Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 421


Date:  August 30, 2017

by Elizabeth Kendal

	'Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might 
	quake at your presence.  ...  From of old no one has heard or perceived by 
	the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for 
	him.' (from Isaiah 64:1-4 ESV) 

AUGUST 2017 UPDATE - this month we prayed concerning ...

* VIETNAM (RLPB 417), where long-persecuted Protestant pastor and religious 
freedom advocate, Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, had been released from prison on 
the condition that he and his religious freedom advocate wife Tran Thi Hong 
leave the county; and where internationally acclaimed human rights attorney 
and Protestant Christian Nguyen Van Dai (48) had been charged with 'carrying 
out activities aimed at overthrowing the People's administration' under 
Article 79 of Vietnam's Penal Code. 

UPDATE: Radio Free Asia reports that four members of an online democracy 
advocacy group, known as Brotherhood for Democracy (founded in 2013), were 
arrested on 30 July. The four have all served time in prison before, and all 
are connected to human rights advocate Nguyen Van Dai. Like Nguyen Van Dai, 
the four men - one of whom is 'missing' - have been charged with 'carrying 
out activities aimed at overthrowing the People's administration' and could 
face anything from 12 years in prison to the death penalty if convicted. One 
of those arrested and charged is Protestant Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton (45).  

* INDIA (RLPB 418), where Christians suffer escalating discrimination and 
violent persecution in line with the rise of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism with 
religious apartheid) and where the northern state of Jharkhand was 
considering enacting an anti-conversion law. The law had been approved by the 
cabinet of the Chief Minister on 1 August but had yet to come before the 
Legislative Assembly.  

Jharkhand's 'Religious Freedom Bill 2017' was both introduced to and passed 
by the Legislative Assembly on 12 August. Now anyone judged to have 'forced' 
another person to change their religion could face three years' imprisonment 
and fines of Rs 50,000 (US $800), or four years' imprisonment and a Rs 
100,000 fine if the person converted is a minor, a woman or a member of the 
less-educated classes, such as Dalits. Furthermore, any conversion will 
require permission from the Hindu nationalist-dominated state government. 
While the law does not actually ban conversion, it hands anti-Christian 
forces a weapon with which they can persecute and prosecute Christians while 
reining in conversions. [Further analysis will be posted to Religious Liberty 

* CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR) (RLPB 419), where Islamic militants, who are 
reportedly now 'more heavily armed than ever', continue to spread terror 
despite the presence of UN 'peacekeepers'.  

UPDATE: Complaints continue to surface against the UN peacekeepers, in 
particular the Moroccans. According to Catholic priest Father Jean-Alain 
Zembi, rector of Zemio on the nation's border with Congo, UN peacekeepers 
have been abandoning civilians. Going further, others accuse the UN 
peacekeepers of 'complicity' in the terror. The supreme question of who is 
funding these 'heavily armed' Islamic militants remains unanswered. According 
to Catholic priest, Father Desire Kpangou, the attackers wore turbans and 
spoke neither French nor the local language, Sango, suggesting they had come 
from nearby Sudan. In a desperate plea for international assistance to disarm 
the militants, Father Kpangou declared, 'If you [the UN] don't come soon to 
disarm these people, we [the priests] will have to organise confessions and a 
final Mass and viaticum [final administration of the sacraments of Holy 
Communion before death] and prepare ourselves and the rest of the displaced 
people here for the worst.' May God intervene in CAR.  

* PHILIPPINES (RLPB 420), where some 50 to 60 local and foreign Islamic 
militants were holding 46 civilians hostage in Marawi's Grand Mosque as the 
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) closed in.  

UPDATE: On 20 August Islamic State's Al-Hayat Media Centre released a graphic 
and typically slick and powerful video entitled 'Inside 3'. In line with the 
Islamic State (IS) strategy of promoting an image of Islamic success, the 
almost seven-minute -English-language production includes scenes of young 
jihadis firing their weapons, desecrating a church and stepping around the 
bodies of dead AFP soldiers. The narrator boasts: 'After all [the 
government's] efforts [to subjugate Islam] it would be the religion of the 
Cross that would be torn down and broken.' And later: 'After soldiers of the 
Taghut (infidel government) were left -embarrassed and demoralised, 
[President] Duterte ran to his masters, the defenders of the Cross - America, 
along with their regional guard dog Australia and begged them for help.' In 
reality, it is IS that is begging for help, pleading with Muslims across 
South-east Asia to come to Marawi and die fighting for Allah.  

On the morning of 24 August the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) seized 
control of Marawi's Grand Mosque. While it is a hugely symbolic victory, the 
militants had already fled and no hostages were found. Gun battles continue. 
On Sunday 27 August jihadist sympathiser Cayamora Maute (64), father of the 
notorious Marawi-based Maute brothers (who have led this rebellion) - died in 
a government hospital. Arrested on 6 June, Cayamora Maute had diabetes, 
hepatitis and hypertension; police rushed him into hospital when his blood 
pressure shot up. The fact that he died in police custody could complicate 
the situation for the hostages. Please pray.  

AUGUST 2017 ROUND-UP - also this month ...


Internationally acclaimed human rights lawyer and devout Christian Gao 
Zhisheng ran afoul of China's communist regime as soon as he started 
advocating religious freedom and defending the persecuted. First arrested in 
2006, Gao has spent many years in China's secret 'black jails' where he was 
tortured and forced to endure long periods of solitary confinement. After 
many threats, Gao's wife and children fled to the USA in 2009. Released from 
prison in 2014 in an appalling state [see RLPB 275 (27 Aug 2014)], Gao has 
since been under house arrest in his mother's cave house in Shaanxi Province, 
denied access to dental or medical care. When Gao's wife, Geng He, phoned him 
early on the morning of Sunday 13 August, nobody answered. When Gao's brother 
subsequently went to check on him, nobody was there. The Wall Street Journal 
has surmised that Gao may have been detained because he recently gave an 
interview to a Hong Kong magazine, or because the regime might be rounding up 
dissidents ahead of the 19th Party Congress due to be held this Fall. 
ChinaAid is urging the relevant authorities in China 'to help locate Gao's 
whereabouts' and asking the international community 'to pray for Gao's safety 
and freedom'.  


Fikadu Debesay had been arrested along with her husband on 17 May, during 
raids targeting evangelical Christians in the town of Adi Quala [RLPB 409 (31 
May)]. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that the Christian mother of 
three died in Metkel Abiet, a desert camp in Eritrea's Northern Red Sea 
Region. A relative at the 10 August burial told Morning Star News that 
Fikadu's body showed signs of torture. Fikadu's traumatised children are 
amongst the more than 50 children currently without one or both parents 
because of these raids. The number of Christians detained in desert camps and 
military facilities since May has risen to 210. In July, 16 teenage Christian 
girls were arrested while doing their compulsory national service and sent to 
the Metkel Abiet camp. When family members tried to visit, they too were 
incarcerated. During the first week of August, a further 23 Christians were 
rounded up in the capital city, Asmara. Prison conditions are appalling and 
torture is routine. May God intervene in Eritrea.  


On  Friday evening 18 August, al-Shabaab militants killed four Christian men 
in Kasala Kairu, Lamu County, on Kenya's coast near the border with Somalia. 
First the militants seized Changawa Muthemba (40s) from his home and dragged 
him to the home of his brother-in-law, Joseph Kasena (42), an elder in the 
local church. They then dragged Joseph and his guest, neighbour Kadenge 
Katana (17), out of the house. When Changawa, Joseph and Kadenge refused to 
recite the Shahaada (the Islamic statement of faith) the militants tied them 
up and hacked them to death with machetes. Joseph's wife, Caroline (late 
30s), witnessed everything and is 'severely traumatised'. The militants then 
went to the home of Joseph's mentally challenged older brother, Charo (late 
40s), and murdered him. It is well known that the al-Shabaab has established 
camps in Kenya's Boni Forest which borders Somalia. Furthermore, al-Shabaab 
militants and their sympathisers are reportedly 'deeply embedded' in the 
local communities of wider Lamu and Tana Counties where they 'move around 
freely' while the police do nothing. On 8 July Kenya's Standard reported: 
'Last week, 150 Al-Shabaab gunmen prayed at a local mosque [in Lamu county] 
before launching an attack on the police station, dispensary and school.' 
This appalling situation requires urgent attention from the Kenyan 
government. Please pray.  


On 4 August the Malaysia Islamic Development Department (Jakim) established a 
special national-level committee called the Shariah Courts Empowerment 
Committee (JKMMS), tasked with 'empowering the shariah judicial system in 
line with the position of Islam in the Federal Constitution'. Then on 7 
August the Malaysian government withdrew the Law Reform (Marriage and 
Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2016, claiming a new version was required. The new 
version removes Article 88(A) which had protected children from forced 
conversion to Islam at the conversion of one parent. The government has also 
banned more books promoting moderate Islam, on the grounds that they are 
'likely to be prejudicial to public order' and 'likely to alarm public 
opinion'. In early August, when images went viral showing members of an 
atheist club enjoying fellowship, the government vowed to 'hunt down' 
atheists and warned anyone caught propagating godlessness could face 
prosecution. Analysts surmise that UMNO (the ruling United Malays Nationalist 
Organisation party) and its leader, Prime Minister Najib Razak, are advancing 
Islamisation ahead of the August 2018 elections to shore up Muslim votes. 
Pray for the Church in Malaysia.  


In September 2015, Nepali lawmakers passed a new constitution [RLPB 329 (30 
Sep 2015)] which defined Nepal as a 'secular' state, while appeasing Hindu 
nationalists with the inclusion of anti-conversion measures [RLPB 321 (5 Aug 
2015)]. On 8 August 2017 the Nepali parliament passed a bill criminalising 
religious conversion and the 'hurting of religious sentiment'. Clause 158 of 
section 9 bans the hurting of religious sentiment and is similar to 
Pakistan's blasphemy law. Clause 160 in section 9 severely restricts 
religious conversion and is similar to the anti-conversion laws in force in 
India. Christians fear it will foster intolerance and provide anti-Christian 
forces with a weapon to use against them. The law now awaits the approval of 
Nepal's President Bidhya Devi Bhandari. Tehmina Arora, an expert in human 
rights law, writes, 'The fundamental right to religious freedom includes the 
practice and sharing of a belief. The president should veto this new bill and 
allow her citizens to enjoy basic human rights'. Pray for the Church in 


Asif Masih (16), an illiterate and mildly mentally challenged Christian 
youth, worked as a scavenger in Gujranwala District, Punjab Province, 
scavenging through garbage for salvageable items that could be cleaned up, 
repaired and reused. On 12 August a rival scavenger named Muhammad Nawaz 
decided to remove Asif from the scene, so he accused him of having burnt a 
Quran. Before long a crowd had gathered and Asif was being beaten so savagely 
that when the police finally arrived he 'confessed' to the crime to save his 
own life. He is now in prison, accused of blasphemy.  


The Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) in Omdurman (across the Nile River from 
the capital, Khartoum) continues to face extreme pressure from the Islamic 
Government of Sudan (GoS). Morning Star News reports that, on Wednesday 23 
August, seven SCOC leaders were jailed and interrogated for six hours before 
being charged with refusing to comply with an order to turn over leadership 
of their congregation to a government-appointed committee. Among those 
detained was Rev Kwa Shamaal, head of missions at the SCOC, who was only 
released from prison in January this year [see background in RLPB 372 (24 Aug 
2016)]. The harassment and persecution is all part of the expressed intent of 
GoS to rid Sudan of Christianity.  


Some 95 percent of Raqqa's Christian families managed to flee as the city 
fell to rebel forces in March 2013. However, when ISIS took control in 
January 2014, those who remained were trapped. On Tuesday 8 August two 
Armenian and five Assyrian Christian families were rescued from Raqqa by 
Christian fighters from the 200-strong Syriac Military Council (MFS; 
established in 2013), which is fighting with the Kurdish-led Syrian 
Democratic Forces (SDF). Sawsan Karabidian (45), who was rescued with six 
members of her family, said, 'They [ISIS] forced us to wear the headscarf and 
allowed us to reveal our faces to distinguish us from Muslims. We had to hide 
our faces to avoid insults. We were forced to pay tribute [jizya/protection 
money] by hand and we were humiliated and insulted; what a homeland that 
makes you pay an additional tax because you are different.' MSF fighter Matay 
Hanna told reporters, 'Some say we are Christians and we must love everyone. 
But if we do that there will be no Christians left in the Middle East. We are 
Christians and should defend our people. We don't need another 
genocide against us; it's enough. ... We must defend ourselves.' The MFS 
fighters hope Christians will return to Raqqa. 'We will fix the church, or 
build a new church,' Hanna said. 'We will finish this mission, and let the 
people go back to their homes.' Pray for the Christians of Mesopotamia 


American Presbyterian Pastor Andrew Brunson was arrested in October 2016 
[RLPB 389 (21 Dec 2016)] in the wake of July's alleged coup attempt which the 
Erdogan regime blamed on the US [see RLPB 367 (20 July 2016)]. Pastor Brunson 
and his wife, Norine, ministered in Izmir's Dirilis (Resurrection) Church and 
had lived in Turkey for 23 years. Jailed without charge, Brunson was 
eventually accused of being a member of a terrorist organisation. Now, World 
Watch Monitor reports that on 24 August 2017 the state-run Anadolu news 
agency confirmed that Brunson will now face charges of spying and insurgency 
with prosecutors demanding he receive four consecutive life sentences in 
prison. Pastor Ihsan Ozbek, who leads Turkey's Association of Protestant 
Churches, denounced the charges as 'absurd'. It has long been suspected that 
Turkey will seek to exploit Brunson to broker a prisoner swap with the US. 
Please pray.  

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