CHINA: Christians braced for tough new year As China begins a new year, Christians in the country are readying themselves for further crackdowns. China has developed a powerful system of digital surveillance, which it has integrated with the apparatus of the state. The country is said to have installed more than half a billion surveillance cameras, many with state-of-the-art face-recognition systems. Our partner Bob Fu of China Aid told us: ‘Digital authoritarianism is a growing challenge. The Chinese Communist Party has hundreds of millions of face-recognition cameras all over China. They keep watch over every street corner, from the four walls of church buildings and even from pulpits.’ Online worship or prayer meetings – a lifeline for the rest of the world during lockdown – have been banned. Many churches have been ordered to tear down the crosses from their rooftops and lawyers who try to defend the right to display the Christian cross have been disbarred and even abducted. Parents are no longer allowed to take their children to services, the Communist Party flag has to be openly displayed, and pastors are required to pledge in writing their absolute loyalty to the Party and the ideology of President Xi Jinping. Please pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in China. One of the most heavily persecuted churches is the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu. The church has been under severe attack since 2018, said Bob. More than 200 elders, pastors and deacons have been arrested, and its pastor, Wang Yi, has been convicted and sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment, accused of subversion of state power. 'Our investigations show that at least 80 members of the Early Rain Covenant Church were tortured, physically and mentally – some very severely, to the point where they are still struggling with mental challenges,’ said Bob. Yet, there is good news: ‘Despite the severe persecution, extreme surveillance and forced eviction of many from their homes, the church is actually growing,’ says Bob. ‘Many new believers have been baptised.’ UPDATES Thank you for praying for Christians imprisoned for their faith in Eritrea. We understand that 70 evangelical and Orthodox believers were released from prison earlier this month. We thank God for their release; some had been behind bars for 12 years. Please continue to pray for those who remain in detention and also for Christians who have been affected by the conflict in the Tigray area of northern Ethiopia: some have fled the area while others may have been forcibly repatriated to Eritrea. Please continue to pray for Iranian convert Ebrahim Firouzi, who has just been arrested and detained in Chabahar prison in southeast Iran after releasing videos detailing harassment by Iranian intelligence. Ebrahim, who had been serving a term of internal exile, asked Christians to pray that God would be glorified rather than that he would be acquitted. It’s now four years since Malaysian pastor Raymond Koh was abducted. Early in 2019, Malaysia’s Human Rights Commission issued a report blaming the abductions of Pastor Raymond and others on the Special Branch of Malaysia’s police. But to date, no one has been held accountable, and Pastor Raymond’s whereabouts and condition remain unknown. Please continue to pray for Raymond and his family. Sign the petition calling for his release here. Pastor Zhang Shaojie has been transferred to another prison in Henan province where he will spend his first two months in ‘concentrated education’. Please pray for this dear pastor who has five more years to serve of a 12-year sentence. During the time he ministered at Nanle County Christian Church, Pastor Zhang regularly contributed to defending other people’s rights. Finally please uphold in prayer our brother Zafar Bhatti, who has been in prison in Pakistan since 2012. Pray for peace and that God would provide for all his needs in prison and for those of his wife, Zawab Bibi. (Sources: China Aid, CSW, Middle East Concern, Release contacts)
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