Countries of concern: Bangladesh, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Syria
Bangladesh, where a long struggle for the heart and soul of Bangladesh appears to be entering a critical and dangerous stage.
Having displayed their people-power by bringing hundreds of thousands of supporters out onto the streets, Hefajat-e-Islam has given the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina an ultimatum: meet their 13-point demand by the end of the month or they will lay siege to Dhaka on 5 May. The Islamists are demanding the enactment of blasphemy laws with a penalty of death for those found guilty of defaming Islam. The PM is rejecting this, assuring the Islamists that current laws can be used to punish defamation of Islam. It is highly unlikely that the Islamists will be satisfied with the PM's compromise. A showdown is imminent. Meanwhi le, the masses are polarising and Islamist violence against vulnerable minorities is escalating.
Egypt - lawless Sinai, where refugees being trafficked are tortured for ransom and routinely killed. The refugees -- mostly Eritreans, many of whom are Christians fleeing religious persecution -- are kidnapped from Sudanese refugee camps and sold to Bedouin gangs in the Sinai. Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt refuse to do anything to stop what is a highly lucrative business that is hurting only people about whom they care absolutely nothing. Pray that the Lord of Hosts will bring justice to the Sinai (Isaiah 59:15b-19).
Egypt is pouring tanks into the north-eastern Sinai in breach of its peace accords with Israel, ostensibly to tackle terrorism (which does not include human trafficking). May God's will be done! Pray for radical change in Eritrea, the source of the humanitarian problem.
Uzbekistan, where Protestants, most of whom are converts from Islam, are systematically harassed and persecuted by the local population as well as by the authorities who regard them as a threat to social cohesion. Fines for unregistered Christian witness and worship are massive.
Also causing concern:
Azerbaijan: Baptists hit with exorbitant fines
Forum 18 reports that two Baptists in Azerbaijan's north-eastern Zakatala District have been fined the equivalent of more than a year's minimum wage for violating Article 299.0.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences, that punishes clergy and reli gious associations holding unregistered meetings. The two Baptists - Pastor Zaur Balaev and Hamid Shabanov - have both previously spent time in prison for their faith. Their church has been seeking state registration since 1994, but to no avail. Pastor Balaev (whose wife is suffering with cancer) said that, though he cannot pay, he will not appeal the fine as he knows he broke the law. 'I would rather take the State Committee to court for refusing to register us for so many years,' he said. Pray for the Balaev and Shabanov families and for the Church in Azerbaijan.
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Egypt: St Mark's Cathedral, Cairo, attacked during funeral
On Friday 5 April an imam in Khusus (a poor area on the outskirts of Cairo) issued a call from the mosque: 'Kill the Christians and cleanse Al Khusus' of 'infidels'. Four local Copts were killed in the subsequent Islamic pogrom. On Sunday 7 April, as Coptic Christians gathered at St Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo for the funeral of the four, Musl ims came and started stoning the mourners. The mob grew as more and more Muslims joined in, many arriving with weapons, including guns and Molotov cocktails. Cairo police took more than an hour to respond and when they did arrive, they did nothing to quell the attack. Live TV footage shows most police remaining motionless throughout the attack, while some actually join in, lobbing tear gas grenades into the church compound. One Copt died from gunshot wounds whilst dozens were wounded. The economy is in decline, food security is precarious and Islamic intolerance is soaring. Egypt is a tinderbox! Pray for the Church in Egypt, a land of promise (Isaiah 19:16-25).
Somalia: 'Who can heal you?' (Lamentations 2:13)
On 8 December 2012 al-Shabaab militants shot and killed Mursal Isse Siad (55) outside his home in Beledweyne, 332km (206 miles) north of Mogadishu, in retaliation for his leaving Islam for Christianity. Siad's widow, Fartun Omar (42) gathered up their five children and fle d from the house. Rumours were circulating that al-Shabaab was hunting for her because she, like her husband, was a secret Christian. Therefore Omar decided to leave Beledweyne and seek refuge with relatives. Morning Star News reports that on 10 April the family boarded a bus which was subsequently stopped at an al-Shabaab roadblock. After screening all the passengers, the militants ordered everyone back on the bus including Omar's children, but having recognised Omar, they kept her. By 13 April it had been confirmed that Omar had been executed for her faith. Whilst Said and Omar's five children are safe in the custody of a neighbour, they have lost both parents. Pray for the Church in Somalia.
'. . . let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! . . . Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift up your hands to him [our Lord the healer] for the lives of your children . . .' (Lamentations 2:18,19 ESV).
Syria: 'Your ruin is as vast as the sea' (Lamentations 2:13)
On Monday 22 April two of Syria's most senior Christian clerics -- Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim, head of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Aleppo, and Bishop Boulos Yaziji, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Aleppo -- were kidnapped by foreign, non-Arabic speaking terrorists. Middle East Concern reports that the two bishops were on a humanitarian trip to an area near the border with Turkey as part of the negotiations for the release of two priests kidnapped on 9 February. Bishop Ibrahim, his driver and another Christian drove to the Turkish border to collect Bishop Yaziji at a rebel-held border crossing. Subsequently, as the four were returning to Aleppo their car was ambushed and the bishops kidnapped at gunpoint. The driver (a priest) was murdered, while the other passenger managed to escape. Pray for the Church in Syria and that the Lord of Hosts will intervene in that land.
'But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases . . .' (Lamentations 3:21,22a ESV).