Tuesday, July 28, 2015

RLPB 320. July Update, Incl. Prisoners in China, Sudan, Iran and Pakistan; America, Ireland, Nepal

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 320 | Wed 29 Jul 2015

By Elizabeth Kendal

JULY 2015 UPDATE -- During July we prayed concerning ... 

* ISRAEL (RLPB 316), where anti-Christian sentiment is on the rise amongst Jewish ultra-nationalists and radicalised Muslims. Furthermore, Islamic State (IS), which had threatened to kill Christians in Jerusalem during Ramadan, is escalating attacks in Sinai (Egypt) and threatening to storm Gaza.

UPDATE: Praise God, Israeli security will always make it difficult to carry out attacks on Christians in Jerusalem, especially in the Old City. The biggest threat is to Christians in outlying areas and especially Gaza, where there is no Israeli security. Continue to pray for the Church in Israel.

* RAMADAN (RLPB 317), in particular for Christians at risk of Ramadan violence, and for Muslims seeking God on the Night of Power. Thank God for his mercy and grace.

* CHINA (RLPB 318), where the ruling Communist Party is consolidating its power, tightening religious restrictions, cracking down on dissent and intimidating human rights lawyers.

* PRISONERS (RLPB 319), remembering especially the Christians and religious freedom advocates incarcerated in China and Laos. 'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you are also in the body.' (Hebrews 13:3 ESV).

UPDATE ON PRISONERS:

CHINA -- Updating two cases from RLPB 288 (25 Nov 2014).
The trial began on Tuesday 28 July of Korean-American missionary Peter Hahn (74), who was arrested in November last year. Hahn ran a not-for-profit school in Tunmen, near China's border with North Korea. According to his lawyer, three of the four charges have been dropped, doubtless due to absence of evidence. However, Hahn still faces up to two years in prison if found guilty of counterfeiting receipts. Of the Canadian missionaries arrested in August 2014, Kevin Garratt (53) remains in prison while Julia Garratt has been released on bail. The Garratts, who have lived in China since 1984, ran a popular coffee shop in Dandong and provided humanitarian aid to North Korean refugees. In late July 2014 Canada accused 'a Chinese state-sponsored actor' of hacking into Canada's National Research Council in pursuit of valuable scientific and trade secrets. A week later, China accused the Garratts (Canadians) of 'stealing state secrets'. Pray for this faithful Christian family.

SUDAN -- Updating RLPB 314 (17 Jun 2015).
In a positive development on the trial of pastors Michael Yat (49) and Peter Yen Reith (36), Middle East Concern reports that international interest was demonstrated by observers from a number of foreign embassies attending the 14 July hearing in which the defence laid out its case. A verdict is expected on 5 August.

IRAN -- Updating RLPB 314 (17 June 2015).
On 4 July Pastor Farshid Fathi (36) received official notification that he will be released on 10 December 2015, two years early. Whilst the news has surprised many, Russian media reports that Patriarch Kirill of Moscow had written to Iran's President Rouhani in April, requesting mercy for Fathi, essentially as a goodwill gesture. What doubtless worked in Fathi's favour was the fact that his wife and children are settled in Canada, meaning he will most certainly leave Iran upon release. Whilst Fathi's release would be but a token and would not represent any change of policy, please pray that the early release will go ahead as promised, and that God will continue to sustain and protect him.

God has been intervening for Iranian believers, inside Iran and in the diaspora, in ways so sensitive they cannot be reported. Please continue to pray for Persian Christians wherever they are in the world. Pray especially for Pastor Saeed Abedini (35), one of three US-citizens imprisoned in Iran.  The US-Iran nuclear deal was brokered without reference to human rights, making Abedini's situation more delicate now than ever, as he is no longer needed as a 'bargaining chip'. Please pray.

PAKISTAN -- ASIA BIBI WINS RIGHT TO APPEAL
Asia Bibi

Arrested in June 2009, on death row since November 2010, fifty year-old wife and mother of five Aasiya Noreen (also known as 'Asia Bibi'), has won the right to appeal her sentence. A Christian from Punjab Province, Asia had fetched water for Muslim women who then refused to drink it because it had been carried by a 'kaffir' (an unclean person, an infidel). Five days later a Muslim cleric accused her of blasphemy. In October 2014 the Lahore High Court upheld the sentence of death by hanging. Now, however, Pakistan's Supreme Court has temporarily stayed her execution pending a full review of her case. Attorney Saif-ul-Malook told Morning Star News that he had a strong case and was confident that Asia would be acquitted.  All records pertaining to the case will now be reviewed by the judges. No date has been set for the appeal hearing.

It is actually quite remarkable that Asia is still alive -- the two politicians who supported her were assassinated, and Muslim clerics have offered to reward anyone who kills her. Prison beatings, appalling conditions and severe stress have all taken their toll. Asia is now so frail she can barely walk and is in constant pain with intestinal bleeding. Despite all her trials, Asia's faith has remained strong. If she is acquitted, Asia and her whole family will need to be whisked away from the court in armoured vehicles and flown out of the country under state protection -- otherwise she will be killed within minutes. Pray she lives to enjoy freedom.

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

* AMERICA (USA): SUPREME COURT RULING
At the end of June the US Supreme Court (which is not a legislature) ruled that in the interests of human rights, same-sex couples must be allowed to marry. In the US as in the UK and elsewhere, it is precisely because same-sex marriage is being framed as a fundamental human right (which it is not), as distinct from an ideological or social issue, that resistance is unacceptable. The implications for religious freedom are very significant.

* IRELAND: PASTOR ON TRIAL
In May 2014 James McConnell (78), the pastor of an evangelical mega-church in northern Belfast, responded to the news that Sudanese convert Meriam Ibrahim had been sentenced to death for apostasy, by preaching: 'Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.' As analyst Soeren Kern notes, 'McConnell's comments about Islam comprised less than ten minutes of a 35-minute sermon that focused on Christian theology.' However, the sermon, which was streamed live over the internet, grossly offended Dr Raied Al-Wazzan of the Belfast Islamic Centre. Al-Wazzan complained to police and Pastor McConnell was charged with violating the Communications Act 2003. McConnell faces up to six months in prison if found guilty of electronically sending a message deemed 'grossly offensive'. [In January, Dr Raied Al-Wazzan (the main prosecution witness) provoked controversy himself when he went public with his support for Islamic State (IS) and praised its governance in Mosul, Iraq.] The first hearing of the McConnell case is set for 6 August.

* NEPAL: NEW CONSTITUTION BY MID-AUGUST

Nepalese Christians
Seven years after the abolition of Nepal's Hindu monarchy, Nepalese are about to get a new constitution.  The draft constitution was put on the government website on 9 July and citizens were invited to contribute comments. Sunday 19 and Monday 20 July were declared public holidays, just to make sure all Nepalese could participate in the public consultations and offer feedback. Ethnic groups have rioted because the issue of federalism has been deferred. Maoists and Dalits are protesting about continued entrenched gender and ethnic discrimination, systemic in Hindu culture.  Hindu nationalists have rioted, demanding that Nepal be declared a Hindu State. Meanwhile, Christians (and Nepal's Maoists, who seek equality not atheism) have expressed alarm that the draft constitution rejects religious liberty in terms that will make it 'illegal' to change religion, evangelise, or even explain one's religion. Nepal's Constituent Assembly has already suggested that as a result of the public consultations the term 'secularism' might need to be dropped from the constitution.

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

RLPB 319. China & Laos: 'Remember those in prison . . .'

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 319 | Wed 22 Jul 2015

CHINA & LAOS: 'REMEMBER THOSE IN PRISON ...'
By Elizabeth Kendal

China and Laos are at once very alike and very different. Politically, both are Communist Party ruled and totalitarian. Geographically and economically, China is a seemingly untouchable rising giant while landlocked Laos is one of the poorest and neediest countries in the world. In China, Christians exist in significant numbers (at least 7.8 percent of the population) and at every level of society. Aided by numerous Chinese Christians in the West, China's persecuted Christians will never be 'invisible' or 'voiceless'. On the other hand, Christians in Laos comprise only 3.4 percent of the population and most are tribal. Consequently, persecuted Christians in Laos are amongst the most 'invisible' and 'voiceless' of all persecuted Christians.

The CCP versus the Cross
9 June 2015
source: China Aid
For decades now, Western politicians have subscribed to the belief that poor human rights are a consequence of poverty and backwardness. To this end, the West has focused almost exclusively on economic development in the belief that human rights will follow naturally. This is essentially a theological error. Human rights abuses arise not from without (poverty and backwardness) but from within: from sin (especially greed and megalomania); from the belief that human life is of little value; and from the arrogance that rejects God and boasts, 'You [God] will not call to account' (Psalm 10). Economic development has not brought rights in China, it is not bringing rights in Vietnam and it will not bring rights to Laos. As requested by the Lao Movement for Human Rights (November 2014), 'International donors should make their future aid commitments to Laos contingent upon the government's tangible progress in addressing key human rights issues.' Above all, the Church should pray.

CHINA: As the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wields its new National Security Law [see RLPB 318 (15 July)] the number of human rights lawyers and Christian leaders in prison will escalate. As noted in RLPB 275 (25 Aug 2014) when the CCP released Christian human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng on 7 August 2014, it was telling human rights lawyers, 'Not only are we prepared to torture and destroy you, but we are so confident of impunity that we no longer need to hide it.' Of the more than 230 prominent human rights lawyers harassed and detained over the past 10 days, 13 are being held incommunicado and six have 'disappeared'. As Human Rights Watch cautions, the risk of torture is high. Some have already 'confessed' to being members of a 'criminal gang'. 

Zhang Kai
Pastor Zhang Shaojie (RLPB 275), church leader Ms Yang Rongli and Uyghur house church leader Alimujiang Yimiti are amongst numerous pastors and Christian leaders currently detained in China. They have been arrested for protesting the illegal acquisition of church land, for appealing about being labelled a 'cult', or for resisting the forced removal of crosses. On 14 July, amidst the massive nation-wide crackdown on human rights lawyers, a group of Christian human rights lawyers, led by attorney Zhang Kai, announced the formation of the 'Lawyers for Protection of the Cross' group.  According to China Aid, these lawyers have declared their willingness to pay any price for their beliefs.

LAOS:  Several church leaders are currently languishing in appalling conditions in Laotian prisons.  Amongst them are pastors (Mrs) Kaithong, Puphet, Muk and Hasadee, as well as lay-leader Tiang [RLPB 298 (25 Feb 2015)].  These church leaders had prayed with a terminally ill Christian lady who later died. The authorities then arrested the Christians and charged them with her murder. Subsequently the church leaders were found guilty of practising medicine without a licence. This ruling that equates prayer with medicine will have profound implications for the Church in Laos. After their lawyer filed an appeal in March, the prisoners' families were threatened with their loved-ones' prison time being extended. Torture is routine in Laos prisons and prisoners are routinely held in stocks

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

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR

* Christians and human rights lawyers imprisoned in China, where risk of torture is high; may they look to the Lord for absolutely everything they need and may God restrain violent hands and pierce hardened consciences.

* the courageous Christian human rights lawyers of the 'Lawyers for Protection of the Cross' group, especially for Zhang Kai, its leader; may their courageous efforts not be in vain and may God bless everything they do as they put their liberty and their bodies on the line in defence of the Cross. 

* Christians imprisoned in truly appalling conditions in Laos where torture is endemic; may they look to the Lord for absolutely everything they need and may God restrain violent hands and pierce hardened consciences.

* God the sovereign king to intervene in seemingly untouchable China and desperately needy Laos; may the Lord Jesus Christ continue to build his Church and may the Holy Spirit sustain, comfort, encourage and strengthen his vulnerable, threatened and persecuted people.

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SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN WHOLE ARTICLE
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REMEMBER THOSE IN PRISON IN CHINA & LAOS

China and Laos are very alike and very different. Whilst both are totalitarian and Communist Party ruled, China is a seemingly untouchable rising giant and landlocked Laos is one of the poorest and neediest countries worldwide. Not only are numerous Christian leaders and human rights lawyers already incarcerated in China, that number is about to rise markedly as the Chinese Communist Party asserts its authority in a nationwide crackdown. Furthermore, the risk of torture is higher now than it has been for some time. Meanwhile in landlocked Laos, persecuted Lao Christians are amongst the most 'invisible' and 'voiceless' persecuted people in the world. Several Lao Christian leaders are currently languishing in appalling prisons where torture is routine.  Please pray for China and Laos and for Christians imprisoned there. (Hebrews 13:3)

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