China and Egypt: Court Rulings Designed to Intimidate

Source:  http://rlprayerbulletin.blogspot.com

Date:  March 2, 2016

- updating two critical trends in religious liberty

by Elizabeth Kendal 

* CHINA: TIGHTENING THE REINS 

Pastor Bao Guohua of Holy Love Christian Church in Jinhua, central Zhejiang, 
was arrested in early August, along with his wife and son, after they 
publicly criticised the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP's) policy of 
demolishing crosses on churches in Zhejiang. In what has become an 
established pattern, they subsequently dismissed their lawyers. On 25 
February the Wucheng District People's Court of Jinhua found Bao Guohua, his 
wife Xing Wenxiang and son Bao Chenxing guilty of offences pertaining to 
corruption, delivering harsh prison sentences of 14, 12 and 3 years 
respectively. Nine other essential church staff received sentences of varying 
lengths. The sentences come a week after authorities detained 16 pastors in 
and around Wenzhou city, Zhejiang, during confrontations with the authorities 
over the cross removal program. While some have since been released, at least 
eight remain in criminal detention without access to lawyers.   

Exactly six months after he was dragged out of a church in Wenzhou and 
'disappeared' into secret detention, Christian attorney and defender of the 
cross Zhang Kai has appeared on Chinese state-run television 'confessing' to 
his 'crimes'. 'I really regret doing these things, I feel very remorseful,' 
Zhang said in the 25 February telecast. 'I also warn those so-called human 
rights lawyers to take me as a warning and not collude with foreigners, take 
money from foreign organisations or be engaged in activities that break the 
law or harm national security and interests.' Zhang's friends and colleagues 
expressed concern about his appearance, noting weight loss, lack of glasses 
and signs of stress and 'physical exhaustion'. They do not doubt the 
'confession' was coerced. The scene would have been very familiar to Chinese 
survivors of the Cultural Revolution. Zhang Kai is now being held in criminal 
detention on charges of 'disturbing public order' and 'endangering state 
secrets'.  

TREND: The CCP is deeply anxious that the US might seek to exploit unrest or 
dissent in China to facilitate 'regime change' or a 'colour revolution' in 
Beijing to install a regime more amenable to US interests. Consequently 
President Xi Jinping is escalating his anti-corruption campaign, which 
actually is less about pursuing corruption than it is about purging dissent 
and consolidating power ahead of the 19th Party Congress in 2017. Xi is also 
establishing a personality cult around himself as 'the core' and is bringing 
all segments of society under his control. Criticism is not tolerated. 
Repression is escalating. The state is militarising and establishing 
deterrence. President Xi is tightening the reins.  

* EGYPT: SACRIFICIAL LAMBS 

On Thursday 25 February four teenage Coptic boys faced court charged with 
'contempt of Islam' and 'inciting sectarian strife'. The boys had been filmed 
mocking the pseudo piety of Islamic State.  The court deemed the boys guilty, 
sentencing the three older boys to five years in prison and the youngest boy 
to an indefinite term in a youth detention facility. An appeal will be 
launched. Observers have commented on the dramatic escalation in blasphemy 
('contempt of Islam') cases since the fall of the Mubarak government in late 
2011. In this respect, the regime of General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi is no 
better than the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi. Christians 
are not the only ones in the firing line. In January an Egyptian court 
sentenced Islamic scholar and theologian Islam al-Buhairi to a year in prison 
after he was deemed guilty of blasphemy / insulting Islam. Al-Buhairi's 
questioning of some sources of Islamic interpretation had enraged the 
academic elite at Cairo's Islamic Al-Azhar University. On 20 February a court 
sentenced Egyptian author Ahmed Naji to two years in prison on charges of 
'public indecency' after receiving complaints about the sexual content of his 
latest novel.  

TREND: The two primary power blocs that struggle for supremacy within Sunni 
Islam are the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the Salafi/Wahhabi movement. 
Egypt's President Abdel-Fatteh al-Sisi (who seized power from the MB's 
Mohamed Morsi) leans towards Salafism and receives regime-sustaining 
financial aid from Wahhabist Saudi Arabia. A pragmatist, al-Sisi does not 
want war with Israel, which has earned him the wrath of the Muslim 
Brotherhood and of Islamic jihadists in the Sinai. To retain power, al-Sisi 
must crush - or at least contain - the MB and the jihadists who are working 
to destabilise Egypt. But the MB and jihadists have a lot of support. So 
before he can act al-Sisi must establish his Islamic credentials and earn the 
political capital which will be spent in the crackdowns. This is done through 
the pre-emptive appeasement of influential Islamic fundamentalists in the 
mosques, universities and courts. The fundamentalists will let al-Sisi kill 
jihadists and imprison Muslim Brotherhood members as long he lets them 
advance an Islamic order, something the conservative al-Sisi is more than 
pleased to do. Hence the dramatic rise in blasphemy cases over recent years. 
The law's victims are simply sacrificial lambs.  

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* grant China's church leaders divine wisdom and moral clarity as they 
negotiate an increasingly dangerous path. May the great and good Shepherd, 
our Lord Jesus Christ, lead them; may the ever-present Holy Spirit embolden 
them; may the eternal Father comfort, bless and sustain them. 'Be still, and 
know that I am God.' (Psalm 46:10a ESV)  

* dwell powerfully with all China's pastors and Christian leaders now 
imprisoned for having criticised the repressive policies and unjust actions 
of the Chinese Communist Party. '[Nothing] will be able to separate us from 
the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.' (From Romans 8:39 ESV) * grant 
Egypt's indigenous Copts, along with other Egyptian Christians, divine wisdom 
and sensibility as they navigate a hostile and increasingly dangerous 
environment. 'If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives 
generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.' (James 1:5 
ESV)  

* intervene in the situation in Egypt, so that the harsh sentences handed to 
the four Coptic teenage boys will be overturned on appeal. May the Spirit of 
God draw the boys, their parents, their churches and indeed all Egypt's 
Christians deeper into prayer; may their prayers be heard and their suffering 
be redeemed - may Egypt know healing. (Isaiah 19:22)  

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