Tuesday, July 9, 2019

RLPB 510 Iran: arrests and confiscations amidst rising tensions

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 510 | 10 Jul 2019
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--by Elizabeth Kendal

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Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) were created in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Both are integral to the regime's apparatus. Unlike the Iranian Armed Forces which exist to protect Iran from foreign aggression, MOIS and the IRGC exist to protect and advance the interests of the regime, both at home and abroad. Internationally, MOIS personnel operate out of embassies, consulates, Islamic cultural centres and businesses; their involvement in assassinations and terrorism is well known. At home, MOIS personnel are an ever-present, lurking threat whose task it is to snuff out dissent and prevent fitna (rebellion/strife arising from doubt), primarily through intimidation, arrest, incarceration, torture and assassination. On 8 April US President Donald Trump designated the IRGC as a terrorist organisation. Multitudes of diaspora Iranians and dissidents-in-exile want to see the terrorist designation extended to include MOIS.

On 1 July, in the city of Bushehr in south-west Iran, MOIS agents raided the homes of Christian converts. They arrested eight, including five members of one family: Sam Khosravi (36) and his wife Maryam Falahi (35); Sam's brother Sasan (35) and his wife Marjan Falahi (33); as well as Sam and Sasan's mother, Khatoon Fatolahzadeh (61), who was subsequently released because of her age. Also arrested were Pooriya Peyma (27) and his wife Fatemeh Talebi (27), and Habib Heydari (38). According to human rights organisation Article 18, the arrests were conducted with unnecessary severity and in the presence of small children. Christian literature, pictures, crosses, laptops, mobile phones, identity cards and bank cards were confiscated. The seven detained believers are reportedly being held in solitary confinement in the MOIS office in Bushehr.

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).

Like MOIS and IRGC, Execution of Imam Khomeini's Order (EIKO; Setad in Persian) was established in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and answers to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (80). Through the 1980s, EIKO's task was to confiscate the property of Iranians -- specifically religious minorities, business people and Iranians living abroad -- and redistribute it to 'charities'. Since 1989, EIKO has evolved into a major centre of economic power for, while this state-owned enterprise continues to confiscate property, it no longer redistributes it. In 2011, EIKO confiscated the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Tabriz in north-west Iran. The 100-year-old church belonged to the Assyrian Presbytery and is a National Heritage site. The regime allowed the Assyrian congregation to continue worshipping in the church on the condition that worship and ministry only be conducted in Aramaic and not in the language of Iran's Persian Muslims. On 9 May agents from MOIS and EIKO raided the Tabriz church. They expelled the church warden, changed the locks, tore down the cross and installed monitoring equipment; clearly the Assyrians will no longer be able to worship there. In March 2018, when EIKO confiscated the Garden of Sharon Christian retreat centre belonging to the Assemblies of God church in Tehran, the regime justified that act of theft by claiming the centre was being used as a cover for CIA (American Intelligence) espionage.

Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Tabriz.
Source: Article 18

The world is focused on Iran's nuclear program, even though the main purpose of nuclear weapons is leverage and deterrence. The fact is, Iran has expanded its power across Mesopotamia (Syria-Iraq) and the Levant by creating and arming Shi'ite proxies and by arming Sunni forces aligned with its Axis of Resistance. The greatest problem with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) enacted in 2015 was that it ignored this reality. By lifting sanctions from businesses, most of which were EIKO assets (i.e. state-owned), JCPOA actually facilitated the Iranian surge. [See: After Saturday Comes Sunday, from page 213.] While current sanctions are indeed hurting the regime, it has no intention of caving in. Consequently, tensions are set to escalate. I think we should anticipate that Iranian Christians will increasingly be targeted as a determined regime ups the ante and tightens its grip.


* intervene for all Iranian believers currently being held in Iranian prisons and other detention facilities; may his peace fill their hearts (Romans 15:13), may his wisdom grace their lips (Matthew 10:17-20) and may 'justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream' (Amos 5:24 ESV).

* grant the pastor, other leaders and members of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Tabriz great wisdom to know how to navigate these difficult days; may the Lord provide all their needs (Philippians 4:19) and keep them safe (Psalm 91).

* continue to build his Church in Iran and among the Persian Diaspora (Matthew 16:18).

* intervene with creativity and power, that Iran might be liberated so the people can reclaim their dynamic Persian culture and their friendship with Israel and the West; may they also gain a freedom hitherto unknown and a relationship with God hitherto unimaginable.

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


On 1 July agents from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) raided the homes of Christian converts in Bushehr, in south-west Iran. They violently arrested eight believers, including five members of one family. The matriarch was subsequently released due to her age, but seven converts aged in their 20s and 30s (including three married couples) remain detained in the MOIS office in Bushehr. Doubtless conditions remain oppressive. On 9 May regime agents raided the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Tabriz, in north-west Iran. While the 100-year-old heritage-listed church had been confiscated in 2011, the Assyrian believers had been allowed to continue worshipping there. Now the state has expelled the church warden, changed the locks, torn down the cross and installed surveillance cameras. Please pray for Iran and its believers.


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