Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 090 | Wed 12 Jan 2011
IRAN: REGIME HITS OUT AT APOSTASY -- 70 ARRESTED
By Elizabeth Kendal
Ethnic Armenian and Assyrian Orthodox Churches in Iran may exist in peace as long as they do not proselytise (i.e. seek converts). It is illegal to preach Christianity in Farsi (the Persian language) just as it is illegal for Muslims to reject Islam (apostasy). The penalty for apostasy is death. So when Muslim Farsi-speaking Iranians convert to Christianity, they must meet and worship in illegal 'underground' fellowships.
Early on 25 & 26 December 2010 armed plainclothed agents from the infamous Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) raided the homes of Christians known to be converts from Islam and/or active in witnessing to Muslims. As well as confiscating CDs, Bibles, religious books, computers and personal documents, they arrested 25 Christians. Sixteen other Christians listed for arrest were not home at the time of the raids and remain unaccounted for. Further to this there are unconfirmed reports that as many as 50 other mostly young believers have since been arrested. Amongst those detained are five married couples, one of whom has been separated from their two-year-old child and another from their breast-feeding infant. The detained Christians are being interrogated and coerced. Eleven have since been released after signing documents promising to refrain from Christian activity. The detained believers are virtually all converts from Islam.
The governor of Tehran province, Morteza Tamadon, describes Protestants and evangelicals as 'corrupt and deviant' and also accuses them of conducting an 'enemy cultural invasion'. 'The leaders of this movement,' he declared, 'have been arrested in Tehran province and more will be arrested in the near future. Just like the Taliban, who have inserted themselves into Islam like a parasite, [evangelicals] have crafted amovement with Britain's backing in the name of Christianity. But their conspiracy was unveiled quickly and the first blows were delivered to them.'
In June 2010 Protestant pastor Youcef Nadrkhani and his wife Fatemah were arrested in the northern city of Rasht. According to court documents, Nadrkhani has been convicted of apostasy, organising meetings, proselytising, establishing a house church, baptising people, and openly expressing his distaste for Islam. For these crimes he has been sentenced to death while Fatemah has been sentenced to life in prison. The couple have two young children. In September 2010 a court of appeals upheld the death sentence, which is being delayed to give MOIS more time to try to coerce Pastor Nadrkhani to return to Islam. Pastor Behrouz Sadegh-Khanjani, also arrested in June 2010, has likewise been indicted for apostasy and similar 'national security' offences. Nine other believers arrested with him, including his wife, have been released but he has not yet been sentenced.
In October 2010 Iran's intelligence minister said his agents had discovered hundreds of underground church groups, including 200 in the Muslim holy city of Mashad. According to iranfocus.com, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in an October speech that Iran's enemies were behind the underground churches. The director of the Toronto-based Iranian Christian News Agency, Saman Kamvar states, 'Since officials gave these comments, pressure has increased on our community, and the crackdowns have taken a more organised shape.'
It would be a mistake to think only politically about this as it is essentially a spiritual battle.
PLEASE PRAY THAT GOD WILL:
* demonstrate his supremacy over a belligerent regime that increasingly regards itself as supreme (see Isaiah 37:21-29 where God pronounces judgement on Sennacherib, king of Assyria); may God's hand, God's glory and God's supremacy be evident to all.
* continue his powerful work inside Iran and amongst the Iranian diaspora by his irrepressible Holy Spirit, graciously drawing Iranians out of darkness and despair into light and joy; may revival erupt, transforming the landscape.
* restrain violent hands, shield believers, provide for families, bring the schemes of the wicked to nothing (Psalm 146:9) and may what was meant for evil produce glorious fruit.
* flood the hearts of all Iranian Christians -- particularly those detained, threatened and imperilled -- with the supernatural peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7).