By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 199
Special to ASSIST News Service
AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- 'For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.". . .' (Isaiah 30:15 ESV)
FEBRUARY 2013 UPDATE -- During February we prayed concerning . . .
* SYRIA (RLPB 196), where a relentless war of attrition drags on. Murder, kidnapping and criminality are rife. Christians besieged in their homes are struggling without heating, medical aid, food and water. The condition and whereabouts remain unknown of two priests, Fr Michel Kayyal (Armenian Catholic) and Fr Maher Mahfouz (Greek Orthodox), who were kidnapped by rebels on 9 February while traveling from Aleppo to Damascus. Please continue to pray that denominations long wary of each other will stand as one in Christ and care for one another.
* NORTH KOREA (RLPB 197 ), where nuclear belligerence is used to neutralize all threats and distract from all human rights abuses. Some 200,000 citizens are incarcerated in the State gulag, including tens of thousands of Christians.
* LIBYA, SUDAN & TANZANIA (RLPB 198 )
LIBYA, where Christian expatriates, including several Egyptians, a Swedish-American, a South African and a South Korean, were arrested in Benghazi, the capital of Cyrenaica. They stand accused of proselytizing, a criminal offense that carries a maximum penalty of death.
UPDATE: The primary target of the persecution seems to be an Egyptian Christian businessman named Sherif, who runs a bookshop in Benghazi and whose stock includes Christian books intended for sale to the many expatriate Arabic speaking Christians living and working there. According to Middle East Concern (MEC), the other Christians, who are language teachers and businessmen, appear to have been targeted due to their relationship with Sherif. MEC reports that Sherif, arrested on 10 February, has been 'physically mistreated repeatedly' in custody. This is unsurprising, as the Libyan authorities would be well aware that, unlike Western authorities, the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt is not going to rise up in defense of an Egyptian Christian 'proselytizer'. Consequently the situation for the Egyptians is particularly serious. Tensions are high in Cyrenaica, the birthplace of the Libyan revolution. Cyrenaicans who had been fighting for the restoration of the 1951 federalist constitution feel betrayed by the US and NATO's restoration of centralized government in Tripoli. The situation has empowered the jihadists. According to Fides, all Catholic orders (except one group of nuns) have left Cyrenaica because of death threats.
SUDAN, where two Coptic priests had been arrested for baptizing an Arab woman (an apostate) amidst a dramatic escalation in persecution.
UPDATE: According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW, 20 February), at least 55 Christians are being held by the Sudanese government despite no charges having been laid. Arabic-language media report that a systematic persecution is under way in which schools and colleges owned and run by Christians are being closed and foreign Christians are being deported. Muslim clerics are lobbying the regime for laws to be enacted to address the problem of 'Christianization'. Sudan's pro-government media are calling for 'missionaries' involved in 'Christianization' to be punished according Sudanese Criminal Law. Article 125 provides a penalty of up to six months in prison, or a fine, or up to 40 lashes to those found guilty of offending religious sentiment. Pray for the Church in Sudan.
TANZANIA, where a Protestant pastor was beheaded during a violent Muslim pogrom in Geita on 11 February, and a Catholic priest was assassinated on church grounds before Mass on Zanzibar on 17 February.
TANZANIA: PERSECUTION, INJUSTICE, APPEASEMENT AND IMPUNITY
Only two days after Fr Mushi was assassinated on Zanzibar, three men attacked the security guard at the Evangelical Church of Siloam in Kianga, Zanzibar, before setting fire to the building. This was the second time the church had been attacked. Furthermore, as reported in Religious Liberty Monitoring (RLM, 19 Feb 2013 ) Protestant pastor Isaya Rutta and two church members have been charged with inciting the killing of Pastor Mathayo Kachili by daring to prepare meat on church grounds, bypassing the Muslim halal butchers! Nobody has been arrested for beheading Pastor Kachili (43, married with 11 children). That a totally unjustifiable, uncivilized and deadly Islamic pogrom should be followed by 'blame-the-victim' injustice is shocking! Appeasement and impunity will guarantee escalation. These are critical days for Tanzania.
FEBRUARY 2013 ROUND-UP -- also this month . . .
* BANGLADESH: TRAFFICKERS TARGETING POOR CHRISTIANS
In a crime that is becoming increasingly common in Bangladesh, traffickers approach poor, tribal Christians offering to take their children to Christian boarding schools in Dhaka. The parents pay around 15,000 taka (about USD183) believing their children are going to receive a Christian education. The trafficker then sells the children to an Islamic madrassa. There they are given Muslim names and Islamized before being sold (usually abroad) either as slaves or potential suicide bombers. According to Fides (5 Oct 2012), the practice targets mainly the children of ethnic Tripura, and is common especially in the mountainous area of 'Chittagong Hill Tracts'. On 3 February, 19 children aged between 5 and 12 were unwittingly placed into the care of a trafficker named Binoy. On this occasion, however, some of the children became suspicious and escaped, raising the alarm. Their parents contacted local youths studying at Dhaka University who intercepted Binoy's bus and rescued the children. A further 55 children have been rescued out of madrassas in Dhaka so far this year. Sources believe at least 200 children are in need of rescue. Pray that God will facilitate this. May the criminals be caught and punished; and may God supply all the needs of Bangladesh's Christian poor, including education.
* EGYPT: CHRISTIANS INCREASINGLY VULNERABLE
In September 2012, two boys, Nabil Naji Rizq (10) and Mina Nadi Faraj (9), were accused of defiling pages of a Qur'an. The boys -- both illiterate -- claim they found the pages in garbage where they were playing. After a week of detention and questioning in a juvenile facility, they were charged under Article 160 of the penal code which criminalizes damage to or violation of religious 'buildings, symbols or other objects'. Middle East Concern reports that on 4 February the court ruled that the boys be permitted to return to their families, but they were not acquitted. 'Legally, this means they are considered guilty but are too young to face punishment.' Consequently these boys remain convicted and at risk of reprisals. Accusations of blasphemy are increasing in Egypt. Also, AINA reports that on Friday 15 February, Muslims in the village of Sarsena, 103km south-west of Cairo, responded to Salafi incitement by stoning and setting fire to the Church of St George. The dome and the cross were destroyed. Parts of the interior were demolished and icons were defaced and destroyed. Father Domadios was being stoned when a Muslim family drove up and rescued him in their car. There have also been reports of jihadist groups threatening Christians with death if they do not convert to Islam.
* KENYA: ELECTIONS 4 MARCH
Kenya is about to have its first elections under its new constitution which was passed in an August 2010 referendum. [To help understand the issues and the risks, see 'KENYA's churches oppose draft Constitution over concerns about abortion, 'Balkanization' and Kadhi (Islamic) courts.' (RLM, 16 June 2010 ).] In short, the new constitution enshrined Kadhi (Islamic) courts and divided Kenya into 47 self-governing ethnic counties (majimbo). The Islamic Courts have inflamed Muslim-Christian tensions, whilst majimbo is a recipe for 'negative ethnicity' (ethnic hatred / bias) and polarization. The only people to benefit from majimbo are the ethnic political elite. Politicians who opposed the introduction of Islamic Courts and the division of the land along ethnic lines were accused of 'scaremongering' and charged with 'hate speech'. Kenya, which is 82 percent 'Christian' and supposedly secular, goes to the polls on 4 March. The last time Kenya went to the polls (2007) over 1000 people died in ethnic violence. Far more power is at stake this time, with governors being elected in 47 ethnic counties. Pray for the Church in Kenya.
* UK: PUBLIC SERVANTS HAVE NO RIGHT TO OPT OUT
(updating RLPB 195 , 29 Jan 2013)
The UK's Equalities and Human Rights Commission has deemed religious liberty a 'qualified right' which 'the state can interfere with' in some circumstances. The equality regulator has ruled that whilst employees working in the public sector -- specifically marriage registrars, teachers and chaplains -- should be free to express their views on marriage without being disciplined, they are not free to opt out of duties because of religious beliefs. That means religious beliefs -- currently just Christian beliefs -- will not be accommodated. A survey has revealed that whilst 74,000 British teachers (17 percent of all teachers) said they would teach 'the importance' of same-sex marriage (as required) but would not be happy about it, a further 40,000 teachers said they will refuse to teach on 'the importance' of same-sex marriage despite knowing they may face disciplinary action or dismissal. Pray for Christians in the UK; may they be 'Not Ashamed' despite the cost.