Tuesday, July 23, 2013

RLPB 220. Iran: Christians imprisoned for their faith

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 220 | Wed 24 Jul 2013

-- PLUS: update from Pakistan

By Elizabeth Kendal

On 12 October 2012 security officials raided a house in Shiraz where members of the Church of Iran denomination had gathered to pray. Elderly believers were harassed and threatened and eight others were arrested. A few days later two other members were summoned to the Intelligence Ministry detention centre where they were subsequently arrested (although a lady with kidney disease was released the following day). The believers were transferred to Adel-Abad Prison and kept separate from other prisoners. Whilst two believers were released on bail in late October, the others remained incarcerated until March 2013. The judge set bail for prayer leader Mohammed Roghangir at US$200,000, while the others had to find US$80,000 each. The exorbitant sums were doubtless designed to cripple the believers and deter others.

Sentences were handed down on Tuesday 16 July. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports: 'Mohammad Roghangir was sentenced to six years, Massoud Rezaie to five years, Mehdi Ameruni and Bijan Farokhpour Haghighi to three years, Shahin Lahooti and Suroush Saraie to two-and-half-years each, while Eskandar Rezaie and Roxana Forughi were both sentenced to one year in prison.' Morning Star News adds that the believers were found guilty of 'action against the national security' and 'propaganda against the system'. These believers were not plotting terrorism or spying for the CIA, nor were they marching in the streets inciting counter-revolution! They were praying as Christians. Because Islam is a material and political religion, apostasy (leaving Islam) is not viewed as a spiritual issue as much as a betrayal of the Ummah (Muslim community) and treason against the Islamic State. To prevent apostates from becoming a source of 'fitna' (trouble / temptation to doubt Islam), Islamic law mandates that apostates be killed, or at least rendered utterly undesirable. [In reality, Islam's repression and cruelty is a prime source of 'fitna' and Muslims are increasingly seeing Islamic states as utterly undesirable.]

Pastor Robert Asserian had been arrested on 21 May in a crackdown on Farsi-speaking ministries, but was released on bail on 2 July on the condition that he remain silent. The Assemblies of God (AoG) church in Tehran where he ministered has since closed (RLPB 212). Mostafa Bordbar (27), a convert from Islam imprisoned in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, is awaiting trial on charges of participating in a house church, an illegal gathering. Bordbar was arrested on 27 December 2012 when police raided a Christmas celebration in a Christian's home. Bordbar has been imprisoned before, for converting to Christianity, and was out on bail. Judge Pir-Abbas (the 'hanging judge') is handling his case.

The election of President Hassan Rouhani has not changed anything. The clerical regime hand-picks the candidates and manipulates the entire election process. Whilst Rouhani was presented to the people and the world as a 'reformist' and 'moderate', he is neither. He has a pleasant public persona, so he is preferred by many in the reformist and pragmatist camps, but he is no counter-revolutionary. Rouhani is a total insider, close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who is doubtless pleased that a belligerent, obnoxious and increasingly non-compliant puppet has been replaced with a silky-smooth one. Banafsheh Zand, a US-based Iranian journalist (whose own father was arrested in 2001, then imprisoned and tortured before being murdered in 2011) describes Khamenei as a masterful tactician, and Rouhani as 'duplicitous' (deceitful, double-dealing). 

Mostafa Bordbar, Farshid Fathi and Alizreza Seyyedian -- three Christians in prison for their faith -- have written to President Rouhani requesting that, with God's help, he might restore respect and honour to Iran's name by restoring religious freedom.


* the great Counsellor, the ever-present, comforting and empowering Holy Spirit will remind all Iran's imprisoned believers and their families that God's grace is sufficient for them, for his power is made perfect in  their weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

* local believers will have courage and conviction to uphold and care for the persecuted, despite the risks involved, demonstrating sacrificial love as befits a family that has put its trust in God. (2 Timothy 1:15-18; John 13:34-35)

* the Church in the world will 'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.' (Hebrews 13:3 ESV)

* God will awaken Iranians to realise their country's problems are not administrative but are spiritual; may he bless Iran with revival! (Ephesians 2:8-9)


On Tuesday 16 July 2013 eight Iranian converts from Islam were sentenced to between one and six years imprisonment. They had been arrested at a house church prayer meeting in October 2012 and were found guilty of 'action against the national security' and 'propaganda against the system'. Robert Asserian, pastor of the now-closed Assemblies of God church in Tehran, was arrested on 21 May and released on bail on 2 July, on the condition that he 'remain silent'. Mostafa Bordbar, imprisoned in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, is awaiting trial on charges of participating in a house church, an illegal gathering. Faith can be extremely costly in Iran, with long prison sentences and crippling amounts required for bail. Please pray for the Church in Iran.


UPDATE: PAKISTAN (updating RLPB 219).

In Gojra on 20 July Christians Shafqat Masih (43) and his wife Shagufta (40) were arrested after a local Muslim accused them of sending a blasphemous text message. Their relatives have fled and it is not clear who is caring for the couple's four children aged 5 to 11 years. Shafqat insists that the police coerced him into making a confession and maintains that the accusation is false. The similarities to last week's case are blatant. Morning Star News comments: 'Accusations of blasphemous text messages could be a dangerous trend, as obtaining and activating SIM cards using someone else's national identity card is not difficult in Pakistan. Such evidence is hard to challenge in court, leaving people of all faiths at risk of being falsely convicted of blasphemy.' Please pray for the Church in Pakistan.


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