Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 641 | Wed 20 Apr 2022
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IRAN: BELIEVERS JAILED AS DARKNESS LOOMS
- draconian internet bill in parliament where it is expected to pass
by Elizabeth Kendal
The only churches permitted in Iran are 'ethnic' - i.e. Armenian and Assyrian - churches. Whilst these churches may minister to Armenians and Assyrians, they are not permitted to minister in the Persian language (Farsi) or have Persians in their congregations. This is because the regime maintains that Persians are Muslims and apostasy is not permitted. According to Javaid Rehman, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, 'Between 1 January and 1 December 2021, at least 53 Christians were arrested for the practice of their religious beliefs' [A/HRC/49/75 (13 Jan 2022)].
|(left) Sakineh (Mehri) Behiati; (right) Fariba Dalir|
|Ahmed, Morteza and Ayoub (Article 18)|
INTERNET BILL: A bill currently making its way through the Iranian parliament - where it is virtually certain to pass - threatens to send the country dark. The 'Regulatory System for Cyberspace Services Bill' - formerly known as the 'User Protection Bill' - would place Iran's Internet infrastructure and Internet gateways under the control of the country's security agencies (MOIS) armed forces (IRGC). Work is already underway on a National Information Network (NIN), a closed national intranet that can keep running when access to the global internet is shut down. Furthermore, the bill would introduce criminal measures against those who produce, sell or distribute Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), punishing them with up to two years in prison. This will make it virtually impossible for Christians to communicate on matters of faith, or get Christian materials into Iran (such as much-needed theological training courses) and information on persecution out of Iran. Though the parliament is split on the issue, the hardliners are the majority. Whether they can make it work is another matter entirely. This may yet prove to be another case of Islamic overreach triggering the opposite effect of that intended.
PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR SOVEREIGN GOD WILL
* generously grace his Iranian Church with wisdom, discernment, insight and patience divinely custom-built for the trials that lie ahead; may ways be found to keep critically important and necessary communication and information flowing (even if not via the internet); may the Holy Spirit - the 'Counsellor', 'Helper' and 'Spirit of Truth' (John 14:15-31and 16:5-16), who cannot be contained or controlled - continue to move powerfully through Iran.
* comfort, encourage, sustain and protect Sakineh (Mehri) Behjati and Fariba Dalir as they serve their prison terms; may the ever-present Holy Spirit - who is not deterred by prison walls, hostile situations, or regime rules - comfort, encourage, sustain and protect all Iranian Christians cruelly treated and incarcerated for their faith; and may the Lord comfort, encourage, sustain and protect their loved ones.
But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head (Psalm 3:3 ESV).
* work a miracle of amazing grace in the heart of Iranian human rights lawyer Iman Soleimani, as he represents and advocates for persecuted Christians; may he join that precious cohort of human rights lawyers who come to know and love Jesus and who are saved through the testimony of persecuted Christians as they are dragged through the courts and imprisoned for their faith (Matthew 10:16-20). Lord have mercy.
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
BELIEVERS JAILED AS DARKNESS LOOMS IN IRAN
On 16 April two Christian women - both Persian converts and house church leaders - commenced serving two-year prison terms. Sakineh (Mehri) Behjati and Fariba Dalir are charged with acting against national security by establishing and leading Christian house churches. On 9 April three Christian men - all Persian converts - were sentenced to five year's jail. Ahmad, Morteza and Ayoub are charged with engaging in propaganda and teaching deviant beliefs, even though the men had done nothing but attend a Christian house church for prayer and worship. They will appeal. Meanwhile a bill currently before parliament would put Iran's internet infrastructure and internet gateways under the control of the country's security agencies (MOIS) armed forces (IRGC), crippling the ability of Christians to communicate about faith, or get Christian resources in and persecution news out. Please pray.
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate.
She is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology and has formerly served with the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission and Christian Faith and Freedom (Canberra).