Thursday, December 5, 2002

North Korea: Christians suffer as political prisoners.

Date: Thursday 5 December 2002
Subj: North Korea: Christians suffer as political prisoners.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


Hwang Jang-yop was once a spokesman for late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung and his son and successor, Kim Jong Il. He has lived under the protection of South Korean intelligence since becoming the most senior defector from the North in 1997. AFP quotes Hwang as saying, "The suffering and pain of the North Korean people under the current dictatorial regime are much more severe and tragic than what we experienced during the 36 year colonial rule by the Japanese or what we went through during the Korean War." (Link 1)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released a report entitled "The Invisible Exodus: North Koreans in the People's Republic of China," November 2002. (Link 2) The HRW report makes no mention of religious freedom or religious persecution. Presumably HRW assumes that all
readers understand that religious belief and expression is a serious political crime in North Korea.

The HRW report, particularly sections II. "The Migrant's Story: Contours of Human Rights Abuse," and III. "A Well-founded Fear: Punishment and Labor Camps in North Korea," is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the suffering of Christians in North Korea. It is estimated that some 100,000 Christians are political prisoners in this nation that was once a land of revival, whose capital, Pyongyang, was once known as "the Jerusalem of the East."

-----------------------------------------------

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) report covers all areas of experience, from escaped prisoners, defecting guards, and starving economic migrants. Through testimonies, it exposes the intolerable oppression and suffering in North Korea, the horrific, inhumane conditions in prison camps, the dangers involved in escape (such as the trafficking of women), the risks involved in assisting escapees (such as imprisonment), and the consequences for escapees who are caught and returned (imprisonment, torture and death). The report also looks at the responsibilities of China and the International community and offers recommendations.

When North Korean refugee Soon-Ok Lee testified before the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on 24 January 2002, she made it very clear that Christians were regarded as "political criminals". Soon-Ok Lee said that hundreds of the 6,000 inmates in the prison camp in which she was held were there because they were Christians. She said that guards would tell the Christians they could save their lives and be freed if they would refuse to worship God and instead worship Kim Il Sung, the deceased founder of the Marxist regime. She also said that Christians were regularly singled out for the most extreme treatment and toughest punishments. It was the love, grace and steadfast faith of North Korean Christian prisoners in the midst of the most extreme suffering that drew Soon-Ok Lee to Jesus.

(Soon-Ok Lee's prison memoir:
Eyes of the Tailless Animals: Prison Memoirs of a North Korean Woman )

-----------------------------------------------------
A FEW EXCERPTS FROM THE HRW REPORT
Page numbers are from the printer-friendly version (pdf)
-----------------------------------------------------

* From the testimony of a former prison guard:
(page 22)

"They investigated whether the repatriated people had any relationship with South Korea. If a person met South Koreans or reporters or wrote articles, or attended church or escaped after committing a crime in North Korea, they would be secretly killed, without even God knowing."
--------------

* From the testimony of a refugee: (page 24)

"When we (HRW) asked if he had learned anything (about China or South Korea) from broadcasts, he denied watching foreign programs: 'Even watching Chinese television can be punished if discovered. If a person is found listening to South Korean broadcasting, he could be punished in a political prison or executed.' He recalled that such an execution had happened to a worker in his prefecture."
---------------

* From the testimony of a former prison guard in a political prison:

(pages 24,25)

"The basic diet was soy sauce, a little fat, cornmeal, some salt water, and perhaps some kimchee (fermented cabbage). Men and women are separated, sometimes with 300 to 400 people sleeping crowded into one room, unable to stretch their legs.

"Those who attempted to escape were held in a separate place. They were often hung on the wall all day long. Sometimes their hands were tied behind their back and they were hung on the wall for three to seven days.

"If it was a political prisoner, his hands would be broken right after he was sent to the prison of the National Security Office. They would then be interrogated. During this, they would not be able to move at all. I witnessed these types of atrocities quite often."
---------------

* From the testimony of a former prisoner:
(page 25)

"It was a savage's life, even though people there still had the minds of human beings. I cannot tell vividly enough how it was to be beaten. When our family moved there (prison), we were surrounded by one hundred people and beaten. The police led people to beat us -- newcomers must be broken in spirit this way. There are also professional 'beaters' at the town hall. They bring people there to be beaten who disobeyed the rules. Officials beat so harshly that many of those people became disabled, or their legs were paralysed, or they died.

"In these places, there are no human rights at all for women. What they call sexual harassment in South Korea is nothing. What was going on was beyond description. Everything is exposed; it was nothing to have sex openly. It may be better when a man is married, but as for women, they can't protect themselves in that situation."
----------------

* From the testimony of a former imprisoned official:
(page 27)

"The 606 camp was designated for officials charged with economic and political crimes. Conditions were harsh and inmates were treated much like to political prisoners, with no visitors allowed. He gave the following chilling account:

'During my stay there, 1,200 people were sent to the facility and I saw only seven people who left without physical injury or harm. Many people died because of an epidemic, and many others were shot to death. The facility generally released people when they believed that the person would no longer survive. Many of the detainees suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis or other diseases.

'There were about three hundred people in the camp, with a group of thirty in each room. About one hundred people were sent each month, and about ten people were dead every day. If someone didn't receive one meal per day, he would be so weak from starvation that he could not move properly. Since there were no coffins, they put the bodies on a plank and carried them to a hill and buried them.

'I cannot describe the situation properly. Can you imagine expecting the person next to you to die, and when the person dies, taking the corpse's clothing off and wearing it? Since the roof leaks on rainy days, the mattress is always wet. Lice are crawling all over the corpses, but the inmates use the blankets of dead people as soon as they die.'"
----------------

* From the testimony of a woman who escaped North Korea
, became a Christian in China, and then returned to North Korea to find her daughter in order to bring her out. According to HRW she "broke down several times as she related the ordeal": (page 10)

"I knew that after leaving North Korea and living in China, every step was dangerous. I was almost captured several times while staying at the hotel, being assisted by the church. I came to realize that God or some divine power existed after experiencing life [in China], even though it was not a very long period. So without that belief, I could not have gone back. When I crossed (the Tuman River), the water came up to my neck! I don't swim very well, and I was scared -- the water was black from flooding. Miraculously, someone came up in front of me and helped me across."
-----------------

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) "North Korean defector savages Kim Jong Il regime" AFP
4 December 2002
http://sg.news.yahoo.com/021204/1/35dpa.html

2) Human Rights Watch
"The Invisible Exodus: North Koreans in the People's Republic of China,"
November 2002, Vol.14, No. 8 (C)

Wednesday, December 4, 2002

IVORY COAST: SERIOUS SITUATION

WEA Religious Liberty Prayer List - No. 198 - Wed 04 Dec 2002

------------------------------
IVORY COAST: SERIOUS SITUATION
------------------------------
By Elizabeth Kendal

The fragile peace in Ivory Coast is under great stress. Whilst the conflict is essentially political, it divides the nation along ethnic and religious lines, with Christians generally supporting the government (with a Christian President) and Muslims generally supporting the rebels. So the conflict, which started as a failed political coup, has thus polarised the nation and has the potential to degenerate further into a horrific religious war of national and even regional proportions.

The rebels' demands are a stumbling block to the peace talks. The rebels (the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast [MPCI]) want 'a new political order' and are insisting on President Gbagbo's resignation. On top of this, government forces reported on 27 November that two new groups of rebels, assisted by Liberian militants, had broken the truce by advancing, attacking military positions and capturing the key western towns of Danane and Man. Government forces responded and re-took the towns after two days of heavy fighting. The new rebel groups, the Movement for Justice and Peace and the Ivorian Popular Movement for the Great West, want to merge with the main rebel group, the MPCI, which presently controls the predominantly Muslim north of Ivory Coast. This would greatly strengthen the rebel position.

Ivory Coast has secular government and full religious freedom. Church growth over the past decade has been phenomenal, particularly amongst evangelicals.

To relieve financial stress, Ivory Coast, which is 31.8% Christian and 38.6% Muslim (Operation World figures), joined the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) in June 2001, to access the limitless funds of the Islamic Development Bank. Non-Muslim African nations (including many that are majority Christian) are being similarly tempted, and many have already succumbed. The Saudis and Libya's Colonel Gadhafi are the main drivers of this strategy of quiet absorption, which some observers believe is aimed at creating a united Islamic Africa. Militant and hardline Islamist groups demand more than absorption. They demand a Muslim government and ultimately Sharia (Islamic) law. There is no doubt these groups have become increasingly active in recent years, and those who desire a united Islamic Africa are keen to fund and employ their services. This is a spiritual battle.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* the Church in Ivory Coast will be focused on Jesus and committed
to HIS ways, in spite of fear, anxiety and anger over the
conflict.

* Christians stranded in rebel territory or in frontline regions
will be kept safe; and for provision for those who have been
displaced and made homeless through a flight south as the nation
has polarised.

* Christian witness will be bold, gracious and profoundly effective
at this time of heightened religious awareness. Isaiah 55:10,11

* the conflict will not cut Ivory Coast's Muslims off from a
continuing witness to the gospel and that Satan's plan to crush
mission will not succeed.

* God will govern the Peace Talks, giving wisdom to President
Laurent Gbagbo, and a commitment to peace to the rebels.

"And everyone will know that the Lord does not need weapons to
rescue his people. It is his battle, not ours." David to Goliath - 1
Samuel 17:47

Friday, November 8, 2002

Sri Lanka: Escalating Buddhist Nationalism.

Date: Friday 8 November 2002
Subj: Sri Lanka: Escalating Buddhist Nationalism.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


In recent years, Sri Lanka has seen the rise of an increasingly aggressive Buddhist nationalism, complete with disinformation, discrimination and violent persecution. The movement gained considerable momentum during 2001, especially after Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake suggested there was a conspiracy against Buddhism in Sri Lanka, and urged young men to enter the priesthood in order to protect the religion. He claimed that Buddhism was under threat, even though more than seventy percent of the population is Buddhist (with Hindu, Muslim and Christian minorities).

Buddhist leaders have been lobbying the government to ban conversions to Christianity. According to Operation World 21st Century Edition, while Buddhism is growing at 1.1 percent, Protestant Christianity is growing at 3.9 percent and the independent churches are growing at 20.1 percent. Buddhism reportedly loses some 23,000 people each year to Christianity.

Along with Church growth, the trend is increasing social hostility and violent persecution. While the government endorses religious freedom, it appears to be unwilling to engage in political suicide by protecting the Christian minority in this climate of escalating Buddhist nationalism.

-------------------------------------------------

ESCALATING BUDDHIST NATIONALISM

A conference was held in July 2001 with the aim of "making all Buddhists aware of the seriousness of this problem (conversions)." The media release on the conference stated, "The fundamentalist Evangelists who are unethically converting Buddhists to Christianity are one of the main threats to Buddhism." ("Buddhist conference tomorrow at BMICH", by Mallika Wanigasundera, 29 July 2001)

The problem, it claimed, was that "religious freedoms are abused by Evangelists on the assumption that there are no bounds to their activities under the law." Sighting India as a precedent, the Buddhists claimed that, "conversion is not a fundamental right." Other matters to be discussed at the conference were, "Construction of churches, conversion of residences into churches, action brought by Evangelists in the courts over the issue of visas to religious teachers."

The Sinhala Commission Report of July 2001 identified Christianity as the main enemy of Sinhalese culture and religion. According to the Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (EASL), this report set a media smear campaign in motion.

"Political and religious leaders are mounting attacks against Christian groups. It also has stirred up anti-Christian sentiment across the country and has given credibility to the accusations of Buddhist extremists.

"Various factions of Buddhist extremists are calling on the government to pass a law to ban conversions. Clerics in several districts have vowed to take collective action against Christians, particularly those working amongst the poverty-stricken rural areas.

"Buddhist leaders and organisations are also exerting pressure on the prime minister and the government to rescind visas for Christian missionaries.

"One of the more vocal Buddhist lobby groups is the Bauddha Sanrakshana Sabhava (BSS) (also known as the Society for the Preservation of Buddhism). The BSS has its headquarters in the Asgiriya Temple in Kandy, and is led by an influential monk, the Venerable Medagama Dharmananda Thero. Their aim is to set up branches in every district to monitor the growth of Christianity and prevent conversions. They also intend to close down churches already established in traditional Buddhist villages." (EASL, CSW)

On top of this, the EASL reports, "The Presidential Commission on Buddhism has recommended that the village monk's decision in a particular village should not be overturned by either the Police or Courts."

This virtually gives Buddhist monks police powers that enable them to act like religious police with ultimate authority and total impunity.
---------------------------------

RESULTING PERSECUTIONS
Recent statements from the Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (EASL).

EASL 17 September 2002
THE LORD IS MY STRENGTH WORSHIP CENTRE

On Sunday 15th September an independent church in Padukka (a predominantly Buddhist area south of Colombo) 'The Lord is my Strength Worship Centre' was attacked by a mob led by a Buddhist monk. Around 30 - 35 believers were gathered together on Sunday morning for worship. They were in prayer when at 9 am a monk from a nearby Temple walked in with a mob of about 100 people.

He threatened the stunned believers, ordering them to leave the Church, and instructing the mob to attack them and if necessary kill them. The monk struck the first blow, attacking pastor Shun Turin with his umbrella. When he fell to the ground from a blow to his stomach, the monk picked up a wooden chair and dealt two brutal blows to the pastor's head. The entire gathering was witness to this. As he lay bleeding the mob overran the church assaulting the believers - including women and children - with wooden chairs from the church, window bars, and iron rods removed from the church drum set. The injured included a 10 month-old baby.

The church building and property within were destroyed including furniture, musical instruments and Bibles. The building was totally demolished and the roof has caved in. Meanwhile the incident was reported to the Padukka police and the believers identified the monk and some of the attackers. However, the police have not taken any action.

EASL Friday 18 Oct 2002
BETHLEHEM CHURCH

Pastor Stephen Yogarajah from Bethlehem Church Chilaw, Sri Lanka, was returning from a prayer meeting in Karukupana village with his wife and 11 year-old son. It was around 9.30 p.m. At Kodolkela 12 km from Chilaw 10-15 hooded men with masks blocked the road and started attacking the vehicle and the people in it with bars, poles, and clubs. The vehicle was badly smashed up and the occupants in the vehicle were also injured.

Pastor Yogarajah suffered injuries on his hand and head, while his wife is nursing a fractured arm. The 11year-old son was admitted to hospital with head injuries requiring stitches. The men had also attempted to gas the family by connecting the car LP gas tubes to the petrol connector.

EASL Monday 21 October 2002
ASSEMBLY OF GOD WORSHIP CENTRE

Assembly of God worship centre Weerawilla. One of Sister Lalani Jayasinghe's branch churches in Weerawilla was burnt down last week on October 13th. Sister Lalani Jayasinghe is the wife of Pastor Lionel Jayasinghe who was martyred in 1987 in Tissamaharama South of Sri Lanka.

An unidentified group of men set fire to the worship hall and also to a believer's home situated nearby. The house and worship centre were completely burned down. The believer lost all his belongings and is now without a home. Two bikes parked in the premises and a water-pump were also destroyed by the mob.

END

- Elizabeth Kendal

Further reading: U.S. Department of State International Religious
Freedom Report for 2002 - Sri Lanka.
http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2002/14027.htm

BELARUS: Perestroika reversed, but pressure mounts on Lukashenko.

Date: Monday 18 November 2002
Subj: Perestroika reversed, but pressure mounts on Lukashenko.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


On 31 October 2002 - Reformation Day - Belarus' President Aleksandr Lukashenko signed the highly repressive new religion law - regarded by Keston Institute as the most restrictive in Europe. The Religion Law has been compared to Stalin's 1929 decree on religious associations, which imposed severe restrictions on religious activity for almost the entire Soviet period. There is strong support for the new law from the Moscow Patriarchate. (Link 1)

Belarusian parliamentarian Syarhey Kastsyan recently defended the new law. He said it is intended to erect a barrier against Western clergy who "creep into Belarus and discredit Slavic values." (Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. 4 October 2002).

The oppressive new religion law entered into legal force on Saturday 16 November 02. Keston Institute reported, "From then (16 Nov 2002), all unregistered religious activity will be illegal; all communities with fewer than 20 members will become illegal; any religious activity in private homes - apart from occasional, small scale meetings - will be illegal; religious communities that do not have a registered umbrella body will not be able to invite foreign citizens for religious work; and all religious literature will be subject to compulsory prior censorship. In addition, all religious organisations will have to be compulsorily re-registered within two years." (Link 2)

However - pressure is mounting on President Lukashenko, from Belarusian churches vowing to obey God rather than man, from the European Union that votes tomorrow (Tuesday 19 Nov) to enforce a travel ban on the "dictator", and from NATO that is refusing to entertain Lukashenko's presence at the forthcoming summit. Lukashenko is even finding his long-time ally, Russia, no longer totally amenable, as Putin and Lukashenko appear have come down on opposite sides of the War on Terror.

INTERNAL PRESSURE MOUNTS ON LUKASHENKO

PRESS-RELEASE OF INFORMATIONAL CENTRE "FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE" 13.11.02

OPEN DECLARATION

"On 31 October 2002 the President of the Republic of Belarus signed the Law "About Freedom of Faith and Religious Organizations". Once again the authorities totally ignored the opinion of thousands of Belarusian citizens and millions of Christians all over the world.

"The entry of this law into force will be a blow to freedom of conscience, one of the fundamental freedoms given to individuals by God and on which basic democratic institutions are founded. We believe that in this case the authorities have exceeded the powers given by God.

"The best periods in Belarus' history were the periods of inter-religious tolerance. The violation of such tolerance in the seventeenth century brought about a chronic national crisis. What will such anti-Biblical measures by the authorities bring at the beginning of the twenty first century?

"The newly-adopted law forces us to violate the basic Law on which our faith is based: the Law of God. As believers, we have the full right not to obey laws and decrees that go against our faith and conscience, following the Biblical principle, 'We ought to obey God rather than men'."

On behalf of Association of Full Gospel Churches,
in the Republic of Belarus,
President Alexander Sakovich 01.11.02
Informational Centre "FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE"
Contacts: phone 276 07 54
E-mail: infarmacyja@hotmail.com

EUROPEAN PRESSURE MOUNTS ON LUKASHENKO

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has long been a thorn in Lukashenko's side as it has pressured the Belarusian government to reverse it's declining human rights standards and self-imposed isolation.

On 23 October 2002 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL - http://www.rferl.org/) reported that the Belarusian Foreign Ministry had decided that the Advisory and Monitoring Group for the OSCE, would no longer be allowed to operate in Belarus "in its current form."

It appears however, that Lukashenko is stepping too far over the line and a European backlash is being unleashed.

EUROPEAN UNION

In a statement on Wednesday 13 November, the 15-nation EU chided Lukashenko for continuing to violate the democratic and human rights standards of the OSCE.

A BBC article of 15 November entitled, "EU considers 'dictator' ban", reported that the European Union is planning to ban Lukashenko, and up to 50 members of his government, from travelling to EU and candidate countries because of continuing violations of democracy and human rights. "The banning decision will be taken by EU foreign ministers on Tuesday and will enter into force immediately. So far it is just a proposal on the agenda of the foreign ministers' meeting, but correspondents say it is likely to be passed."

The Times of London reported on 16 November, "Diplomatic sources confirmed yesterday that all EU governments were fully behind the initiative. The text that ministers will approve notes: 'Serious violations of human rights and recurrent restrictions on fundamental freedoms imposed by the Government of Belarus, such as the recent approval of the law on freedom of conscience and religious organisations, are in clear contradiction with European democratic
tandards.'"

NATO

On Friday 15 November 2002, Czech authorities decided to refuse to grant Lukashenko a visa to attend the NATO summit being held in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, this week.

The Associated Press quoted Czech Foreign minister Cyril Svoboda as saying, "We are convinced that the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms is not taking place in Belarus. Lukashenko would use this visit to legitimise his position at home". (Link 3 and 4)

The Belarus government is threatening to cut off diplomatic relations with Czech Republic in retaliation for the move. Lukashenko has also threatened to open Belarus's borders to allow a flood of illegal immigrants and drugs into a Europe unprepared to accept his presence. (Link 4)

RUSSIA

On 15 November 2002, RFE/RL reported that, "Russia is finally beginning to turn against its long-time ally Lukashenka, and that this could spell the end of Lukashenka and the start of democracy."

Hans-Georg Wieck was head of the OSCE monitoring and advisory mission in Minsk before it was shut down is not as optimistic as others. In his opinion, Moscow still has clear designs on Minsk, "We should have no illusions that for the prevailing mood in Moscow, Belarus is a Russian province," he said.

RFE/RL went on to report that "Vincuk Vyachorka, the leader of the Belarusian National Front opposition party, said the most Belarus could hope for from Russia is for it to withdraw its support for Lukashenka and not to compromise Minsk's sovereignty.

"To that end, Viachorka and others urged the U.S. to use its leverage with Russia to effect change in Belarus. Viachorka also expressed hope the U.S. Congress would pass the Belarus Act, a bill under consideration in both houses that proposes further isolating Minsk and giving robust economic assistance to the opposition in a bid to bring down Lukashenka.

"The bill has yet to come up for vote and appears to be a low priority, although further revelations about arms sales to Iraq would do a lot to bring Lukashenka to the attention of U.S. lawmakers. Senator McCain, a top Republican presidential candidate in 2000, said he is hopeful the new Congress will pass the bill sometime next year.

"With the U.S. and Russia allied in the war on terror, McCain added that he hopes Putin will realize that Moscow's backing of Minsk is a stain on his reputation in the West. He said it is clear that without Russian support, 'there would be no Lukashenka.'" (Link 5)

- Elizabeth Kendal


Links

1) KESTON NEWS SERVICE, 8 October 2002
BELARUS: Pressure Mounts on President to Vet Repressive Religion Law.

2) KESTON NEWS SERVICE, 14 November 2002.
"BELARUS: Repressive Religion Law Enters Force on Saturday."

3) The Associated Press
"Belarus President Denied Entry Visa"
Friday, November 15, 2002; 10:38 AM
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A58773-2002Nov15.html

4) The International Herald Tribune
"Prague bars Belarus President" by Susan B. Glasser
Saturday, November 16, 2002
http://www.iht.com/articles/77181.html (recommended reading)

5) RFE/RL "Belarus: Conference In Washington Urges 'Regime Change'
In Minsk" By Jeffrey Donovan 15 November 2002
http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2002/11/15112002183853.asp

NATO summit - http://www.natosummit.cz/en/

Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Cote d'Ivoire: The Foreign Muscle Behind the Rebellion.

Date: Tuesday 5 November 2002
Subj: Cote d'Ivoire: The Foreign Muscle Behind the Rebellion.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference

By Elizabeth Kendal


A tense peace presently hangs over Cote d'Ivoire (CI) as a truce now moves into its 18th day. Meanwhile in Lome, the capital city of Togo, representatives of the CI government of President Gbagbo wait to see if the rebels will return to the negotiating table. There was a break in talks over the weekend to enable the rebels' political representative, Guillaume Soro, to return to Cote d'Ivoire in order to report to his group about the meetings.

Peace talks were set to resume in Lome yesterday, Monday 4 November at midday, however, the rebels did not show up. Talks were postponed and should recommence today (Tuesday 5 November). The prospects certainly look grim as the primary rebel demand is the resignation of President Gbagbo and fresh elections and this is not an option the government will consider.

Most analysts now believe the uprising must be either state-sponsored or network-sponsored. It appears that Christianity in Cote d'Ivoire is not up against a few disgruntled or aggrieved local Muslims, but a monstrous, wealthy, powerful and deadly serious foe.

---------------------------------------------------

REBELS DEFIANT


On Sunday 3 November, Reuters reported, "In the rebels' northern stronghold of Bouake, thousands of supporters marched in the center of the city to hear their chief political representative, Guillaume Soro, report on the outcome of three days of talks last week.

"A Reuters correspondent said Soro told the crowd the small steps taken by negotiators in those sessions were not enough. 'If our political demands are not met at the negotiations, we are ready to resume the war,' Soro said to loud cheers. '"We will never accept disarmament,' Soro said at the Bouake rally. 'We took up arms to demand the departure of Gbagbo. If not for that, we would not have started fighting.'

"Mohamed ibn Chambas, the top official of the Economic Community of West African States bloc (ECOWAS) which is mediating in the conflict, said he was 'very surprised' by Soro's statements about the necessity for Gbagbo to leave. 'That's not what he (Soro) was saying during the negotiations last week,' Chambas told Reuters in Lome." (Link 1)

FOREIGN MUSCLE

It is widely believed now, that foreign muscle is driving the rebellion. This is tragic because the ultimate losers will be all citizens of Cote d'Ivoire who have lived in relative peace and who could no doubt have solved their problems through dialogue and democratic means. War can only mean massive loss off of life, destabilization, and vulnerability to exploitation.

Most analysts believe that the uprising must be either state-sponsored or network-sponsored, as the funds involved are way beyond any purely local group. France is implicated as compliant,
neighbouring Burkina Faso is implicated as aggressive; al Qaeda is implicated and is even alleged to have established militant cells in Cote d'Ivoire. More recently, Libya's Colonel Moammar Gadhafi is implicated. It is alleged by independent French media that Gadhafi is either directly or indirectly funding and /or arming the rebels.

There is most surely a drive from the wider Islamist umma to claim Cote d'Ivoire for Islam. This should come as no surprise in this post-Sept 11 age, where an embrace of militant Islam is often more of an anti-West protest statement that a religious conviction. One only needs to look at the post-October 2001 election results in nations with a Muslim majority, such as Bangladesh, Bahrain, Pakistan, Turkey and the state elections in Malaysia, to see how the "War on Terror" (labelled in the Islamic world as the "War on Islam" has been used to draw many many "folk", "moderate" and "secular" Muslims into the radical camp. The "War on Terror" has been like petrol on the flames of the Islamic renewal and militant Islamist movements.

The radicalisation of many of Cote d'Ivoire's Muslims however, goes back further than October 2001 and is far subtler. Due to the fact that they learn in Arabic, graduates of CI's Quranic schools have not been able to qualify for University entrance into Cote d'Ivoire Universities. Graduates of CI's Quranic schools therefore have in recent decades, travelled to Cairo, Egypt and Medina, Saudi Arabia to study. They have gradually and quietly replaced much of Cote d'Ivoire's folk or "moderate" Islam with educated, Orthodox, Quranic Islam.

This has been a very subtle and quiet movement that is only now manifesting itself in a way that seriously and immediately threatens the future of the nation. It has taken many foreign (but not Ivorian) observers by surprise.

Reuters and AFP photographers are now photographing rebels and northern Muslims sporting T-shirts with a picture of Osama bin Laden's face over a map of Cote d'Ivoire. It has also been established that the rebels have access to a seemingly limitless supply of sophisticated arms, including armoured vehicles. It is alleged that large quantities of arms and ammunitions were brought into northern Cote d'Ivoire, through compliant neighbours and stored in mosques and homes many months in advance in preparation for this uprising. Rebel leader Guillaume Soro, has even boasted that the rebels and their supporters could fight the government for two years
without a supply problem.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS

It appears that Christianity in Cote d'Ivoire is not up against a few disgruntled or aggrieved local Muslims, but a monstrous, wealthy, powerful and deadly serious foe. What happens in Cote d'Ivoire will most certainly have implications for many other African nations. For Cote d'Ivoire is not unlike many other nations in Africa, with a large Christian population, non-Muslim government, growing Church, freedom of religion -- yet made vulnerable through economic crisis or ethnic tensions, to the exploitation and infiltration of men with ambitious visions (like Colonel Gadhafi) or nations with religious designs (like Saudi Arabia) or organisations with political purpose (like al Qaeda). If Cote d'Ivoire goes down, it could set a precedent for much of "Christian" Africa, which is equally as unstable.

Links
1) Reuters "Ivory Coast rebels in no mood for compromise" 4 November 2002
http://www.asia.reuters.com/news_article.jhtml?type=worldnews&StoryID=1672204
ALSO
CNN "Scepticism mars Ivory Coast talks," Monday, 4 November 2002
http://asia.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/africa/11/04/ivorycoast.talks.reut/index.html

Reuters "Ivory Coast rebels threaten peace-talks pullout" 5 November2002
http://www.asia.reuters.com/news_article.jhtml?type=worldnews&StoryID=1677332

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Bali Analysis

Date: Tuesday 29 October 2002
Subj: Bali Analysis
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


In this posting, Rev. Dr. Mark Durie of Australia offers an analysis of the 12 October 02 terrorist bombings at Kuta Beach Bali. Dr. Mark Durie is the author of many articles and books on Acehnese language and culture. He is an Anglican pastor and was formerly head of the Department of Linguistics and Language Studies at the University of Melbourne. His insights on Bali and Indonesia come from years of extensive research and experience of Indonesian culture (primarily in Aceh) as well as a continued deep interest in Indonesian affairs.

- Elizabeth Kendal

-------------------------------------------------------------

BALI ANALYSIS by Rev. Dr. Mark Durie
Putting the Bali Bombings into the Wider Indonesian Context.

In all the discussion of the Bali tragedy this past week, many Australians have searched for a reason why so many innocent people have been killed. Surely such hatred must have some explanation? Could it be something we have done? Was it East Timor? The 'war on Iraq'? Our lifestyle? Our indifference to world poverty?

STRATEGIC GOALS OF ISLAMIST ORGANISATIONS

This bomb attack, and others like it, must be understood in terms of the strategic goals and world view of the Islamic terrorist organizations which carry them out. All these groups aim to establish the Islamic shari'a or 'Islamic way' as the law of the land. They oppose existing regimes in Muslim countries, which are rejected as un-Islamic. A second belief they share is that jihad is the best method for bringing this objective about. Countless books, tracts and training schools emphasize these two principles.

"UNITY IN DIVERSITY" UNDER ATTACK

At the time of independence from the Dutch in 1945, calls for Indonesia to become an Islamic state were successfully resisted. The authors of Indonesia's constitution opted instead for pluralism, affirming a diversity of religions including Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Bhuddism. The national motto is 'Unity in Diversity'.

However during the 1980's President Suharto, to prop up his ailing presidency, began to court Islamic radicals, who rapidly grew in influence. One of the effects of this political shift has been an escalation of attacks on Christian communities in Indonesia. The Barnabas Fund (UK) reported at the end of 2000 that half a million Christians have become internally displaced; more than 5,000 people have been killed; and as many as 7,000 have been forcibly converted to Islam. Local Muslim communities have also experienced great suffering in the violent confrontations.

--------------------------------------------------

Churches attacked or destroyed in Indonesia since Independence

Years Churches attacked
1945-1965 2
1966-1975 46
1976-1985 89
1986-1995 104
1996- present Over 500

Source: Indonesian Christian Communications Forum

------------------------------------------------------

AGGRESSIVE DRIVE FOR SHARI'A

There are renewed calls today for Indonesia to become a shari'a state. However an obstacle to imposition of the shari'a, apart from the many moderate Muslims, is the handful of provinces with significant Christian populations, or, in the case of Bali, a majority Hindu population.

In November 2000 the Laskar Jihad militia announced "We intend during this Ramadan to ... carry out various activities paving the way for full shari'a at least in places that have now become exclusively Islam, such as the islands of Ternate, Tidore and Bacan." This is a kind of code for religious cleansing of Christians from those regions. The town of Poso in Central Sulawesi used to have a population of 40,000, mostly Christian. By the end of 2002 it had been reduced to an exclusively Muslim population of 5,000, with all of its churches destroyed. Reports of the Laskar Jihad's operations in Ambon and Sulawesi describe a systematic progression through villages and towns, sometimes using equipment such as bulldozers, petrol tankers, rocket launchers and other military hardware. Villages are looted, burnt out and razed to the ground.

The Laskar Jihad is known to include fighters from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia's top political and security minister, has said of them "They also play a role in defending truth and justice that is expected by Muslims in Indonesia. For me, as far as what they are doing is legal and not violating the law, then this is OK."

The Laskar Jihad has proven links to the Al Qa'ida, which by its title is officially dedicated to world-wide jihad against "Jews and Crusaders" (Crusaders means "Christians" in terrorist-speak). An Al Qa'ida training centre near Poso was used by the Laskar Jihad as a staging base for many attacks against local Christians, constantly frustrating local attempts at reconciliation between Muslims and Christians during 2001. More recently the Laskar Jihad have proclaimed West Papua as their next theatre of operations. Thousands of militants have been gathering there to prepare the way for the next jihad campaing. Although the Laskar Jihad claim to have disbanded just hours before the Bali atrocity, their troops remain in Papua.

The shift from jihad against Indonesian citizens to attacks on foreigners heralds a new phase in the struggle. Yet the goal of this operation must still be measured in terms of the way it could forward the pro-shari'a cause. It has certainly greatly weakened Hindu Bali and, by dealing the tourist trade a deadly blow, it will serve to isolate Indonesia from Western scrutiny and influence. Forcing Megawati to take action against militants could hasten her political demise, and leave the way open for a more acceptable replacement. It also helps the shari'a cause that the operation was conducted in Bali, where Muslims would be much less likely to have been hit as collateral damage.

SECTARIAN VIOLENCE OR JIHAD?

The label 'sectarian violence', used so irresponsibly by the media for all this terror, has served to conceal and minimize the overall impact of the radical jihad groups' activities within Indonesia. The world has allowed destabilization, terror and displacement to advance a very great way already.

As we mourn the lost, and express sympathy and sorrow for the suffering of survivors from the Bali attack, let us work and seek for peace in Indonesia, a return to religious harmony, and a stable future for this great nation.

END

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Aceh: Shari'a - the Islamisation of Acehnese Culture

Date: Wednesday 23 October 2002
Subj: Aceh: Shari'a - the Islamisation of Acehnese Culture
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


The oil- and gas-rich region of Aceh is located on the northern tip of Sumatra, Indonesia. Aceh has a population of 4.3 million and has historically been staunchly Islamic. On 1 January 2002, as part of a wide-ranging autonomy package that the Indonesian government hoped would appease separatists, Aceh was granted the right to adopt Islamic law.

On 3 January 2002 the Jakarta Post reported, "The Aceh or Nanggroe Aceh Darusallam administration has officially put the special autonomy law and syariah (Islamic law) into effect." The article went on to quote Teungku Sofyan Hamzah, an imam at the grand Baiturrahman Mosque. "Asked about feelings of anxiety by some non-Muslims in Aceh following the implementation of the Islamic law, he (Hamzah) said that the minority should not worry. 'The administration will use national law for them.'"

Well - an article appeared in the Jakarta Post on 28 September 2002, detailing how under shari'a law, caning or imprisonment would be the punishment for those who "propagated beliefs other than Islam to Muslims in the province."

I sent the article to Rev. Dr. Mark Durie, and asked him for a comment. The author of many articles and books on Acehnese language and culture, Dr. Mark Durie -- a Anglican pastor in Melbourne, Australia -- was formerly head of the Department of Linguistics and Language Studies at the University of Melbourne. His insights come from years of extensive research and experience of Acehnese culture.

- Elizabeth Kendal

----------------------------------------

JAKARTA POST
28 September 2002
"Aceh to implement caning punishment"

In line with sharia law, the Aceh legislative council is proposing that caning be one of the punishments for people who tempt Muslims to desert religious teachings.

A special team set up by the council is drafting the bylaw in response to Law No. 44/1999 on Aceh's special status and Law No. 18/2002 on special autonomy for Aceh.

Chairman of the special team Azhari Basar said that caning would be imposed on those who propagated beliefs other than Islam to Muslims in the province. "Those who violate the ruling will face a maximum jail term of two years and a maximum fine of Rp 6 million or 10 strokes of the cane," he told Antara.

Azhari said that according to Article 17 of the draft, anyone who skips Friday prayers three times in a row without an acceptable reason would be fined a maximum of Rp 2 million, six months in jail or three strokes of the cane.

"Caning also applies to those who open their food stalls during Ramadhan (fasting month)," he said. Food stall owners who sell food, beverages or cigarettes publicly or secretly during the holy month will be fined a maximum of Rp 4 million, spend one year in jail or receive five strokes of the cane.

However, it is not clear who is in charge of carrying out the caning punishment: the police or the sharia police.

---------------------------------------

COMMENT BY DR. MARK DURIE

CHRISTIANS IN ACEH

The number of Acehnese Christians is small, however, a full Bible translation is available. I do not know at all what the current situation of the Christian Chinese community is in Aceh. Christians in Aceh consist mainly of soldiers, Chinese, and Bataks in the central and southwestern regions. There is no notable "Christian" area in Aceh, unlike neighbouring North Sumatra.

Since the 1950s Aceh has been considered a "special region", with certain concessions to its Islamic character. Government offices of religious affairs certainly support and promote Islam.

Church burnings have been an intermittent occurrence for the past 30 years. (Aceh was a forerunner in the significant increase of attacks on churches that has taken place throughout Indonesia.) The most significant protestant church in Banda Aceh, the capital, was burned down in the early 90's. Subsequently, permission to rebuild was refused.

Local church communities can have great difficulty getting permission to have a place for worship, e.g. having to build over water, or use the back of a shop.

Christians employed as teachers in schools (posted by the state education system) can come under enormous pressures to convert to Islam. Prayer for these isolated Christians is urgently needed.

The potential for conflict is perhaps greatest in South Aceh, where Batak ethnic communities include both Christians and Muslims. Without a clear ethnic-religious alignment, conversion to Christianity does not bring loss of ethnic identity and this can make conversion easier. Consequently, greater pressure could be brought to bear on the Christian community. (This is just my hypothesising about why South Aceh has been a region of conflict.)

Persecution of Christians is sometimes hard to distinguish from persecution of Chinese. During the massacres of "communists" in the 1960's, many Chinese Christians were killed. In Aceh a religious test was sometimes applied: if the person could not recite the Arabic confession of faith in Islam they were put to death. I had this from a Muslim person who narrowly survived the massacres.

SHARI'A - THE ISLAMISATION OF ACEHNESE CULTURE

The implementation of shari'a punishments is a profound change in Aceh, which has not been governed by the shari'a for over 100 years.

Most Acehnese people do pray regularly, and attend the Friday prayers. However in cities, not everyone would have complied. The use of force to require attendance, on pain of caning, is a disturbing trend.

In Aceh traditional ways - referred to as "adat" - have in the past been a very important authority for regulating daily life. The role of adat is recognized in Indonesian law, and was central to the role of Acehnese rulers in pre-colonial Aceh. This adat or "custom", being linked to the secular authority of the sultan, was always a balance to the shari'a. The recent introduction of shari'a law in Aceh is part of a centuries-long process of Islamising Acehnese culture, ultimately replacing adat with shari'a.

One can anticipate that there will be various areas of tension or conflict between adat and shari'a. For most Acehnese people, the whole Acehnese way of life is regarded as "Islamic", so this tension will be confusing. It will slow the rate of shari'a implementation. Paradoxically, Christians could be more vulnerable in this context, because non-Acehnese adat has little authority in Aceh.

----------------------

Monday, October 21, 2002

IVORY COAST: CEASEFIRE, BUT CHRISTIANS STILL IN PERIL

WEA Religious Liberty Prayer List - No. 192 - Tue 21 Oct 2002

-----------------------------------------------------
IVORY COAST: CEASEFIRE, BUT CHRISTIANS STILL IN PERIL
-----------------------------------------------------
By Elizabeth Kendal

Last week's RLP 191 (15 Oct) gave some background and details of the situation in Ivory Coast (Cote d'Ivoire). In summary: the rebels (Muslim soldiers) and supporters of the Muslim RDR political party are demanding a change of government. President Gbagbo, who was democratically elected in a process fully supported by all parties, is a Christian actively promoting national reconciliation. The situation last week was that four weeks after the failed coup, some 150,000 people had fled rebel-held Bouake in central Ivory Coast. More than 300 had died and the violent conflict was tearing the nation apart along religious and ethnic lines.

On Thursday 17 October, something occurred that was unimaginable a week earlier. A ceasefire agreement, brokered by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), was signed. France has agreed to monitor the ceasefire along with a West African surveillance force. President Gbagbo accepted the ceasefire to minimise loss of life. We can praise God for this respite from offensive conflict.

Rebel leaders are reportedly having a hard time convincing their troops to observe the ceasefire and President Gbagbo has kept the army on high alert. Typically, the rebel Sergeant Zacharias Kone in Vavoua, near the cocoa capital of Daloa, has rejected the deal outright. Many rebel fighters would prefer to march on Abidjan, the capital in the south. They are well armed with weaponry stockpiled ready for this assault. We must pray for the ceasefire to hold.

It is extremely perilous for Christians trapped in rebel-held areas, because they support the government of President Gbagbo. An Ivorian Christian reports: "All these areas (majority Christian towns in rebel-held territory) are presently empty of their inhabitants, who have fled through the bush to avoid killings, rapes and all other form of violence from the rebels, and are trying to join the small villages, 40, 50 or even 100 kilometres south of Bouake, in order to save their life. Their houses, left empty behind, are daily 'visited' by the rebels and their belongings are taken by the rebels and their supporters." (Mainstream media reports confirm all this - EK.) "Families are scattered, many pregnant women gave life in the bush and had to abandon their new born babies to save their lives, some died without help."

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* the ceasefire to hold, with the rebels surrendering their arms,
and for constructive dialogue to commence in peace. At this
stage, a sustained peace would require a miracle - we have a God
who does "awesome miracles" for his people. Ps 66:5

* Christians who have been displaced, separated from family,
bereaved and traumatised through the conflict, that they will
experience comfort, strength and healing from the Lord.

* Christians trapped in or trying to flee from rebel-held areas,
that God will be their guide and their shield, frustrating the
plans of the wicked.

* great wisdom for President Gbagbo and his government as they
negotiate for peace and national reconciliation; may they seek
God's will and obey it in faith.

"For by his great power, he (God) rules forever. He watches every
movement of the nations; let no rebel rise in defiance." Ps 66:7

Thursday, October 17, 2002

Cote d'Ivoire: Tearing Apart.

Date: Thursday 17 October 2002
Subj: Cote d'Ivoire: Tearing Apart.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference

By Elizabeth Kendal


The media coverage of the conflict in Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast, West Africa) has generally failed to get beneath the surface events and present the bigger picture in all its complexity. It has generally failed understand the religious element of the conflict and thus failed to report accurately the Ivorian struggle for survival as a people and as a democracy.

Whilst this conflict is primarily political, it is unavoidably splitting the nation along ethnic and religious lines. The future of Cote d'Ivoire and West Africa are seriously at risk. As such, the future of mission in West Africa and the growing Church in Cote d' Ivoire are also seriously threatened.

----------------------------------------------------------

IMMIGRATION, DEMOGRAPHICS AND TENSION

The media is using the toxic term "xenophobic" to describe Cote d'Ivoire, a nation that has for decades had a deliberate policy of openness and hospitality towards immigrants.

The recent and present tensions arise from the fact that, in recent years, the rate of immigration has reached critical proportions giving rise to today's situation where Cote d'Ivoire now has a population that is around 40 percent immigrant. This is causing considerable stress to the nation. Land pressure and economic recession have led to tensions and clashes between Ivorians and immigrants, but this has nothing to do with "xenophobia".

The rapid swell in the immigrant population has also created religious tension. Cote d'Ivoire sits atop the African ethnic / religious fault-line. The northern population is predominantly Muslim and the southern population is predominantly and traditionally Christian and animist.

Twenty-seven percent of Ivorians are Muslim, yet when the immigrant population is added in, Islam becomes the majority religion in Cote d'Ivoire as the immigrants have come from the surrounding strongly Islamic nations of Burkina Faso (more than 4 million immigrants), Mali (2 to 3 million), Guinea and Senegal (1 million), Niger, Mauritania and Nigeria (amongst a total population of 15.8 million). (These are approximate and unofficial figures.)

The situation is most marked in central Cote d'Ivoire. For example, the Baule people, who have lived in the region for centuries and are traditionally animist and Christian, now find themselves to be a minority in their homeland, a region that is today reportedly 68 percent Muslim - primarily immigrants.

THE CONTROVERSIAL ELECTORAL CODE

As is well known to observers of religious liberty and Islam, Muslim majorities generally refuse to be governed by non-Muslims. This fact has put the predominantly Christian government of Cote d'Ivoire in a critical position. The government's position was aggravated by the fact that President Bedie (the president of the National Assembly, who came to power in December 1993 after the death of Houphouet-Boigny - president since independence) had become very unpopular with the northern and immigrant Muslim population.

To protect its integrity, the National Assembly passed a controversial electoral code stipulating that presidential candidates be Ivorian born of Ivorian parents (i.e. not recent immigrants).

While this did not exclude Muslims from the presidency, it did however disqualify the Muslim strong-man and favourite, former Prime Minister, Dr. Alassane Ouattara, from contesting the elections, as Ouattara's parents are citizens of Burkina Faso. Regardless of this, the opposition group, "Rassemblement des Republicains" (RDR) named Ouattara as their candidate, setting the stage for a confrontation.

In 1999 a referendum was held regarding the constitutional amendments and election code. The election code was approved by 87.6 percent of voters. Ouattara was therefore banned from contesting the 2000 elections. This resulted in bloody riots and accusations of discrimination and xenophobia. Then in December 1999, General Guei toppled the unpopular Bedie and took power in a bloodless coup.

In October 2000, Laurent Gbagbo, a Christian, was elected President after a popular uprising. In January 2001 there was a failed military coup and in November 2001, President Gbagbo, in his desire to unite the people, initiated a two-month-long National Forum on Reconciliation.

THE SEPTEMBER 2002 COUP ATTEMPT

It had long been suspected that General Guei, who was killed in Abidjan by loyalist forces on 19 September 2002, the first day of the uprising, would attempt another coup.

The rebel soldiers are northern Muslims who are demanding a change of government. They have the support of the northern Muslim population (which is predominantly immigrant). Ouattara has been accused of fanning fear amongst immigrants for political gain. Christians generally are loyal to the government of President Gbagbo. Thus the conflict, while essentially political, is unavoidably splitting the country along ethnic and religious lines.

The situation is complicated by the fact that the former colonial power, France, also has interests in a change of government in Cote d'Ivoire. When he was Prime Minister under President Houphouet-Boigny, Alassane Ouattara permitted Cote d'Ivoire's public services to be freely placed in French hands. France has since run a monopoly on Cote d'Ivoire's water, telecommunications and electricity. France is aware however, that President Gbagbo, a socialist, will not permit that monopoly to be renewed in 2004. Hence France would also like to see a co-operative Ouattara in power.

One Ivorian Christian has described the conflict as, "an Islamic plot, maintained by France and the world press. It is for France to control Ivory Coast market which is so rich and for Muslims to have control of the country."

"SYSTEMATIC KILLINGS"

Some Ivorians responded to the initial uprising by attacking immigrants who they suspected were supporting the rebels. President Gbagbo responded with an urgent plea for calm. "I want to tell Ivorians that the foreigners are not our problem right now. Our fight is a fight to free our country and not to attack foreigners," Mr Gbagbo said. "Do not attack foreigners." (BBC 9 Oct)

Likewise Army spokesman Jules Yao Yao called on citizens to stay out of the conflict, to not take the law into their own hands, so as not to turn it into an ethnic or religious conflict (Reuters 16 Oct).

The flashpoint at present is central Cote d'Ivoire. Reports from Ivorian evangelicals put real flesh on the media reports of killings and terror.

Associated Press 10 October 2002 - "BOUAKE, Ivory Coast -- The killers were young and armed, bearing guns, machetes and clubs. They roamed the streets of Ivory Coast's second city, chasing victims. Some, they burned alive.

"Frightened residents of Bouake - fleeing by the thousands during a lull in fighting that has raged for days - spoke Thursday of how the three-week-old rebellion let loose deadly ethnic rivalries in the this rebel-held, central city of 500,000.

"After a government offensive failed to dislodge the insurgents this week, young ethnic Dioulas armed by the rebels hunted down fleeing members of the government-supported Baule tribe, residents said.

"They chased them through the streets, stealing their belongings and
burning their homes. On Wednesday, Dioula youths raided a Baule
neighbourhood and burned residents there alive."

THE CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE

One Ivorian Christian writes, 12 October 2002, "Today I speak to you from one of the cities occupied by the rebels (Bouaké) about Dioulas (population of the North and immigrants of Sahelian origin). All Moslems attack and kill the other populations, generally Christian, under the supervision of the rebels.

"In these zones occupied by the rebels, only districts lived in by the Christians and the animists are traumatized and held. Those populations can make nothing. They starve and thirst. While districts lived massively by the Moslems are provided for by the rebels; shops are opened, the population eats, drinks and dances with the rebels. Here is what the world press never reveals. We count on you to make this known to the international community. Please, get in touch with NGO for us."

Another Ivorian Christian writes, 14 October 2002, "The rebels in Bouake have been given strong and popular support from a large part of the migrant populations. Knowing the place and the people, those populations have shown to the rebels every house belonging to opponents of the RDR, members of the Army, Customs and Police etc. Entire families have been slaughtered, and many people burnt alive from the beginning of the rebellion.

"Since the Army's assault (to liberate Bouake) failed (7 Oct), the crimes have increased in number and in horror. Rebels and the RDR supporters are conducting systematic killing of non-Muslims, Christians and supporters of other political parties; all these people had been localized prior for this purpose, long before the rebels came in.

"Far beyond all imagination, rebels are also trying to start to a civil and ethnic war trying to convince every tribe or ethnic or religious group that the others are preparing to kill them in mass; this is done not only in Bouake, but everywhere in the country.

"It is clear as ever that the people who initiated this rebellion are now willing to turn it into a civil ethnic and religious war. It is their clear intention to justify an international intervention in the country and from then, to obtain a new political process and the election of their mentor.

"I believe that the fall of the present government, if it occurs, will lead not only this country, but the entire region of West Africa into endless civil and religious war, and Islam will certainly withdraw the greatest benefit of this."

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

IVORY COAST: CHRISTIANS FACING TERROR

WEA Religious Liberty Prayer List - No. 191 - Wed 16 Oct 2002

-------------------------------------
IVORY COAST: CHRISTIANS FACING TERROR
-------------------------------------
By Elizabeth Kendal

The conflict in Ivory Coast (Cote d'Ivoire) is being portrayed in the media as strife over 'xenophobia', 'justice' and even democracy. However, there is far more to this conflict than initially meets the eye. It is strongly religious (and spiritual) in nature, threatening to cripple mission in West Africa and the Church in Cote d'Ivoire.

On 5 August, mission in South Asia was seriously threatened when over 100 predominantly missionaries' children at the Murree Christian School came under attack by heavily armed Islamist militants (who later blew themselves up). Satan's plan failed and not one child was hurt. Only six weeks later, in mid/late September, mission in West Africa was seriously threatened when some 200 predominantly missionaries' children's lives were put at risk by an outbreak of civil conflict right at the International Christian Academy in Bouake. Once again, the children were all delivered unharmed.

The situation for the Church in Cote d'Ivoire is serious and deteriorating daily. Cote d'Ivoire, a centre for mission, sits atop an ethnic and religious fault-line. Muslims live predominantly in the north and Christians predominantly in the south. Muslims make up 27 percent of the Ivorian population, but in recent years the massive influx of immigrants from neighbouring Islamic nations, such as Mali and Burkina Faso, has boosted the Muslim population to over 50 percent.

For many years, prosperous Cote d'Ivoire has maintained a very hospitable policy regarding immigrants. However, the enormous number of immigrants has created economic and land stress. This is not 'xenophobia', but simply tension created by there not being enough land and jobs to go around, and the fact that wealth is rapidly leaving the country as immigrant workers send it home. It has also created religious tensions as the Muslims want a Muslim government. The conflict is most severe in central Cote d'Ivoire where Muslim immigrants now vastly outnumber the Christian and animist indigenous people of the region. The soldiers who started this conflict are northern Muslims who had been expelled from the army for alleged disloyalty. They attempted a coup and are seeking a change of government. They want their strong-man, Alassane Ouattara, a Muslim, in power.

Christians in rebel-held areas are at severe risk as they generally are loyal to President Gbagbo, a Christian. The rebel soldiers have been arming local Muslims and sending them out to murder 'loyalists' (Christians). Many have already died, some burned to death. Around 150,000 have fled Bouake. In rebel-held areas, villages that are predominantly Christian are being held captive by the rebels and food and water cannot get in. There is much terror and very little assistance.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* God to restore peace to Cote d'Ivoire, for the sake of his Church
and mission in West Africa, 'that Satan may not outsmart us. For
we are very familiar with his evil schemes'. (2 Cor 2:11 NLT)

* all Christians trapped and in immediate serious risk in central
Cote d'Ivoire; may the Lord be their Mighty One, 'like a wide
river of protection that no enemy can cross'. (Isaiah 33:21 NLT).
May he 'frustrate the plans of the wicked'. (Ps 146:9 NLT)

Monday, September 30, 2002

The Starving of Sudan

Date: Monday 30 September 2002
Subj: The Starving of Sudan
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


On Friday 27 September 02 the Government of Sudan (GoS) suspended all humanitarian flights into Eastern and Western Equatoria regions of war-ravaged Southern Sudan, at least for the next nine days. This is an appalling crime against humanity but it has long been a standard GoS strategy whenever it has desired to weaken, punish or eliminate-en-masse the Southern Sudanese.

This time the GoS is also suspending all security flights, meaning that evacuations will not be able to occur. Humanitarian workers that are able have been forced to flee in haste to avoid becoming trapped. Others are bunkering down. Observers are expecting that a major and bloody GoS offensive is imminent.

-------------------------------------------------------

THE STARVING OF SUDAN

The BBC reports, "The Sudanese Government's action will cut off almost the entire south of the country, preventing humanitarian flights from getting in, and also potentially blocking the evacuation of foreign staff from the war zone.

"Martin Dawes, a spokesman for the United Nations umbrella organisation Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), said the UN was extremely concerned and was seeking clarification from the Sudanese government.

"The flight ban applies to two huge regions in the far south. One of them, Eastern Equatoria, is experiencing very heavy fighting at the moment, but the other is peaceful. Aid flights from neighbouring Kenya carrying about 150 tonnes of food a day will be grounded." (Full article see link 1)

CNN elaborates, "The flight ban effectively means no U.N. aid flights can get to any part of southern Sudan. There is no way of flying in from the main base at Lokichoggio, just over the border with Kenya, without passing over the prohibited zone. Martin Dawes (OLS) said an average of 20 OLS flights leave Lokichoggio every day, carrying medicine, food, equipment or staff." (See link 2)

On Thursday 26 September, SPLA (Southern People's Liberation Army) fighters shot down a GoS helicopter gunship just north of Torit. The BBC noted that the GoS was experiencing difficulty recapturing Torit, which is in Eastern Equatoria, and added, "Critics say the Sudanese government uses and abuses the (UN) system as an instrument of war by denying access to certain areas in order to starve both rebels and civilians." (link 1)

"MEASURING THE WORLD'S RESPONSE"

In his mailing of Saturday 28 September 02, Sudan expert Dr. Eric Reeves said, "There is no clear end in sight to this catastrophe deliberately precipitated by the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum as a means of securing military advantage in its ongoing offensive in Eastern Equatoria. We could have no clearer example of the ways in which Khartoum's denial of humanitarian aid and its military tactics are intertwined."

Reeves reminds us of the GoS-induced, war-related famine of February 1998, "in which perhaps 100,000 people died." Reeves says that was, "a signal example of how destructive Khartoum is willing to be in using the denial of humanitarian aid as a potent weapon of mass destruction."

The UN estimates that three million men, women and children are at imminent risk of starvation. Reeves suggests that "Khartoum is every hour taking the measure of the world's response, of action---or inaction---on the part of the UN, the United States---and the other Western democracies."

Reeves laments Khartoum's "ruthlessly accurate assessment of what price it will have to pay for breaking its commitments. So far there appears to be no price, and this augurs very poorly for the regaining of humanitarian access."

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) BBC "Khartoum halts aid flights to south" By Andrew Harding.
BBC correspondent in Nairobi, Kenya
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/low/world/africa/2283833.stm

2) CNN "Sudan suspends aid flights" Friday, 27 September 2002
http://asia.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/africa/09/27/sudan.relief.reut/index.html

AP "OLS: Sudanese government bans all U.N. flights into large part
of southern Sudan for nine days beginning Friday" 26 September 2002
http://www.sudan.net/news/posted/5919.html

Monday, September 23, 2002

Belarus: new religion law drafted

Date: Monday 23 September 2002
Subj: Belarus: Advocating for religious freedom.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


The government of Belarus is presently considering introducing a highly restrictive religion law that would drive Belarus back into Soviet era oppression, crippling the numerous small Protestant evangelical and non-traditional groups that have revived, or come into Belarus, since Perestroika and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

BELARUS RELIGION BILL

If adopted as drafted, the new religion law will outlaw unregistered religious activity and only those religious communities that consist of more than 20 Belarusian citizens will be able to gain registration. This will threaten smaller groups and make the founding of new communities impossible. Also, the leader of any religious organisation will have to be a Belarus citizen. This is highly discriminatory and will cause serious difficulties for many religious groups after so many years of Communist oppression.

If the law is passed religious meetings will not be permitted to take place regularly in private homes and all religious literature will be subjected to State censorship.

If the law is passed, a denomination seeking registration as a legal entity will have to have at least 10 separate registered groups, of which one must have existed in 1982 - at the height of the Soviet oppression. Julia Doxat-Purser, Socio-Political Representative and Religious Liberty Coordinator of the European Evangelical Alliance, notes, "This means that many Protestant Churches and other faiths cannot and can never become associations. Only religious associations can train clergy, invite foreigners to come and be staff, establish missions and schools or run mass media (Articles 27 - 29). Denying faith communities the right to train leaders or have foreign staff would make continuing existence impossible."

WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY

There had been great secrecy around the proposed religion law and most people were completely unaware of its contents until it was brought before parliament for discussion. The lower house of parliament voted to have the reading of religion law postponed, but this was overthrown and the law was hastily passed in the lower house on 27 June. However, on 28 June, the final day of the spring session, the upper house voted to postpone the reading until after the summer recess, citing lack of time get acquainted with the text. The reading in the upper house will now take place on 2 October, the first day of the next parliamentary session.

The postponement has given churches and human rights lawyers in Belarus a window of opportunity to raise awareness of the issues and to advocate for religious freedom. Many analysts believe the law is part of a wider political policy of supporting the Orthodox Church (who are in full favour of the bill) in an effort to strengthen Slavic identity / nationalism and unity. This fails to acknowledge the immense social contribution and positive influence the Protestant Church has made to all spheres of life in Belarus ever since the fifteen century.

Julia Doxat-Purser reports, "The Baptist, Pentecostal, Full Gospel and Adventist Churches are united as they stand together to talk to politicians. They are working closely with human rights lawyers. They are helping to organise a conference on the proposed law for 30 September."

Church Representatives were also able to distribute information about the religious situation in Belarus at the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) conference in Warsaw, held from 9-19 September 2002.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Tracking freedom in Hong Kong.

Date: Thursday 19 September 2002
Subj: Tracking freedom in Hong Kong.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


The eroding of freedom in Hong Kong has been done so gently and slowly that it has scarcely attracted any attention, like a burglar tiptoeing so quietly that he manages to steal without setting off any alarm bells. However, Beijing's insistence that Hong Kong start enacting controversial anti-subversion legislation just might trigger the sensors, especially when we understand that it is China's definition of subversion that will stand, as it is China's National People's Congress in Beijing that has the final word on all matters pertaining to interpretation of Basic Law in Hong Kong.

-----------------------------------------------

TRACKING FREEDOM IN HONG KONG

In 1985, Britain and China ratified the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Under its terms, China would regain sovereignty over Hong Kong on 1 July 1997 and Hong Kong would become a Special Administrative Region (SAR) with its economic and social systems remaining unchanged for 50 years.

In 1995 all seats in the Legislative Council were declared vacant and democratic elections were held. Pro-China parties polled poorly, winning only 16 of the 60 seats, while candidates in favour of increasing openness and democracy won 26 seats and pro-business, politically neutral candidates won those remaining. China was so incensed that they threatened to dissolve the Legislative Council after 1997, even though that would be a clear violation of the 1985 Sino-British Joint Declaration.

Hong Kong passed from British to Chinese hands on 30 June 1997 and the Chinese immediately dissolved the Legislative Council and replaced it with a handpicked body.

In 1999 Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal acknowledged the primacy of China's National People's Congress in Beijing as having the final word on all matters pertaining to constitutional issues and interpretation of Basic law.

On 11 July 2002 a bill was passed that gave Beijing the power to dismiss Hong Kong's leader. The BBC reported, "Under the proposal approved by Hong Kong's legislature on Wednesday (11/7/01), an 800-person committee will choose Hong Kong's next leader - but Beijing can fire the person."

"Critics say the law - proposed by the government - demolishes a crucial pillar of the autonomy the territory was promised when it was returned to China four years ago. The controversy over the bill is just the latest row that has raised fears that Hong Kong's autonomy is slowly being chipped away.

"The government is reportedly considering following China's example by banning the Falun Gong spiritual movement. However, Mr Tung said he told Mr Bush the territory would continue to tolerate a broad range of religious expression. 'Freedom of the press and religion are alive and kicking and doing well,' said Mr Tung. 'Four years since the return of Hong Kong, one country-two systems is everyday reality'." ("HK leader says freedom is safe" BBC 12 July 2001)

However, during 2002, journalists, Falun Gong and activists such as Harry Wu have been restricted, harassed, detained and deported. As the BBC notes, "A clear message is being sent - if Beijing doesn't like you, you will find it hard to get into Hong Kong." (See Link 1 - "Fears for Hong Kong's freedom" BBC 1 July 2002)

ENACTING THE ANTI-SUBVERSION LAW

An article entitled "Hong Kong signals it could soon enact anti-subversion law" (AFP 13 Sept) states: "The Hong Kong government has signalled it could soon move to enact controversial anti-subversion legislation it has been obliged to introduce since returning to Chinese rule five years ago.

"Justice Secretary Elsie Leung told reporters 'it is about time' to enact the law, which would punish offences against the state. Her remarks follow reports that a consultation paper on the issue would be issued as early as next month.

"Senior Chinese officials led by Vice Premier Qian Qichen, who is responsible for Hong Kong affairs, have told the territory to enact the subversion law as soon as possible.

"But some legislators fear such laws could run counter to Hong Kong's policies on freedom of speech and have argued that prohibition of treason and subversion are covered by existing legislation." (Full article - see link 2).

The Anti-subversion law in Article 23 of the Basic Law requires Hong Kong to legislate against treason, sedition, secession and subversion.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported the same story under the headline, "Groups meet to share views on proposed subversion law". Law Yuk-kai, director of Human Rights Monitor, is quoted as saying, "It will be a serious test of the willingness of the government to maintain Hong Kong as a tolerant and free society. Should the administration seek to interfere with Hong Kong's freedom of expression, freedom of information and academic freedom through such a law, it will fundamentally change the nature of Hong Kong's society."

"He (Mr. Law) said Human Rights Monitor and the Hong Kong Christian Institute had jointly called today's (Friday 13 Sept) meeting with NGOs including green groups, trade unions, religious groups and student organisations." The non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are meeting together to decide on a joint response. ("Groups meet to share views on proposed subversion law" by Angela Li, SCMP 13 Sept 2002).

Chinese authorities have denied that the law would affect freedom of expression in Hong Kong. However Mr. Law believes there is a need to take action. "'With the draconian law in place, non-governmental organisations which have dissenting voices would be banned gradually,' he said."

Pro-democracy legislators are seeking to widen public understanding of issues concerning the anti-subversion law. According to the SCMP, "They hope to provide campaigners against the proposed laws with substance to back up their slogans."

"Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, non-affiliated legislator representing the legal sector, is due to release to the media today (19/9) an information pack on Article 23 legislation. Another pro-democracy legislator, Cyd Ho Sau-lan, of the Frontier, plans to launch a Web site on Article 23 legislation in a fortnight's time." ("Legislators in push to broaden public knowledge of Article 23" by Angela Li and Jimmy Cheung, SCMP, 19 Sept 2002).

The NGOs will meet again on Monday 23 September to finalise the action they will take. ("NGOs weigh subversion law action" by May Sin-Mi Ho, SCMP 18 Sept 2002).

UPDATE: Massive protests led to the law being shelved -- for the time being.

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) "Fears for Hong Kong's freedom" By Damian Grammaticas,
BBC Hong Kong correspondent 1 July 2002.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/2077589.stm

2) "Hong Kong signals it could soon enact anti-subversion law"
AFP 13 Sept 2002
http://sg.news.yahoo.com/020913/1/32qns.html

Monday, September 16, 2002

Sudan: Update on 'Peace'.

Date: Monday 16 September 2002
Subj: Sudan: Update on 'Peace'.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


On 20 July 02, the Government of the Republic of Sudan and the Southern People's Liberation Movement/Army, signed the "Machakos Protocol" at the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) talks in Nairobi, Kenya (see WEA RLC posting "Sudan - Translating a Document into a Reality").

The parties met in Kenya again on 12 August to negotiate power sharing, distribution of oil revenues, human rights and a ceasefire. Direct negotiations commenced on 2 September following twenty days of indirect negotiations through international mediators from IGAD, the USA and Europe. The same day direct negotiations commenced, the Government of Sudan (GoS) withdrew from the talks.

UPDATE ON 'PEACE'

A ceasefire had not been declared in the July talks and so the fighting in the south continued unabated. To many observers it actually appeared that Government of Sudan (GoS) was escalating its people-clearing operations around the oil fields in anticipation of a ceasefire being negotiated in the August / September talks.

An AFP news report on 1 August entitled, "Sudan says it fights to secure oil areas, prevent attacks" said, "The Sudanese government said here (Khartoum) Wednesday, that its forces had engaged in 'military battles' in southern Sudan but that they were part of previous actions to secure oil fields or prevent future rebel attacks.

"The SPLA has put the civilian death toll during a weekend attack by government forces on southern Mayom county at 300 people, with up to 100,000 displaced." (See Link 1)

On 1 September however, the Southern People's Liberation Army (SPLA) had a major military victory and captured the strategic major garrison town of Torit. Torit was the scene of the first southern uprising against the central government in 1955 and had been the rebels' headquarters until GoS forces captured it in 1992. It was this SPLA victory that provoked the GoS withdrawal from the peace talks on 2 September.

According to the BBC's Alfred Taban, the GoS immediately commenced recruiting for mujahideen at universities and schools in preparation for a major offensive. Reuters reported the SPLA as saying their capture of Torit had simply been a response to a government offensive.

IMPOSING PEACE THROUGH JIHAD

Hundreds of government supporters took to the streets of Sudan's capital, Khartoum, to protest the rebel capture of Torit. President Omar al-Bashir vowed that government forces would retake Torit. "The jihad process will continue until peace, security and stability is achieved," he said.

ArabicNews.com quoted Sudanese defence minister Bakri Hassan Saleh as saying "the army is able to restore back Torit. The Mujahideen will teach the people's army for liberating Sudan (SPLA) an unforgettable lesson."

According to the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), (part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), the GoS dropped some 100 bombs on Torit on Monday 9 September.

On 10 September, the AFP published and article entitled, "Sudan's Beshir vows to 'impose' peace". The following statements are excerpts: "Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir vowed to 'impose' peace in Sudan. 'We manufacture weapons and arm ourselves, not for war but for imposing peace,' said Beshir. 'We and all the Sudanese people were pleased when peace came into sight, but the rebel movement spoiled this pleasure,' Beshir said. Beshir also inspected Monday (9/9) a newly-expanded ammunition factory at Khartoum's Shajarah neighbourhood, and claimed that his country now 'manufactures all the sorts of ammunition it needs.'" (See link 2).

OTHER MOTIVATING FACTORS?

The GoS has received intense criticism from Egypt (concerned about its Nile water supply should Southern Sudan secede) and from Islamists inside Sudan, over the Machakos Protocol. (For an example of Islamist resistance see link 3).

The Washington Post has revealed that European, Pakistani and U.S. investigators have reported that large quantities gold belonging to al Qaeda and the Taliban have recently been shipped out of Pakistan and into Sudan via United Arab Emirates and Iran. (See link 4). Sudanese authorities however, have been quick to deny the reports and that they have any link to international terrorism. (See link 5).

Observers are watching to see which way Khartoum will decide to go. The hope is that they will return to the talks and face the difficult issues pertaining to a ceasefire - particularly the issue of where the border of Southern Sudan lies (the GoS puts it considerably further south than the Southerners do).


- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) AFP "Sudan says it fights to secure oil areas, prevent attacks"
31 July 2002 http://www.sudan.net/news/posted/5554.html

2) AFP "Sudan's Beshir vows to 'impose' peace" 10 Sept 2002
http://www.sudan.net/news/posted/5847.html

3) "The true reality of the Machakos protocol"
http://www.hizb-ut-tahrir.org/english/leaflets/wilaya4.htm

4) WP "Al Qaeda Gold Moved to Sudan" 3 Sept 2002
http://www.sudan.net/news/posted/5782.html

5) AFP "Sudan denies receiving al-Qaeda gold" 4 Sept 2002
http://www.sudan.net/news/posted/5804.html

Tuesday, September 3, 2002

IRAN: DESPERATELY NEEDS THE GOSPEL

Religious Liberty Prayer List - No. 184 - Tue 03 Sep 2002

----------------------------------
IRAN: DESPERATELY NEEDS THE GOSPEL
----------------------------------

The Islamic Revolution of 1979 established a theocratic dictatorship that has left many Iranians despairing, rebelling, and seeking an escape or alternatives. Iran is a land with two faces. The public face is one of Islamic 'purity' - black chador-clad women, and conformity with Islamic rules. The secret face however, is one of rapidly escalating unemployment, drug addiction, prostitution, HIV and AIDS, discontent, despair and suicide. With a population of 60 million, and 35 million under the age of 20, it is the young who are most severely affected.

An Iranian report released in 2000 estimated that five tonnes of narcotics were being consumed in Tehran (the capital) every day. In 1999, prostitution had increased by 635% among high school students and the suicide rate by 109%, in 12 months. The report also said that 75% of the population - 86% of school students - do not say daily prayers.

Today it is acknowledged that Iran has 2-3 million drug addicts. Many girls are running away from home, from arranged child marriages or a horrific home-life. One women's rights advocate in Iran says an average of 30 runaway girls are found lost and confused in Tehran every day. She estimates that there could be up to 100 run-aways coming there daily. Some 90% of all run-away girls end up in prostitution.

In 1979, the number of Muslim background Christians in Iran was around 500 and today it is estimated to be up to 20,000. The majority of evangelical Christians in Iran were once Muslims, but many remain secret, as apostates are severely persecuted and even killed or 'disappeared'. Other Christians are harassed and threatened also. As a result, Christians who are able to, emigrate.

Iran is home to some of the world's largest unreached people groups - only 8 of the 70 ethnic groups in Iran have any known believers. Many of the 5 million Iranians in the diaspora are hearing the gospel and are finding life in Christ. Inside Iran however, amidst the disillusionment, despair and desperation, witnessing is prohibited and millions of Iranians live and die unaware of the love of Jesus and the abundant life and salvation he freely offers.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* the faith and hope of Iranian Christians to remain strong in spite of crippling discrimination, severe trials and persecution.

* safety for Muslims who choose to follow Jesus, whose lives are at risk constantly; for great wisdom to know God's will daily.

* God to use Iranian believers to bring blessing and hope to others, that the Church may grow.

* God to reveal himself to Iranian leaders through dreams and visions - Jesus himself knows no such thing as 'restricted access'.

"Healthy people don't need a doctor - sick people do. I have come to call sinners to turn from their sins, not to spend my time with those who think they are already good enough." Jesus - Luke 5:31,32 (NLT)

Monday, August 12, 2002

Nigeria: Reconciliation or Polarisation

Date: Monday 12 August 2002
Subj: Nigeria: Reconciliation or Polarisation
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


On 8 August I spoke with the Anglican Bishop of Kaduna, central Nigeria, Bishop Josiah Fearon, to gather his impressions regarding reports of escalating religious violence and persecution of Christians in the central regions of Nigeria.

The situation in Nigeria is worthy of considerable apprehension and close attention. Religion became a hot and divisive issue after the February 1999 Presidential elections resulted in a Southern Christian being democratically elected as president after decades of military rule, predominantly by Northern Muslims.

Presidential elections are due again in early 2003. These may be Nigeria's first elections where religion is a major election issue. In a nation split almost 50 / 50 between Muslims and Christians, one wonders if anyone could be a winner if religion is touted as a major and divisive election issue, anyone except the military that is.

- EK

----------------------------------------

Nigeria: Reconciliation or Polarisation.

ESCALATING SOCIAL TENSION

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) recently released a report that chronicled escalating violence in the central regions of Nigeria. Bishop Ben Kwashi of Jos wrote to CSW stating, "We are facing a new Muslim onslaught. Terror has been released on the majority Christian population of the Plateau." (Full report - see link 1)

The General Secretary of the Nigerian Evangelical Missions Association, Timothy Olonade, confirms that the Church in Jos (capital city of Plateau) is suffering increased persecution. "Yes, the story reported is true and it is the reality of a daily apprehension here. We share this story and its pain. When Jos appeared to be recovering (from the September 2001 violence), Muslim hoodlums went into cleansing mode, going from village to village to attack people and destroy properties. This now affects our everyday life, as Islamic aggression becomes our lot in this part of Nigeria."

Josiah Fearon is the Bishop of Kaduna in central Nigeria. Kaduna State, which was the scene of horrendous Sharia riots in February 2000, borders Plateau State. Bishop Fearon sees the tension and hostility through central Nigeria as predominately an ethnic conflict being played out in a religious dimension primarily because the opposing ethic groups are of different religions and because those desiring power are willing to manipulate the conflict and capitalize on it for their own purposes.

"In Jos you have people from Bauchi and other northern states, Hausa and Fulani people, who came to Jos years ago for business, and their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren have grown up there," says Bishop Fearon. "But now they are being told by the indigenes, 'You don't belong here.' But they have no other place to go! They are predominantly Muslims while the indigenes are predominantly Christian.

"However, I also want to identify with the people of Jos. They have said, 'If you live here, you have to abide by the rules and adjust to the culture, but unfortunately the Hausa have often tried to lord it over the people and it has been very difficult." (The indigenous population of Jos are mainly Christian or Animist of minority tribes. Many have resented the powerful influence of the wealthier 'immigrant' Hausa-Fulani Muslims).

"The solutions lie predominantly in governance," says Bishop Fearon. "The government needs to make sure the development is evenly distributed. Nigerians, in the central parts in particular, need to learn to accept one another again. Central Nigeria has always had a culture of accommodating people from other parts of the country, but suddenly that has all changed, and it is frightening. The whole climate has changed, and all in the name of religion. But it is not really religion - it is power. Power is the real issue here.

"It is naive to say the problems are purely religious. The problems are very complex. But having said that, we do know that there are Muslims who have plans to divide the nation - there's no doubt about it."

2003 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

Q - EK. Do you anticipate the 2003 Presidential elections bringing these issues to a head?

A - Bishop Josiah Fearon. "Unfortunately one of the presidential candidates, a former military ruler who is seeking now to be president, General Buhari, has said that Muslims should vote for whoever will promote Sharia. That is not going down well with those of us who are working for reconciliation and integration. For that to come from someone who has been Head of State shows what 2003 is likely to become. He is calling for polarisation."
-------------------
In early May the Lagos paper, Daily Champion, printed an article entitled, "Between Obasanjo and Buhari, the Religion Question" by Joy Onyekwere. Her analysis begins, "Next year's elections may be like no other before it. And between Obasanjo and Buhari, two likely presidential intenders, the looming issue that might define the voting pattern could be religion."

Joy Onyekwere goes on to say, that while religion was not an issue in the 1999 election it appears that religion may stand at the centre of the forthcoming 2003 election between "Gen. Buhari, who of late has been whipping up Sharia sentiment," and "President Obasanjo, who has at a number of occasions trumpeted his 'born again' Christian life." (Full article - see link 2)

Obasanjo set up Nigeria's Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (HRVIC) soon after being elected president. The HRVIC is investigating the killings, torture and other human rights violations committed during the years of military dictatorships. Both General Buhari (who has publicly proclaimed that Muslims should vote for Muslims), and another presidential candidate, General Babangida (another former military dictator and one of Nigeria's richest men), are presently facing charges of human rights abuses. (See links 3 & 4).

Analysts have long suspected that while a quest for power is the primary issue behind the push for Sharia, it is also being used by some to destabilize the government and divert attention away from the corruption probes and the HRVIC. There appear to be many reasons why former military dictators would seek to reinvent themselves as Islamic religious reformers.

"THE NEXT TEN MONTHS WILL BE CRITICAL."

Twelve northern states have now adopted Sharia in defiance of the Constitution. As such, Nigeria is already a nation divided. With presidential candidates like General Buhari encouraging the polarization of Nigeria along religious lines, Nigeria will need all the help it can get, to get to and through the next presidential elections without serious religious division and bloodshed.

Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim has identified the 2003 transitional elections as "the greatest challenge" facing Nigeria as a nation. (See link 5) "The greatest challenge facing this nation today is the transition from civilians to civilians. The next ten months will be critical. We have tried before and failed, but if we allow it to fail this time around it will be a disaster. It is clear," he said. "It is our hope and prayer that all lovers of democracy, all lovers of the continent of Africa should come to the aid of Nigeria to help Nigeria succeed."

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Christian Solidarity Worldwide http://www.csw.org.uk/
"Christians attacked and killed by Islamic fanatics in Nigeria" 18
July 2002 http://www.csw.org.uk/Latestnews.asp?Item=309

2) "Between Obasanjo And Buhari, the Religion Question" Daily
Champion (Lagos) Analysis 4 May 2002 by Joy Onyekwere
http://allafrica.com/stories/200205040002.html

3) "3 New Parties Registered; IBB For President?" by Associated
Press Writer Haruna Barhago, 22 June 2002.
http://www.nigeria.com/dcforum/DCForumID1/1217.html

4) "Buhari dismisses insinuations of seeking office to settle
scores" by Taye Obateru and Godwin Akor, Vangard. 28 June 2002
http://www.vanguardngr.com/news/articles/2002/June/28062002/r2280602
.htm

5) "2003 Elections Must Succeed, Says Anyim" by Bature Umar in Abuja
and Abel Orih in Yola, ThisDay News, 9 August 2002
http://odili.net/news/source/2002/aug/8/43.html

BACKGROUND

"Nigeria's turbulent prospects" 11 January 2002
By the BBC's Dan Isaacs in Lagos
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/1753559.stm

"Analysis: Nigeria's Sharia split" 15 October 2001
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/1600804.stm

WEA RLP 133 Nigeria: Bloodbath in Jos 12 Sept 2001 and
WEA RLP 136 September Update 27 Sept 2001