Published: 00:00 GMT Standard Time - Thursday 23 December 2010
Prayer Focus 01/11
- IRAQ - UNFOLDING TRAGEDY FOR CHRISTIANS
- INDIA - FOUR ATTACKS ON CHRISTIANS IN ONE DAY
- PAKISTAN - BOUNTY ISSUED BY MUSLIM CLERIC FOR AASIA BIBI
- INDONESIA - WORSHIPPERS FORCED TO FLEE THEIR HOMES
- IRAN - PASTOR FACES DEATH FOR APOSTASY
- VIETNAM - CHRISTIANS AT PRAYER ATTACKED BY POLICE
- EUROPE - REPORT DETAILS ANTI-CHRISTIAN DISCRIMINATION
IRAQ - UNFOLDING TRAGEDY FOR CHRISTIANS
Since the horrific siege at a church in Baghdad in October (see Prayer Focus Update, December 2010), murderers have continued their relentless campaign against Christians, targeting them in their homes and workplaces. In late November Christian brothers Saad and Raad Hannah were shot dead in their car workshop in Mosul. This followed the assassination of two other Christians when gunmen burst into their Mosul home. On 5 December, four men raided the Baghdad home of an elderly Christian couple, Hikmat and Samira Sammak, and their daughter and shot them all with silenced pistols.
Fearing for their lives, hundreds of Christian families are fleeing Baghdad and Mosul in waves, either leaving the country altogether or heading to the northern cities. The refugees leave behind their homes, possessions and work. Although the authorities have promised to give $400 to every family who moves, some are saying that this is not enough to cover even one month’s rent for a flat in the north.
Barnabas Fund has received a heart-rending report from a senior church leader who organises care for Iraqi Christian refugees in Syria. The report says, “Their conditions are no longer bearable. The people are living behind locked doors... In some of the cities even the streets are almost empty of Christians... It is as if they are in prison... Fear rules over all situations and in all places.”
On 1 December all the representatives of Christian communities withdrew from the Erbil Conference for Coexistence and Social Tolerance, which was organised by the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry. Their refusal to take part was to express their anger at and condemnation of the continued targeting of Christians in Iraq and a demonstration against the government regarding their apparent lack of concern for the security of Christians.
A senior Iraqi church leader has reported to Barnabas Fund that a number of churches in Mosul have cancelled their planned Christmas services because of the great danger of anti-Christian violence at Christmas.
- Pray that the Lord will comfort the families of those who were murdered in the last few months.
- Pray for His provision for families who leave their homes in search of safety and for protection and peace for those Christians who choose to stay in their homes.
- Pray that the international community will recognise its responsibilities to the persecuted Christians of Iraq and take urgent action to help them.
INDIA - FOUR ATTACKS ON CHRISTIANS IN ONE DAY
Christians in Karnataka State, India were subject to a day of attacks by Hindu extremists on Sunday 5 December. In the Kenger Upanagara slum in Bangalore, around 50 Christians were threatened and terrorised when extremists attacked their church. In the district of Shimoga, four Christians were dragged from their churches and beaten up in two separate incidents. The victims were then arrested by the police on false charges of trying to convert Hindus. That same day a group of 40 extremists surrounded another church in Bangalore, throwing stones and shouting anti-Christian slogans.
Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, said the incidents were “reflective of the insecurity of the vulnerable minority Christian community”, and stated that such violence was “an indication of the climate of fear, persecution and harassment and terror in which Christians must practise their faith” in Karnataka.
Karnataka is governed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which came to power in May 2008. Since then there have been more than 200 anti-Christian incidents.
- Pray for those Christians who were threatened or assaulted in the incidents on 5 December; pray that the Lord will grant them strength and grace to forgive their attackers.
- Pray for all Christian believers in India, that they will be free to worship the Lord without persecution.
PAKISTAN - BOUNTY ISSUED BY MUSLIM CLERIC FOR AASIA BIBI
A Muslim imam has offered a 500,000 rupee (£3,800; US$5,800; €4,400) reward to anyone who kills Aasia Bibi if the court fails to hang her. Aasia, a Pakistani Christian woman, was sentenced to death in November under Pakistan’s notorious “blasphemy law” (see Prayer Focus Update, December 2010). She appealed to President Asif Zardari for clemency but the Lahore High Court subsequently blocked the government from pardoning her while the case is pending appeal in the courts. She will be executed only if the High Court upholds her sentence; no date has yet been set for the appeal hearing.
Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, who is also a Christian, said the bounty is “immoral, unjust and irresponsible” and should be condemned in the ”strongest possible manner”.
In late November, a prominent government minster, Sherry Rehman, submitted a private member's bill proposing amendments to the contentious blasphemy law, including a proposal that the death sentence be reduced to a 10-year imprisonment.
Such a move is highly likely to incur the wrath of many of the country’s Muslims. On 8 December, a number of political and religious groups in Pakistan announced that a campaign to protect the blasphemy law would be launched and called for countrywide protests on 24 December.
- Please continue to pray that Aasia Bibi and her family will find comfort and support in the Lord at this extremely difficult time.
- Pray especially for protection for Aasia, in light of the price that has now been put on her life. Since 1990 at least ten Pakistanis accused of blasphemy have been murdered while their cases were being considered; none was officially executed.
- Pray that the government will abolish the blasphemy law and not give in to pressure from the country’s Muslim groups.
INDONESIA - WORSHIPPERS FORCED TO FLEE THEIR HOMES
A group of Muslims staged angry protests outside a number of houses in Rancaekek Wetan village near Jakarta on Sunday 12 December. More than 100 members of the Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) were forced to leave as the mob, backed by police, surrounded their homes to protest against “unauthorised religious services”.
Local police chief Hendro Pandowo acknowledged that the situation in the village was tense. He said that the Christians did not have a permit to use the houses as places of worship, but the Muslims had obtained a permit to hold the protest. He added, “If the place was legally designated as a church, we’d provide security protection. Otherwise, we can’t do much as it’s against the law.” The Christians argue that they are forced to hold services inside their homes because local authorities have refused or ignored a number of requests to approve a place of worship for them.
The Christians appealed to President Yudhoyono for protection on 13 December; the congregation have been attacked a number of times as they have tried to meet for fellowship. In September, one of the church's leaders was stabbed (see Prayer Focus Update, October 2010).
- Pray for protection for the congregation of HKBP church, who have said they will continue to worship in their houses, despite the recent protests.
- US President Barack Obama said in October that Indonesia was “a model of religious tolerance”. Pray that President Yudhoyono and the local authorities will uphold the religious freedoms enshrined in the country’s constitution and will strive to display religious tolerance, which was such a marked characteristic of Indonesia only a generation ago.
IRAN - PASTOR FACES DEATH FOR APOSTASY
Youcef Nadarkhani (33), father of two and a pastor in the northern city of Rasht in Iran, has been sentenced to death for apostasy.
He was arrested in October 2009 after he objected to the teaching of Islam to Christian children in schools and was held in detention until his trial in September 2010. He was formally charged with apostasy and has now been sentenced to death, receiving a written verdict and sentence on 13 November. Apostasy - or renouncing Islam - is not a crime under Iran’s penal code, but the system makes provision for judges to draw on fatwas and Islamic sources where national law is silent. Islamic law states that an adult male apostate should be given the death sentence. Youcef’s lawyer lodged an appeal against the sentence with Iran’s Supreme Court on 5 December.
Although born to Muslim parents, Youcef denies apostasy, saying that he accepted no religion before becoming a Christian aged 19. Nevertheless, according to Islamic law, the child of Muslim parents is considered a Muslim. The indictment against him states, “He has proven his apostasy by organizing evangelistic meetings and inviting others to Christianity, establishing a house church, baptizing people, expressing his faith to others and denying Islamic values.”
Unless the sentence is overturned, Youcef will become the first person in 20 years to be executed for apostasy in Iran. The last person to be given the death sentence for apostasy was Hossein Soodmand, who was hanged in 1990. It is feared that this is part of a growing campaign against Christians and in particular converts from Islam, following a speech by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Speaking to a crowd in Qom on 19 October, Khamenei warned against the network of house churches that “threaten Islamic faith and deceive young Muslims”.
Youcef’s wife Fatemeh Passandideh was also arrested, in June, and sentenced to life imprisonment. She was released on appeal in October after four months in prison.
- Pray that the Lord will bring peace to Youcef and his family throughout this ordeal. Pray that he will be cleared of all charges and released from prison by the Supreme Court.
- Pray for pastor Behrouz Sadegh-Khanjani (33) from Shiraz, Iran, who is also facing a possible indictment for apostasy.
- Pray that Iranian Christians will be free to worship Christ without fear of punishment under the Islamic law of apostasy.
VIETNAM - CHRISTIANS AT PRAYER ATTACKED BY POLICE
At least 22 people were wounded and one man, aged 50, was left crippled when police attacked an open air congregation of Degar Christians on 11 November.
The group of around 100 Christians had gathered in prayer in the village of Ploi Kret Krot, Gia Lai province. Police officers ordered the group to disperse, but when they replied that they were not committing any crime, the police attacked the group, beating men, women and children with sticks and electric batons. Some of the group fled into the nearby forest and were still in hiding weeks later. The police are reported to be patrolling the village, forcing residents to remain indoors.
- Pray for those who were wounded in this attack; pray that the Lord will heal their physical and emotional pain. Pray that those who are still in hiding will be able to return to their homes without fear of further attacks.
- Remember before the Lord the Degar Christians and other minority Christian groups in Vietnam, that the pressure they suffer from the authorities will be alleviated.
A report by an Austrian-based NGO has catalogued wide-ranging examples of anti-Christian discrimination in Europe and the US over the last five years.
The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians highlights such instances as hate crimes against Christians and church buildings, the restriction of freedom of conscience, expression and religion, and interference with employment, education and parental rights. It also notes how Christianity has been marginalised by defamation and insult, negative stereotyping and the suppression or removal of religious symbols.
The report does not claim to be exhaustive but rather states that it gives “impressions of the phenomenon, revealing to the reader its diverse aspects and far-reaching scope”.
The report concludes, “Christianity ... faces acts of intolerance, partly inflicted by small radical groups... It is the duty of the political community to be aware of and tackle the phenomenon of intolerance and discrimination against Christians.” It offers a number of recommendations for governments and institutions and calls for governments to modify legislation that discriminates against Christians.
- Praise the Lord for this report, which highlights the very real persecution that Christians in the West are facing today. Pray that Western governments will consider the recommendations and ensure that Western Christians are not marginalised or mistreated.
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