Tuesday, October 14, 2014

RLPB 282. Malaysia & Indonesia. In Malaysia 'defending Islam' guarantees impunity. Plus: Update on the battle for Indonesia.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 282 | Wed 15 Oct 2014

Supporting International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2014: Sunday 2 or 9 Nov.  See: Critical Prayer Requests (CPR) 

Also: The battle for Indonesia (Update)

By Elizabeth Kendal

Little inflames Malaysia's Muslim fundamentalists more than the fact that Malaysian Christians use the word 'Allah', even though it is just the Malay word for God, adopted from Arabic centuries ago. The issue has gained traction in recent decades as Malaysian Muslims have radicalised, as Malaysia has gradually Islamised and, most critically, as Muslim politicians in this democracy have exploited the issue for political gain.
A seven-year legal battle over the use of the word 'Allah' culminated in June 2014 when Malaysia's highest court dismissed an attempt by Christians to have the October 2013 ban overturned. Therefore it is now official: Christians are banned from using the word 'Allah'; it belongs to Islam. As Sudanese-born British writer Nesrine Malik remarks, 'The ban is less about religion than about putting minorities in their place, subordinating their status to that of Muslims.' Indeed, it is little more than an act of religious bullying. The other issue that inflames Malaysia's Muslims is the usual Muslim grievance about Muslims leaving Islam for Christianity. The language issue plays into this, as it is used as grounds to ban Malay-language Bibles.

Perkasa's Ibrahim Ali
Tensions rose in January 2013 after it was revealed that Malaysian Christians had been distributing Bibles outside a secondary school in Penang. At the time, the word 'Allah' was not restricted, so the Bibles were legal, as was the evangelism. Despite this, the president of the Malay Supremacist organisation Perkasa, Ibrahim Ali, commented on the matter at a press conference, saying: 'Muslims must unite to protect their religion. They must seize those Bibles, including the Malay editions, which contained the term Allah and other Arabic religious terms, and burn them. This is the way to show our anger against disrespect to our sensitivity.'  A police investigation was launched to see if Ibrahim Ali had breached the Sedition Act or the Penal Code, in particular Section 298 which criminalises uttering words with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings, or Section 505 which criminalises uttering statements that could cause public mischief.

On 8 October 2014 the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department responsible for law, Nancy Shukri, confirmed that the police and the Attorney General's office had concluded that Ibrahim Ali would not be charged with anything because -- and this is where it gets dangerously convoluted -- 'he only meant to defend the sanctity of Islam'. The Christian Federation of Malaysia was quick to point out the problem with this ruling, warning that in viewing threats to burn the Bible as acts in defence of Islam, the government was giving 'free rein to other extremists to do likewise, not just to Christians but to any other religious community that is not Muslim'. By no logic, it said, could 'a call to violent action, [such as] desecration of a sacred text, be considered defensive'. The ruling establishes a dangerous precedent: defending the 'sanctity of Islam' guarantees impunity.

UPDATING The Battle for Indonesia (Updating RLPBs 268 & 271 of July 2014)

On Monday 20 October Joko Widodo (known as 'Jokowi') will be inaugurated as President of Indonesia. The election of this 'new breed' outsider has caused the 'old guard' political elite to go quite apoplectic. The 'old guard', who rose to power during the Suharto dictatorship, is not used to seeing its monopoly on power challenged. With the inauguration looming, the attacks on Jokowi and on Indonesian democracy have begun in earnest. Exploiting their majority in parliament, the 'old guard', led by Prabowo Subianto (who lost to Jokowi in the presidential election), has already passed a law returning Indonesia to indirect elections for mayors and governors. This way the political elite, not the citizens, will elect Indonesia's mayors and governors. Direct elections were introduced only in 2005, and Jokowi is the first 'new breed' politician to gain office via that process.  Now the 'old guard' has said, 'Enough!' Indonesians are outraged by this attack on their democracy. The opposition has called for the inauguration to be delayed as they launch a corruption inquiry against Jokowi. The 'old guard' will do everything it can to restrain and ultimately remove Jokowi, and to ensure that no 'new breed' politician challenges its monopoly on power again.

Meanwhile, several hundred members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) marched on Jakarta's City Hall on 24 September. They were protesting against the incoming 'infidel' and 'devil' mayor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known as 'Ahok'), the ethnic Chinese Christian directly elected as deputy mayor of Jakarta under Jokowi. While that protest was generally peaceful, but the FPI returned on 3 October and rioted, leaving 16 police officers wounded. The FPI insists that Sharia Law does not permit a Christian to rule over Muslims [e.g. Qur'an, Sura 4:141 'God will not let the unbelievers triumph over the faithful']. Ahok said he was not surprised by the FPI protest and vowed not to be intimidated by their intolerance. 'They are only a small group who have yet to accept me,' he said. 'Everyone else has.'


* roll back Malaysia's rising tide of Islamisation; may he raise up voices to say 'No!' to injustice and intolerance, while opening eyes, ears, hearts and minds to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in which there is hope not only for individuals, but for nations.

'He [the Lord Jesus Christ] will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.' (Isaiah 42:4 ESV)

* bless the Church in Malaysia with divine wisdom as she navigates the language issue that essentially renders all Malay-language Bibles illegal; may Jehovah-jireh (the Lord our provider) provide the Malaysian Church with all her needs.

* bless, protect and preserve Jokowi (president of Indonesia) and Ahok (governor of Jakarta);
  * may Jokowi survive politically as president to press through reforms -- to ease suffering in Papua and to rein in Islamic intolerance across the archipelago; may God use Jokowi for his purposes.
  * may Ahok (a Christian) survive; may no violent hand be permitted to touch him and may God use Ahok for his purpose and for his glory.

'[The Lord] is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.' (Psalm 144:2 ESV)


Two rulings in Malaysia have serious implications for the Church. In June 2014 the Supreme Court dismissed the Christians' appeal against the ban on Christians using the word 'Allah' (the Malaysian word for God). This ruling effectively makes all Malay language Bibles illegal. On 8 October the government confirmed that the head of a Malay-supremacists organisation who called for Malay language Bibles to be burned would not be charged because he was only defending the 'sanctity of Islam'. This ruling establishes a dangerous precedent of impunity. Please pray for the Church in Malaysia. In Indonesia, Jokowi (new reformist president of Indonesia) and Ahok (new Christian governor of Jakarta) are facing intensive opposition from the Suharto-era political establishment and from Islamists. Please pray for Indonesia and its Church.

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

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

KOREA: North and South to resume talks

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 281 | Wed 08 Oct 2014

By Elizabeth Kendal

As was noted in RLPB 260 (14 May 2014), peace on the Korean Peninsula would facilitate improvements in living standards for North Koreans who are increasingly aware of the discrepancies between life in the North and life in the South. Back in May, when the two Koreas were trading insults and hurling belligerent rhetoric at each other, the North was escalating its crackdown on citizens found in possession of banned mobile phones and illicit materials such as magazines and DVDs from South Korea. The regime is aware that the situation is unsustainable because the trend towards openness is unstoppable. Hoping to relieve pressure from the inside, the regime is striving to improve conditions and perceptions. In the meantime, to avoid precipitating its own destruction, the regime is escalating repressive measures to ensure there is restraint on citizen anger. As noted in RLPB 248 (18 Feb 2014) this is a delicate situation that requires wise, strategic handling.

Hwang Pyong So
On Saturday 4 October a top-level delegation from North Korea paid South Korea a surprise visit, giving just 24 hours' notice. The 11-member delegation was led by none other than Kim Jong-Un's deputy, Hwang Pyong So. Appearing in full military uniform, Hwang is the director of the Korean People's Army and vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission which is led by Kim. Accompanying him were Kim Yang Gon, the secretary of the central committee of the Korean Workers' Party and head of the United Front Department (which deals with issues pertaining to South Korea, including unification) and another Kim confidante, Choe Ryong Hae. They were accompanied by security agents from Kim's own 'Escort Command'; dressed in dark suits with the mandatory dark sunglasses and earpieces, they were an impressive sight. The North Korean leaders came under the auspices of attending the closing ceremony of the Asian Games in Incheon, where the North won 36 medals, including 11 gold. However, they also had an amicable lunch with their South Korean counterparts, including South Korea's unification minister, Ryoo Kihl-jae, President Park's national security advisor, Kim Kwan-jin, and South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won.

North Korea expert Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University, Seoul, remarked, 'It's a big deal, it's really a big deal, because it's completely unprecedented. ... Within my memory ... there was never ever such a high-level visit. Never! Essentially it provided a direct line to Kim Jong Un.' Another North Korea expert Mr John Delury, of Yonsei University in Seoul, agreed, saying, 'If you are [President] Park Geun Hye, and you want a credible channel to the leadership in Pyongyang, then this is your dream team.'

Whilst North Korean television screened footage of the North Korean delegation attending the Asian Games it reported nothing about the talks. It seems the North may have been creating propaganda for domestic consumption while seeking to initiate talks on having President Park's May 24 Measures lifted. [The May 24 Measures are onerous sanctions imposed on North Korea in May 2010 after a North Korean submarine torpedoed and sank a South Korean ship, killing 46 South Korean sailors.]

The regime is getting desperate, with the North clearly keen to end its isolation. On 27 September North Korean foreign minister, Ri Su Yong, addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the first time a North Korean official had visited a UN meeting in 15 years. He told the Assembly that reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula is 'more precious' to Pyongyang 'than at any time' as the North tries to boost its economy. 'The tense situation of the Korean Peninsula does not help us,' he said. 'On the contrary, it presents a serious obstacle in our effort for economic development and improved people's living standards.' The North is seeking reunification of the Korean peninsula through a 'confederation formula whereby two systems co-exist in a country'. After South Korea's President Park criticised North Korea's human rights record, the regime responded by asserting that before peace could be achieved it would be 'necessary to decisively eliminate such hordes of traitors as Park'.

It seems the South might be willing to lift the May 24 Measures under set preconditions: that the North ceases its slanderous remarks against the South, apologises for past provocations and takes significant steps toward de-nuclearisation. However, in his UN address, Ri Su Yong reiterated the regime's refusal to abandon its nuclear weapons program which it insists is necessary to deter South Korean and US 'hostility'. South Korea's Unification Minister, Ryoo Kihl-Jae, has played down talk of a sudden rapprochement, warning, 'It's not good to be overly optimistic about inter-Korean relations.' North Korea expert Bruce Klingner agrees, adding that the Korean landscape is littered with shattered hopes. More talks are being organised and are expected to be held in late October or early November.


* the Lord will continue to build and sustain his repressed and imperilled Church in North Korea; may the Holy Spirit move powerfully amongst the people: healing, saving and establishing believers at every level of society in readiness for the day of his deliverance.

* the Spirit of God will intervene powerfully in the hearts and minds of all involved, so that the next round of talks will be profitable in advancing the goal of easing the suffering of North Koreans, especially North Korean Christians who have so much to offer this desperately needy nation.

* Yahweh Sabaoth -- the Lord of Hosts -- will burst or break through his enemies (2 Samuel 5:20), bind the 'strong man' (Satan, in Matthew 12:29) and bring peace to the Korean Peninsula so that praises will yet again ring out from Pyongyang.


On Saturday 4 October a top-level delegation from North Korea visited South Korea and had lunch with their South Korean counterparts. The visit has been described by experts as 'unprecedented'. Further talks are being organised for late October or early November. The North Korean regime knows its situation is unsustainable as the trend towards openness is unstoppable. While seeking to improve conditions in the North, the regime is also escalating repression to restrain citizen anger. The visit provided propaganda for domestic consumption in the North, while also opening the way for talks aimed at getting South Korean sanctions eased. Whilst the obstacles appear insurmountable, the Lord is King and is in control. Please pray he will break through, bind the 'strong man', transform North Korea and sustain its Church.


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