Published: 00:00 GMT Daylight Time - Friday 01 May 2009
Prayer Focus 05/09
OIC - MUSLIM STATES CONSIDER INDEPENDENT HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
The Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), which is made up of 57 Muslim nations, met in April to discuss establishing an independent human rights commission. The OIC Secretary-General stated, "Human rights and man's dignity are an integral part of Islam and core components of Islamic culture and heritage." The OIC already has its own Declaration of Human Rights (1990 Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam), which expresses the central place of sharia law in the Islamic perspective on human rights, specifically in Articles 24 and 25 which state "all the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Shari'ah" and "the Islamic Shari'ah is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of any of the articles of this Declaration." Sharia contradicts a number of elements of human rights laid down in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and thus the Cairo Declaration is all but meaningless as a guarant ee of "human rights" in the sense understood by the modern Western world.
• Pray for the UN, that it may bring pressure to bear on the OIC to conform to international standards of human rights. Pray that the difference between "human rights" according to sharia and human rights according to the normal non-Muslim understanding would become widely known.
• Pray for Christians and other religious minorities in Muslim countries, that they may be protected from further violations of their human rights, such as religious liberty, especially the freedom to choose one's faith.
UZBEKISTAN - PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS EXPERIENCE A FRESH WAVE OF SEARCHES AND ARRESTS
On 27 March 2009, Pavel Nenno, the deacon of an officially registered Baptist church in the capital Tashkent, was hosting a meal for children from poor families when the authorities raided his house. Police arrested Nenno and seized Christian literature and computer equipment, and the court ordered destruction of the confiscated items. Nenno was given a 15-day prison sentence for "teaching Baptist beliefs to children". During Nenno's time in prison, it was reported that he slept on a wooden floor in the clothes he was wearing at the time of his arrest and was given only one meal a day. Guards at the detention centre stated that Nenno was under "special control" and that no one could be admitted to the building where he was held to give him food or warm clothes. He was due to be released on 23 April 2009. In another incident, a group of 15 believers were arrested in Samarkand. Police tried to force the Christians to talk about their church leaders and sign a statement, but the Christians stood firm against the attempt at unlawful betrayal. The police continued to hold one woman from the group for an additional 24 hours because she was not carrying any official documents with her. The General Secretary of the Uzbek Baptist Union has recently published an open letter, expressing concern about "increased persecution of believers in all regions" of Uzbekistan, especially in relation to the recent wave of searches and arrests.
• Pray for an end to the raids on Christians in Uzbekistan who are being targeted and persecuted even though they belong to registered churches and desire only to glorify God's Name.
• Pray for the safe release of Pavel Nenno, that he will not suffer long-term effects from his time in prison and that he will be able to return to his church to continue the Lord's work.
EGYPT - FIRST CONVERSION CERTIFICATE ISSUED TO A CHRISTIAN CONVERT
Egyptian citizens are required at all times to carry personal ID cards. The ID card allows the citizen to vote, access basic services such as medical care in a public hospital, or obtain employment, passports, education and other services. The ID card states what religion the card holder belongs to and therefore what religious activity they and their children can participate in. Under Egyptian law, the children of someone who has converted from Islam to Christianity are still considered Muslim and therefore cannot attend Christian religious classes in school, cannot marry in a church and cannot attend church services. Conversion from Christianity to Islam in Egypt is readily recognised by the authorities and changing the religion on the ID card of such a convert is quick and easy. However, those who convert from Islam to Christianity find that their conversion will not be recognised officially and that their ID card cannot be changed. Therefore an Egyptian Christian from a Muslim background is not allowed to attend church services. Their children are also deemed to be Muslims, no matter what the children actually believe, and face similar restrictions including a ban on attending Christian religious classes in school. Muslim born Maher-al-Gohari converted to Christianity and wanted to change the religious status on his ID card so that he could be recognised as a Christian, thus enabling his teenage daughter, who is also a Christian, to receive Christian education. In a highly risky move, an Egyptian church leader last week issued a certificate of conversion to al-Gohari so that he can now apply to have his state documents amended. This is the first known time an Egyptian church has issued such a certificate. If al-Gohari is successful in changing his religious status on his ID card, it is likely that it may open the door for many people to apply for their conversion from Islam to Christianity to be legally recognised, thus enabling them to function freely in society as Christians.
• Praise the Lord Jesus for the certificate issued to enable Maher-al-Gohari to demonstrate his conversion and pray that he will be successful in applying to have his ID card amended. Pray that the Lord will protect al-Gohari and the church minister who issued the certificate.
• Pray that the issuing of this certificate will pave the way for more Christians who are living in the shadows to have their conversion to Christianity legally recognised.
TAJIKISTAN - NEW RELIGION LAW THREATENS FURTHER PERSECUTION
In a country that already experiences religious persecution, Tajikistan's President has signed an oppressive new Religion Law that many fear will further increase discrimination of all faiths in the country. Some government officials feel that the new law violates Article 26 of the current Tajik Constitution, which guarantees freedom to practise any faith, and encroaches upon the country's international human rights obligations by restricting the rights of Christians, Muslims and adherents of other faiths. The law seeks to impose state censorship on religious literature and restrictions and control on religious education; however the Deputy Culture Minister claims, "There are no restrictions on religious activity in the new Law." The proposed law has been widely criticised, including by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
• Pray for guidance and wisdom for the authorities in Tajikistan, that they will see the potentially damaging consequences of the new law and that they will have the courage to propose amendments that uphold human rights and freedom of religion.
• Pray for Christians in Tajikistan, that they will be salt and light in their society and will continue to work for peace, justice and freedom for all.
IRAN - TWO CHRISTIAN WOMEN ARRESTED FOR FOLLOWING THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS
On 5 March 2009, two Christian women (Marzieh and Maryam) had their apartment searched by the Iranian authorities. Personal belongings were confiscated, and the women were handcuffed and taken to the local police station for questioning. Government hostility towards Christians has led to these two women being labelled as "anti-government activists", and they are now being held without charge at the notorious Evin Prison. Bail has been set at an excessively high amount of US$400,000, making release virtually impossible. The women are allowed only a short phone call each day to their family and are both in urgent need of medical attention; Marzieh is said to be suffering from an infection and high fever and told relatives in a recent phone call, "I am dying". Last year there were over 50 known cases of arrests and imprisonment and some cases of torture as government intimidation of Iranian Christians increased.
• Pray for health and safety for Marzieh and Maryam and for their immediate and unconditional release. Pray that the Lord Jesus will give them daily strength to encourage each other and that they will feel His healing touch.
• Pray that world governments will encourage Iran to ensure freedom of religion for all citizens.
NIGERIA- EASTER PROCESSION SPARKS VIOLENCE BY MUSLIM ONLOOKERS
Easter turned violent in Nigeria as gangs targeted local Christians and churches. Trouble started in Gwada, in the state of Niger, when a group of Muslim youths targeted local Christians who were taking part in an Easter parade to commemorate Jesus' resurrection. Witnesses say the mob went on the rampage destroying everything in sight including musical instruments, and beat up those in the procession, injuring at least 30 Christians. During the violence, at least two Christian churches were set alight and a number of vehicles were damaged. In Minna, the capital city of Niger State, the determination of some Christian youths protected one local church and, although a number of cars were sprayed with gasoline, the attackers were prevented from setting fi re to the vehicles. Since the violence at least 100 people, mainly teenagers, have been arrested for inciting public disturbance, mischief and theft. These attacks have received little public condemnation from religious and traditional leaders.
• Ask the Lord Jesus to change the hearts of the teenagers who carried out the attacks and pray that the police will act to ensure justice for the Christians.
• Pray for the Christians injured in this attack, that the Lord will heal and comfort them.
• Pray that Muslim leaders in Nigeria will speak out to oppose violence against Christians.
On 25 March, a pastor and a church worker sustained serious injuries when they were attacked by a man armed with a machete in North Western Province. While no arrests have been made, local Christians suspect the assailant has previously attacked the church's caretaker. Many church members have been too frightened to meet together for worship as a result. On Wednesday 8 April, a group of Buddhist militants gathered outside the home of Pastor Kumara in Weeraketiya, Hambanthota district, threatening to kill him if he did not leave the village by the morning. Although the police arrested the leader of the group, he was released the following day, and it has been reported that a petition has since been sent to the Ministry of Religious Affairs to force closure of the church. Worship services on Good Friday and Easter Sunday were suspended and Pastor Kumara's family have been moved to a new location for their safety. These incidents are the latest in a series of attacks against churches and Christians, who have been subjected to violence, murder of clergy, harassment and intimidation, often initiated by locals who condemn the growth of Christianity in the country. In addition, four pastors are reported to have been killed in late April, caught in the crossfire of the ongoing conflict between the government and the Tamil Tigers.
• Pray for protection for Pastor Kumara and his family; pray that those threatening his family will come to repentance and salvation in the Lord.
• Pray that Christians will have the courage to keep meeting together in Sri Lanka despite the anti-Christian violence and for protection of all our brothers and sisters, especially those in positions of leadership.
PAKISTAN - SUSPECTS CLEARED OF RAPE OF CHRISTIAN GIRL
Despite eyewitness accounts and medical evidence indicating guilt, police have declared three Pakistani men innocent of raping a 13-year-old Christian girl in the Sangla Hill area of Pakistan. As reported last month, Ambreen was abducted and gang-raped at gun-point and was found by her family in a critical condition several hours later. When she was kidnapped, she was told by her captors, "We will kill your parents if you tell them this." Christians in Pakistan are often extremely poor and are employed by the local Muslims. The teenage girl comes from a poor background, while the men accused of her rape are part of a wealthy family of local landowners. In such circumstances it is exceptionally hard for Christians to get a fair investigation and trial.
• Continue to pray for Ambreen as she comes to terms with the knowledge that her attackers have not been brought to justice. Pray that God will heal and comfort her at this time.