Tuesday, August 30, 2016

RLPB 373. August Update, incl. Syria, Iran, Sudan, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Russia, Scotland (UK)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 373 | Wed 31 Aug 2016

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


By Elizabeth Kendal

AUGUST 2016 UPDATE -- this month we prayed concerning ...

* Islamic State's DABIQ magazine (RLPB 369), the latest issue of which targets Christians and Christianity. Titled 'Break the Cross', the magazine is sure to fuel anti-Christian hostility in would-be jihadists.

* SYRIA (RLPB 370), where al-Qaeda-led Jaysh el-Fatah broke through government lines and declared its intent to take the jihad into government-controlled western Aleppo. This is home to more than a million loyalist Syrians -- i.e. non-Islamist Sunnis, Alawites and some 40,000 mostly Armenian and Assyrian remnant Christians.

Alaa: wounded when rebel shells
struck her home in western Aleppo.
source: RT video report
* SYRIA (RLPB 371), where, despite rebel shelling [striking children and church property] and al-Qaeda-led Jaysh el-Fatah being at the gate, the churches of western Aleppo continue to minster to hungry and displaced Muslims and Christians.

UPDATE:  On Friday 26 August US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, met in Geneva for nearly ten hours of talks on the Syria crisis. Russia wants America to convince US-backed 'rebels' to separate themselves from al-Qaeda affiliates so that al-Qaeda jihadists can be targeted without hitting US-backed 'rebels'. The US, however, has not been able to do this, and this is hampering US anti-terror efforts and preventing co-operation with Russia in the battle against al-Qaeda.

On Monday 29 August Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, lashed out against the rebels who are preventing UN-funded aid convoys from delivering food into rebel-held eastern Aleppo. The rebels, who know how to fight asymmetrically, want their human shields starving and pitiful for propaganda purposes. Also on 29 August Islamic State confirmed that its spokesman and chief propagandist, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani (39), has been killed in Aleppo. Al-Adnani was the US' second most-wanted IS figure after al-Baghdadi. May the Lord intervene in Aleppo to 'frustrate the way of the wicked' (Psalm 146:9 NIV).

* PRISONERS (RLPB 372): in Algeria, where a Christian has been sentenced to five years in prison for 'blasphemy'; Iran, where numerous Christians are in prison because of their Christian witness; and Sudan, where four believers -- two Nuba pastors, one Darfuri convert and a foreign (Czech) film-maker -- are facing national security charges that carry the death penalty.

UPDATES

MORE ARRESTS IN IRAN

Ramiel Bet Tamraz
Middle East Concern (MEC) reports that on Friday 26 August five believers were arrested as their families picnicked together in Firuzkuh north of Tehran. At around 1:30pm, officers from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) raided the picnic and took the men into detention. The whereabouts of Ramiel Bet Tamraz, Amin Nader Afshar, Hadi Askary, Mohamad Dehnay and Amir Sina Dashti remains unknown. Ramiel Bet Tamra is the son of Assyrian Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz. Pastor Victor and Amin Nader Afshar were arrested over Christmas in December 2014 and released on bail in early 2015 pending trial. There are grave concerns that the 26 August arrests are part of a MOIS campaign to compile 'evidence' against Pastor Victor ahead of the trial. Morning Star News notes that  37 Christians were arrested during August alone. The spiritual battle is intensive. Please pray.

TRIAL RESUMES IN KHARTOUM

As World Watch Monitor reports, the trial of the two Nuba pastors, one Darfuri convert and a Czech film-maker resumed on 29 August. The men stand accused of capital crimes associated with what the prosecution refers to as the 'fabrication' of 'false' stories of Christian persecution and Nuba genocide. Western diplomats and representatives of foreign aid groups attended the hearing. Please pray.


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

* EGYPT: PRISON BREAKS HEGAZI

Long-time intercessors will be familiar with the case of Mohamed Hegazy (34). In 2007, Hegazy became the first Muslim-born Egyptian to sue the Interior Ministry for his right to change his religion from Islam to Christianity. The court ruled against him, affirming the Sharia principle that apostasy is impermissible. His family vowed to kill him. With his wife and child safe overseas, Hegazy changed his name to Bishoy Armia and in 2011 began working as a freelance writer, reporting on the violent persecution of Coptic Christians in Upper Egypt. In December 2013, Hegazy was arrested and held for 15 days [RLPB 240 (10 Dec 2013)]. Re-arrested in June 2014, he was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of inciting sectarian strife and spreading 'misinformation' [RLPB 266 (25 June 2014)]. As reported in RLPB 312 (2 June 2015), Hegazy has suffered much in prison, including routine beatings and intense pressure.
screenshot of Hegazi (29 July).
source: Morning Star News

On 23 July 2016 Mohamed Hegazy was released from prison. On Saturday 30 July footage appeared on YouTube showing his conversion to Islam. Recorded on Friday 29 July, it shows Hegazy reciting the Shahadah (the Islamic statement of faith), apologising to his Muslim family and declaring that he would never again speak to the media. Human rights and religious liberty advocates fear Hegazy has succumbed to extreme pressure. His lawyer, Karam Ghobria, believes Hegazy's 'conversion' is the act of 'a terrified and broken man'. Hegazi has been released into the custody of his parents who had previously vowed to kill him. Please pray for Mohamed Hegazy.

'But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.' Psalm 3:3 ESV

* INDONESIA: FAILED TERROR ATTACK IN MEDAN CHURCH

Police guard St Yoseph church
compound after the failed attack.
(28 Aug) photo AP
On Sunday 28 August a teenage would-be terrorist launched a failed attack on a Catholic priest as he celebrated the Mass in St Yoseph's Catholic Church in Medan, North Sumatra. When his home-made bomb detonated but failed to explode, Ivan Armadi Hasugian (18) rushed at Rev Albertus Pandiangan (60) with a knife and an axe. Parishioners wrestled the attacker to the ground and the priest suffered only minor injuries. Hasugian claimed to be inspired by Islamic State propaganda (no doubt including DABIQ magazine) and by the 26 July attack in France [RLPB 368 (27 July)] in which two Muslim youths slaughtered a Catholic priest as he celebrated the Mass.

* PAKISTAN: ASIA BIBI'S SUPREME COURT APPEAL SLATED FOR OCTOBER

Pakistan's highest court has announced that it will hear the appeal against Asia Bibi's death sentence for blasphemy during the second week of October. It is reasonable to expect that, as in the past, this news will trigger Islamic protests, sit-ins and calls for Asia Bibi's death. It may also trigger anger and mob violence against Pakistan's vulnerable Christian communities. As the appeal hearing draws closer, the threat to Asia's life will escalate. If acquitted, Asia and her family will need high level security immediately, as well as sanctuary in a safe country, if they are to be spared vigilante extra-judicial killing. The Church must be praying for this whole process, and the West must take a stand for religious liberty and Christian security.

Bordeaux, France, March 2015: Mayor Alain Juppe takes a stand. 
Related: The West Must Say 'Je Suis Asia Bibi,' by Giulio Miotti, May 2016 

* RUSSIA: ANTI-MISSION LAW KICKS IN

On 7 July Russia's President Vladimir Putin signed into law a controversial 'anti-terror' package which includes anti-mission measures that eviscerate religious freedom [RLPB 365 (8 July 2016)]. Five cases came before the courts during August. A Hare Krishna devotee was acquitted. Of four Protestants to be charged (two of whom are foreigners), three have been fined and one was due in court on 29 August. Furthermore, a case was launched on 22 August against the director of an Adventist church who stands accused of illegal evangelism for sending Christian literature to the leadership of the district administration. [See Forum 18 for details.] Pray that the anti-mission measures will be either radically amended or repealed.

* SCOTLAND (UK): 'NAMED PERSON' SCHEME DEEMED UNLAWFUL

The UK Supreme Court has ruled in the case of The Christian Institute and others v The Lord Advocate (Scotland). The case concerns Scotland's highly controversial and unacceptably intrusive Named Person scheme [see RLPB 246 (10 June 2014)]. On Thursday 28 July the five judges of the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Scottish government's Named Person scheme, as it stands, is unlawful. There can be no appeal. The scheme would have seen every child in Scotland under the age of 18 assigned a state guardian to monitor their 'well-being'. Christian Institute director Colin Hart praised the ruling as a win for families. However, the Scottish government remains 'firmly committed' to the scheme while reluctantly acknowledging it would have to be optional rather than mandatory. Praise God!

'Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.' Joshua 1:9 ESV

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of 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). For more information see www.ElizabethKendal.com


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

RLPB 372. Algeria, Iran, Sudan: 'Remember those in prison . . .'

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 372 | Wed 24 Aug 2016

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


ALGERIA, IRAN, SUDAN: 'REMEMBER THOSE IN PRISON'
by Elizabeth Kendal

'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them'  (Hebrews 13:3a ESV)

ALGERIA: FIVE YEARS FOR 'BLASPHEMY'

Slimane Bouhafs
source: Middle East Concern
In a ruling that has shocked Algerian churches and human rights groups, a judge has sentenced a Christian from Algeria's mountainous, north-eastern, largely Berber (non-Arab) Kabyle region to five years in prison and a large fine after deeming him guilty of blasphemy. Authorities arrested Slimane Bouhafs (49) on 31 July over a social media post in which he claimed that the light of Jesus was overcoming the 'lie' of Islam and its prophet in the Kabyle region. On 7 August Bouhafs faced court in the eastern town of Setif, 300km east of the capital, Algiers. Though his family and an Algerian secular human rights organisation appointed lawyers for him, the court claimed that Bouhafs had decided to defend himself. In sentencing Bouhafs, the judge chose to deliver the maximum penalty. The Eglise Protestante d'Algerie (Protestant Church of Algeria) will appeal against the verdict.

IRAN: PRISON AS A TOOL OF PERSECUTION AND REPRESSION 

On 24 June Iranian security agents arrested three Azerbaijani Christians attending an engagement party in Tehran. Eldar Gurbanov (48), Yusif Farhadov (51), and Bahram Nasibov (37) -- all from 'Word of Life' Church in Baku, Azerbaijan -- were amongst a group of some ten arrested. Most of the group were later released. Also detained was Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh (45), an Iranian Christian convert from a Muslim background whose plight and whereabouts remain unknown. No charges have been filed and the men, who are being held separately in a prison somewhere in Tehran, have not been allowed access to lawyers or consular officials. There are fears the men were 'set up and caught in a trap'. Back in Azerbaijan, the families of the three men are growing increasingly anxious. Meanwhile, the National Council of Resistance Iran (NCRI) reports that, on 12 August, intelligence officers raided a house church in Isfahan, central Iran, arresting eleven Christian men and women, of whom ten have been identified: they are Amin Ahanin, Mohammad Alyasi, Fatemeh Amini, Edmund Khachaturian, Mohammad Malek Khatai, Mohsen Khoobyari, Arash Qodsi, Hamed Sepidkar, Samaneh Shahbazi-Far and Maryam Zonubi. No further information is available.

Maryam, 29 May 2016
source: ICHRI
UPDATE to RLPB 368 (27 July): Christian prisoner Maryam Naghash-Zargaran (36) has ended her hunger strike, possibly due to family pressure. Despairing and gravely ill, Maryam is not due for release until July 2017. May the Lord carry Maryam through this trial. 'He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart ...' (Isaiah 40:11 NIV)

SUDAN: CHRISTIANS CHARGED WITH CAPITAL CRIMES

Revs Kwa and Hassan
source: Middle East Concern
The trial of the Rev Kwa Shamaal and the Rev Hassan Abdelrahim Tawor --  two Nuba pastors and leaders in the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) -- commenced in Khartoum North on 21 August. [For background see RLPB 360 (7 June).] On trial with the two pastors are Darfuri graduate and Christian convert (Muslim background believer) Abdulmonem Abdumawla Issa Abdumawla, and Czech missionary and film-maker Petr Jasek (52). The men are accused of engaging in criminal activities designed to tarnish the image of Sudan's government, specifically of fabricating 'false' stories of Christian persecution and Nuba genocide. They also stand accused of conducting 'intelligence activities and providing material support for [Nuba] rebels in South Kordofan'. Amongst the various charges, those of waging war against the state (Article 51 of the Sudanese Criminal Code) and espionage (Article 53) carry the death penalty as the maximum sentence.

As the grim hearing was under way, some 100 Christians from several denominations gathered together outside the court house and demonstrated their solidarity with the accused by singing hymns in the Nuba language. The next hearing is scheduled for Monday 29 August.

Click here for video: source CSW

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL 

* minister to all Christians who are this day suffering in prison for their faith, witness or advocacy; may they be profoundly aware of the comforting and sustaining presence of the Lord. 'You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.' (Psalm 139:5 ESV)

* redeem all this suffering and use it for his divine purpose and glory. May God take that which is intended for evil and use it for good to awaken many and save lives. May Christ continue to sanctify and build his Church in Algeria, Iran and Sudan. 'For nothing will be impossible with God.' (Luke 1:37 ESV)

* intervene in Algeria, Iran and Sudan to bring an end to the repression and injustice that inhibits the spread of the gospel. (1 Timothy 2:2-4)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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'REMEMBER THOSE IN PRISON' IN ALGERIA, IRAN & SUDAN

On 7 August an Algerian judge sentenced Slimane Bouhafs to five years imprisonment for blaspheming in a social media post claiming that the light of Jesus was overcoming the 'lie' of Islam. In Iran, where many Christians are imprisoned, three Azerbaijanis and an Iranian convert were arrested at an engagement party in Tehran on 24 June and 11 believers were arrested in a raid on a house church on 12 August. In Sudan, two Nuba pastors, a Darfuri convert and a Czech film-maker are on trial, accused of tarnishing the government's image with 'false' stories of Christian persecution and Nuba genocide. The charges include waging war against the state and espionage, which carry the death penalty. 'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them ...' (Hebrews 13:3)

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of 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).