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Prayer Focus 12/10

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Prayer Focus 12/10

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Prayer Focus 12/10

PAKISTAN - CHRISTIAN WOMAN SENTENCED TO DEATH UNDER “BLASPHEMY LAW”

There is international concern over the case of Aasia Bibi, a Christian who has become the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s controversial “blasphemy law”.

Aasia was arrested in June 2009, accused of making derogatory remarks about Muhammad after a disagreement with fellow women field-labourers. The dispute started when Aasia fetched some water and the others refused to drink it because she was a Christian. The complaint was made by a local cleric who was not present during the quarrel but heard about the matter afterwards from the other women. The 45-year-old Christian mother of five strongly denies the charges against her, but on 8 November she was sentenced to death, sparking an international outcry.

On 19 November, President Asif Zardari asked the Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, who is himself a Christian, to compile a report on the case within three days. Bhatti has backed Aasia’s case, saying, “It was a personal dispute and she did not commit blasphemy; she is innocent and her case is baseless.” Aasia subsequently submitted an appeal for clemency to President Zardari through Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who met with her in jail on 20 November.

Aasia Bibi’s plight has cast the international spotlight on Pakistan with renewed calls for the blasphemy law to be amended. Previous governments that have attempted to introduce changes have abandoned their plans, after pressure and threats from Islamist groups. Since Aasia was sentenced, Muslim groups have staged protests against any attempts to have her pardoned, and issued statements advising the government not to alter the law. On Friday 26 November Pakistan’s most influential Sunni Muslim alliance warned the government that pardoning Aasia Bibi would lead to “nationwide anarchy”.

The blasphemy law (Section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code) originally offered equal protection for all religions and lenient sentences, but in the 1980s and 1990s amendments were introduced alongside an increasing Islamisation of the Pakistan constitution. These changes mean that desecration of the Quran is now punishable by mandatory life imprisonment, and “defiling the name of Muhammad” carries a mandatory death sentence. Because there is no penalty for false accusation, the law is often exploited to settle personal scores and grudges. Christians and other non-Muslims are particularly vulnerable to malicious, false accusation as there is a tendency for the judiciary in the lower courts to believe the word of a Muslim over the word of a non-Muslim, in line with the teachings of sharia. Many of those charged have spent months or years in custody while their cases are considered. Though no-one has yet been executed for blasphemy, some people have been murdered by zealous Muslims, and sometimes their relatives and communities have also been attacked.

  • Pray for Aasia, that our Lord and Saviour will provide her and her family with all they need at this difficult time.
  • Pray that the international pressure mounted on Pakistan since Aasia Bibi’s case was made public will lead to the abolition of the blasphemy law.
  • Pray for all Christians who are currently being held under the blasphemy law in Pakistan; pray that they will swiftly be cleared of all charges.

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IRAQ - MASS EXODUS OF CHRISTIANS FEARED AFTER HORRIFIC VIOLENCE

Christians in Iraq are reeling after a series of targeted anti-Christian incidents. The violence started on Sunday 31 October when militants took hostages at a church in Baghdad. The ensuing gun battle with the security forces left more than 50 people dead. Two days after the siege the Islamic State of Iraq – an Al-Qaeda front group – claimed responsibility, saying, “The killing sword will not be lifted.” The group said that Christians everywhere were legitimate targets and threatened further violence to “all Christian centres, organisations and institutions, leaders and followers”. On 27 November it was reported that twelve suspected militants had been arrested in connection with the attack at the church.

One week after the 31 October incident, at least four people were killed and dozens injured following a series of co-ordinated attacks on Christian neighbourhoods in Baghdad. Roadside bombs and mortar shells targeted homes and a church in six districts across Iraq’s capital city.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians have already been driven from their homeland over the last 20 years because of attacks by Muslim extremists, but the exodus is expected to accelerate in light of the latest outbreak of violence. Archbishop Athanasius Toma Dawod, a senior Iraqi church leader in London, warned of a pending “genocide”.

In a television interview on 17 November, the new Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, said that he has no objection to forming a special province for Christians in Iraq. He added, “Protecting Christians is a holy duty for Iraqi government.”

  • Pray for an end to the violence against Christians in Iraq and that Al-Qaeda’s threats will not be carried out. Pray that Christians across the Middle East will be kept safe.
  • Pray for all who lost loved ones in the attacks and that the Lord will grant peace to those who are anxious about further violence. Pray too that Iraqi Christians will find comfort, hope and strength in the Lord at this time, especially as they consider whether or not to stay in their homeland.
  • Pray that the new Iraqi government will be strong and stable and that it will exercise its authority over this escalating security crisis.

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CAUCASUS, RUSSIA - THREE CHURCHES TORCHED

Three churches were torched by arsonists in Karachayevo-Cherkessia republic in the early hours of 1 November. One church was almost completely gutted, but all three buildings were saved by the immediate intervention of church members who, after alerting the fire brigade, began fighting the flames themselves. No one was hurt in the attacks.

The fires have been described by a senior church leader as “well-orchestrated provocation”. He added, “The intention is to destabilise inter-religious harmony, but they will not succeed.”

Karachayevo-Cherkessia republic, which has a sizeable Christian minority, is located in Russia’s mainly Muslim North Caucasus region, where Islamists are fighting to establish a separate state ruled by sharia (Islamic law).

  • Pray for the congregations of the churches that were torched, that they will continue to meet together and worship the Lord and that they will find the necessary funds to be able to repair the damage caused by the fires.
  • Please pray for stability in this region; pray that attempts to damage interreligious harmony and establish sharia in the area will not succeed and that Christians will remain strong in their faith in these difficult times.

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ERITREA - NEW CLAMPDOWN ON CHRISTIANS

Security forces in the Southern Region of Eritrea have started a forceful new campaign to clamp down on Christians in the area. The security forces found a list of people who are involved with the underground church in Eritrea, and this list is now being used in the hunt for Christians and their families. It is estimated that up to 40 men and women have been arrested, and the search continues.

Christians are extremely vulnerable in Eritrea, which is one of the world’s worst persecutors of Christians. Many Christians are arrested and imprisoned for their faith; several have died as a result of torture, disease and malnutrition.

This latest spate of arrests follows a meeting in October where the governor of the area, Mustafa Nur Hussein, ordered an “end of year purge” on Christians in the Region. This has taken Eritrea’s Christians by surprise; the governor was previously considered more understanding and relatively fair in his handling of complaints on behalf of Christians in the area.

  • Please pray that our Lord will protect His people in Eritrea, especially those who are living in fear or may even be in hiding. Pray for all those who have been arrested, that they will not be harmed and that they will quickly be released.

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CHINA - FOURTH ARREST IN A MONTH FOR CHRISTIAN LAWYER

Dr Fan Yafeng, a prominent lawyer and leader of the Chinese Christian Legal Defence Association in China, has been arrested for the fourth time since mid-October (see November 2010 Prayer Focus Update for details of his initial arrest on 20 October).

Dr Fan, who is also a house (unregistered) church leader, was forcibly removed from his home late in the evening on 24 November. He was detained and interrogated for several hours by police about allegations of illegally “engaging in activities under the guise of a social organisation”. Following his arrest, the authorities returned to the home and brought Dr Fan’s wife and three-year-old son to the police station for questioning. According to ChinaAid, the officers who Update for details of his initial arrest on 20 obvious distress of the young child, who “lay on the ground, rolling around in agitation and crying loudly”.

During his detention, Dr Fan’s mobile phone and house keys were confiscated. When the family returned home following their release at 2am, they discovered their home had been ransacked. Observers of human rights in China are concerned that Dr Fan could be treated like prominent human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who went missing in April 2010 and has apparently not been heard from since.

ChinaAid have also reported that China is preparing to launch a crackdown called “Operation Deterrence” aimed at defenders of human rights. This is due to coincide with the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo on 10 December. It is feared that Dr Fan’s latest arrest could be the first part of this crackdown.

In a separate incident, three kindergartens in China were raided by the Public Security Bureau (PSB) on Tuesday 7 November. The three schools are led by Sun Haiping, wife of house church leader Wang Dao, who has been arrested and detained a number of times in 2010. According to Mrs Sun, the schools were raided by police because she is visiting the United States to speak about democracy and religious freedom.

  • Pray that Dr Fan and his family may know the peace of the Lord Jesus at this time. Pray that the harassment will end and that they will be able to live their daily lives without fear of arrest and detention.
  • Pray that Sun Haiping and Wang Dao will stay strong and faithful, and that the schools will not be closed down.
  • Pray for our Christian brothers and sisters in China who suffer mistreatment and injustice because of their Christian faith, that they may stand firm in the Lord.

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LAOS - CHRISTIANS THREATENED BY FORMER NEIGHBOURS

Christians have been threatened with death if they move back to their homes in Katin village, Saravan Province, Laos – even if they are moved back by the authorities.

Eleven Christian families endured months of harassment, threats, confiscation of livestock and property, and detention before being expelled from their village in January. Following their expulsion they lacked adequate shelter, food or water. The families were told they would be allowed to return only if they abandoned their Christian beliefs.

Some months later, government officials met with the families to discuss their returning to Katin village; the Christians agreed if five conditions were met, including the ceasing of all anti- Christian persecution. But Katin village officials refused to accept the conditions, threatening that if the authorities moved the displaced Christians back against the will of the other villagers, they would shoot every returning believer.

  • Give thanks to the Lord for the courage of the Christians of Katin village - that they have been able to stand up for their faith, in spite of the persecution they have faced. Pray that they will find strength in the Lord Jesus as they continue to fight for their right to worship freely.
  • Pray that Our Heavenly Father will protect His persecuted people in Laos.

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