Wednesday, June 17, 2015

RLPB 314. Sudan & Iran: 'remember those in prison . . .'

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 314 | Wed 17 Jun 2015

Sudan Update
Middle East Concern reports (18 June 2015): "At today's hearing the prosecution produced one person who gave testimony, but brought no new evidence against the pastors. The next hearing is due to be on [Thursday] 25th June. The prosecution said they have two more witnesses to give testimony.

"In the legal process the next step is for the judge to make a preliminary ruling on whether he believes there is any basis for the charges against the two pastors. If there is no basis, he will drop the charges and the case will be finished. Otherwise he will allow the case to proceed to trial.

"The defence lawyer believes the judge will make this ruling at the next hearing due on 25th June and, although there is not really any evidence against the pastors, the lawyer expects that the judge will allow the case to proceed to trial."

Please Pray
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SUDAN & IRAN: 'REMEMBER THOSE IN PRISON ...'
By Elizabeth Kendal
17 June 2015

Nothing cultivates empathy like a shared experience. In the absence of a shared experience, it helps at least to imagine ourselves in others' shoes. And so the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews encourages us to 'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them ...' (Hebrews 13:3a ESV). Imagine being torn from your distressed family, interrogated by violent men, falsely accused, denied access to a lawyer and then locked up with violent, anti-Christian criminals. Imagine your sense of helplessness as your family is menaced. Imagine your sense of despair when, after enduring years of prison, your sentence is extended. Now imagine how much you would appreciate knowing that the Church of Jesus Christ has gone into battle for you and is speaking out, providing aid and assistance to your family and interceding on your behalf before your Father in the High Court of Heaven.

Rev Peter Reith
SUDAN: Updating RLPB 309 (12 May). Rev Yat Michael (49) and Rev Peter Reith (36) are pastors from the South Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church (SSEPC). Rev Yat Michael was arrested on Sunday 14 December 2014 after he addressed a persecuted congregation in their partially demolished building in Khartoum Bhari (North). Rev Peter Reith was arrested on 11 January 2015 after enquiring about the well-being of Yat Michael. Initially detained in the low-security Omdurman Men's Prison, the men were transferred in early June to the high-security Kober Prison in north Khartoum. Right up to the day of the hearing (15 June) their families and lawyer were denied access to them, presumably on the orders of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).

At the hearing on Monday 15 June the prosecution merely repeated the accusations, again without providing any evidence. The court also heard the defence's presentation, but did not issue a ruling. The attorney defending the two pastors told Morning Star News that, in his opinion, the trial is going well. Prison conditions are harsh. The two pastors are being kept in chains and in separate cells to maximise the psychological pressure. Both men are charged with serious national security offences that could attract the death penalty. Their families have requested our prayers. The next hearing is scheduled for Thursday 18 June. [To check for an update, visit Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog.]

Farshid Fathi
IRAN: Updating RLPB 300 (10 March). Pastor Farshid Fathi (35) was arrested in December 2010 and sentenced to six years' imprisonment in February 2012. Intelligence agents then menaced and threatened his young family until they fled overseas. In April 2014, a raid was conducted on Fathi’s ward; alcohol was found and blamed on Fathi. In August 2014 Fathi was transferred to the maximum security Rajai Shahr Prison, along with another Christian prisoner, Alireza Seyyadian (serving six years). On 29 December 2014 a Revolutionary Court sentenced Farshid Fathi to an additional year in jail. Denying any link to the alcohol found in the ward, Fathi appealed. On 24 May 2015 the court upheld the ruling that Fathi receive 74 lashes plus one additional year in jail.  

Arrested in February 2012 for Christian activities, Homayoun Shokouhi was granted conditional release in November 2014, only to be rearrested in February 2015. His detention has been harsh and Middle East Concern is requesting prayer. Ebrahim Firouzi (30) was arrested in August 2013, sentenced to one year in prison but never released. In March 2015 Firouzi's sentence was extended by five years; he also is in Rajai Shahr Prison.

Abedini before his arrest,
with son Jacob Cyrus.
Pastor Saeed Abedini (36, a US citizen) was arrested in July 2012 and transferred to Rajai Shahr in November 2013. On Wednesday 10 June Pastor Saeed was violently assaulted by fellow inmates as he left his cell. Though his eyes were blackened, he did not suffer any broken bones. The inmates also smashed up his study desk. Rajai Shahr is a violent place and each assault leaves a legacy, physically and psychologically. Other prisoners also struggling with harsh sentences and health issues include: Maryam Naghash-Zargaran (37) who was arrested in December 2013, suffered a heart attack in Evin Prison in September 2013 and in November 2014 was forcibly strip-searched; and Pastor Behnam Irani (42) who was arrested in 2010, came close to death in 2013 and is not due for release until 2017.

'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them ...' (Hebrews 13:3a ESV)

PLEASE PRAY

* concerning Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir (a recognised war criminal) and the ruling National Congress regime; and concerning Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (who has advanced terminal cancer) and the ruling revolutionary Islamic regime; may the God of all grace either bring them to repentance (see 2 Chronicles 33:1-20) or remove them from power (see Psalm 10).

* that Khartoum's judiciary will rule rightly concerning the South Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church's property in Khartoum Bhari (North) and in the case of the Reverends Yat Michael and Peter Reith, despite pressure from ruling powers, especially the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).  'He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.' (Proverbs 17:15 ESV) 'Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me!' (Psalm 43:1 ESV)

* for all Christians currently imprisoned in Iran for their Christian witness. May the Lord himself be a shield about them and the lifter of their heads (Psalm 3:3); may the Holy Spirit burn warmly within them to comfort, sustain and encourage them. 'Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who do me violence, my deadly enemies who surround me.' (Psalm 17:8-9 ESV)

'Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry! Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit! From your presence let my vindication come! Let your eyes behold the right!' (Psalm 17:1-2 ESV)

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN WHOLE ARTICLE
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REMEMBER THOSE IN PRISON IN SUDAN & IRAN

The Epistle to the Hebrews encourages us to 'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them ...' (Hebrews 13:3a ESV). Remember Pastors Yat Michael and Peter Reith imprisoned in Khartoum, Sudan, on totally bogus but extremely serious national security charges as the Arab-Islamic regime strives to drive South Sudanese Christians out of Sudan. Please remember also the many Christians suffering extremely harsh sentences in Iranian prisons because of their Christian witness. They suffer from failing health, routine violence and extreme psychological pressure as the revolutionary Islamic regime strives to repress the growth of the Persian Church. Prison walls might keep prisoners in but they cannot keep the Holy Spirit out. Please pray for the prisoners and for justice. Pray Psalm 17.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).