Wednesday, August 26, 2015

RLPB 324. August Update, Incl. Nepal, Syria, Burma, China, Egypt, Northern Ireland (UK), Pakistan

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 324 | Wed 26 Aug 2015

By Elizabeth Kendal

AUGUST 2015 UPDATE -- During August we prayed concerning ... 

* NEPAL (RLPB 321), where religious freedom is under threat as the new constitution looks set to ban religious conversion.

UPDATE: The final draft has been tabled in the Constituent Assembly and a meeting of the House scheduled for 8 am on Wednesday 26 August. Whilst Christians are pleased that Christianity will now be recognised as a religion in Nepal, they are deeply concerned about the proposed anti-conversion provisions. The Catholic Church in Nepal numbers less than 10,000 in a population of 30 million, but Protestantism has grown significantly in the past decade of freedom, now accounting for well over one million. Tensions are high; the Church is on edge.

* SYRIA (RLPB 322), where Islamic jihadists are advancing, putting Christians, other minorities and loyalists at extreme risk. The Turkey/Saudi/Qatar-backed al-Qaeda-led Jaish al-Fatah is pressing south into loyalist north-west Hama bordering Latakia. Meanwhile, Islamic State (IS) is pressing west through the Homs Governorate. It has over-run Palmyra, Qaryatyn and the Assyrian village of Hawwarin as it advances towards the M5 Highway, forcing thousands more Christians from their homes and taking another 150 Christians captive.

Mar Elian monastery, Qaryatyn.
For photos of demolition,
click here
UPDATE:  On Thursday 20 August IS demolished the Assyrian fifth-century Mar Elian monastery in Qaryatyn which had become home to many displaced Assyrians. and from where IS had previously kidnapped Jesuit priest Father Jacques Mourad and a deacon named Boutros [See RLPB 322]. On Friday 21 August IS conducted a mortar attack on the city of Marea in Aleppo Governorate, northern Syria. At least half the 50 shells fired were laced with mustard gas and dozens of affected civilians were hospitalised. Russia is continuing to talk to Arab leaders in the hope of brokering a peace that will leave the Syrian government in place to avoid a power vacuum such as opened up in Iraq with the removal of Saddam Hussein. Meetings are presently taking place behind Russia's MAKS-2015 aerospace show. Though the Arabs do not care about the plight facing Alawites, Christians and other minorities, they are concerned about the adverse repercussions of jihadist empowerment ('blowback'). Christians in Syria are gravely imperilled. Lord have mercy.

* UGANDA (RLPB 323), where persecution -- particularly of converts from Islam -- is on the rise in Easter Province. The persecution is extreme and the government needs to act.

AUGUST 2015 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

* BURMA PASSES RELIGIOUS CONVERSION BILL

On Friday 21 August Burma's parliament passed a controversial law designed to stop people leaving Buddhism. [For details see RLPB 267 (2 July 2015).] In short, anyone wanting to convert would have to apply to a board for a certificate of conversion, risking a two-year jail sentence in the process. Created to 'protect' the majority religion, Burma's Religious Conversion Law mirrors anti-conversion laws now common across Asia. The Buddhist Women's Special Marriage bill was passed in July. Denied freedom to convert, Buddhist women will now be constrained by law to marry a Buddhist man. Non-Buddhist men will have to convert to Buddhism to marry a Buddhist woman. A non-Buddhist man who marries a Buddhist woman contrary to the law is liable to 10 years in prison. Created primarily to counter Islam, the inter-faith marriage law is nothing other than a Buddhist version of Islamic marriage law. Please pray that President Thein Sein will refuse to sign these bills into law. No matter what he does, the spark has been lit and the Church will have difficult days ahead.

* CHINA: REMOVAL OF CROSSES TO CONTINUE

Between 1200 and 1500 crosses have been forcibly removed from churches across Zhejiang since January 2014. Christians wanting to protect the cross have been beaten and pastors arrested, charged and jailed. In late July Christians in China's eastern Zhejiang Province launched a peaceful protest against the local Communist Party's campaign of clearing crosses from the Zhejiang skyline. Christian groups made thousands of wooden crosses painted red to be displayed by Christians. Undeterred, Chinese officials confirmed on 11 August that the cross removals will continue. For Christians in Zhejiang this is very distressing. For some it brings back memories of Mao's Cultural Revolution.

* EGYPT: CHRISTIAN ARRESTED FOR WITNESSING

Medhat Ishak (35), a Christian from Ebid Village, Minya Governorate, Upper Egypt, was arrested on 7 August while handing out Bibles outside a shopping mall. According to Morning Star News, Ishak was arrested by mall security guards, who turned him over to national police, who accused him of evangelism. The next day a judge amended the charge to 'defamation of a revealed religion' and ordered him to be held for 15 days. On 24 August his detention was extended for another 15 days. Ishak's attorney, Rafik Rafaat, expressed concern that the judge might keep extending the detention until the case fades from public awareness, at which time he could hand down a one- to five-year prison sentence. Harassment and jailing of Christians for witness and 'blasphemy' has increased in recent years. In July three Coptic youths were charged with evangelism for handing out notes on the love of God. They were released on bail and their case is yet to come to court.

It just so happens that repressing Christians is one of the best ways to appease belligerent Muslims.

* NORTHERN IRELAND (UK): PASTOR ON TRIAL

James McConnell (78), pastor of an evangelical mega-church in northern Belfast, appeared at Laganside Magistrates Court in Belfast on 6 August, to face charges of offending Muslims in a sermon he delivered in May 2014 which was broadcast on-line. [See RLPB 320 (28 July)] More than 1,000 people turned out to support the pastor who is strenuously contesting the case. As the pastor's attorney told the court: 'He [McConnell] did not incite hatred or encourage violence against Muslims.  He simply expressed his view about another religion, not in a personalised manner but in an entirely generalised way. He believes freedom of speech ... should mean he has every right to criticise Islam and other religions, just as Islamic clerics have the right to criticise him and Christian clerics.' The case was adjourned to 3 September.

* PAKISTAN: PASTOR AND OTHERS CHARGED WITH BLASPHEMY

From left: Aftab Gill, Latif Masih
and Shafqat Gill (UCA)
Organising a conference for 15 August, Pastor Aftab Gill of the Biblical Church of God (Protestant) in Gujrat, Punjab, printed posters and leaflets honouring the church's founder, his late father, Fazal Masih, whom Gill described using the Urdu word 'rasool'. A local Muslim named Umar Butt protested on the grounds that the word 'rasool' (which means prophet) cannot be applied to anyone beyond Muhammad, the last prophet according to Islam. Accompanied by a local Islamic jurist and a TV reporter, Butt registered a complaint at the local police station. Subsequently, Pastor Gill, Latif Masih and Shafqat Gill voluntarily presented themselves to police. Though they offered an apology and asked for forgiveness, they were arrested and charged with blasphemy, along with the unnamed Muslim owner of the printing press. Rioting Muslims prepared to burn Christians alive and set their houses and church on fire and only the timely intervention of the police brought the situation under control. Some 100 or more families live in the area, many of whom have now fled.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

RLPB 323. Uganda: persecution on the rise in Eastern Province

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 323 | Wed 19 Aug 2015

UGANDA: PERSECUTION ON THE RISE IN EASTERN REGION
By Elizabeth Kendal

Uganda's population is approximately 85 percent Christian and 11 percent Muslim, with full religious freedom. Most of Uganda's Muslims live in the Eastern Region where persecution of Christians is escalating [map with districts]. Two factors would drive this trend. First, Islamic radicalisation is a global trend, but the degree of intolerance manifesting as violence depends largely on what is being taught in local mosques. If local mosques have been infiltrated with hard-line Wahhabi/Salafi imams, often Saudi-funded, then persecution is guaranteed to escalate. Secondly, Uganda is one of five African states contributing to the fight against al-Shabaab through the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Al-Shabaab has been threatening retaliation on Uganda for years, but has increased its rhetoric in recent months as Uganda has increased its involvement in Somalia. Recent AMISOM advances in 'Operation Jubba Corridor', which has dislodged al-Shabaab from its strongholds in Southern Somalia, were largely enabled by Uganda's provision of transport and attack helicopters. AMISOM forces have rarely had air cover. With these helicopters being based in Somalia, air cover and air transport will now be more available. All this would agitate fundamentalist Muslims in Uganda's Eastern Region, inflaming Islamic zeal and stoking a desire for revenge.
all the attacks reported
by MSN (2015) occurred
inside the red triangle.

It is most critical that the Ugandan government combat the escalating persecution because appeasement and impunity will only open the door to further escalation. The following attacks, reported by Morning Star News (MSN), all occurred in Eastern Region and are simply the most recent in a string of similar attacks. [See MSN: Uganda]

On 11 August Issa Kasoon (a Muslim) beat and strangled his wife Jafalan Kadondi, in Nsinze village, Namutumba District, leaving her for dead. However, she survived and is receiving specialist care for throat injuries. Relatives joined Kasoon in beating Kadondi and the couple's two sons, Ismael (16) and Ibrahim (18) whose arm was broken when struck with a blunt object. The reason for the attack: Kasoon had discovered that his family had converted to Christianity.

Once an Islamic teacher (sheikh), Hassan Muwanguzi is now an evangelist for Jesus Christ. He has suffered intensive persecution since turning to Christ in his early 20s in 2003. His family disowned him, his wife left him, he has been forced to fight false charges levelled against him, he is routinely beaten and in 2012 his house was burned down. Despite all this, Muwanguzi has opened a Christian school in Kibuku District. In March 2014 Muwanguzi survived an attempted poisoning at the hands of Muslim relatives. On 16 June 2014 a group of Muslims attempted to kill him, and when they could not, they murdered his daughter Grace (12) instead. On 29 June 2015 Muwanguzi (who is remarried and has three surviving children) foiled another assassination plot. Then on 2 July armed Muslims broke into his home late at night but fortunately Muwanguzi was away at a prayer meeting. Seeing Muwanguzi's home being thoroughly looted, neighbours tried to intervene, at which point the intruders brandished knives and vowed to have Muwanguzi's head (literally) because he had become an enemy of Islam.

On 17 June 2015, in Nabuli village, Kibuku District, Namumbeiza Swabura, a mother of eleven including a 5-month-old baby, died after being poisoned by her sister-in-law. Swabura and her husband Mugoya Muhammad, a former sheikh, had been receiving death threats since becoming Christians in August 2014. The couple's pastor, James Kalaja of New Hope Church in Nabuli, told MSN that Nabuli village has many Muslims hostile to Christians. Kalaja is no stranger to suffering: Muslims gang-raped his 17-year-old daughter after he ignored their demands to cease his Christian ministry. Kalaja subsequently moved his family to a safer village and only travels into the village now to lead Sunday worship. His daughter is profoundly traumatised. Meanwhile, widower Muhammad, now a single father of eleven, continues to receive death threats on his mobile phone.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT

* 'the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction' (2 Corinthians 1:3,4 ESV) will lift up and sustain those who have suffered so terribly and lost so much because of their faith in, love of and service for the Lord Jesus Christ. Pray for all Ugandan Christians presently suffering for their faith: especially for Jafalan Kadondi and her sons Ismael and Ibrahim; for Hassan Muwanguzi and his family; for widower Mugoya Muhammad and his eleven children; for the Kalaja family ministering in Nabuli.

* the Lord of Hosts will guide and protect his people and frustrate the ways of the wicked. (See Psalm 146.) May persecutors who seek to harm believers come to know conviction of sin, especially those who have beaten and killed members of their own family.

* the government in Kampala will move to rein in Islamic radicalisation, intolerance and escalating persecution; may the government of President Yoweri Museveni resist the path of appeasement and act to preserve freedom and security.

* local police will uphold the law, arrest the persecutors and prosecute their crimes; may there be no impunity for violent Islamic persecution in Uganda.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN WHOLE ARTICLE
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UGANDA: PERSECUTION RISING IN EASTERN REGION


Uganda's Muslims (11 percent of the population) live mostly in the Eastern Region where persecution of Christians is escalating. Radicalisation, Muslim anger over Uganda's involvement in Somalia, and impunity are all factors. Converts from Islam and those in Christian ministry are persecuted the worst. Mugoya Muhammad, a Christian former Islamic teacher (sheikh), was widowed in June when his wife was murdered by relatives because of her faith. He is left raising their 11 children. Another former sheikh, Hassan Muwanguzi, has suffered immensely since turning to Christ in 2003. Muslims murdered his daughter in 2014 and are still after his 'head' -- literally. Muslims gang-raped Pastor Kalaja's daughter (17) after he refused to cease ministry. On 11 August convert Jafalan Kadondi and her two sons barely survived an attack by Muslim relatives. Please pray.

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 Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).