Wednesday, November 18, 2009

CHINA ASCENDANT -- PERSECUTION INTENSIFYING

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 031 | Wed 18 Nov 2009

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CHINA ASCENDANT -- PERSECUTION INTENSIFYING
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By Elizabeth Kendal

As US President Obama visited China this week, Chinese church leaders hoped he would raise the issue of religious persecution with their government, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). However, the US is desperate for Chinese co-operation on climate change, global economics, trade and nuclear proliferation. Therefore the US was not going to risk offending China by criticising its human rights, especially when the UN's Human Rights Council has already affirmed China's human rights as 'on track'. Furthermore, when it comes to quid pro quo politics, human rights are the usual currency and totalitarian regimes know well how to extract maximum price. Emboldened by its sense of ascendancy, the Chinese government will no doubt increasingly oppose anything it deems threatening. Repression and persecution are likely to intensify.

At around 3 am on 13 September, a 400-strong mob in police uniforms invaded the 'Good News Cloth Shoes Factory', meeting place of the Linfen Christian Church in Linfen City, Fushan, in the north China Shanxi Province. Bulldozers were used to demolish structures on the site as the pack -- armed with bricks, bats, bars, pikes and shovels -- beat church members sleeping there. The devastation was total. Everything of any value was 'confiscated' (looted). Around 100 believers were injured. Several who were bleeding heavily were treated in the hospital emergency department and those who were unconscious were admitted. By noon, thousands of church members had gathered at the site. Shocked and filled with indignation and grief, they prayed to God for justice (see http://shanxifushan.ning.com/ ). According to Compass Direct about 5,000 of the 50,000-member Linfen House Church network had worshipped there weekly. China Aid Association (CAA) reports that some '30 daughter churches in nearby townships' are also prohibited from gathering for worship. According to CAA, the destruction of the Linfen church was authorised not by local authorities but by the central government in Beijing.

Then on Friday 25 September, nine Fushan Church leaders, including Pastor Yang Rongli, were kidnapped by Shanxi authorities while en route to Beijing where they had hoped to petition the central government for justice. Pastor Yang has been charged with illegal activities because for years the church she leads has 'sent missionaries, appointed pastors, set up fellowship sites, and organised large conferences [...] and besieged government officials with requests'. According to the authorities these 'illegal' activities 'disturbed the social order and are very harmful to social stability'. The church also 'illegally shared the gospel with the young . . . which violated the Constitution, Education Law and Regulations on Religious Affairs'.

What unsettles the government is the growth in unregistered fellowships (i.e. those not under CCP control). No longer are they just small groups shut away in apartments. Increasingly they are very large, public and active fellowships. In preparation for President Obama's visit, large unregistered fellowships in Shanghai and Beijing were targeted. On Sunday 2 November, Shanghai's 2000-member Wanbang Missionary Church was ordered to close down. When the believers continued to meet, the persecution grew more intensive. The church's communications were cut and every member was interrogated, fingerprinted and forced to promise not to gather on Sunday 15 November, the day President Obama arrived in Shanghai. Seven Shanghai pastors have been declared criminals. In Beijing, government intervention led to the Shouwang congregation losing its place of worship in Huajie Plaza. Undeterred, about 800 members gathered on 1 November and worshipped together in a park in the snow for 2 hours! This unsettled the authorities so much the government provided the Shouwang congregation with a university auditorium for worship on 15 November -- but placed its preachers under house arrest.

The Exodus was a divine work of God in fulfilment of a promise, which occurred at God's appointed time and was enabled through his divine provision. May the Chinese Church, in her longing for freedom, never lose the vision of her deliverance coming in God's way and time.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* God will bless the efforts of all those who are faithfully promoting religious freedom in China, especially courageous Chinese nationals -- pastors, lawyers, writers and others -- who risk being beaten, imprisoned and 'disappeared' for their efforts. 'The king's heart is a stream in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.' (Proverbs 21:1 ESV)

* the Church will resist all temptation to secure God's blessings through 'the flesh' (Galatians 4:23) and will stay prayerful, obedient and faithful amidst trial, for the glory of God.

* all Christian pastors and religious liberty advocates suffering 'reform through labour' in over 900 state-run slave labour camps (laogai) will know the sustaining grace of Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9); may God provide them and their families with spiritual comfort and strength, and all their earthly needs.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

UK: religious liberty fading fast

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 027 | Wed 21 Oct 2009

UNITED KINGDOM: RELIGIOUS LIBERTY FADING FAST

In London, England, in the 1370s, John Wycliffe suffered intensive persecution for daring to protest for biblical truth. In 1415 John Hus was burnt at the stake in Prague, Bohemia, for doing the same. On 31 October 1517 a German monk named Martin Luther risked martyrdom and worse -- the Inquisition -- when he launched his protest for biblical truth: salvation by grace through faith, not merited by works. He sought reform but got division, and the Protestant Church was born. Religious liberty and the revival of biblical theology brought many positive consequences to the societies that embraced it. As a result, 31 October has traditionally been remembered as Reformation Day. But as Protestant prosperity grew, so too did the rot of pride and arrogance. Before long, Protestant societies were not only forgetting God and the truths that gave liberty to their positive energies and made them great, but 'in pride and arrogance of heart' (Isaiah 9:9b) were rejecting God and his word as irrelevant.

British MP William Wilberforce (1759-1833), though remembered primarily as an abolitionist, was passionate about Britain's need for spiritual reformation as it was in a state of advanced decay. Not only had the nation largely forgotten God but its church had mostly returned to a works-based theology, believing that people merited salvation because they were 'good' -- not that people were good because they were saved by grace through faith. (See William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity, chapter 3.)

The awakening and spiritual reform that Wilberforce launched turned the tide in the UK. But today nearly 500 years on from Luther and some 250 years on from Wilberforce, the UK is in trouble again and is desperately in need of a fresh awakening. Moreover religious liberty is fading fast.

All Nations Church in Kennington, South London, was recently ordered not to use its sound system for its sermons or music so as to avoid offending its (Muslim) neighbours. A Christian office worker from South London, Denise Haye (25), was recently sacked for expressing her disapproval of homosexuality. A Christian nurse from Exeter, Shirley Chaplin (54), was recently threatened with disciplinary action after she refused to remove the cross from her necklace that she had worn without a complaint throughout 30 years of nursing. A Deputy Registrar with Islington Borough Council, Theresa Davies (59), was demoted because she refused to preside over same-sex civil partnership ceremonies. A Christian nurse with 40 years' experience, Anand Rao (71), was sacked after he suggested to a training seminar that distressed palliative care patients could try going to church. A Christian community nurse and professional foster mother (with 80 children's-worth of experience) was recently struck off the register for failing to prevent a 16-year-old Muslim girl converting to Christianity. A Christian homelessness prevention officer with 18 years' experience, Duke Amachree (53), was sacked by Wandsworth Council for sharing his faith with a client who had lost hope. Revd Noble Samuel of Heston United Reformed Church, West London, who debates Muslims on his TV Gospel program, was hijacked in his car by three Urdu-speaking assailants who grabbed him by the hair, ripped off his cross and threatened to break his legs if he continued broadcasting. These cases (all in 2009) are just the tip of the iceberg. If the Equality Bill that is now making its way through parliament passes (as expected), then persecution will increase dramatically.

(For the above cases see http://www.christianlegalcentre.com http://www.ccfon.org
http://www.christian.org.uk )

While Christians are being silenced, Islamisation is advancing, with Islamic fundamentalists appeased at every turn by short-sighted politicians who lack political courage and hanker after political gain. While Christians are fined, sacked and sued for expressing their faith, Anjem Choudary's Islam4UK is free to run its Islamic Roadshows all across the country . Independent think-tank Civitas recently reported that Britain already has some 85 Sharia Courts operating openly, advising illegal actions and transgressing human rights with impunity. Not content with this, some 5000 supporters of Islam4UK are expected to join a 'March for Sharia' from the House of Commons to Trafalgar Square on 31 October, which coincidentally is Reformation Day.

(An example of Islam4UK's Islamic Roadshow in action {Birmingham, June 2009} )

As long as the various anti-Christian lobby groups can silence Christians and shut down debate through anti-defamation, anti-vilification and anti-discrimination laws along with threats of violence, they will be on a winning trajectory with little resistance -- that is, until violent conflict erupts. Violent 'race' clashes are already on the increase, mostly in response to protests against Islamisation. The UK is in trouble.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* God will greatly bless those Christians who are courageously defending gospel truths and values in the UK's courts and streets, that they will have abundant grace, wisdom and boldness from the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 10:16-20,38,39)

* as Muslims 'March for Sharia' on 31 October -- Reformation Day -- British Christians will remember the courage of Martin Luther and be motivated by the heritage they have in Wycliffe, Ridley, Wilberforce, Carey and others.

* revival will come to the UK Church so that the nation's Christians will step out boldly with gospel truths and values, being prepared to suffer and, in Wilberforce's words, 'be wholly indebted' to the God of grace for everything.

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. (v29 of Isaiah 40:28-31 ESV)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

IRAN: HOW BEST TO PRAY

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 010 | Wed 24 Jun 2009

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IRAN: HOW BEST TO PRAY
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In 1989 the father of the Iranian Revolution, Grand Ayatollah Khomeini, died without a successor. His rightful and designated successor, Grand Ayatollah Hussain Ali Montazeri, had been sidelined in 1988 for protesting corruption and human rights abuses. At that time Khamenei was President, Mousavi was Prime Minister and Rafsanjani was Speaker of the Parliament. They were secure because they had not protested the purges and massacres!

Possibly because Rafsanjani thought Khamenei could be easily controlled, Rafsanjani convinced the Assembly of Experts to appoint Khamenei as Supreme Leader even though he was not qualified for the role. However, after Rafsanjani became president the two men started to clash.

Rafsanjani's power base was the business class, so he supported business, the elite and economic growth. Khamenei's power base was 'the masses', so he supported the clerics, the poor and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Khamenei and the IRGC brought Ahmadinejad to power in 2005 specifically because he would serve their interests. With Ahmadinejad in power, the IRGC have been able to extend their control over much of the Iranian economy and pursue their own and Khamenei's regional ambitions.

So, at the heart of the present troubles is a power struggle between the Khamenei IRGC-Ahmadinejad camp versus the Rafsanjani-Mousavi camp. Both camps are in the conservative block and all those involved are Islamists -- none of them are counter-revolutionaries.

The Ahmadinejad camp is ideologically driven and committed to exporting Revolution, spending billions of petro-dollars through the IRGC on foreign adventures in Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon and beyond to establish regional hegemony. The Mousavi camp on the other hand, though equally Islamist, wants less belligerence and good international relations so it can focus on domestic issues and the economy. The largely young, urban intellectuals who have been protesting in the streets of Tehran are simply embarrassed by and frustrated with the present regime and are desperate for change. One analyst described Mousavi as merely a 'balloon' that had been 'inflated' by those determined to express their anger against Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Independent analysts both inside and outside Iran believe that election fraud has taken place. However, this does not mean that Ahmadinejad would not have won the election anyway as he is enormously popular and is virtually worshipped by masses of rural poor who greatly appreciate his generous handouts. It is widely believed Khamenei and the IRGC wanted not only to guarantee Ahmadinejad's election but to provide him with a powerful mandate. The ruling regime had every intention of retaining power. As opposition started to mount even before the election, a senior official from the IRGC, Yadollah Javani, warned that the Revolutionary Guards would crush any attempt at a 'Velvet Revolution'.

Khamenei and Ahmadinejad control the guns and have the support of a clear majority of the 86-member Assembly of Experts (AoE). When Rafsanjani (who heads the AoE) recently approached the AoE -- possibly in an attempt to de-legitimise Khamenei -- his daughter and four other relatives were arrested. The Khamenei-Ahmadinejad-IRGC camp will retain power for the time being. Meanwhile, discontent, desperation and disillusionment are mounting.

PLEASE PRAY FOR IRAN THAT:

* the hunger of Iranians for openness and answers will grow as many of them start to question what has gone wrong there and as they search for a better way; may many find answers in Jesus Christ. (Generally the protesters still hope for a pure Islamic State. They believe that Islam is the solution and that the present regime has merely diverged.)

* God will wonderfully protect and preserve his besieged Church as persecution will doubtless escalate when the regime moves with rage and force to repress or even purge those who oppose it or are perceived to be a threat.

* the Holy Spirit will breathe supernatural courage into the Iranian Church, so believers will witness with courage, conviction and authority; may every word of witness be blessed with every believer a prophetic voice and a light shining in the darkness.

'For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.' (John 3:17 ESV)

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NOTE: After the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing on 4 June 1989,
large numbers of Chinese elite (including Communist officials) rejected
Communism and in a few short years the Chinese Church became truly
representative of Chinese society. Christianity is now just as much a
faith of the urban elite -- doctors, lawyers, artists, scholars and the
like -- as it is a faith of the rural poor. Even amongst non-
Christians, Communism is largely discredited and rejected and openness
and liberty are sought.

Friday, March 20, 2009

NIGERIA: THE BATTLE FOR SHARI'AH SUPREMACY

Date: Friday 20 March 2009
Subj: Nigeria: The Battle for Shari'ah Supremacy
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


In January 2000, Governor Ahmad Sani Yarima Bakura defied the Nigerian Constitution and enacted Shari'ah Law in his north western state of Zamfara. Other northern and middle-belt Muslim-majority states soon followed and it was not long before all 12 northern states were under Shari'ah Law: the constitution of the Islamic State. In religiously mixed middle-belt states such as Kaduna and Plateau, thousands -- mostly Christians -- died in Shari'ah riots and anti-Christian pogroms.

Nigeria has a secular constitution which guarantees religious freedom and does not permit states to adopt a religion (See Link 1). Adoption of Islamic Law as the law of the state does violate the constitution. It is extremely unfortunate that the federal government did not nip the Shari'ah movement in the bud while it had the chance. Then-president Olusegun Obasanjo seriously underestimated the Shari'ah movement, believing it would fade away by itself. But of course it did not. Instead it has transformed from bud to monstrous ticking time bomb.

SHARI'AH IMPLEMENTATION


As long as the constitution of the Federation remains supreme, Shari'ah Law cannot be fully implemented because any Shari'ah ruling made in a northern Shari'ah court that conflicts with the provisions of the constitution of the Federation can be successfully appealed in a federal court on constitutional grounds. Because of this, Shari'ah courts have avoided issuing harsh penalties: the acquittal of Amina Lawal is a case point. In March 2002, Amina Lawal -- who had been charged with adultery after conceiving out of wedlock -- was sentenced by a Katsina Shari'ah Court to death by stoning. In September 2003, a Katsina Shari'ah Appeals Court acquitted her on procedural grounds. It was always understood that the death-by-stoning sentence -- which had attracted global attention -- would eventually have been overturned in the Supreme Court. (Link 2)

Subsequently, Shari'ah implementation slowed considerably.

The issue of the day is no longer Shari'ah adoption, but Shari'ah implementation. To this end, the Centre for the Promotion of Shari'ah held a three-day conference in Kano from Thursday 26 to Saturday 28 February to "brainstorm on the way forward for Shari'ah in Nigeria". (Link 3)

The Shari'ah advocates are pursuing constitutional amendments that would exempt Shari'ah Law from the constitutional provision in Article 1.3: "If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void." Such an exemption would essentially give Shari'ah Law (the constitution of the Islamic State) supremacy over the constitution of the Federation.

Isa Sa'idu reports for the Daily Trust that the Centre for the Promotion of Shari'ah (CPS) convened the conference with the aim of finding solutions to the problems militating against the implementation of the Shari'ah legal system in Nigeria. The conference was chaired by Senator Ahmad Sani Yarima (former governor of Zamfara State) and funded by the Kano State Government. (Link 3)

According to Senator Ahmad Sani Yarima, the main obstacle to Shari'ah implementation is the Federal Constitution. He proposed that each state have its own independent constitution. While ignoring the fact that such a move would essentially result in the break-up of Nigeria, Senator Yarima appealed to "democracy" saying, "Democracy is a game of numbers. If we are to practice democracy vis-a-vis the Shari'ah legal system, there is the need for us to have individual states' constitutions that would be drafted and supported by the people of every state. When we have that in place, states that want to practice Shari'ah can go ahead and do it holistically without any constraint." (Link 3)

According to the Daily Trust, the CPS National President, Imam Aliyu Ibrahim Al-Tukri said, " . . . some of the problems facing Shari'ah in Nigeria are non-execution of judgments on grave offences, pressure and negative campaigns from different groups, misconception and mischief about Shari'ah. He said the legal battle between Kano State and the federal government on the legality or otherwise of establishing the Hisbah (Shari'ah implementation guards) is a vivid example of attempt to frustrate Shari'ah implementation in Nigeria." (Link 3)

THE BATTLE OVER THE LEGALITY OF HISBAH
(Hasba/sharia implementation)

After comfortably winning the 2003 state elections, Kano's Governor Ibrahim Shekarau established a Hisbah (Shari'ah implementation) Board. By 2005 Kano State had a 9000-volunteer-strong Hisbah Corps essentially operating as a parallel police force tasked primarily with enforcing Shari'ah Law.

In May 2004 the Kano Assembly passed legislation banning women riding on taxi mopeds, deeming it un-Islamic. In December 2005 Hisbah Corps launched a crack down on un-Islamic transport, in particular the persistent problem of women riding on taxi mopeds. The resultant clash between taxi drivers and the Hisbah Shari'ah enforcers -- which resulted in eleven people being injured and dozens of vehicles being vandalised -- generated an uproar.

But the greatest tension was not between the Hisbah Corps and the "masses" but between the Hisbah Corps and the police with whom they frequently clashed while pulling women off moving mopeds and confiscating alcohol from hotels etc.

On or around 7 February 2006, the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Sunday Ehindero, told a press conference that the Hisbah Law and the operations of bodies created by the Hisbah Law were unconstitutional and therefore illegal. He claimed the Hisbah agencies undermined Nigeria's national security, and noted intelligence alleging the Hisbah Board was receiving assistance from Libya and Iran and that around 100 Hisbah officers had been trained abroad in the ideology and methodology of jihad and terrorism, a claim the Kano authorities denied.

On 8 February 2006, the Inspector-General of Police arrested the Chairman of the Hisbah Corps, Yahaya Faruk Chedi, and his Deputy, Abubakar Rabo Abdulkareen. The men, arrested in Kano, were immediately taken to Abudja where they were charged with conspiring to subvert the government by managing and assisting an unlawful society known as the Hisbah Board in Kano.

The Kano State Government responded by petitioning the Supreme Court of Nigeria, asking it to rule on the constitutionality of the Hisbah Law. The Federal Government then requested that the proceedings in the High Court of Abuja against the Kano Hisbah Corps Chairman and Deputy be stayed pending the determination of the suit at the apex court, because obviously the ruling of the apex court would impact the ruling of the Abuja High Court.

What Kano's Hisbah advocates were after was a Supreme Court ruling that would declare Hisbah lawful, and restrain the Inspector-General of Police from interfering in and disrupting the full implementation of the Law.

However, the Supreme Court ruled on 2 March 2007 that the case did not come under its jurisdiction as the Kano State Attorney-General's complaints were against the Inspector-General of Police and not against the Federation. Seven Chief Justices were unanimous in this and the case was struck out. (Full ruling see: Link 4)

In his ruling, Justice Mahmud Mohammed JSC notes that in 2005 the President of the Federation wrote a letter expressing concern about the Hisbah Board, to which the Governor of Kano State responded, allaying his fears. Subsequently, in July 2005 the President sent a delegation to Kano to investigate the situation. The Governor of Kano welcomed the delegation and reportedly extended full co-operation. The Governor of Kano also wrote to the President correcting the alleged misinformation being spread about the Hisbah Board.

As Justice Mohammed noted: "Not a single paragraph of the plaintiff's statement of claim accused the Federation of Nigeria or the Federal Republic of Nigeria of doing anything to the Hisbah Law of Kano State, the operation of the Hisbah Corps in Kano State or the arrest and detention of the named Commander General and Deputy Commander General of the Hisbah Corps in Kano State. On the face of the statement of claim of the plaintiff therefore, it is not difficult to see that there is no dispute whatsoever between Kano State in its status as a component unit of the Federation and the unit of the Federation itself which are the recognised parties when the original jurisdiction of this court is invoked."

In his judgment, Umaru Atu Kalgo JSC further elucidated the inaction of the Federal Government, adding that the President of the Federation "apart from writing the letter and sending a delegation on a fact finding mission to Kano, did not take or threaten to take any action against Kano State Government, or Hisbah Law, or any of its operators. There is no doubt that the President in his official capacity has the constitutional powers to address or deal with any security issue affecting or likely to affect Nigeria or any part thereof. He is the Chief Security Officer of this country and must be satisfied with any information on security before deciding whether to take action or not. In this case, the President did not take any action, apart from acquiring information from the Kano State Government, and therefore since he took no action at all, he is presumed to be satisfied with the explanation and information given to him."

In his judgment, Niki Tobi JSC noted that while there was clearly no dispute between the Kano State authorities and the Federal Government, Kano State was "asking for a declaration that the Kano State Hisbah Board Law No4 of 2003 and the Kano State Hisbah Board (Amendment) Law No 6 of 2005 are legal, lawful and constitutional", prompting Justice Tobi to ask: "Is the plaintiff not trying to jump the gun?"

And this is the point: the Federal Government has never challenged the legality of Shari'ah or Hisbah in the Supreme Court. Nor has it ever interfered with Shari'ah implementation. The Inspector-General of Police had acted in his own capacity when he made the claim that the Hisbah Corps was unconstitutional. The plaintiff's complaints were not against the Federation and so the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction. The plaintiff was left with the option of taking the complaint to the Federal High Court.

On 29 March 2007 the Daily Triumph reported that the presiding judge of the Abuja Court of Appeal, Justice Babs Kuewumi, had ruled the detention of Chairman of the Hisbah Corps, Yahaya Faruk Chedi, and his deputy, Abubakar Rabo Abdulkareen to be unlawful and ordered the Federal Government pay each of them the sum of N500,000 as compensation for their illegal detention. (Link 5)

RETURNING TO THE CPS CONFERENCE


The driving force behind the Centre for the Promotion of Shari'ah (CPS), Kano State Governor Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, told the Kano conference that implementation of the Shari'ah legal system gives "a higher meaning and direction to politics" (Link 3).

Using the language of human rights and religious freedom, Governor Shekarau implored the conference participants not to forget the plight of Muslims in the south. "While Muslims in the north are struggling and pushing for further expansion of Shari'ah in their respective states, those in the south have been denied the right to have their marriages, divorces, inheritance and other social activities to be officially conducted, regulated and resolved in accordance with the provision of Shari'ah Law. This is unfair and unacceptable and the kinds of this forum must find a peaceful way out for our brothers in the south, also. We all have a role to play to this predicament of our southern brothers."

The Daily Trust reports: "At the end of the conference, the participants agreed that for Shari'ah to work effectively in Nigeria, the problems of political will, constitutional constraint, disparity in the approaches adopted by the Shari'ah implementing states, attitudinal problems of some Muslims towards Shari'ah, among others, must be addressed.

"The conference therefore called for a joint effort by the Shari'ah implementing states to ensure that concerned Muslims reflected, and impediments to Shari'ah implementation are removed in the proposed constitutional review, among many other recommendations."

The fact that the conference participants lamented the "attitudinal problems of some Muslims" exposes the reality that Muslims are divided over Shari'ah. Not all Muslims want the provisions of Shari'ah forced upon them.

Abdulaziz Ahmad Abdulaziz, who reported on the CPS conference for LEADERSHIP NIGERIA (Abuja), sees the reincarnation of the Shari'ah debate as a battle for supremacy.

Abdulaziz reports: "Insiders confirmed to LEADERSHIP that major forces within the pro-Shari'ah camp are itching to take centre stage with the Shari'ah agenda. Apart from the need to seek more power for the Shari'ah legal code in the new constitution which some persons have expressed, others are setting out to play the Shari'ah ticket for political prominence. The cornerstone of this, LEADERSHIP gathered, is the political romance coming into the limelight between the former Zamfara State Governor, Ahmad Sani Yarima and the incumbent Kano State Governor, Ibrahim Shekarau." (Link 6)

While a dispute between the Senate and the House of Representatives over the leadership of the Joint Constitution Review Committee has thrown the constitutional review process into disarray, Shari'ah advocates are making the most of the opportunity to advance Governor Ibrahim Shekarau's presidential prospects. One such group, known as Shekarau Political Action (SHEPAC), believes that Governor Shekarau "could be a vehicle for the total emancipation of the people of Nigeria". (Link 7)

By Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria --1999
http://www.nigeria-law.org/ConstitutionOfTheFederalRepublicOfNigeria.htm

Article 1. (1) This Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on the authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
(3) If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.

Article 10. The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.

Article 38. (1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

Links cont.

2) Facing Death for Adultery, Nigerian Woman Is Acquitted
By Somini Sengupta. Published: 26 September 2003
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9900E0D9153DF935A1575AC0A9659C8B63

3) Shari'ah: Surmounting the tall obstacles
by Isa Sa'idu, Kano. 10 March 2009
http://www.dailytrust.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=5933&Itemid=17:testset

4) Supreme Court of Nigeria. Friday 2 March 2007. S.C. 26/2006
Between Attorney-General of Kano State (Plaintiff) and Attorney-General of the Federation (Defendant).
http://www.nigeria-law.org/Attorney-General%20of%20Kano%20State%20v%20Attorney-General%20of%20the%20Federation.htm

5) Rights abuse: Court orders FG pay Chedi, Rabo N1m
From Kabiru Yusuf, Abuja. 29 March 2007
http://www.triumphnewspapers.com/archive/DT29032007/right293207.html

6) Reincarnating The Shari'ah Debate?
By Abdulaziz Ahmad Abdulaziz. 10 March 2009
http://leadershipnigeria.com/news/138/ARTICLE/7971/2009-03-10.html

7) 2011: Inside Shekarau's 'presidential project'
By Suleiman M. Bisalla, 8 March 2009
http://www.dailytrust.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=5818&Itemid=53

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

CHINA: PERSECUTION TO ESCALATE IN 2009

WEA Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | No. 517 | Wed 18 Feb 2009

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CHINA: PERSECUTION TO ESCALATE IN 2009
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By Elizabeth Kendal

Protests or 'mass incidents' have been on the rise in China over recent years. Not having democratic institutions, free media, openness and due process, this is the way Chinese citizens can express their anger over corruption, injustice, human rights abuses, low wages, wealth disparity, workers' rights and the like. Anger is likely to rise further this year as unemployment reaches critical levels due to the world economic downturn which is lessening global demand for Chinese products. Furthermore, a group of dissident intellectuals published their 'Charter 08' on 10 December 2008 -- a manifesto calling for sweeping political and human rights reforms. Despite Chinese Communist Party (CCP) efforts to block access to Charter 08, it has now been signed by more than 2000 Chinese citizens, including numerous prominent intellectuals and officials. Many China watchers are expecting a sharp increase in anger, dissent and 'mass incidents' during 2009, with an equally sharp increase in official reactionary repression.

President Hu Jintao recently ordered his military commanders to 'strengthen military discipline' so as to keep the People's Liberation Army (PLA) loyal to the CCP through this year of economic difficulties and emotionally charged anniversaries: the 50th anniversary of the Tibet uprising (10 March); the 20th anniversary of the June 4 democratic movement; and the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China (1 October).

Last week China underwent a UN Human Rights Council 'Universal Periodic Review'. After delivering a lengthy boast, the Chinese delegation rejected the criticism levelled at it by a few and basked in the praise of the majority. China rejected proposals from countries such as Australia, Germany and Canada that it improve religious liberty and end torture, the death penalty and arbitrary detention. Only the accepted proposals are listed in detail for the report including: Egypt's proposal that the death penalty be continued; Sudan's proposal that 'reform of re-education through labour' be pursued 'according to the Chinese system'; Zimbabwe's proposal that poverty be reduced; and Cuba's proposal that China continue to crack down on (allegedly) subversive human rights defenders. In all, the majority voted that China's human rights record was 'on track'. Naturally China sees this 'victory' as a vindication of its policy.

Meanwhile, persecution of the Church is escalating. According to China Aid Association (CAA), house-church Christian Yuan Shenlun (70), who had already spent 14 years in prison for his faith, was arrested on 20 January and accused of 'using an evil cult organisation to obstruct justice'. On 4 February police seized Christian lawyer Gao Zhisheng from his home in Beijing. Goa, a former member of both the CCP and PLA, has been arrested before and during September-October 2007 was tortured so severely he wanted to die. (See China Aid Association.) Gao's present whereabouts are unknown. Four of 60 house-church leaders arrested in Henan Province on 11 February remain in custody. On 4 February Compass Direct reported that the CCP 'has ramped up efforts both to identify Christians and to portray Christianity as a subversive foreign force'. This is a very dangerous development.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* God to build, sanctify and refine his Church in China so that in holiness she may shine as a light in the darkness -- a light that exposes lies and reveals truth, for the sake of the Kingdom and glory of God.

* the Holy Spirit to fill all Chinese Church leaders with courage, faith, insight and wisdom, drawing them deep into his word and into prayer; may every effort of the CCP to contain the Church be confounded and that it may in fact continue to grow.

* Yuan Shenlun, Gao Zhisheng and all other Christians in prison and labour camps for their faith and practice, that they may experience the fellowship of Christ, and that God's angels will mercifully restrain the fists and rods that are raised against them. 'Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits sent out for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?' (Hebrews 1:14 ESV)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

KYRGYZSTAN: putting the repressive religion law in context

Date: Tuesday 10 February 2009
Subj: Kyrgyzstan: putting the repressive religion law in context
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

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KYRGYZSTAN: PUTTING THE REPRESSIVE RELIGION LAW IN CONTEXT
-- Threat to Kyrgyzstan is severe but repression is not the solution.
-- A window of opportunity remains open; but not for long.
--------------------------------------------------------

On 12 January 2009 Kyrgyzstan's President, Kurmanbek Bakiev, signed a new Religion Law despite it having been widely condemned as unconstitutional and contrary to internationally accepted human rights standards. (Link 1)

The repressive new Religion Law, which passed through the parliament under a cloud of secrecy on 6 November 2008, is highly repressive. Forum 18 reports: "Provisions that have caused concern to religious communities and human rights defenders include: a ban on children being involved in religious organisations; a ban on 'aggressive action aimed at proselytism'; a ban on the distribution of religious literature, print, and audio-video religious materials; and de facto compulsory re-registration of all registered religious organisations.

"The 12 January announcement on the presidential website trumpets the fact that 200 adult citizens permanently living in Kyrgyzstan will now be required before a religious community can apply for state registration, compared to 10 in the current Law. It says 10 registered religious organisations will be needed to form a 'religious association'." (Link 1)

Such restrictions virtually guarantee that small non-"traditional" fellowships -- i.e. those outside the state-approved traditional Muslim and Russian Orthodox structures -- particularly those in small towns and remote villages, will simply be ineligible for registration.

According to another source, the law further stipulates that the Minister of Justice can only register a religious organisation/church after local authorities, and then regional authorities, have approved the membership list, and local authorities have the power to decide if a particular religious organisation is needed in their area. The ban on children being involved in religious organisations puts an end to children's ministries such as summer camps and Sunday Schools, and even means parents cannot take their children to church with them. Religious organisations are obliged to report all donations for the purpose of taxation. Police and former KGB have the right to interrupt services and conduct searches at their will.

According to Forum 18, Kyrgyzstan's Human Rights Ombudsperson, Tursunbek Akun, condemned the signing of the law and has pledged to press the government for amendments.

REACTIONARY REPRESSION

In Kyrgyzstan, as in numerous other states, the decrease in liberty is directionally proportional to the increase in corruption.

As corruption increases, enriching and empowering an elite at the expense of the disenfranchised poor, grass roots' dissatisfaction and anger mount until the state's stability is threatened.

Corrupt, dictatorial regimes react to the threat by increasing repression. If the primary source of opposition comes from religious groups or religious parties, then religious repression will intensify. However, such reactionary repression only serves to popularise and empower the opposition. Reactionary repression thus fuels an escalating cycle of violence where protest leads to repression which leads to greater protest and more intense repression and so on.

Only good governance (which lessens grievance) with liberty (which provides outlets for grievance to be lawfully expressed and ideas to be openly debated) can break the cycle. A corrupt regime that is deaf to its citizens and resistant to reform is vulnerable to revolution!

Herein lies the great threat to Kyrgyzstan. Escalating, endemic, systematic corruption is empowering the Islamic fundamentalist revolutionary group Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT). HuT, which has perfected the art of exploiting grievance and victimhood for its own political ends, is a legitimate threat to the peace, security and secularity of Central Asia.

HuT INCITING REVOLUTIONARY VIOLENCE

Just like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT) promotes Islam as the solution and advocates the establishment of an Islamic State ruled by Sharia Law. However, while the IMU is militant and engages in terrorism, HuT is political and advocates peaceful means to Islamic revolution. According to HuT ideology, when the Caliphate is restored it will establish a conventional Islamic Army that will advance Islam globally.

Since its emergence in Central Asia in the 1990s, HuT has espoused peaceful means. Furthermore it has employed peaceful means to further its radical, Islamist ideology: literature and audio-visual distribution, proselytism and teaching in small groups. However, over recent years HuT has become not only more sophisticated (branching into humanitarian relief and development), but more aggressive. HuT has begun inciting revolutionary violence.

Two events have emboldened HuT in this regard:
1) Krygyzstan's March 2005 "Tulip Revolution",
2) the propaganda coup secured in Andijan, Uzbekistan in May 2005.

Kyrgyzstan's 2005 "Tulip Revolution" was quite different from the so-called "colour revolutions" in Georgia (Rose, 2003) and Ukraine (Orange, 2004) as it was thuggish and violent. Furthermore, whilst the "revolutions" (regime changes) in Georgia and Ukraine were effected by genuinely pro-West (pro-NATO) forces, the "Tulip Revolution" was effected predominantly by poor HuT-incited Muslims bussed up to Bishek from the south, predominantly from Osh Province in the Fergana Valley.

Despite these glaring deficiencies, the "Tulip Revolution" was applauded in and legitimised by the West as yet another example of people-power democracy, simply because a "regime change" had occurred.

Immediately after the 14 March 2005 "Tulip Revolution", EurasiaNet's editor Justin Burke warned that it could turn out "that Islamic radicalism emerges as the ultimate winner of the Kyrgyz revolution".

Burke explained: "Allegations of vote-rigging served as the catalyst for the Kyrgyz revolution. But it was pent-up frustration among the population over persistent poverty and pervasive government corruption that packed the revolution with its explosive power. Many supporters of the revolution aren't necessarily interested in democracy; they are preoccupied simply with providing for themselves and their families.

"It is not too early to start worrying about the nightmare scenario of the Kyrgyz revolution -- one in which early hopes for a democratic transformation mutate into anxiety about the spread of Islamic radicalism. [. . .] In recent years, an extremist group that espouses non-violence tactics, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, has intensified its agit-prop activities aimed at overthrowing all the existing regimes in Central Asia and establishing an Islamic caliphate. The next few weeks are critical. If the provisional government can harness the revolutionary forces and keep political infighting to a minimum until new presidential and parliamentary elections are held, Kyrgyzstan will stand a chance of establishing Central Asia's first genuinely pluralistic political system. However, there is no guarantee at this time that the provisional government can accomplish these basic tasks. If it falters, and if Kyrgyzstan is saddled with a weak central government, Islamic radical groups may find themselves a new safe haven for international terrorist operations." (Link 2)

It was the "success" of the March 2005 "Tulip Revolution" that motivated Akramiya -- an offshoot of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Uzbekistan -- to attempt a "colour revolution" of its own. In May 2005, Akramiya organised a peaceful rally for justice in Andijan, in the Fergana Valley in Uzbekistan, which it then used as a cover for its violent coup d'etat attempt. When the security forces arrived to contend with the armed Islamic revolutionaries who had set fire to the court house and jail, killing guards and releasing prisoners, the militants, in an act of unspeakable betrayal and evil, used peaceful protestors as human shields, guaranteeing a high civilian death toll. While the Islamists failed to topple the government, they scored a major propaganda coup when the West, which was all too quick and eager to swallow the Islamist deception wholesale, reacted with strong one-sided condemnation of and sanctions against the Uzbek authorities.

Uzbekistan, believing its ally in the War on Terror had abandoned it, withdrew from Western rapprochement and assumed an anti-West and anti-Protestant stance. The break down in Uzbekistan-West relations had negative consequences on religious liberty. Years of slow but certain religious liberty reform were instantly undone and severe persecution returned. (For full background and analysis, see Link 3.)

Meanwhile in Kyrgystan, HuT has gone from strength to strength, popularised and empowered by escalating corruption and repression.

A "DECEPTIVE CALM" INDEED

On 14 August 2008, International Crisis Group (ICG) published a report entitled "Kyrgyzstan: A Deceptive Calm". (Link 4)

ICG describes a government lurching towards totalitarianism over a sidelined and increasingly apathetic opposition. ICG remarks: "A superficial calm has overtaken the usually boisterous political scene. This calm may, however, prove deceptive, given worsening corruption, increasing disillusionment with politics and a series of major economic crises that could strike before year's end."

The ICG report goes to great lengths to paint a picture of Krygyzstan: a power-hungry government; rising HIV/AIDS due primarily to drug trafficking (from Afghanistan, through Osh to Russia and the West) and soaring drug addiction; growing north-south tensions; endemic and systematic corruption; looming food and energy crises; and widespread poverty -- around 40 percent of the population live below the poverty line while the standard "basket" of goods and commodities costs ten times the minimum wage. Yet, for all this excellent background, the ICG report makes not one single mention of Hizb ut-Tahrir -- or even "Islam".

On 1 October 2008, only six weeks after ICG reported on Kyrgyzstan's "deceptive calm", a reported 1000 Muslims rioted in the strongly Muslim southern Fergana Valley town of Nookat in Osh province.

(Whilst Kyrgyzstan's capital of Bishek and the rest of the north comprises largely Russiafied Kyrgyz, the south has a large ethnic Uzbek minority and is increasingly staunchly Muslim.)

Nookat Muslims had asked the local authorities to sponsor the Muslim community's Eid al Fitr celebrations -- which traditionally mark the end of Ramadan -- in the city centre. When the local authorities refused and offered a local sports stadium as an alternative venue, a riot ensued. (Note: most human rights groups say "protest".)

With incitement from elements of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a reported 1000 Muslims rioted, throwing stones at police and smashing the windows and doors of the local government offices. Five police were injured and riot police had to be brought in from Osh city to disperse the mob with tear gas.

Numerous reports, including Kyrgyz ones, blame the riot on "government insensitivity" towards Muslim needs, as if destructive, violent rioting can ever be justified. (Link 5)

Thirty-two Uzbek and Kyrgyz Muslims, all reportedly members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, were arrested and subsequently charged with incitement to cause mass unrest, overthrow the authorities and create ethnic or religious strife. They were sentenced to long, harsh prison terms which advocates hope will be reduced upon appeal, particularly in the case of minors. (Link 6)

The local, provincial and central authorities should all have seen this coming. Indeed they should have spent the year preparing for Eid 2008, building relationships and negotiating, with the aim of marginalising HuT and circumventing a repeat of the debacle of Eid 2007.

In October 2007 Nookat's local authorities supported the community's Eid al Fitr celebrations in the town centre until it became clear that some 300 HuT members had "hijacked" the event.

Abdygany Aliev, head of the Nookat district administration told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR): "At first, we welcomed the initiative to hold a big celebration of the Muslim feast. But Hizb-ut-Tahrir activists started using this event for their own ends." According to IWPR: "Before the Eid festival, about 1,000 people signed a petition calling on the [secular] government to fund the celebrations, and also to pay for a new state school for girls who want to follow the Muslim dress code. Hizb-ut-Tahrir members told IWPR they helped with logistical arrangements for the party." (Link 7)

The Nookat authorities reacted to the HuT "hijacking" of the Eid event by moving in and cracking down harshly, disrupting the peaceful, joyous celebration; dispersing the crowds and confiscating equipment used in food preparation. Several of those arrested were severely beaten by police. IWPR reported: "Hizb-ut-Tahrir says the authorities' actions caused widespread discontent among Nookat residents, and the event transformed into a demonstration involving some 15,000 people." (Link 7)

The 1 October 2008 Nookat riot (especially when seen in the light of the October 2007 Eid al Fitr debacle) goes some way to explaining why the draconian Religion Law passed so easily through the parliament on 6 November 2008 and was subsequently signed into law by the President on 12 January 2009 despite protests from the "international" community. While being profoundly short-sighted and self-defeating, increasing repression is just so much easier than dealing with complex systemic problems that require profound government reform.

PROTESTANTS CAUGHT IN THE LAW'S NET

There is little doubt that Kyrgyzstan's new repressive Religion Law is designed to curtail the very real and serious threat posed by an ascendant Hizb ut-Tahrir. According to Eurasianet, on 28 January 2008 Prime Minister Viktor Chudinov announced as much when ordered into action a plan to combat the "spread of religious extremism" over the next three years. The only group identified by name was the "religious extremist party Hizb-ut Tahrir". (Link 8)

However, not the Muslims nor the Russian Orthodox nor the government seems concerned that Protestants and other small religious groups, who do not threaten or harm anyone, are going to be unjustly and unconstitutionally caught up in the Law's net.

The situation is complicated by two other issues that need to be addressed in the context of religious liberty advocacy:
1) the adversarial and detrimental nature of "New Cold War" geopolitics combined with the complicity of the (Protestant) West in the so-called "Colour Revolutions" that have brought regime change (but not necessarily stability or improved governance) to several former-Soviet states;
2) the fact that the region's "traditional" religions -- state-approved "traditional" Islam and the Russian Orthodox Church -- are more interested in securing hegemony than supporting religious liberty or expressing solidarity with their brethren, whom they refuse to recognise as such.

The adversarial and detrimental nature of "New Cold War" geopolitics not only negatively impacts religious liberty, it also has a serious, detrimental effect of regional and global security. The Taliban has strangled NATO's primary supply-line into Afghanistan (Peshawar to Kabul/Bagram via the Khyber Pass). So NATO is now is seeking to establish a new supply-line coming into Afghanistan from Central Asia in the north. But Kyrgyzstan has just expelled the US from the Manas air base, not primarily because Kyrgyzstan is anti-American, but because it knew it could play Russia and the US against each other for its own gain. Russia won, not because it wants the Taliban to win in Afghanistan, but because it wants the US to negotiate with Russia on Russia's terms. The US may also have to consider making deals with Iran for the use of Chabahar port on the Persian Gulf. Meanwhile the Taliban are preparing a cataclysmic Spring offensive.

Local security is also threatened by a repression of religious liberty. So as to be clear to Kyrgyzstan's southern Muslims that a Sharia-enforcing Caliphate is not the solution, the government must provide solutions -- practical and ideological.

Whilst the Institute for War and Peace Reporting did blame the Noorkat riot on "official insensitivity" (instead of official negligence combined with Islamic belligerence), it did quote several analysts who understood that the government needs to do more to stop Islamic radicals channelling grass-roots discontent.

Among them was Miroslav Niazov, a former government official. "Niazov believes that support for Hizb ut Tahrir in Kyrgyzstan is growing not because people espouse radical ideologies, but because they are profoundly unhappy with government policies and lack of responsiveness."

Another was Kadyr Malikov, an academic who specialises in Islamic studies.
"According to Malikov, the government and its allies need to tackle Hizb ut-Tahrir head on by addressing the same issues that it highlights -- among them poverty -- and setting out arguments to counter its extreme views.

"Malikov said influential Muslim religious leaders had a large role to play in changing popular attitudes to Hizb ut-Tahrir. They must do more than talk, he said, recommending instead 'practical grassroots work to tackle poverty, supported by local government'. 'This conflict [in Nookat] is the first serious alarm-bell signalling a need to change the strategy and methods for countering Hizb ut-Tahrir,' he said." (Link 5)

Protestants too could have a part to play to play in this, but that would require complete religious liberty including the right to convert and the right to criticise or scrutinise religion.

Without profound reform, Krygyzstan will remain stuck in a destructive cycle that is destined to further popularise and empower HuT.

Such a scenario leaves all religious liberty advocates concerned that Kyrgyzstan's next "revolution" -- a virtual certainty unless there is reform -- might be the Islamic revolution HuT is seeking.

If HuT does make a serious attempt at Islamic revolution it could trigger civil war and regional jihad. If Islam is victorious then all hopes of religious liberty reform will be crushed for the foreseeable future.

These are critical, pivotal days for religious liberty and advocacy of good governance in Kyrgyzstan. It is possible that only a small window of opportunity remains.

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) KYRGYZSTAN: President's signing of restrictive Religion Law condemned
By Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service; 13 Jan 2009
http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1240

2) KYRGYZSTAN'S REVOLUTION: Be careful what you wish for.
A EurasiaNet Commentary by Justin Burke, 25 March 2005
http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav032505.shtml
ALSO for more on the Tulip Revolution SEE:
The Tulip Revolution takes root
By Pepe Escobar 26 March 2005
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/GC26Ag03.html

3) Uzbekistan: a new wave of serious persecution may be just beginning
WEA Religious Liberty News & Analysis 23 March 2007
http://www.worldevangelicals.org/news/article.htm?id=984&cat=main

4) Kyrgyzstan: A Deceptive Calm
Asia Briefing No.79, 14 August 2008
http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=5627&CFID=58794820&CFTOKEN=16075927

5) Kyrgyzstan: Islamic Protest Sparked by Official Insensitivity
Analysts say government needs to do more to stop Islamic radicals channelling grassroots discontent.
By Yrys Kadykeev in Bishkek (RCA No. 551, 14-Oct-08)
http://www.iwpr.net/?p=rca&s=f&o=347137&apc_state=henfrca347131

6) Controversy Over Kyrgyz Protest Sentences
Sentences of up to 20 years seen as warning to other protesters, rather than justice.
By Mirgul Akimova and Ayday Tokonova in Bishkek and Regina Kalpanazar in Osh. (RCA No. 558, 12-Dec-08)
http://www.iwpr.net/index.php?apc_state=hen&s=o&o=l=EN&p=rca&s=f&o=348494

7) Islamic Group Quietly Builds Support in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyz government seems to be unable to stop the growth of popular support for Hizb-ut-Tahrir in the south.
By Abdumomun Mamaraimov in Jalalabad (RCA No. 516, 16-Nov-07)
http://www.iwpr.net/?p=rca&s=f&o=340673&apc_state=henh

8) KYRGYZSTAN: New effort aggressively counters Hizb ut-Tahrir, religious extremism.
By Bruce Pannier, 15 Feb 2008
A EurasiaNet Partner Post from RFE/RL
http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/pp021508.shtml

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

SAUDI CHRISTIAN BLOGGER ARRESTED

Date: Tuesday 27 January 2009
Subj: Saudi Arabia: Christian Blogger Arrested
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

---------------------------------------------------------
SAUDI CHRISTIANITY AND THE CULTURE OF NO LIBERTY IN THE LAND OF NO DIFFERENCE.
---------------------------------------------------------

SAUDI CHRISTIAN BLOGGER ARRESTED

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) reports that on 13 January 2009, Saudi police arrested Hamoud Bin Saleh and blocked access to his blog -- "Masihi Saudi - http://christforsaudi.blogspot.com " -- because of his opinions and his testimony that he had converted from Islam to Christianity. According to ANHRI, Hamoud Bin Saleh is incarcerated in the infamous Eleisha political prison in Riyadh. (Link 1)

ANHRI reports: "The 28-year-old alumni of the al Yarmouk University in Jordan has been arrested twice before; for nine months in 2004 and last November [2008]." On that occasion (November 2008) Saudi authorities released Hamoud prior to the Saudi-sponsored, UN-run "Culture of Peace" conference that was held in the UN Headquarters in New York on 12-13 November 2008. King Abdullah did not want to put his public relations coup at risk, and clearly it would have been inappropriate for Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah to stand up and lament mankind's "preoccupation with differences between the followers of religions" (see link 2) while his religious police were abusing a young Saudi intellectual detained purely for his different religion. However once the Saudi-sponsored "Culture of Peace" conference had passed, Hamoud Bin Saleh was re-arrested for professing a different religion.

ANHRI holds great fears for Hamoud's life, concerned that the Saudi authorities might seize the opportunity to make an example of him while the world's eyes are fixed on the situation in Gaza.

As ANHRI notes: "The young man committed no crime and the only thing he has done is exercising his normal right to express his opinions and beliefs, which must not be violated under whatever pretext.

"ANHRI condemns Saleh's arrest and holds the Saudi government fully responsible for his safety. It also demands his immediate release and calls on the Saudi government to meet its commitments and the Saudi king's statements about the respect of freedom of expression and religious tolerance."

THE REALITY OF SAUDI BLOGGING

On 10 December 2007, Fouad Ahmad al-Farhan (32) became the first Saudi to be arrested in Saudi Arabia over the content of a blog. US-educated Farhan, an Information Technology (IT) specialist who is married with two children, was arrested in Jeddah after using his blog to criticise the Interior Ministry Spokesman.

Al- Farhan was a very popular blogger who exposed corruption and appealed for political reform. A huge campaign was subsequently launched calling for his release. Al-Farhan was release on 26 April 2008 after being interrogated and held in solitary confinement for over four months. He was unique amongst Saudi bloggers in that he refused to seek refuge in anonymity and blogged openly under his real name.

According to a January 2008 article in the Washington Post: "Blogging has been on the rise in Saudi Arabia recently, allowing people to 'speak up' in a society where the media is censored and where political parties and public gatherings are banned. There are an estimated 600 bloggers in the kingdom, male and female, conservative and liberal, writing in English and Arabic." (Link 3)

THE REALITY OF SAUDI CHRISTIANITY


On 20 August 2008, the WEA Religious Liberty Prayer (RLP) ministry issued a prayer bulletin (RLP No. 492) entitled: "Saudi Arabia: shaken by apostasy and dissidence." (Link 4)

The case at the centre of the prayer bulletin was that of a young Saudi woman, Fatima Al-Mutairi (26), who revealed in her blog that she had converted to Christianity. When her brother (or father: reports vary), an officer with the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, learned of her conversion, he reportedly cut out her tongue and burned her to death.

Gulf News reported: "The death of the girl sent shockwaves and websites where the victim used to write with various nicknames have allocated special space to mourn her, while some others closed temporarily in protest." (Link 5)

The RLP bulletin highlighted the tensions that are rising in totalitarian Islamic states where Islam is traditionally protected from "blasphemy" (criticism) and "apostasy" (rejection). Today globalisation and advances in information and communication technologies are providing avenues through which differing opinions and ideas infiltrate once closed, totalitarian societies. After discovering diversity, curious and enquiring minds then discover what it means to be living in a culture of no liberty in a land of no difference.

Shortly before her martyrdom, Fatima Al-Mutairi wrote and posted to her blog a poem she entitled "And we for the sake of Christ all things bear". The Barnabas Fund published an English translation of this poem on page 12 of its January-February 2009 newsletter (also available online: link 6).

In her poem Fatima's professes her love for Jesus Christ, and for her homeland, Saudi Arabia -- a love so strong she stands ready to die for both. She laments the cruel persecution while professing no fear and a commitment to remain "unto death a Christian".

She concludes her poem with this prayer:

"As to my last words, I pray to the Lord of the worlds
Jesus the Messiah, the Light of Clear Guidance

That He change notions, and set scales of justice aright

And that he spread Love among you, O Muslims."


Saudi authorities have long repressed and persecuted the kingdom's Christian expatriate workers, and forbidden Bibles, crosses and Christian literature from entering the country, believing that they can keep Christianity out of the Saudi population. But all the effort has been for naught, for Christianity has sprung up in its midst anyway.

"I am a Saudi and a Christian," said Fatima Al-Mutairi (26) before she was martyred.

"I am a Saudi and a Christian," said Hamoud Bin Saleh (28) before he was arrested.


Saudi authorities have no right to promote themselves as beacons of peace and religious tolerance until Saudi Christianity is recognised and Saudis themselves have religious liberty.

By Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) KSA arrests blogger, blocks his blog. His life at risk as he embraced Christianity.
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Cairo, 14 Jan 2009 (note: site mistakenly says 2008)
http://anhri.net/en/reports/2009/pr0114.shtml
ALSO
Blogger arrested after posting opinions, announcing his conversion to Christianity
PaĆ­s/Tema: Saudi Arabia
Fecha: 15 de enero de 2009
Fuente: Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Persona: Hamoud Bin Saleh
http://www.ifex.org/es/content/view/full/99886/

2) King Abdullah address at the UN Peace through Dialogue meeting
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz address to the High Level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on Peace Through Dialogue, New York, November 12, 2008
http://www.saudiembassy.net/2008News/Statements/SpeechDetail.asp?cIndex=732

3) Dissident Saudi Blogger Is Arrested. 1 January 2008
By Faiza Saleh Ambah, Washington Post Foreign Service
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/31/AR2007123101915.html
ALSO: Blogger who dared to expose Saudi corruption is arrested
By Claire Soares, 3 January 2008
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/blogger-who-dared-to-expose-saudi-corruption-is-arrested-767807.html
ALSO: Saudi official: why popular blogger Farhan was jailed.
(Interior Ministry spokesman Gen. Mansour Al Turki told the Christian Science Monitor that Fouad Farhan had been jailed for violating his (Al-Turki's) rights by criticizing and offending him.)
http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0428/p07s02-wome.html

4) WEA Religious Liberty Prayer bulletin No. 492, 20 Aug 2008
Saudi Arabia: shaken by apostasy and dissidence.

5) Saudi man kills daughter for converting to Christianity
By Mariam Al Hakeem, 12 August 2008.
http://www.gulfnews.com/News/Gulf/saudi_arabia/10236558.html

6) Barnabas Fund January/February 2009 newsletter
https://barnabasfund.org/pdfdocs/BFAIDJ-F09.pdf