Published: 00:00 GMT Standard Time - Monday 02 March 2009
Prayer Focus 03/09
NIGERIA - NINE CHRISTIANS KILLED IN BAUCHI PROVINCE
An outbreak of violence on 20 February between Muslims and Christians in Bauchi city, the capital of Bauchi state in Northern Nigeria, has left at least nine Christians dead. Six of them were shot and three killed with machetes. At least six churches, perhaps as many as 13, have been burnt down, as well as three mosques. For further details please see our recent press release (here).
• Please pray for the families of the murdered Christians and for the churches in the region, and ask that order will quickly be restored. Pray that Nigerian Christians will respond to violent attacks on them in a peaceable and Christ-like way.
KAZAKHSTAN - PROPOSED LAW ON RELIGION DECLARED UNCONSTITUTIONAL
The Constitutional Council of Kazakhstan announced on 11 February that a draft law that would severely restrict freedom of religion and belief is unconstitutional. The head of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, Yevgeni Zhovtis, has said this judgment implies that the current law on religion is also contrary to the constitution.
The Council cited Article 39 of the constitution, which forbids any restrictions of the rights and freedoms stipulated in certain other articles. These include Article 14, which states that "no-one shall be subject to any discrimination for reasons of origin, property status, occupation, sex, race, nationality, language, attitude towards religion, convictions, place of residence or any other circumstances", and Article 19, which requires that "everyone shall have the right to determine and indicate or not indicate his national, party and religious affiliation". The chair of the Council said that the draft law violated the equality of all citizens before the law by imposing different conditions for registration on faiths "previously unknown in Kazakhstan".
Zhovtis said that in response to this judgment the Kazakh Parliament should now abolish all current limitations on freedom of religion and belief, and specifically the ban on the unregistered dissemination of religious views. Officials encourage intolerance towards religious minorities and towards the free expression of thought and conscience. They frequently flout Kazakh law and violate citizens' rights.
Churches that refuse on principle to register with the authorities face the most serious forms of harassment. On 4 February one pastor was fined for unregistered religious activity, and his church was banned permanently. Previous bans have been imposed for no more than six months. The judge, however, welcomed the possibility that the current law on religion might now be reviewed, and said that the pastor should include this in his complaint against her decision.
The President now has up to one month to respond to the decision of the Council. He can challenge any aspect of it, but amendments can be effected only with the support of two-thirds of the Council members.
• Give thanks for the decision of the Constitutional Council. Please pray both that the new law will be revised or abandoned, and that the existing law will be amended to allow a greater measure of religious freedom.
• Pray for the pastor and congregation whose activities have been banned, that they may soon be able to meet for worship without harassment by the authorities.
SAUDI - ARABIA CHRISTIAN BLOGGER ARRESTED
Authorities in Saudi Arabia have repeatedly detained a 28-year-old blogger, Hamoud Bin Saleh, for writing about his conversion from Islam to Christianity on his website.
Bin Saleh was originally arrested in January 2008 and held at a political prison in Riyadh, on the basis of his "opinions" and the announcement of his conversion on his blog. Officials detained him again on two subsequent occasions, and they also blocked the blog. He was released most recently in November 2008 at the time of an inter-faith meeting at the UN initiated by Saudi Arabia, perhaps in the interests of good public relations, but he was re-arrested immediately afterwards.
Although the Saudi government seems concerned to present itself as tolerant of non-Muslims, through its sponsorship of inter-faith dialogue, in practice it allows no freedom of religion, and Christians are subject to discrimination, harassment and abuse. Saudi law is based on sharia, and it prescribes the death sentence for apostates from Islam. In the summer of 2008 a member of the religious police burned his sister to death after she converted to Christianity. Bin Saleh is therefore in considerable danger, both in prison and outside it.
• Pray for Hamoud Bin Saleh, that he will persevere in his faith in Christ despite the persecution that he is suffering. Pray that he will soon be released, that the authorities will stop harassing him, and that God will protect him from private reprisals.
• Pray that the Saudi government's desire for good relations with other countries will lead it to acknowledge the existence of religious minorities, and to grant them a measure of freedom. Pray that it will renounce the death sentence for apostasy from Islam.
IRAQ - SECULAR PARTIES MAKE GAINS IN REGIONAL ELECTIONS
In what is potentially a good outcome for Christians in Iraq, the regional elections of 31 January produced significant gains for secular parties, and especially for religious parties that had adopted a more secular stance.
Voters in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces rejected alliances of overtly religious groups in favour of lists that promised security, better services and strong central government. The most prominent secular alliance, led by a former premier, made strong progress in several provinces. The leaders of several Islamic coalitions - including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki - tried hard to keep their faith out of their campaigns, and their lists enjoyed the biggest victories.
The Iraqi electorate is believed to be disenchanted with the religious parties because of their association with the worst years of sectarian violence in the country. Clashes between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims have ravaged the country, and the religious parties elected in 2005 have failed to provide adequate services or security for the population.
The churches of Iraq have suffered grievously in the years of unrest, with many Christians forced to flee from their homes and take refuge in other countries. The defeat of explicitly Islamic parties, and particularly of Islamists, holds some promise of greater stability, equality and protection for them. At present Christians have only three guaranteed seats out of 440 on the Regional Councils.
• Give thanks for God's overruling in the elections, and that the strongly Islamic parties lost ground to others. Pray that this trend will continue.
• Pray for the new provincial governments, that they will succeed in restoring order in their areas, and in providing better security and services for their people.
• Pray for Iraq's Christian community, that the Lord will sustain it in the current unstable conditions, and that better governance will allow it to flourish once again.
TURKEY - SCHOOL TEXTBOOK ENCOURAGES PREJUDICE AND DISCRIMINATION
The Ministry of Education in Turkey has introduced a new textbook into its schools that encourages discrimination against the country's small Christian community. The book is aimed at 13-year-olds, and is published by Devlet [State] Books.
The text alleges that mission work destroys national and cultural values by converting people to other religions, and that it is therefore a threat to the country's unity. Missionaries are accused of using natural disasters, such as earthquakes, to serve their own interests. The book warns children of such people's (supposedly) subversive aims, and it offers advice on how to recognise their activities.
A representative of an inter-church alliance said, "To the Turkish state and society, the words 'missionary activity' encapsulate not only the work of foreign missionaries, but all Christian activity in the country. The state and various groups have for years, through endless disinformation, spread the belief that Turkish Christians are part of a secret foreign plot to destroy Turkey. This is the same mindset that has led to numerous attacks on our churches by young people who are convinced that we are CIA agents or similar."
The constitution of Turkey grants freedom of religion to individuals, but the Christian minority frequently complains of ingrained prejudice against it. Sometimes this prejudice spills over into violence.
• Pray for the Christians in Turkey, that God may give them patience in the face of discrimination, and grace to challenge the negative view of them in society at large.
• Pray too for the young people using the new textbook, that they may have discernment to sift truth from falsehood, and grow up to live in peace with their Christian neighbours.
PAKISTAN - CHRISTIAN GIRL GANG-RAPED AT GUNPOINT
On 7 February an impoverished 13-year-old Christian girl in the Punjab province of Pakistan was gang-raped at gunpoint by five Islamic extremists.
The incident happened in a village in the Sangla Hill region, as the girl went to put out some rubbish. Two men kidnapped her and took her by force to their nearby farmhouse, where three others were waiting. After being assaulted by them for several hours she was in a critical condition. Eventually her family tracked her down and knocked at the farmhouse, but the men escaped through the back door.
At the request of a Christian lawyer, a judge ordered a medical examination, which confirmed that the girl had been molested. But although a case was registered against the alleged rapists, twelve days after the attack no-one had been detained.
Violent assaults by Muslim men on Christian girls and women in Pakistan are sadly frequent. Last month two Christian girls were freed by police after they were kidnapped, sold as sex slaves and forcibly converted to Islam. Sangla Hill has been the scene of several attacks on churches and other Christian institutions in recent years.
• Please pray for the Christian girl who was attacked, that God will heal and comfort her following her traumatic experience. Pray that her attackers will be brought to justice.
• Pray for the Lord's protection on Christian women and girls throughout Pakistan, and that the police will make it a priority to assist those who have been kidnapped.
UZBEKISTAN - CHRISTIAN LITERATURE CONFISCATED IN RAID
In the first months of 2009 the Uzbek authorities have been confiscating Christian literature across the country. They are also considering whether to bring administrative or even criminal charges against those found in possession of it.
On 1 February the district police in Tashkent raided the flat of Alla Saakyants, mother-in-law of Marat Litvinchuk, a state-employed electrician. They confiscated his 67 Christian books, 223 CDs and DVDs of Christian films and sermons, and a computer hard disk. A police inspector involved in the raid said that it was for the purpose of passport control, which Uzbek law permits "anywhere and anytime". But he added that the police also need to check if Christian books and other material have been authorised by the state Religious Affairs Committee. If Litvinchuk's are not, criminal charges may be brought against him and his family.
An unnamed source from Tashkent claims that nine days later the secret police called the senior manager of the State Property Maintenance Agency and demanded that he fire Litvinchuk. The electrician was compelled to write a letter "voluntarily" resigning from his post. The manager has denied any knowledge of why Litvinchuk left his job.
The Religious Affairs Committee is responsible for the censorship and "expert assessment" of all religious literature in Uzbekistan. Its work is part of a powerful network of state controls on all religious activities.
• Pray for Marat Litvinchuk, that he may be able to find another job. Pray that his property will be returned to him, and that he will be able to nurture his faith without further harassment from the authorities.
• Pray for a relaxation of the stringent restrictions on Christian life in Uzbekistan, that the light of the Gospel may shine brightly in the darkness of that nation.