDATE: ASSYRIANS IMPERILLED AS CRISIS LOOMS
The Kurds came out in force on 25 September to vote overwhelmingly for Kurdish independence. Tensions are soaring, both inside Iraq and across the region. Baghdad is threatening to ban flights into Iraqi Kurdistan, while Turkey and Iran are threatening sanctions and border closures — all moves designed to starve and strangle Iraqi Kurdistan into submission. Furthermore, the referendum has inflamed Kurdish independence zeal, but the result is not binding and the masses will not get what they voted for. President Massoud Barzani of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) may well have started something he will have no chance of controlling. Caught in the middle of this new crisis is Iraq’s already traumatised and largely displaced, remnant Assyrian Christian nation. Please pray!
SEPTEMBER 2017 ROUND-UP — also this month …
* AFGHANISTAN: As noted in RLPB 424 an unnamed Finnish aid worker abducted from a Kabul guesthouse on 20 May [RLPB 409 (31 May)] was released on 14 September. No further details are available and no-one has claimed responsibility for her abduction. We praise God for this mercy and continue to pray for the gravely imperilled, ‘underground’ Afghan Church. Pray also for the Afghan diaspora (in your own country and across the world), amongst whom the Afghan Church is growing.
* CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR) ABANDONED TO CHAOS AND KILLINGS
On 1 September dozens of Islamic militants from Sudan invaded Zemio town in CAR’s south-east. They looted and ransacked the Catholic Church compound, forcing the 15,000 people sheltering there to flee across the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo. The attack was allegedly perpetrated in the presence of UN troops believed to be from Morocco. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) laments that Zemio has become a ‘ghost town’ of looted shops and burnt houses. The population has dropped from 21,000 to under 1,000, the only people left being ‘those who could not run away — the elderly and the disabled’.
On 2 September, at a farm in Zambaguia village on the outskirts of Zemio, Father Louis Tongagnesi was hacked to death by Islamic militants believed to be from the Fulani-dominated and ironically named Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC).
On 3 September Father Robert Wieczorek, a Polish missionary who has been serving in CAR for more than 20 years, was kidnapped by Islamic militants who attacked his parish in the north-western town of Ndim. He was tortured but released alive. Wounded and having lost a lot of blood, he was hospitalised for treatment. The female mayor of Ndim was also kidnapped, tortured and released. The attack has been attributed to the Patriotic Movement for the Central African Republic (MPC), although they deny it. Pray for the Church in CAR.
* EGYPT: CRITICISM OF MUSLIMS NOT ALLOWED
On 26 May (Ascension Day) 28 Coptic Christians were massacred and some 23 wounded in Minya Governorate when their bus was ambushed by Islamic jihadists while en route to the Monastery of St Samuel the Confessor [RLPB 409 (31 May)]. In the wake of the terror, Bassem Abdel-Malak Fahim (25), a Copt from the village of Ezbat El-Sheikh Nageim, Minya Governorate, expressed his frustration on Facebook. Bassem accused Islamic leaders of inciting the killings and criticised the Egyptian government for failing to crack down on Islamic militants within Egypt’s borders. He later deleted the post, but not before it had been shared by his friend Younan Samuel (25). On 6 September some Muslims in his village discovered the post. Feigning ‘offence’ they shared the post widely and incited Muslim rage against the Copts. Tensions soared. On 7 September Bassem and his father visited local Islamic leaders to whom they apologised and explained that no offence was intended. Tensions eased. However, late on 14 September, after security officials withdrew, a mob formed and attacked the Christians, hurling bricks, smashing windows, looting homes and destroying property. Security forces returned and restored calm; however, Bassem and Younan are now facing charges of inciting sectarian strife and insulting Islamic leaders. It is so much easier to blame the victim. The result however is gross injustice and deadly dangerous impunity. Please pray.
EGYPT: BRING BACK OUR COPTIC GIRLS
World Watch Monitor (WWM) has published a really significant article on one of the most serious issues confronting Egypt’s Copts. Entitled, ‘Egypt: ex-kidnapper admits “they get paid for every Coptic Christian girl they bring in” ‘ (published 14 September 2017), the article is built around an interview with an Egyptian former Muslim and former trafficker. His personal testimony gives credence to the oft-repeated claim that Salafi Muslims across the region are running a highly organised and well funded campaign to traffic Coptic Christian girls. While the crime is shameful, so too is the international silence that shrouds it, coming from the West’s tacit surrender to the Islamic paradigm that criticism of Muslims is not allowed.
* KENYA: MORE CHRISTIANS SLAUGHTERED
At around 3am on 6 September some 30 heavily armed Islamic al-Shabaab militants entered Bobo village in Lamu County, accompanied by a number of local Kiswahili speakers. Dressed in military gear and armed with AK-47 rifles, they surrounded the homes of known Christians before calling them out by name. Sources explained to Morning Star News that the militants had previously abducted men from Bobo area and forced them to reveal the names of Christians. Hillary Njuguna, one of the Christians abducted, was killed. Upon hearing their names, three Christians — Guchu Peter, Jared Maiko and Jospeh Kinuthia — emerged, only to be seized by militants who then slit their throats. [According to Coast Regional Police Chief Larry Kieng the men were shot and then decapitated.] Terrified families fled into the bush. On Wednesday morning locals burned tyres on the roads to protest the lack of security. Please Pray.
* PAKISTAN: CHRISTIANS KILLED AND FALSELY ACCUSED
On 30 August Sharoon Masih (17) was on his second day at high school in Vehari, Punjab, when he was beaten and killed by Raza Ahmed, a well-built Muslim student with a reputation for fighting and bullying. A classmate who attempted to intervene was also beaten. The teacher, Nazeer Ahmed (who had slapped and abused Sharoon in front of the class) was absent from the classroom at the time of the fatal assault. The family is absolutely convinced their son was targeted simply for being a Christian.
On 14 September Nadeem James, a young Christian father of two, was sentenced to death for blasphemy. The court found Nadeem guilty of sending a blasphemous poem using the WhatsApp instant messaging service, despite him being uneducated and illiterate. Nadeem was arrested in July 2016 in Gujrat District on the complaint of former friend, Yasir Bashir, who is suspected of sending the poem to himself using Nadeem’s phone. Nadeem’s brother, Shahbaz James told Morning Star News that the police only charged Nadeem because Islamic leaders had threatened to protest if they did not. Similarly, security concerns meant the trial had to be held inside the jail. The family has been forced to flee their home. The judgement will be appealed. Pray for the Church in Pakistan.
* PHILIPPINES: ARMY ADVANCES YET THREAT OF JIHAD LINGERS
As noted in RLPB 424, Philippine soldiers have regained control of the Bato mosque, one of the last jihadist strongholds in Marawi city, rescuing hostages Father Suganob (51) and Mr Acopio (29) in the process. Since then, three more hostages have been rescued. Some 40 hostages are still being held by some 60 to 80 jihadists, ten of whom are foreigners. Captain Arnel Carandang comments the jihadists are well trained, well directed and well armed with high-powered weapons, night vision goggles, the latest sniper scopes and surveillance drones. Not only has he seen many foreigners amongst the dead jihadis, but ‘We have been hearing in their transmissions some English speaking terrorists.’ The military expects the operation to be over by the end of October. Please pray.
HOSTAGES: According to Father Suganob, the hostages are a mix of local Christians and tribal people. To its credit, the Philippine army is doing everything in its power to protect and preserve the lives of the hostages. However, transmission intercepts indicate that the jihadists will not surrender, but are planning for a bloody final stand involving suicide bombings. The situation of the hostages is dire. Please pray! May the Lord of Hosts deploy his angels to rescue the remaining hostages.
ALSO: The military and police are closely monitoring Bayang town on the south side of Lake Lanao (opposite Marawi), after black-clad armed men stormed into the area on Wednesday 20 September and fired on a military detachment there. A fire-fight ensued and all is now calm. Pray for the Philippines! May all Filipinos come to enjoy peace, justice, fairness, security and liberty.
* TURKEY: A NATO MEMBER THAT PRACTISES WHAT IT PREACHES
Children in Turkey started their new school year on 18 September with a new curriculum. There is less science, less Ataturk (Turkey’s secularist founding father) and more Islam, including jihad. Defined as ‘religious war’ by the dictionary of the Institute of Turkish Language, ‘jihad’ will be taught as an Islamic value and integral element of Islamic law. One teachers’ union expressed fears the new curriculum would encourage a ‘religious and nationalist’ mindset.
It should be unsurprising, therefore, that photos secretly taken inside Diyarbakir’s Surp Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church 18 months after the government seized it reveal an empty desecrated shell. First built in the 1600s, Surp Giragos had been closed in the 1960s but then renovated with the support of the Armenian diaspora and the Sur municipality before a grand reopening in 2011. The church — the largest Armenian cathedral in the Middle East — was seized in March 2016 by a government that has no interest in its survival [see: RLPB 355 (4 May 2016)]. Pray for the Church in Turkey.
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).