Published: 15:00 GMT Daylight Time - Friday 28 October 2011
Prayer Focus 11/11
- Kazakhstan – Restrictive new religion law approved
- Egypt – Peaceful protest by Christians turns deadly
- Indonesia – Pressure leads to large-scale church closures
- Iran – Supreme Leader to rule on Pastor Nadarkhani’s case
- Iraq – Attacks on Christians continue but land granted for church
- Pakistan – Christian shot in land dispute; girl escapes Muslim abductors
- USA – Iraqi Christian convert attacked over holocaust poem
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.”1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Kazakhstan – Restrictive new religion law approved
On 13 October, Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev signed two new laws imposing severe restrictions on freedom of religion or belief. Both laws – adopted with what one observer called “unprecedented speed” – are expected to come into force on 24 October.
The new religion law requires all religious groups to re-register with the state under a complex four-tier system. Changes have also been made to another law to widen the range of violations punishable under the religion law. The legislation is being presented by the government as necessary to protect the state from Islamic extremism, but will impact all religions.
Under the new rules, any new place of worship would require the approval of national and local authorities, and the distribution of religious literature would be restricted.
The government previously tried to amend the religion law in 2008, but the proposed changes were blocked by the Constitutional Council the following year.
- Pray for an easing of the restrictive new law. Pray for a change of heart for the authorities, and that the new law will be enforced impartially and with discernment.
- Pray that the Lord will sustain and guide Christians in Kazakhstan.
Egypt – Peaceful protest by Christians turns deadly
Thousands of Egyptian Christians had taken to the streets on Sunday 9 October to protest against the torching of a church (see October Prayer Focus Update) when they came under brutal attack from security forces, Islamists and violent thugs. Video footage shows military vehicles charging at Christians in Maspero Square, Cairo. The protestors were also shot at, beaten and dragged through the streets; 25 people were confirmed dead and hundreds injured.
In a bid to control reporting of the incident, the military forcibly closed at least two independent media outlets, while state television broadcast anti-Christian statements and called for people to take to the streets to “protect” the army.
Although Muslims were among the aggressors, some were also reportedly present to defend the Christians from the security forces and to protest against the military’s continued hold on power. Calls were made for the resignation of the military council.
The following week, generals from the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces denied firing on Christian protestors and running over them in armoured vehicles. Instead, they blamed the Christians for the violence, accusing them of “savage” attacks on the military. But autopsies and forensic reports refute the military’s version of events; a third of the victims – most of whom were Christians – were killed by being run over by armoured vehicles, while two-thirds were shot with live ammunition.
- Pray for all those who have lost loved ones or been injured in the violence. Pray that the Lord will draw close to them and comfort them in their grief and pain.
- Pray for the future of Christians in Egypt – pray especially for justice and equality, and that their rights as citizens will be upheld. Pray that Christians will no longer be subject to unfair treatment.
- Pray for a full restoration of peace between all sections of Egyptian society.
Indonesia – Pressure leads to large-scale church closures
More than 50 churches have been shut down or demolished by the authorities in Indonesia since the start of 2010, often following pressure from Islamist groups, according to the Jakarta Christian Communication Forum (FKKJ).
The official reasons given for the closures were that the buildings were being used as places of worship without a licence or without the minimum required number of 60 worshippers. But, the FKKJ asks, “Why is this only applied to the Christian churches and not other places of worship?” In most cases, measures were taken following protests from radical Muslim groups.
The treatment of GKI Yasmin Church in Bogor, West Java, is a recent example of discrimination by the authorities. The congregation has been holding services on the street in front of its half-constructed church since its building permit was revoked in 2008. Bogor city chiefs, spearheaded by the mayor, have refused to comply with a Supreme Court order issued in December 2010 instructing that the church could be reopened. The mayor has said that churches should not be built on a street with an Islamic name; GKI Yasmin is situated on a road named after an Islamic leader from West Java.
As well as suffering discrimination by the authorities, churches in Indonesia are often attacked by extremists. On 25 September, a suicide bomber detonated explosives at a church in Keputon, Solo, Central Java, as people were leaving the service; 28 were injured in the blast.
- Pray for the congregations of the churches that have been restricted or attacked recently. Pray that the Christians will continue to meet together to worship and witness. Pray for healing for those who were injured in the blast in September.
- Pray that Christians in Indonesia may be a blessing to their society and the nation.
Iran – Supreme Leader to rule on Pastor Nadarkhani’s case
The court that is reconsidering the case of condemned pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has referred it to the country’s Supreme Leader, the ultimate political and religious authority in Iran. Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei will now determine the outcome for Nadarkhani, who has been appealing against his death sentence for apostasy (see August Prayer Focus Update), which was formally issued last November.
The referral is likely further to delay the issuing of a written verdict, which had been expected within a week of Nadarkhani’s latest court hearing in Rasht at the end of September. At that trial, the father of two was asked on three separate occasions to renounce his faith in order to secure an annulment of the charge of apostasy and lifting of the death sentence, but he refused each time.
His lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, said that it was unusual for a judicial case to be forwarded to the Supreme Leader and that he hoped the death sentence would be overturned in keeping with Iran’s international agreements.
The Iranian authorities appear to be trying various tactics, perhaps in response to sustained international pressure to overturn the death sentence and release Nadarkhani. In an apparent attempt to justify the penalty, fabricated charges were levelled at him on 30 September by the deputy governor of Gilan province, where the trial took place; he said that the pastor was a rapist, an extortionist and a Zionist and was guilty of “security-related crimes”, adding, “No one is executed in Iran for their choice of religion.”
- Pray that the Lord will sustain and grant peace to Nadarkhani and his family throughout this ordeal.
- Pray that the pastor will be cleared of all charges and released from prison very soon. Pray that the Iranian government will not enforce the Islamic apostasy law and will allow Christians to live in freedom.
Iraq – Attacks on Christians continue but land granted for church
Two Christians were found dead in three days in northern Iraq. The body of Emmanuel Hanna Paules (60) was found in Kirkuk on 30 September; it appears that he had been strangled and shot. Another Christian, Bassam Eshoo (30), was shot dead by a group of unknown assailants in the restaurant where he worked in Mosul, on 2 October.
These deaths came as three kidnapped Christians were released after the payment of a hefty ransom. Pertus Georges (60), Noweya Yelda (43), Ashor Dawood (61) and their Turkmen companion Junkies Ezzeddine were taken hostage near Kirkuk by unidentified gunmen while on a hunting trip. They were released on 30 September, having been held captive for just over a week.
The killings and kidnappings followed a spate of attacks on churches in Kirkuk. In August 2011, five churches were targeted with bombs in the space of three weeks; two bombs exploded, damaging the church buildings (see September 2011 Prayer Focus Update).
A source in Kirkuk said, “The attacks on Christians continue and the world remains totally silent. It’s as if we’ve been swallowed up by the night.”
But in a rare piece of good news, Christians in the Autonomous Region of Iraqi Kurdistan have been given two acres of land worth US$2 million by the governor of the regional government in Dohuk to build a multi-purpose centre that will include a church, seminary, medical clinic and school. The Grace Baptist Cultural Centre will be built in the town of Simele, with the first phase of the facility scheduled to be completed next year.
- Pray for the grieving families of the two murdered men. Pray that they will find peace and comfort in the Lord Jesus. Give thanks for the release of the men who were kidnapped and pray for healing for them following their ordeal.
- Give thanks for the gift of land for the Grace Baptist Church, and pray that the building work will go smoothly.
- Pray for protection for Iraq’s Christian community, and pray that they may stand firm and continue to affirm their faith in Christ.
Pakistan – Christian shot in land dispute; girl escapes Muslim abductors
A young Pakistani Christian man was shot dead in a violent Muslim takeover of land allocated to a Christian village by the government.
The plot of land had been illegally sold to two Muslims, and when they came to the village in Mian Channu, Punjab, on 5 October to claim the land, they brought around 60 armed men. The mob attacked the female members of one family and as villagers rushed to the aid of the women, the assailants opened fire. Saqib (Sabir) Masih (22) was killed on the spot, and 37 people, including a one-year-old and seven other children, were seriously injured. The attackers occupied the property on the land before the police arrived and arrested 13 armed men; the rest escaped the scene.
In this instance, the police have assured the Christians that they will deal with the incident according to the law, but this is often not the case when Christians are the victims, especially if they are women or girls who have been abducted by Muslim men.
In one example, Amber (12) was kidnapped by two armed Muslim men on 24 December 2010 in Lahore. She was subjected to daily sexual and physical assaults, and forcibly married to one of her Muslim assailants. Amber’s father had reported her abduction to the police, but they took no action.
In early September 2011, Amber managed to escape. After being reunited with her family, she made a statement to a magistrate, but no action was taken for her protection. However, the perpetrators contacted the police and produced a certificate showing that Amber was married to one of the accused. When her parents tried to register a case against the rapists with the police, the officers refused to accept it and said that, as Amber had married and converted to Islam, they should hand her over to her legal husband – despite the fact that it is illegal to marry under the age of 16 in Pakistan. The parents were told that if they refused, a criminal case would be filed against them. The family has been forced into hiding.
- Pray for the family of Saqib Masih as they mourn his death. Pray that the authorities will investigate the crime and uphold justice for the residents of the village.
- Pray for Amber and her family. Give thanks for her escape from her captors, and pray that the Lord will grant her complete healing from her ordeal. Pray too that the Muslims involved will leave the family alone to rebuild their lives.
An Iraqi convert from Islam to Christianity was violently attacked in St Louis, Missouri, USA, because of his Arabic poem, “Tears at the Heart of the Holocaust”, which expresses pain over the loss of six million Jews at the hands of the Nazis.
Alaa Alsaegh was driving when he was forced to stop by two cars; one cut across and struck his car, while the other blocked his vehicle from behind. Two attackers got out of the cars, opened Alsaegh’s door and pointed a gun at him. They pushed his upper body down against the steering wheel, stabbed him and pulled off his shirt before carving the Star of David on his back with a knife while laughing as they recited his poem.
The FBI has opened an investigation into the incident, but no arrests have yet been made.
- Pray that the Lord will comfort Alsaegh in the wake of this ordeal and bring emotional and physical healing.