Wednesday, February 3, 2010

041. Iran: Christians imprisoned amidst mounting repression.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 041 | Wed 03 Feb 2010

IRAN: CHRISTIANS IMPRISONED AMIDST MOUNTING REPRESSION

Iran's troubles run deep. First, Iran is more than a Shi'ite theocracy: it is a totalitarian police state whose ruling regime is protected by concentric rings of loyal guardians who have both the power and the motivation to eradicate any degree of opposition. The Iranian army protects the State from external enemies, while the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, a trained army that defends the Islamic revolution, protects the regime from internal enemies. Additionally, the Basij volunteer vigilante militia has several million members who defend the regime internally in exchange for privileges such as stipends and university places.

Secondly, the dissent in Iran is not primarily about freedom and democracy -- at least not as the West knows it -- it is primarily about economics and life-style. Khamenei and Ahmadinejad espouse an ideological and socialist system that appeals to the mass majority. The opposition Rafsanjani and Mousavi espouse a pragmatic and capitalist system that appeals to the minority educated urban elite. The opposition's primary complaint is that President Ahmadinejad's overt belligerence isolates Iran and has a negative impact on the economy.

In Iran, as in China, access to the outside world has created disillusionment and restlessness amongst the educated middle-class. In China the regime is lessening middle-class dissent by implementing policies that advance middle-class prosperity. In Iran the regime is drowning out middle-class dissent by implementing socialist policies and subsidising services for the impoverished masses. However, the financial downturn is now threatening to make things difficult for both the Chinese and Iranian regimes. Just as rising unemployment threatens to destabilise China's pacified middle-class, the Iranian regime's inability to continue funding subsidies threatens to destabilise Iran's pacified impoverished masses. Both governments are pre-empting unrest in their supporter base by cracking down hard on any potential source of opposition and any possible threat, including the church.

Compass Direct (CD) reports that after several waves of arrests commencing 24 December 2009, there are now at least 14 Iranian Christians in prison for their faith. Of the 15 believers arrested during a Christmas gathering, the three still in Tehran's Evin Prison are Maryam Jalili, Mitra Zahmati and Farzan Matin. Only days later Jalili's sister, Mobina Jalili, and another Christian were arrested in Isfahan. Their condition and whereabouts are unknown. In Shiraz, south-west Iran, the seven Christians detained since 11 January are Parviz Khaladj, Mehdi Furutan, Roxana Furouyi, Behrouz Sadegh-Khanjani, Abdol Reza Ali Haghnejad, Iman Farzad and one identified only as Mahyar. Six of them have been told they will be charged with apostasy. CD adds: 'Another Christian in the northern city of Rasht, Davoot Nejatsabet, also has been arrested. And Yousef Nadarkhani, who was arrested last year on 13 October in Rasht, remains in prison.'

It is virtually impossible for detained Christians to get legal representation. It is either denied them or simply unavailable as most of Iran's human rights lawyers have either fled the country or been imprisoned. Those remaining are simply overburdened and regard Christian cases as lower priority and greater risk. Regardless, apostasy is a criminal offence in Iran and the judge may issue a death sentence if he so chooses. Every Iranian Muslim knows that to become a Christian involves breaking the law and risking your life. Yet in the midst of this, God is at work. Iranian Christians need our prayers.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* draw the Iranian Church into a deep, dependent faith; may their hope be in their sovereign, faithful Lord alone, for only in HIM will they find sanctuary (Isaiah 8:14a), salvation (Isaiah 30:15b) and strength (Isaiah 30:15c).

* answer their prayers, increase their faith, empower and bless their witness, and build the Iranian Church. ' . . . I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' (Matthew 16:18 ESV)

* by his Holy Spirit, equip Iran's imprisoned believers with his words so they may bear witness before their captors, inquisitors and fellow prisoners; may God be glorified as they experience the Spirit's comfort and empowerment. (Matthew 10:16-22)

* redeem the suffering of the Iranian church and use it for good; may many Muslims come to faith in Jesus Christ through the testimony of his suffering Church.

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CHRISTIANS IMPRISONED IN IRAN AMIDST MOUNTING REPRESSION

Iran is more than a Shi'ite theocracy, it is a totalitarian police state whose ruling regime is protected by an army of Revolutionary Guards and several million Basij militiamen (state-sanctioned Islamic vigilantes). The political struggles in Iran have nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with money and life-style. The opposition -- as conservative and Islamist as the ruling regime -- objects to President Ahmadinejad's overt belligerence because of its negative economic impact. Whilst subsidies may pacify the impoverished masses, the more pragmatic urban elite want change. What the Iranian Church wants, however, is religious liberty -- something that is anathema to Islam. At least 14 Christians have been imprisoned cruelly since 24 December 2009. Most are converts from Islam and face the criminal charge of apostasy. Please pray.