Tuesday, February 11, 2020

RLPB 536. Iran: as the Lord shakes the nation.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 536 | 12 Feb 2020
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IRAN: AS THE LORD SHAKES THE NATION
by Elizabeth Kendal

Source: National Council of Resistance for Iran (NCR-Iran)
 (more images and updates on site).

On 15 November the Iranian regime announced an increase in the price of fuel, triggering massive protests. By 16 November the initially peaceful protests had spread to over 50 cities and descended into violent riots. Cries of 'death to the dictator', 'clerics get lost' and 'Shah of Iran, return to Iran' filled the air. Banks, offices and Islamic centres were sacked and burned; anti-American billboards and posters of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei were torched. The protest had morphed into an open revolt against the regime. After shutting down the internet, the regime moved to extinguish the protests. Regime forces (including foreign fighters) shot at protesters from rooftops, helicopters and close range, fuelling a rapid escalation in violence. To mask the death toll, regime forces gathered up bodies and trucked them away. Amnesty International put the toll at over 300; Iranian opposition put the toll at 'at least 631'; while Reuters put the death toll at more than 1,500 with some 4,000 wounded. Around 12,000 protesters were arrested; they are being beaten, tortured and forced into televised 'confessions'. The most serious anti-regime violence in the history of the Islamic Republic was mercilessly crushed; at least on the surface.

Ismaeil Maghrebinejad (65)
On 8 January a Civil Court in Shiraz found Christian convert Ismaeil Maghrebinejad (65) guilty of 'insulting Islamic sacred beliefs' and sentenced him to three years in prison. Ismaeil's 'crime' was that he forwarded a message sent to his phone that was deemed insulting to Iran's ruling clerics. Arrested in January 2019, Ismaeil was initially charged with 'propaganda against the state' and 'insulting the sacred Iranian establishment'. At a hearing in October, the charge of apostasy (leaving Islam) was added and his bail increased. In November the charge of apostasy was dropped, presumably because apostasy charges attract international outrage and sanction, something the regime needs to avoid. Advocates suspect that the disproportionate sentence - three years jail for forwarding a text message - reflects the regime's profound hostility towards Christian converts. Middle East Concern (MEC) reports, 'Ismaeil is appealing the sentence, but still faces two other charges: "propaganda against the Islamic Republic" and "membership of a group hostile to the regime".'

Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi (21)
Source: Article 18
On 11 January the regime gave up lying and finally admitted that it was responsible for the 8 January shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752, killing all 176 passengers, including 82 Iranians. Angry protests erupted; anti-regime slogans rang out yet again. Five days of protests ensued until, on 16 January, a massive contingent of anti-riot police was deployed, forcing protesters to back down. Amidst the protests, Christian convert Fatemeh Mohammadi (21) - also known as Mary - was arrested near Tehran's Azadi Square. While Fatemeh was doubtless arrested as a protester, her record as an open and active Christian will complicate her plight. She might be only 21 years old but, as MEC reports, Fatemeh has been arrested and imprisoned before. In November 2017 Fatemeh was arrested at a house church, tried and sentenced to six months in Evin Prison, having been found guilty of 'membership in evangelical groups', 'engaging in Christian activities' and 'acting against national security through propagating against the regime'. Since then, Fatemeh has endured numerous incidents of harassment and intimidation. On 29 September 2018 she was summoned to the offices of the Intelligence services where she was harshly interrogated. In December 2019 Azad University suspended her education without reason. Iranian Christians have requested prayer for Fatemeh, whose condition and whereabouts remain unknown.

[UPDATE: Mary was severely beaten upon her arrest and horribly mistreated during interrogations. She was then incarcerated in Qarchak Prison -- long regarded as the worst prison in Iran for women -- pending a trial.]

Iran is boiling; anger is high, trust is low. The regime is cracking down hard and tightening its grip. Parliamentary polls will go ahead on 21 February. In vetting the candidates, Iran's ruling Guardian Council has performed an extraordinary purge of 'Reformists' (those who advocate more economic openness). Included in the purge are 90 sitting members of the current Reformist-dominated parliament. [For background on the current parliament see: RLPB 408, 'The People Want Change', (24 May 2017)]. So, while the regime might offer voters 1700 approved candidates, the overwhelming majority will hail from just one faction: the 'Principlists'/Conservatives (hard-liners). In 158 of the 290 seats there will be no competition at all. Consequently, motivation to vote is low, for the election result is already a done deal; hard-liners will dominate the new parliament. Reformists are divided, with some calling for an 'unofficial boycott' and for President Rouhani (a 'Reformist') to resign. The idea is to let the hard-liners take full control so they can bear the responsibility and shoulder the blame. [Currently the Principlists blame the dominant Reformists for everything, even though Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and the Guardian Council have the final say on everything.] Persecution of Christians will escalate under a Principlist-dominated regime. However, 'we struggle not against flesh and blood ...' (Ephesians 6:12).

Despite the risks - which are considerable [see 2019 joint report] - more Iranians are choosing to follow Jesus every day; God is doing something new, palpable and very exciting. As God works out his purposes, the Iranian Church will need our prayers: for endurance, wisdom, grace, courage and provision of needs.

Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi (21) protests her groundless suspension
from Azad Univerity on the eve of exams.
source: Article 18


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* continue to 'shake' (Haggai 2:6,7) the nation of Iran to bring down all that is wicked and false so that 'the Lord alone will be exalted' (Isaiah 2).

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5 ESV)
May the light of Christ shine ever brighter as the facade of Islam falls away.

*continue to build his Church inside Iran; may the Spirit of God move powerfully in the nation to awaken Persians to the limits and failings of Islam, and to draw them to the God of the Bible, for 'his way is perfect' and his 'word ... proves true' (Psalm 18:30) while his 'burden is light' (Matthew 11:28-30).

* comfort, encourage, protect and sustain all Iranian Christians currently in prison because of their faith; we especially pray for Fatemeh Mohammadi (also known as Mary) - a courageous Christian woman only 21 years old, arrested in early January, whose condition and whereabouts remain unknown; may the Lord intervene to defend and deliver her. (Luke12:6-7)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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IRAN: AS THE LORD SHAKES THE NATION

Last November Iran experienced the most violent anti-regime protests in the Islamic Republic's history. Some 1,500 protesters were shot dead by regime forces, 4,000 wounded and 12,000 arrested. The regime is cracking down and tightening its grip. Whilst parliamentary polls will go ahead on 21 February, the ruling clerics have purged the 'Reformist' candidates from the lists. 'Principlists' (hard-liners) will dominate the next parliament, meaning persecution of Christians is destined to escalate. On 8 January Christian convert Ismaeil Maghrebinejad (65) was sentenced to three years' jail for forwarding a text message deemed insulting to the ruling clerics. Also in early January, Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi (21), a Christian convert, was arrested amidst protests. In 2017 Fatemeh spent six months in prison for her faith. Her condition and whereabouts are unknown. Please pray.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com