Tuesday, July 7, 2020

RLPB 557. Iran: Christians Exposed and Vulnerable

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 557 | Wed 08 Jul 2020
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IRAN: CHRISTIANS EXPOSED AND VULNERABLE
By Elizabeth Kendal

Pooriya Peyma (27) and his wife Fatemeh Talebi (27),
Maryam Falahi (35) and her husband Sam Khosravi (36),   
Sam and Sasan's mother Khatoon Fatolahzadeh (61), 
Sasan Khosravi (35) and his wife Marjan Falahi (33),
and Habib Heydari (38).
A year ago, on 1 July 2019, Iranian authorities arrested eight Christian converts in the south-eastern Persian Gulf city of Bushehr (pictured right). Khatoon Fatolahzadeh was subsequently released because of her age. [For full details of the arrests, see RLPB 510 (10 July 2019).] In April 2020 the seven believers were convicted of 'propaganda against the state' (Article 500 of the penal code). On 21 June the revolutionary court in Bushehr handed the four men custodial sentences of up to one year in prison each, long enough to guarantee a criminal record. Upon release, brothers Sam and Sasan Khosravi will also face work restrictions and two years internal exile. The three women - Fatemeh Talebi, and sisters Maryam and Marjan Falahi - were fined. Maryam, who is a nurse, was also given a lifetime ban on working for any national institution, including the hospital where she has worked for the past 20 years. They are all expected to appeal.

On Tuesday evening 30 June police raided a house-church in western Tehran's Yaftabad district. All 30 believers present were taken to Intelligence headquarters where an officer read a list of names from an arrest warrant. Having been cited for arrest, six believers - Armenian-Iranian Christian Joseph Shahbazian and five Christian converts named Reza, Salar, Sonya and elderly sisters Mina and Maryam - were handcuffed, blindfolded, and taken away. Phones were confiscated, homes were searched and, according to eyewitnesses, some of the believers, along with some of their non-Christian family members, were beaten. Agents then went to the homes of three other Christian converts whose names were on the arrest warrant. Two men - Farhad and Arash - were arrested, as was Mrs Maliheh Nazari (46) who is married with two sons. Early on Wednesday morning 1 July, Christian converts Sohrab, Ebrahim and Yasser were arrested in the city of Malayer (400km south-west of Tehran). Most devastatingly, London-based Article 18 reports (3 July): 'It is believed that the raids were co-ordinated with the help of an informant, who had infiltrated the group within the past few months and gained their trust. This individual is reported to have accompanied the intelligence agents in their raid on the Tehran house-church, and to have even stood next to the judge as he later read out his bail demands.'

As outlined in RLPB 536 (12 Feb 2020), between November 2019 and January 2020, dozens of Iranian cities erupted in anti-regime protests, unprecedented in this post-Islamic Revolution era. Aware it was losing its grip on the masses, Iran's ruling Guardian Council then engineered February's parliamentary elections to ensure that Principlists/Conservatives (hard-liners) would dominate the new parliament [for results see RLPB 538 (26 Feb)]. NOTE: Principlists/Conservatives differ from Centrists/Reformists, primarily on economic policy. The Principlists seek a self-reliant and quasi-socialist Iran, while the Reformists advocate economic openness and foreign investment. While the Reformists are eager to take infidel money, the Principlists are determined to prevent ideological contagion. Critically, as the 2017 presidential election demonstrated, a majority of Iranians - being more Persian than Islamist - favour the idea of economic openness and engagement with the West [RLPB 408 (24 May 2017)]. Most are deeply disillusioned with the Islamic regime which has long stifled Persian culture and brought nothing but conflict, poverty, and despair.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (81) 
As RLPB warned in February 2020, 'persecution of Christians will escalate under a Principlist-dominated regime'. It is in this context that the parliament, in May, passed amendments to Articles 499 and 500 of the Islamic Penal Code. Those found guilty of 'deviant psychological manipulation' or 'propaganda contrary to Islam', whether in the 'real or virtual sphere', can now be labelled as 'sects' and punished with imprisonment, flogging, fines, or even the death penalty. For at least a decade now, Iran has avoided using religious language in its persecution of Christians, as it attracts criticism of Iran's human rights. Instead, Iran has been charging Christians with non-religious national security offences. The introduction of religious language into laws pertaining to national security, which will see Christians charged as being members of a 'sect', is a display of Principlist resistance that is very threatening indeed. It indicates that a supremely confident Principlist-dominated government no longer seeks or requires the approval of the West. The threat posed by this trend cannot be overstated.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT

* the ever-present Holy Spirit of God will refresh, sustain, comfort and encourage every Christian in Iran, especially those who are appealing fines and prison sentences, serving prison sentences, languishing in internal exile, enduring persecution or struggling with fear, anxiety and confusion. We pray acknowledging that many are young, and many are fragile and vulnerable new believers. Lord have mercy!

* the risen, victorious Lamb of God, who is 'Lord of lords and King of kings', will fulfil his glorious purposes in Iran; may God our loving Father redeem all suffering and bring about the victory of light over darkness (John 1:1-5).

'They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful'. (Rev 17:14 ESV)

'And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light'. (Genesis 1:3 ESV)

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIANS EXPOSED AND VULNERABLE IN IRAN

On 21 June seven Christian converts arrested in July 2019 - four men and three women (aged between 27 and 38) - received their sentences; all will appeal. On Tuesday evening 30 June, Iranian intelligence officers raided a house-church in a western suburb of Tehran. Of the 30 members taken into custody, six were arrested, handcuffed, blindfolded and taken away because their names were among 12 names on an arrest warrant. Six other believers whose names were also on the arrest warrant were subsequently targeted; three were arrested in Tehran that evening, and three were arrested the next morning in Malayer, 400km southwest of Tehran. Most critically, it is believed that the raids were co-ordinated with the help of an informant, who had infiltrated the group and gained their trust. 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).