As we enter a new year let’s continue to commit to praying for our persecuted family, many of whom will be facing the severest challenges in the next 12 months. At the same time let’s thank God for all the ways in which He has strengthened our brothers and sisters to persevere amid persecution. From Nigeria to China, from India to North Korea we know that Christians are standing strong in their faith and are prepared to die for their Saviour, so let’s be encouraged by their example and support them with our prayers. Please remember especially Christians in China and India today. According to a report by the religious liberty magazine Bitter Winter, the Chinese Communist Party is planning severe restrictions on all religious content on the internet from March 1. As the magazine notes: ‘The Measures follow complaints by President Xi Jinping that prohibitions against using the Internet to “advertise” religion are easily eluded, and more should be done to make sure that the Internet and social networks are not used as tools for “religious propaganda”. ‘The Measures require an “Internet Religious Information Service Licence,” which can only be granted to organisations [that are] part of the five authorised religions [Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Protestant (the state’s Three-Self Church) and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association]. Any other reference to religion on the web is declared illegal.’ In India, militant Hindus have called for religious conversion from Hinduism to be made illegal across the country. Several states have already passed anti-conversion laws. Karnataka, where there is increasing violence against Christians, is the latest to support a bill limiting religious freedom. Lawmakers set the anti-conversion bill on its journey towards legislation just before Christmas. These laws, which ostensibly prohibit forced conversions, are being used to prevent any form of Christian witness. They have been used as a pretext for growing militant attacks on expressions of Christianity. At the same time around 12,000 non-government organisations (NGOs) in India including Christian charities have had their licences cancelled or unprocessed. Without a licence they are unable to receive funding from overseas, which will have a dire effect on tens of thousands of workers and beneficiaries. Release International partner the All India Christian Council (AICC) has urged the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene. ‘The All India Christian Council calls upon the Prime Minister who is a major champion of democracy to immediately intervene in the midst of this humanitarian crisis across India,’ said Archbishop Joseph D’Souza, AICC president. Hundreds of Christian NGOs that are AICC members have reported the problem. Pray
That the attempt to suppress Christian content online in China would backfire; and that persecutors of the church would come to faith.
That the anti-conversion bill in Karnataka state would fail.
That the AICC, its members and other NGOs would be successful in having licences renewed.
Chinese police arrested Early Rain Covenant Church Elder Li Yingqiang on Christmas Eve for ‘disturbing social order’. Li, who was jailed for eight months in a previous crackdown by the authorities, had planned to preach during an online seminar that evening. Thank God that the event went ahead with more than 300 Christians and faith seekers attending – and that Li was released just after midnight.
Update We understand that Zafar Bhatti (pictured), a Christian pastor who has been imprisoned for ‘blasphemy’ in Pakistan since 2012, has had his life sentence increased to a death sentence. This comes despite a judge in 2019 saying there was no evidence against Zafar and that he should be released. His appeal hearings against the conviction have been repeatedly adjourned. As well as suffering two heart attacks in prison Zafar has been attacked on several occasions. Please pray for justice for this dear brother and for his wife Nawab as she comes to terms with this latest development. Thank God that our partners are able to support the couple pastorally and practically. We are concerned that too much media coverage may damage Zafar’s case so please pray that all involved in reporting his story will act wisely and sensitively. You can watch a 2020 video interview we recorded with Nawab here. (Sources: All India Christian Council, Bitter Winter, China Aid, Premier Christian News, Release partners)
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