Date: February 24, 2021
February Update, Incl. India, Iran, China, Australia, Israel (West Bank), Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan.
FEBRUARY 2021 UPDATE - during this period we prayed concerning:
* INDIA, MADHYA PRADESH (MP) [RLPB 583 (3 Feb)], after a new, more draconian anti-conversion law was enacted in the Hindu nationalist-ruled state, unleashing a storm of persecution. One pastor told International Christian Concern, 'It was like a cyclone hit our state.' We prayed specifically regarding the threat of Hindu nationalist violence against Christians in Jhabua District and a petition that had been filed challenging the law's constitutionality.
UPDATE (1): LEGAL CHALLENGE
On Friday 19 February the Supreme Court threw out a petition challenging the validity of Madhya Pradesh's controversial anti-conversion ordinance. The plea argued that the law infringed a person's right to privacy and freedom of choice, leading to violations of fundamental rights under Articles 14, 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution. Instead, the judge directed the petitioner to 'approach the Madhya Pradesh High Court', adding, 'We would like to have the views of the high court.' Please pray.
UPDATE (2): STORM RAGES IN FAR WEST
There is no update on the situation in Jhabua District, in MP's far west. However, a pastor in Ratlam District - which borders Jhabua District to the north - told International Christian Concern (12 Feb): 'We are experiencing a dangerous situation. We are not allowed to have fellowship, worship, or share our faith. We read in the news that this is part of making India a Hindu nation by 2021. I have not led any worship service for my congregation for the last four weeks. There are 30 other pastors in the area where I serve, and none of them are conducting worship for their congregations as well. We read in the newspapers that pastors are being charged under this new law for conducting worship. These pastors are repeatedly denied bail. Pastors from other districts in Madhya Pradesh, whom I know quite well, are also being violently attacked,' the pastor continued. 'They are being victimised for merely conducting worship services. It feels like we have lost our freedom to worship and assemble as Christians.'
Meanwhile, on Sunday 7 February, police in Alirajpur Distict - which borders Jhabua District to the south - filed charges against a Christian priest and two women in two different cases for 'targeting and converting' family members of a vulnerable tribal group. Pastor Dilip Ransingh Vasuniya fled the region after a Christian convert's brother registered a complaint against him. The two women were arrested and jailed after a convert's son registered a complaint against them. Earlier that day, a mob of some 100 Hindu nationalists stormed a church in Jambukheda village, Udaigarh Township, Alirajpur District. They destroyed property and then besieged the Udaigarh police station demanding the authorities intervene to prevent conversions. Around two dozen men and women present at the church - including the church's pastor and other leaders - were taken to the police station and charged under the new anti-conversion law. Please pray.
* IRAN [RLPB 584 (10 Feb)], where Christians are deemed 'enemies of the state'.
UPDATE EBRAHIM FIROUZI
When exiled convert Ebrahim Firouzi (34) presented himself to the prosecutor as requested, he was arrested and jailed in Chabahar prison. To protest his treatment, Ebrahim commenced a hunger strike, vowing not to eat again until the charges were dropped. Ebrahim ended his hunger strike three days later after receiving a visit from two intelligence agents who assured him his case would be 'dealt with' and he would be released by 20 February. On 22 February, with Ebrahim still in prison, the Council of United Iranian Churches (Hamgaam) published a statement demanding Ebrahim Firouzi be released 'immediately and unconditionally' and that the regime 'stop persecuting him'. Please pray.
* CHINA [RLPB 585 (17 Feb)] where new 'Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy' - approved and published in January and set to come into force on 1 May 2021 - herald the arrival of a new era of intense repression and severe persecution. To operate legally, anyone who engages in 'religious teaching activities' will require a 'clergy card' showing they are registered in the national database of Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-authorised clergy.
COMMENT: Christian clergy in China have long had to decide whether or not they can work within the official CCP-approved Church. Those who had decided they could, will now have to decide whether or not they are prepared to work for the CCP, doing its bidding, as its agents. The new 'Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy' will unleash a period of severe persecution in which many Christian teachers and evangelists will be imprisoned, and much of the Church will be driven underground. However, as is commonly the case with persecution, it will also sort the sheep from the goats - and the CCP can keep the goats! Our Sovereign God has a plan for the Chinese Church and HE is preparing her for his 'great commission'. But as this painful sorting of church leaders takes place, the Church in China will need our prayers.
FEBRUARY 2021 ROUND-UP - also this month
* AUSTRALIA: 'ANTI-CONVERSION' BILL PASSES IN VICTORIA.
On 4 February the Victorian State government's 'Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practises Prohibition Bill' passed in the Upper House, 27 votes to 9, without amendments. The Bill received Royal Assent on 16 February and will come into force in 12 months. Once the Bill is enacted, anyone found trying to suppress or change another person's sexuality or gender identity will face a fine of up to $10,000 and/or a prison term of up to 10 years if it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt that their actions caused 'serious injury' (defined as life threatening or prolonged physical or mental harm). During the debate, a member of the Council asked Victoria's Attorney General (AG) if the government planned to 'educate' and 'upskill' religious groups and practitioners. The AG confirmed that 'VEOHRC [Victoria Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission] will be providing education, materials and advice to religious organisations ...'
COMMENT: In the decades to come, many victims of the 'enlightened' West's 'progressive' (neo-Marxist) ideology will realise they have been fed a barrage of lies. For in truth, moral integrity does matter, and God's way is good - for individuals, for families, for communities, for cultures and indeed, good for the whole of creation. Confused, disillusioned, even physically mutilated, yet still unfulfilled, many will hunger for truth, healing, and refuge. Churches that opt to take the easy road today - drifting comfortably in the current of idolatrous, hedonistic popular culture - will ultimately find themselves on the wrong side of history. However, churches that opt to stand firm through trial - preaching truth, following Jesus (the 'friend of sinners' (Matt. 9:9-13) and preparing for that day when the tide turns and disillusionment floods in - will ultimately reap their reward. Please pray.
'If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.' (Isaiah 7:9b ESV)
* CHINA: STORM BREWS IN HEBEI PROVINCE
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports (19 Feb) that a rumour spreading through the north-eastern province of Hebei (which surrounds Beijing) that the January 2021 coronavirus outbreak in Hebei Province originated in an 'underground' church has triggered 'a storm of online hostility towards Christians'. The outbreak of the fast-spreading variant put 28 million people into lockdown and forced the authorities to build a 3000-ward isolation centre. According to CSW, many online comments made reference to the Boxer Rebellion, claimed Christians were 'arrogant' and criticised the government for failing to contain 'underground' churches which, they insist, only exist to make money. Some online commentators called for 'such churches to be completely disbanded'. As CSW notes, online speech is closely monitored and strictly controlled in China. Consequently, the fact that the inflammatory rumour and aggressive anti-Christian speech was allowed to continue uncensored for several days leaves some to suspect that the authorities might be seeking grounds to justify a more severe crackdown on Christianity. Deeply alarmed, many Christians in Hebei believe a 'harsh storm against them is steadily brewing'. Please pray.
* IRAN: PRESIDENT SIGNS LAW TO FACILITATE PERSECUTION
On 18 February Iranian president Hassan Rouhani signed into law two controversial amendments to Iran's Penal Code. The new law will enter into force 15 days after its publication in the Official Gazette. The amendments affect Articles 499 and 500, the articles most commonly used in the prosecution of converts. Previously, Article 500 set a sentence of three months to one year for anyone found guilty of 'propaganda against the order of the Islamic Republic of Iran or propaganda for the benefit of groups or institutions against the order'. The amended Article 500 provides for up to five years' imprisonment for 'any deviant educational or proselytising activity' by members of so-called 'sects' that 'contradicts or interferes with the sacred law of Islam' through 'mind-control methods and psychological indoctrination' or 'making false claims or lying in religious and Islamic spheres, such as claiming divinity'. As human rights lawyer Hossein Ahmadiniaz laments, 'The law should protect citizens ... But in Iran the law has become a tool to justify the government's violent treatment of converts and other unrecognised minorities.'
* ISRAEL, WEST BANK: CHRISTIAN DOCTOR BRUTALISED
Dr Salamah Qumsieh (53, a Christian) heads the Obstetrics and Gynaecology (Ob/Gyn) Department in Bethlehem's Holy Family Hospital. Located in the West Bank, Bethlehem is administered by the Palestinian Authority. On 12 February Dr Salamah was attacked in broad daylight in one of Bethlehem's main streets by a militant Islamist named Khader Odeh, who tried to crush the doctor's head and sever his hands. Surgeons spent ten hours reconnecting veins and tendons in both hands while simultaneously dealing with a neck injury. Though his hands were saved, the injuries ensure Dr Salamah will never again be able to practise medicine. Please pray.
This is the second time Khader Odeh has attempted to kill the Christian doctor. A member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Khader Odeh has reportedly 'been terrorising the Christians in the Bethlehem area for more than four years'. He operates with impunity, protected by the Palestinian security apparatus. He also 'leads a big gang of bullies from Aida Camp and sends them for operations against Christian targets'.
Since leaving hospital Dr. Salameh has reportedly been threatened with death should he escalate the situation any further. Similarly, an activist from East Jerusalem who reported the attack was subsequently kidnapped by Palestinian police and forced to sign a written pledge not to criticise the Palestinian Authority on social media forums again. Paralysed by fear, Bethlehem's Christian leaders maintain the silence of the dhimmi - that is, a Christian who is subjugated under Islam but 'protected' in exchange for loyalty. Meanwhile, counter-terrorism analyst Samir A Zedan reports, the fear in Bethlehem's Christian community is palpable. Please pray.
* NIGERIA: AT RISK OF BECOMING A FAILED STATE
With poverty and insecurity perpetually increasing, Nigeria is 'at risk of becoming a failed state'. Kidnappings, terrorism and ethnic cleansing continue apace.
LEAH SHARIBU, THREE YEARS A CAPTIVE
On 19 February 2018 Islamic jihadists from Boko Haram swept into Dapchi town, Yobe State, northern Nigeria, and kidnapped 110 girls, mostly Muslim, from Dapchi's Government Girls' Science and Technical College. On 21 March the jihadists returned 104 girls to their families. Five girls had died, and one, Leah Sharibu (15) was retained as a prisoner because she 'refused to cooperate' and convert to Islam [RLPB 448 (28 March 2018)]. Today, three years later, Leah is alive but remains in captivity. Please pray for Leah Sharibu and her family.
* PAKISTAN: MORE BLASPHEMY CASES
Police in Karachi have charged a Christian nurse with blasphemy, despite concluding there was no evidence against her. On 28 January hospital staff slapped, beat and locked Tabeeta Nazir Gill (42) in a room after a colleague accused her of blasphemy. Investigating police concluded that the accusation was false and based on a personal vendetta arising from an incident in which Tabeeta had to remind a Muslim colleague that hospital protocol prohibits nurses from taking money from patients. Regardless, the police relented after the complainant, Saba Wasi, called on Muslim leaders who then mobilised a mob to besiege the police station. Tabeeta Nazir Gill and her family have since gone into hiding. Please pray.
On 13 February Muslims accused friends Haroon Ayub Masih and Salamat Mansha Masih (both aged around 26) of blasphemy after finding them reading the Bible together in Lahore's Model Town Park. After requesting Christian literature and then accepting the gift of a book, the Muslims also accused the two Christian men of proselytism. The Muslim then called upon Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a far-right Islamist political party, whose leaders then pressured police to register a case against the two Christians. Please pray.
* SUDAN: WILL CHRISTIAN SECURITY PROVE TO BE A MIRAGE?
On 19 February Sudanese intelligence officers seized Mr Osama Saeed Kodi, chairman of the Christian Youth Union in Gezira State (also spelt Al Jazirah). Handcuffed and blindfolded, Mr Kodi was taken away, held incommunicado, severely beaten, interrogated and threatened. Mr Kodi has been actively involved in assisting the Sudanese Church of Christ, following an arson attack that destroyed its building in Tamboul (135 km south-east of Khartoum) in Gezira State on 3 January. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports, 'On 18 February, the day before his arrest, Mr Kodi had met with Sudan's General Prosecutor during his visit to the state, and a press conference on the plight of the church was scheduled to take place on the day he was detained.' Security officers threatened Mr Kodi with death should he continue to advocate on behalf of the church. The beating has left Mr Kodi with painful injuries to his chest and right leg. When the church in Tamoul was torched on 3 January, it became the ninth church to be struck by arson since January 2019. Compounding the crisis, Muslim leaders are refusing to allow the churches to be rebuilt. Impunity is only adding fuel to the fire. Morning Star News reports (17 Feb), 'Christians in Sudan are concerned that persecution is continuing under a transitional government that has promoted religious liberty.' Please pray.