Date: May 24, 2023
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 695
MAY 2023 UPDATE & ROUNDUP
By Elizabeth Kendal
UPDATE: DURING MAY WE PRAYED CONCERNING
BANGLADESH [RLPB 692 (3 May)], where the Bangladesh Armed Forces is waging a counter-terror operation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Because the BAF accuses the Christian Kuki-Chin minority of providing aid and support to al-Qaeda-linked jihadists (JAFHS), the Christian Kuki-Chin – who are seeking autonomy so they might preserve their people, lands and culture – are also under attack. Thousands have been driven from their homes, with the help of a tribal Buddhist militia that has forged a peace deal with the Bangladeshi government. This is an on-going – and indeed, existential – Christian crisis. Please pray.
LIBYA [RLPB 693 (10 May)], where six Libyan nationals who have been arrested for apostasy (leaving Islam) and Christian proselytism (missionary work) could face the death penalty if found guilty. The authorities have broadcast video footage of their recorded ‘confessions’; one believer had already broken under torture. Please pray.
INDIA [RLPB 694 (17 May)], where rioting in the North East state of Manipur by the dominant, mostly Hindu Meitei tribe against the mostly Christian Kuki-Chin hill tribes has left the Christian community deeply traumatised.
UPDATE: SUPREME COURT BACKS CHRISTIAN APPEAL
On 17 May India’s Supreme Court (SC) heard a petition filed by the Manipur Tribal Forum appealing for urgent intervention to contain the violence. The SC’s Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud denounced the order of the Manipur High Court that led to the sectarian violence, declaring it ‘absolutely wrong’, and asked Manipur’s BJP-led state government to furnish the SC with a status report. A senior Catholic Church leader described the effect of the Chief Justice’s words as ‘like applying balm on the wounds’. ‘The high court order paved the way for violence and now the top court in the country has termed it illegal. This is something heart-warming amidst tension and fear,’ Father Velikakkam told UCA News on 18 May. The toll to date: more than 70 dead and 231 injured; with 121 churches and some 1700 homes burned. The state has opened 318 relief camps in which 47,914 persons have been accommodated. While those in the camps are receiving some aid, those taken in by relatives and those languishing in the bush, are not receiving any government assistance. Around 62 companies of Central Armed Forces and 126 columns of the Indian Army have been deployed along with state police to maintain law and order. Please pray.
‘your ruin is vast as the sea; who can heal you?’ [from Lamentations 2]
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” [Lamentations 3:21-24 ESV]
MAY 2023 ROUND-UP – ALSO THIS MONTH
* AUSTRALIA: A.C.T. GOVERNMENT SEIZES CATHOLIC HOSPITAL
Calvary Public Hospital, Canberra, A.C.T.
Located in Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), Calvary Public Hospital is one of two major public hospitals in the city. Owned and run by the Catholic Church, Calvary Hospital has been serving the community since 1979. In recent years, however, the ACT’s Labor-Greens coalition government has been at war with the hospital administration over its ‘definition of healthcare’. As the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports (ABC, 17 May): ‘For the government, the provision of abortion is non-negotiable, whereas Calvary Hospital relies on institutional conscientious objection to refrain from participating in abortion based on the conviction that it is morally wrong to intentionally end a human life.’ On 11 May the ACT government passed the Health Infrastructure Enabling Bill 2023. The legislation enables the government to legally take ‘the Calvary Public Hospital land, and transition existing Calvary staff and assets to the Territory’. This is happening at ‘breakneck speed’, with the acquisition set to be complete by 3 July.
John Steenhof of the Human Rights Law Alliance notes, this ‘disquieting move ... has sparked concerns about the future of religious freedom rights… Despite the government’s assertions that the acquisition is not related to ideology, the forced acquisition comes shortly after the release of the final report of the government’s inquiry into abortion access in the ACT, which was scathing of Calvary hospital, characterising it as “problematic” due to its “overriding religious ethos”.’ Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher OP writes: ‘It’s no secret that the ACT government want to force Calvary Hospital to provide abortions now, and euthanasia and assisted suicide in the future. Taking the land, buildings and hospital equipment and transferring staff employment across to Canberra Health Services allows them to push their anti-life agenda right through the hospital.’ As the ABC notes, the move ‘has far-reaching ramifications for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience in Australia’. Please pray.
Forced Government Takeover: What’s Next?
Australian Christian Lobby, 19 May 2023 (YouTube)
* AZERBAIJAN: PERILOUS STATE OF ARMENIAN MINORITY
Update to RLPB 677, Nagorno-Karabakh Besieged, 25 Jan 2023
On 23 April Azerbaijan installed a border checkpoint at the entrance of the Lachin Corridor, the road that links Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh (N-K; an Armenian Christian enclave inside Turkic Muslim Azerbaijan). Whilst the blockade has now been suspended, all Armenians travelling to and from N-K are now being screened by Azerbaijani border guards. Armenian villagers living between the blockade (near Shusha) and the checkpoint report feeling trapped. N-K residents requiring urgent medical care in Armenia are having to be escorted by Russian peacekeepers. Armenians in N-K feel abandoned, particularly by the West which is heavily invested in Azerbaijan and needs its oil. For the Armenians of N-K, the threat of genocide looms larger by the day. Please pray.
BURMA (MYANMAR): REV. DR SAMSON’S APPEAL DENIED
Update to RLPB 675, Burma: Christian Leader Arrested, 14 Dec 2022
On 3 May, to mark the occasion of Vesak (an important Buddhist festival), the Burmese junta amnestied and released 2135 political prisoners. Among those not released was the Rev. Dr Hkalam Samson (65), a former leader of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) and respected peace advocate. Arrested on 4 December 2022, Dr Samson was charged with ‘terrorism, unlawful association, and inciting opposition’, and sentenced on Good Friday 7 April to six years in prison [RLPB 689 (12 April)]. On 2 May – the day before the Vesak amnesty – the Myitkyina Prison Court, in Burma’s northern Kachin state, rejected Dr Samson’s appeal. Please pray.
* CHAD: CHRISTIAN VILLAGES ATTACKED IN SOUTH
encircled: Logone Oriental.
On Monday morning 8 May Fulani Muslim militants attacked Christian communities in Logone Oriental, a region in Chad’s deep south bordering north-west Central African Republic and north-east Cameroon. According to Barnabas Aid, at least 17 people were killed, including (according to Catholic media) an infant. ‘Among the dead were a pastor, Doumro Tadingao Gaston, and 12 other worshippers who were attending a prayer meeting in the village of Don. Around 20 villages in the region have been burned down, with several thousand people displaced by the violence. This follows Islamist attacks on four other southern Chadian villages a month earlier, in which two pastors were killed and many other people injured.’
In April, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported on the escalating ‘clashes between [semi-nomadic Arab] herders and [sedentary indigenous] farmers in southern Chad’. Authorities accuse ‘rebels based in neighbouring Central African Republic [CAR] of igniting the trouble’. According to Chadian General Ahmat Dari Bazine, the rebels are aiming ‘to create problems between herders and farmers, between Muslims and Christians’. One Christian leader warns (in personal correspondence) that there is a ‘drift towards genocide of some villages and communities… [as] people speaking Fulani have attacked villages and church services killing many people including three pastors and a Catechist… There has been the move of many Fulani Communities from CAR to settle in the forest of Southern Chad. These Fulanis seem armed and ready to deal with any opposition to their ambition. Chad has experienced since last year many horrible situations in the South. The recent attack on churches and the killing of people in villages has affected the Church in Chad. The Evangelical Fellowship of Chad is sending a high-level team to access the situation, encourage Christians who are traumatised, seek ways to assist the victims, and promote peace according to the Bible…’ Please pray.
* INDIA: RELIGIOUS RIGHTS UPHELD IN GOA
Update to RLPB 647, India: Viral Hatred Spreads Through India, 1 June 2022
In May 2022 Pastors Domnic and Joan D’Souza, of Five Pillars Church in Goa (a former Portuguese colony on India’s west coast), were arrested for allegedly ‘luring’ people to convert to Christianity. Lacking an anti-conversion law, the authorities booked the couple under the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisement) Act for allegedly using magic to heal and convert people. Hindu nationalist BJP MPs – including the Chief Minister – immediately got busy plotting anti-conversion legislation. The couple were subsequently bailed on health grounds. Then, in December 2022, the North Goa District Magistrate banned Pastors Domnic and Joan from carrying out religious activities in their own residence, citing communal tensions. On 19 May the Goa High Court quashed the order, ruling not only that the accusations of forced conversions levelled against the pastors were totally baseless, but that the state has a duty to extend all possible protection to its citizens to propagate their religious practice, as guaranteed under India’s constitution. Praise and thank God! And please, continue to pray for the Church in India.
* IRAN: BELIEVERS RELEASED
Update to RLPB 660, Iran: Christians Fined, Imprisoned and Punished, 31 Aug 2022
Acquitted and released: Sara and Homayoun
On 9 May an Appeal Court in Tehran acquitted Christian converts Homayoun Zhaveh (64; with advanced Parkinson’s disease) and his wife Sara Ahmadi (45; a house church leader) and ordered they be released from prison. Critically, Article 18 reports: ‘In the ruling, the appeal-court judge said that gathering with people of one’s own faith was “natural”, and having books related to Christianity was “also an extension of their beliefs”. He added that there was “no evidence” that Sara and Homayoun had acted against the country’s security or had connections with opposition groups or organisations.’ He also noted that, ‘the law has not recognised [participation in Christian home groups] as criminal activity’. This is the second time an appeal court has ruled this way. Praise and thank God! And please, continue to pray for the Church in Iran.
* IRAQ: AN EXISTENTIAL CHRISTIAN CRISIS
(left) Cardinal Sako
(right) US-blacklisted Rayan al-Kildani
('Rayan the Chaldean'), head of the 'Christian' Babylon Movement, which holds 4 of the 5 seats reserved for Christians and is aligned with the Iran-backed Shi'ite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). (Asia News 17 May 2023)
On Friday 12 May hundreds of Christians – including many nuns and priests – gathered in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square to show support for Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, as tensions between the Church and Iraq’s political leaders heat up. Iraq’s electoral law mandates that five parliamentary seats be reserved for Christians. However, anyone – not just Christians – may elect those Christian representatives. Consequently, major Kurdish Sunni and Arab Shi’ite political parties work to ensure the election of corrupted Christians who – for personal gain – will advance Kurdish or Arab Shi’ite interests at the expense of the mostly indigenous Assyrian Christian community. For advocating for change and for the rights and future of Iraq’s Christians, Cardinal Sako has come under intensive attack. The current situation further exacerbates Iraq’s existential Christian crisis. Please pray.
* MALI – BURKINA FASO: DR KEN ELLIOT RELEASED
On 19 May media reported that Australian missionary Dr Ken Elliot (88) had been released from captivity in Mali and reunited with his family in Western Australia. In January 2016 Dr Elliot and his wife, Jocelyn, were abducted from their home near Djibo, in northern Burkina Faso, by terrorists linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb [RLPB 341 (27 Jan 2016)]. Whilst Jocelyn was released a few weeks later, Dr Elliot was retained. As a medical doctor, he was far too useful to be let go. The jihadists released a video in July 2017 in which Dr Elliot gives his name and requests that governments do what they can to negotiate his release. From the 6:20 minute mark, he addresses his family: ‘I just want to say again, I love you all. I appreciate all your prayers and all your cares; and I look forward to one day being reunited… I pray God will bless all of you, abundantly.’ At that time many (possibly including Dr Elliot himself) suspected the terrorists would never release him, and that he would die in captivity. We do not know any details about how he came to be released. What we do know, is that his release and homecoming is a wonderful miracle of divine mercy ‘in answer to the prayers of many’ (2 Corinthians 1:11). Praise and thank the Lord! And please, continue to pray for the Church in the Sahel: Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
* PAKISTAN: CHRISTIAN TEENS CHARGED WITH BLASPHEMY
On 18 May police in Lahore’s Qurban Lines neighbourhood arrested two Christian teenagers after a passing police officer claimed to have overheard them ‘disrespecting’ Islam’s prophet Muhammad. The boys – Adil Babar (18) and Simon Nadeem (14) – deny they had even been discussing Muhammad. Adil’s father, Babar Sandhu Masih (a Catholic) told Morning Star News (MSN) that he had been inside resting after lunch when he heard a commotion. He went outside to investigate, and found a policeman named Zahid Sohail beating Simon, and Adil trying to intervene. Sohail subsequently registered a blasphemy case against the boys – a case Masih insists is absolutely baseless. Masih saw the boys briefly on 19 May. ‘Both boys were in a state of shock and fear and are still unable to understand why Sohail had gotten them arrested.’ Napolean Qayyum of the Pakistan Centre for Law and Justice told MSN that they were helping the two families and arranging legal support for their children. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports (22 May), ‘Approximately 50 Christian families reside in the Qurban Lines area, and most of these families fled the area for fear of violence after the accusation was made.’ Please pray.
* SUDAN: CHRISTIAN FLEE KHARTOUM; CHURCHES ATTACKED
Since the conflict erupted on 15 April, Christians have been fleeing Khartoum. Many Christians were settlers from the war-ravaged Nuba Mountains and South Sudan; they have fled back into harrowing situations, exacerbating an already serious humanitarian crisis marked by food insecurity and near total absence of medical care. But not all Christians have been able to flee and for those trapped in Khartoum the situation is rapidly deteriorating. On Sunday morning 14 May, fighters belonging to Hemeti’s Rapid Support Forces attacked the Coptic Mar Girgis (St George) Church in El Musalama in old Omdurman (Khartoum’s twin city across the Nile). Three worshippers received bullet wounds to their legs, while the church guard was shot in his abdomen. Assistant bishop Anba Sarabamon was assaulted; he sustained several fractures. His residence at the church premises was destroyed and his car was stolen. The Rapid Support Forces have forcibly occupied several churches, including the Episcopal All Saints Cathedral and the Coptic Virgin Mary Cathedral in Khartoum. These church compounds include schools, dormitories, and clerical residences. Everyone living in these compounds has had to be evacuated. Please pray for the Church in Sudan.