Date: April 27, 2022
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 642
APRIL 2022 UPDATE
by Elizabeth Kendal
The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:5b-6 ESV)
DURING THIS PERIOD, WE PRAYED CONCERNING:
* INDIA [RLPB 640 (6 April)], where Hindu nationalists are using the issue of conversion to Christianity as a wedge to divide and conquer traditionally Congress-allied tribal peoples and draw the traditionally Congress-voting tribal animists into the vote-bank of the anti-conversion BJP. We prayed especially for pastors in Chhattisgarh's south-western Bijapur District, after one of 22 named, warned, and threatened pastors, was brutally murdered at his home in front of his family. Please pray.
(1) ODISHA: EASTER ATTACK
A pastor in Odisha (north-east India) told International Christian Concern (20 April) how a mob of some 100 radical Hindu nationalists burst into a Christian home in Markapalli village, Malkangiri District, Odisha State (close to the border of volatile south Chhattisgarh) while an Easter worship service was in progress. The mob beat the congregation with sticks, injuring several Christians including women and children and harassed them for more than an hour before police arrived at the scene. While the church was being attacked, another group looted and ransacked three other houses belonging to the believers. Such attacks are now commonplace in today's Hindu nationalist India. Please pray.
(2) KARNATAKA: CHRISTIAN SCHOOL ACCUSED
Founded in 1914 by British missionaries, Clarence High School in Karnataka's capital, Bengaluru (Bangalore), is unashamedly Christian. Around 75 percent of all students come from the Christian community. A Hindu nationalist outfit named Hindu Janajagruti Samithi (HJS) has accused Clarence High School of violating the Karnataka Education Act by 'forcing' non-Christian students to read the Bible in school. The issue has created a storm in Karnataka, where the parliament is considering enacting anti-conversion legislation.
The controversy revolves around a sub-section in Clarence High School's rule book. Entitled 'Parents' declarations', it states: 'You affirm that your child will attend all classes including Morning Assembly, Scriptures Class [year levels 1 through 9] and Clubs for his or her own moral and spiritual welfare and will not object to carrying the Bible and Hymn book during his/her stay at Clarence High school.' Hindu nationalists allege 'religious conspiracy and coercion', but parents and alumni refute that, telling News18 (25 April) that they signed the undertaking freely and have no objection to their children learning Christian scripture. HJS deems this a 'conspiracy for conversion of students' and is calling for 'strict action against convent schools'. HJS said it will submit a complaint to the Primary Education Minister and if the government doesn't act on the complaint, then HJS 'will file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the court.' This is nothing but a blatant attempt to sow division in, and incite opposition against, India's Christian schools. Please pray.
* IRAN [RLPB 641 (20 April)], after two Christian women - Sakineh and Fariba - commenced serving two-year jail terms for establishing and leading house-churches; and three Christian men - Ahmed, Morteza and Ayoub - were sentenced to five years' jail for 'engaging in propaganda and education of deviant beliefs contrary to the holy Sharia'. In reality, the men had done nothing more than attend a house-church for prayer and worship; they will appeal. Please pray. We also prayed concerning Iran's proposed Internet Bill which is currently being debated in parliament. If passed the bill will turn Iran into 'an internet black hole', making communications and ministry exceedingly difficult for Iran's persecuted Church.
UPDATE: ANOTHER CONVERT ARRESTED, FAMILY HARASSED
Early on Monday 18 April, in the town of Anzali on the Caspian Sea (a 39km drive from Rasht), officers from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) raided the home of Christian convert Rahmat Rostamipour (49). They confiscated Bibles, books, phones, computers and other property and took Rahmat into custody. According to Article18 (21 April): 'the authorities had [also] intended to arrest Rahmat's wife, Azar, but refrained from detaining her because the raid had brought on a panic attack in the couple's teenage daughter.' The couple's 13-year-old son was also present during the raid. Azar was subsequently summoned to the MOIS office in Anzali where she was interrogated for several hours. Article 18 reports: 'The couple have not been formally charged, but during Azar's questioning she was informally accused of "propaganda against the regime through involvement in house-church activities".' Please pray.
APRIL 2022 ROUND-UP - also this month:
* ALGERIA: ANOTHER CHURCH CLOSED
On 6 April leaders of the Aouchiche Church - a 300-member Protestant church in the port city of Bejaïa, in Bejaïa Province, Kabylia Region - were ordered to cease operations effective immediately, as per an administrative closure order issued by the Wali (Governor) on 21 March. A member of the officially recognised eglise Protestante d'Algerie (EPA: Protestant Church of Algeria), the Aouchiche Church becomes the 17th EPA church closed by order of the authorities since 2017. Middle East Concern notes: 'During the same time period, at least twelve Christians have been convicted on faith-related charges, including blasphemy and proselytism. They have received prison sentences between six months and five years. With increased government targeting, several other churches and individual Christians involved in court cases anticipate negative verdicts.' Please pray for the Church in Algeria.
* CUBA: PASTOR JAILED FOR EIGHT YEARS
Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo, with his wife Maridilegnis Carballo. CSW
When unprecedented protests broke out in Cuba in July 2021 - initially in response to the country's economic crises, but increasingly against the Communist Party's misrule - the authorities responded with a brutal crackdown. Peaceful protesters were beaten in the streets and hundreds were arrested. While most were subsequently released, Reverend Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo was not. A month after his arrest, Pastor Lorenzo was transferred to Boniato Maximum Security Prison where, as Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports (12 April), 'he and the other men in the group of transferees ... were handed over to a group of prisoners who beat and sexually assaulted them. The pastor survived the organised attack and was not sexually assaulted himself, but described it as 'one of the most terrifying and terrible experiences of his life.' In early April Pastor Lorenzo was informed that he had been sentenced to eight years in jail on charges of 'public disorder', 'criminal incitement', 'disrespect' and 'assault'. His wife, Maridilegnis Carballo has only been permitted a few brief visits. The couple have two children, David (18) and Lorena (12). Many suspect that a senior Communist Party official with a long-held vendetta against the evangelical pastor is behind the false charges and manifestly unjust sentence. Please pray.
* IRAQ: CHRISTIANITY ALIVE DESPITE STRUGGLE AND THREAT
In June 2014 Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (greater Syria) stormed and seized Mosul, the capital of Iraq's Nineveh Province, forcing around 1000 Christian families to flee for their lives. After declaring their Caliphate, Islamic State proceeded to ethnically cleanse and occupy the Nineveh Plains, forcing around 100,000 Assyrians to flee alongside withdrawing Kurdish forces, into Iraqi Kurdistan. Since the region was liberated in 2017-18, Christians have tentatively trickled back to attempt the daunting job of rebuilding. After two years of COVID restrictions, Assyrian Christians were eager to celebrate Easter in Assyria's historic heartland, the Nineveh Plains.
St Kyriakos Chaldean Catholic Church, Batnaya, Nineveh Plains, Easter 2022
Demolished by IS in 2014, the now rebuilt St Kyriakos Chaldean Catholic Church in Batnaya (north of Mosul) opened its doors this Easter for the first time in eight years. More than 500 attended the Saturday Easter Vigil. Parish deacon Pastor Basim told Aid to the Church in Need: 'We had worked so hard to get to this stage and the place was so full there were people in the aisles.' In Qaraqosh/Bakhdida (east of Mosul), an estimated 20,000 Assyrian Christians joined the 10 April Palm Sunday procession. Iraqi priest Naim Shoshandy (who now lives in Spain) told Catholic media: 'I thank God because what we saw on Sunday shows us that Christianity is alive in Iraq.' However, the situation in Mosul is 'very different', and Christians generally have not yet been able to return. He said that in Mosul they are happy just to have 'the great gift of being able to ring the bells, announcing that in our churches the faith is celebrated'.
Thousands of Assyrian Christians celebrate Palm Sunday in Qaraqosh/Bakhdida, Nineveh Plains, 10 April 2022.
(Credit: Twitter Father Naim Shoshandy; via Crux Now 13 April)
However, as Shoshandy explained, despite the moving images from Palm Sunday in Qaraqosh, Christians in Iraq are still not safe. Indeed, according to Jamestown Foundation (22 April), an estimated 8000 IS fighters are still positioned in Iraq; around half are active and around half belong to sleeper cells. That said, the greatest threat to Christians remains systemic discrimination, violent persecution, and land grabbing, as Iraqi Arab (Sunni), Kurdish (Sunni) and Shabak (Shi'ite) Muslims, and Iranian paramilitaries exploit Assyrian weakness with impunity. Please pray.
* NIGERIA: PALM SUNDAY MASSACRE
Mass burial of 106 victims
Naija Times (14 April)
On Palm Sunday 10 April a huge contingent of armed Fulani Muslims stormed ten unsuspecting, mixed but predominantly Christian, ethnic Berom communities in Plateau State's historically peaceful Kanam Local Government Area (LGA). According to a report in Nigeria's Daily Trust (13 April), the attackers arrived at around 11am, on at least 70 motorcycles - each of which carried a driver and at least one shooter. Not only were the terrorists armed with sophisticated weapons, but they displayed sophisticated planning, in that they blocked entry/exit points and destroyed telecommunications masts before unleashing their killing spree which continued unhindered until around 3pm. The killings were not entirely indiscriminate, for the terrorists only targeted men, leaving women and children alive, albeit traumatised and vulnerable. Most men were shot dead as they attempted to flee; others were killed in their homes. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (13 April) puts the toll at more than 142 dead, 156 injured and 70 abducted. On Monday 11 April, 106 victims were given a mass burial. Nigerian media reports that more than 5000 residents have been displaced, although 'ethnically cleansed' might be a more accurate description. Please pray.
* PAKISTAN: TTP LAUNCHES SPRING OFFENSIVE
Update to RLPB 632, Christians in Peshawar Gravely Imperilled, 9 Feb 2022
On 30 March the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) announced it would launch its spring offensive during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (1 April - 1 May) to target security forces and their collaborators. The TTP is based in Pakistan's north-west tribal areas, but also has sanctuary over the border in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. After numerous Pakistani police and soldiers were killed in a string of TTP attacks, the Pakistani government responded on 16 April by sending military helicopters to attack TTP safe havens in Afghanistan's Kunar and Khost Provinces. At least 36 people were killed, including 20 children. The Afghan Taliban, which has never accepted the Durand Line (the British drawn Af-Pak border) is furious. With terrorism escalating in Pakistan's north-west - particular in Peshawar and Khyber tribal district (between Peshawar and the Afghan border) - the exposed and vulnerable Christians of Peshawar desperately need our prayers. Please pray.
'Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who do me violence, my deadly enemies who surround me.' (Psalm 17:8,9 ESV)
* SUDAN: CHURCH ATTACKED; PASTOR JAILED.
On Palm Sunday 10 April, three Islamic extremists attacked a church in Hajj Abd Allah, a town on the Blue Nile 250 km south-east of Khartoum in Gezira State. The believers were praying inside the church when the Muslims struck, destroying property and beating Pastor Estefanos/Stephanou and three women. All four required medical treatment. Middle East Concern (MEC) reports (22 April): 'A police officer among the extremists has also filed a court case against Pastor Estefanos for disturbing public order and a general noise complaint. Pastor Estefanos was detained but later released on bail.' Morning Star News reports that on 25 April, 'Judge Awad Ibrahim Kury, a Muslim, found Pastor Stephanou Adil Kujo and assailant Ibrahim Kodi guilty of disturbing the peace under Article 69 of Sudan's 1991 penal code and sentenced them to one month in jail beginning April 25.' Ibrahim Kodi is the assailant locally known as "Banaga" and was also sentenced to a month in jail. The Christians' attorney, Shanabo Awad, said the sentence to Pastor Estefanos is unfair and will be appealed. Please pray.
BASHIR LOYALISTS REHABILITATED
Al-Monitor reports (19 April) that, since the military coup of October 2021, the junta has been busy rehabilitating Bashir loyalists and re-building the former regime. Numerous loyalists, including senior officials in former president Omar al-Bashir's now banned National Congress Party (NCP), have been acquitted, been released from prison, had confiscated assets returned, been appointed to high state positions and re-instated throughout the government. Many suspect the NCP will be revived, albeit with a new name. This party will then support Generals Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti) as they lead the country back to Islamist, military rule. According to Al-Monitor, 'activists, lawyers and journalists are struggling to keep track of the process in light of the speed at which it is taking place'. The Al-Monitor article is a must-read for anyone following the situation in Sudan. Please pray.
Coup generals bring back party of Sudan's ousted dictator
By Marc Espanol, Al-Monitor, 19 April 2022.