Mohabat News — Last May, the Iranian Revolutionary Court had sentenced Naser Navard-Goltapeh to 10 years in prison for his faith. He has now been transferred to the infamous Evin prison in Tehran to serve his sentence.
Mr. Navard-Goltapeh had appealed his sentence but an appeals court upheld his sentence on November 12, 2017 in branch 36 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. The sentence was approved in the appeals court in spite of Navard-Goltapeh’s attorney providing numerous grounds for his innocence.
The spokesman for the Article 18 organization, a Christian rights advocacy group, Kiarash Alipour told Mohabat News regarding Mr. Navard-Goltapeh’s accusations, “The court based its decision to convict Naser Navard-Goltapeh on a report by the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence, allegedly providing ample evidence that he attempted to undermine national security through establishing an ‘illegal house church network’. However, when asked for the report to be presented to his attorney, the court refused”.
He added, “In the appeals court, the judge surprisingly asked Mr. Navard-Goltapeh to convince the Ministry of Intelligence of his innocence in order to ease his sentence”!
It appears that the plaintiff in Mr. Navar-Goltapeh’s case is the Ministry of Intelligence itself. In earlier cases as well, the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence had asked Christian prisoners to “cooperate” with them in order for their sentences to be eased. It is not clear what the ministry means by “cooperation”.
Mr. Naser Navard-Goltapeh had been arrested on June 24, 2016 in a private gathering along with three Christians from Azerbaijan’s “Word of Life” church in Baku.
All four Christians arrested in that incident were held in solitary confinement for two months and subjected to intense interrogation. They were all charged with “illegal gathering, collusion and evangelism” and eventually released temporarily on a heavy bail. The three Christian citizens of Azerbaijan returned to their home country after being released.
In an interview with the Article 18, Mr. Navard-Goltapeh’s attorney, Hossein Ahmadi Niaz said, “My client has not broken any of the criminal code and is not guilty of his charges. All other Christians arrested with him also confirmed all of their meetings were strictly focused on their faith and worship and nothing else.”
Earlier this year, four UN human rights experts raised concerns over the Iranian judicial system not providing Christians with a “fair and transparent hearing”.
These experts noted, “Members of the Christian minority in Iran, particularly those who have converted to the faith, are facing severe discrimination and religious persecution.”
Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List has placed Iran among the top 10 countries where Christians are persecuted the most.
The Islamic regime of Iran systematically shuts down anyone trying to spread Christianity in the country. Christians in Iran are regularly faced with arrests that most often leads to long-term prison sentences.
By Dan Wooding (Assist News) The Roman Colosseum will be illuminated by red lights later this month to draw attention to the persecution of Christians around the world, and especially in Syria and Iraq.
On Saturday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m. the Colosseum will be spotlighted in red, to represent the blood of Christians who have been wounded or lost their lives due to religious persecution, according to Crux.
Simultaneously, in Syria and Iraq, prominent churches will be illuminated with red lights. In Aleppo, the St. Elijah Maronite Cathedral will be lit, and in Mosul, the Church of St. Paul, where this past Dec. 24, the first Mass was celebrated after the city’s liberation from ISIS.
The event, sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) — follows a similar initiative last year, which lit-up London’s Parliament building in red, as well as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris and the cathedral in Manila, Philippines. In 2016, the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome was lit.
Alessandro Monteduro, director of ACN, told journalists on Feb. 7 that the “illumination [of the Colosseum] will have two symbolic figures: Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian condemned to death for blasphemy and whose umpteenth judgment is expected to revoke the sentence; and Rebecca, a girl kidnapped by Boko Haram along with her two children when she was pregnant with a third.”
“One of the children was killed,” he said, “she lost the baby she was carrying, and then became pregnant after one of the many brutalities she was subjected to by her captors.”
Once she was freed and reunited with her husband, she decided she “could not hate those who caused her so much pain,” Monteduro said. [Read Voice of the Persecuted’s (VOP) report: Held Captive For 2 Years By Boko Haram: Rebecca’s Story and the relief sent to them through VOP’s aid mission, Project 133 Nigeria here.]
Aid to the Church in Need released a biennial report on anti-Christian persecution Oct. 12, 2017, detailing how Christianity is “the world’s most oppressed faith community,” and how anti-Christian persecution in the worst regions has reached “a new peak.”
The report reviewed 13 countries, and concluded that in all but one, the situation for Christians was worse in overall terms for the period 2015-2017 than during the prior two years.
“The one exception is Saudi Arabia, where the situation was already so bad it could scarcely get any worse,” the report said.
China, Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria were ranked “extreme” in the scale of anti-Christian persecution. Egypt, India, and Iran were rated “high to extreme,” while Turkey was rated “moderate to high.”
The Middle East was a major focus for the report.
“Governments in the West and the U.N. failed to offer Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria the emergency help they needed as genocide got underway,” the report said. “If Christian organizations and other institutions had not filled the gap, the Christian presence could already have disappeared in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.”
The exodus of Christians from Iraq has been “very severe.” Christians in the country now may number as few as 150,000, a decline from 275,000 in mid-2015. By spring 2017 there were some signs of hope, with the defeat of the Islamic State group and the return of some Christians to their homes on the Nineveh Plains.
The departure of Christians from Syria has also threatened the survival of their communities in the country, including historic Christian centers like Aleppo, ACN said. Syrian Christians there suffer threats of forced conversion and extortion. One Chaldean bishop in the country estimates the Christian population to be at 500,000, down from 1.2 million before the war.
Many Christians in the region fear going to official refugee camps, due to concerns about rape and other violence, according to the report.
ACN also discussed the genocide committed in Syria and Iraq by the Islamic State and other militants. While ISIS and other groups have lost their major strongholds, ACN said that many Christian groups are threatened with extinction and would likely not survive another attack.
A spokesperson for Aid to the Church in Need, said, “We invite everyone to attend, either in person or in spirit, on February 24, 2018 at around 6 p.m. in Largo Gaetana Agnesi, Rome.”
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 77, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, Alfred and Anne Wooding, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for nearly 55 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan has written numerous books, and his most recent reporting trip for ANS was to Kurdistan in Northern Iraq.
HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED
VOP is on the ground helping persecuted Christian refugees from Nigeria and Pakistan. Together with your generous help, we can reach the goal to alleviate horrific suffering. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope. Every day, we thank God that He is working through you to care for His children and to further His Kingdom! As you greatly bless others, may God continue to bless you. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do it without you!
(World Watch Monitor) The European Court of Human Rights ruled last month that an Iranian who sought asylum in Switzerland based on religious grounds could be deported to his home country because his life was not in danger, despite various reports detailing how Iran persecutes religious minorities and converts to Christianity.
Human Rights advocate Ewelina Ochab, in an article for Forbes Magazine, called it “another blow to the victims of religious persecution”.
The court said “Mr. A” did not have reason to expect torture or to fear for his life, as long as he didn’t pose a threat to the Iranian government and “practise[d] his faith discreetly”.
But quoting from various reports that provide evidence and detail stories of religious persecution in Iran, Ochab said: “It is concerning how the Swiss authorities concluded that converts ‘who practised their faith discreetly, did not face a real risk of ill-treatment upon their return’… The only reasonable conclusion is that by ‘practising faith discreetly’, the Swiss authorities meant not practising faith at all, as the practice requires some degree of manifestation and … this practice is significantly limited if not impossible in Iran”.
Ochab concluded that “the way in which the issue of religious persecution has been dealt with by the Swiss authorities and by the ECtHR shows that religious persecution continues to be misunderstood and neglected”.
Meanwhile an Iranian bishop in Tehran has faced criticism for his claims that Christians in Iran “have freedom of religion”.
“The Islamic government grants its Christian citizens every right to practise their faith, including observing their feasts such as Christmas,” Sibo Sarkisian, Armenian-Orthodox Bishop of Tehran, told Spanish news agency EFE. “They’re just not allowed to share their faith publicly, as it is forbidden under the Islamic government’s law.”
Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, said that “while the Iranian Constitution recognises Christians as an official religious minority, the state continues to persecute believers of the faith, especially converts”.
Amnesty International reported last year on the large numbers of Afghan asylum-seekers sent home from European nations, which Amnesty accused of being “wilfully blind” to the risks they face “of serious human rights violations”. It said religious minorities and converts to Christianity face additional risks.
In August an Iranian convert to Christianity was refused asylum in Sweden after she was told by migration board officials that it was her “personal life” and “not our problem if you decided to become a Christian; it’s your problem”.
Aideen Strandsson (who took a Swedish name) said a Swedish migration official told her it wouldn’t be as bad for her in Iran as she is expecting because “it would only be six months in prison”, and, in her words, for the official that was “no problem”.
Determine the ‘real converts’
The challenge for the authorities and also church leaders is to determine the “real” converts among asylum seekers, over those only pretending to help their case.
In September World Watch Monitor reported how Afghan and Iranian asylum-seekers in Germany were finding shelter in churches and how many of them were becoming Christians in the process. According to the Washington Post, “conversion is both a side-effect of church relief and a potential advantage for rejected asylum-seekers, who can claim deeper need for asylum if they are at risk of religious persecution in their home country”.
Meanwhile the Federal German Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) has been accused of wrongly rejecting asylum claims, where the applicant’s path to conversion had only taken a few months. German MP Volker Beck also criticised the Office for ruling that weekly church attendance did not amount to evidence of religious conversion, the German daily Handelsblatt reported. Beck accused the BAMF of considering itself more qualified than a parish priest to judge the authenticity of a person’s stated beliefs, based only on a two-hour interview.
A UK Parliamentary group in 2016 reviewed how the UK Home Office processes asylum-seekers’ claims. It found that, too often, “officials are asking about Bible trivia, rather than probing what someone really believes. And this lack of understanding of religion and belief is leading to the wrong people being rejected – meaning they could be forced out when they have genuinely been persecuted”. UK Home Office guidelines have been reviewed in light of the report.
Iran (MNN) – While much of the world was anticipating the possibilities of the new year, Iranians were busy calling upon their government for change in widespread protests that continue today.
*Peter Smith was able to speak with strategically placed Christians in Iran about the situation that is unfolding.
He says, “About [seven] days ago inside Iran, what started as a riot towards the price increase of eggs — the price of eggs went up by 40 percent and so the people said, ‘Hey, that’s too much!’ — it has since turned into a political revolt. And what started in the city of Mashhad, which is the Shiite holy city on the coast near Afghanistan, has now spread to than 100 different cities inside Iran.”
The protests have grown in both scope and size, and what started as a small group of protesters has garnered international attention.
As of yesterday morning, Smith said, “What I’ve heard so far in the first six days is anywhere from 16-25 people have been killed. There are hundreds and hundreds of people who have been arrested.”
The Washington Post says that at least 20 people have been killed so far. Smith believes that one reason the world is lending an ear to these protests is to ask the question, “Is this going to lead to regime change, or is this something internally that the country needs to deal with?”
Either way, the people in the streets are calling for change—both in leadership and how the nation’s money is used.
Iran is certainly no stranger to political unrest. Smith recalls the Green Movement or Revolution of 2009 which was mostly fueled by the middle class, calling for a revote for the presidential elections. This movement, he explains, did not have outside support from other nations.
“This time, the revolt seems to be among the … poor people, people who live in the parts of the cities where the economics are not as good. And what they’re saying is, ‘look, if you really want to help bring regime change, we need help from the outside.”
In particular, he says they’re calling on the influential nations in Europe, and on the United States. It remains to be seen where this revolt will take Iran.
“Especially this week, I think, is very crucial because it’s either going to continue and get worse, or the Revolutionary Guard will come in and squelch it totally. And so, what the outside world does to influence any decision, I think the next two or three days are very critical.”
While Iran has a broad spectrum of issues, there is a story unfolding that brings hope. Despite the extreme opposition Christians face, the underground Church is growing in Iran. As we’ve mentioned recently, Iran is currently the fastest growing body of believers in the world. And they are just as concerned about what’s happening in Iran as their non-Christian neighbors.
Smith says on speaking with Church leaders, he learned of two things they’re focusing on in particular: “First of all, they’re asking for prayer — prayer to know how they should go out into the streets and do ministry among those who are doing the rioting. And secondly [what] they’re trying to figure out is, ‘long term, will we as a nation be free so that we can have freedom of religion? So we can meet openly in parks or in buildings without the threat of the Revolutionary Guard or others to come in and arrest us?”
This time of year is a particularly difficult time for believers. “For the last several years during Christmas time, the Iran government has used that as a platform to arrest large groups of Christians who gather for the Christmas holiday. And even again this year they did that in several major cities. And so yes, the house church movement inside Iran is very concerned about not just the revolution that might be taking place, but how that’s going to impact their church in their future.”
Will you pray for Iran? Ask God that if there is any change to come about from these protests, that he would bring a peaceful transition. Pray for national believers to have wisdom and courage in their outreach.
How do Christians under pressure for their faith celebrate Christmas? In the fourth of our series we hear from an Iranian Christian who spent three years – and three Christmases – in prison.
Mohabat News – Because converting away from Islam is illegal in Iran, house churches meet in secret and Christmas is an “inner celebration” that takes place in people’s hearts, explains Mojtaba Hosseini, who became a Christian as an adult. He remembers one year when he and other members of their small congregation decorated the house and shared some food together. But they made sure the decorations were not Christmas-themed. “If police carried out a raid – which often happens at that time of year – we could say we were celebrating a birthday.”
In February 2012 the police raided his house church meeting and later that year he and another member were sentenced to 44 months in prison. Mojtaba was found guilty of ‘disrupting national security’ and ‘propaganda against the regime’, which related not only to his leading a house church but also to evangelism and contact with Christians outside Iran. After three years he was released from Shiraz prison on parole.
“Christmas had always been an inside celebration for me, so inside the prison I could celebrate it just the same. I would feel the joy of liberation in my heart,” which, he said, the government “is never, ever able to quench” despite separation from his family, interrogations he endured, uncertainty about the future, and sharing in a cell with “men who had committed the most terrible crimes”.
Mohabat News In an interview with Radio Farda, Article 18 spokesman, Kiarash A’lipour confirmed the news, adding, “Milad Goudarzi, Amin Khaki, Alireza Nour-Mohammadi and Shehabuddin Shahi were all arrested by security forces on Tuesday, December 12, in Karaj”.
According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran ratified in 1975, “everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”
Meanwhile, a website that exclusively reflects the news concerning Iranians converted to Christianity, Mohabat News reported, “The security forces raided six houses in Karaj where the converts used as a home church”.
While a Christian ceremony was held, the security forced stormed into the houses, detained four and dragged them away, Mohabat News reported.
Furthermore, the security forces raided two shops belonging to two of the detainees, confiscated shoes and purses and sealed off one of the shops.
The shops were sealed off for “overcharging”, “profiteering” and “breaking guild regulations”. Moreover, a Bible and a laptop (notebook) computer were also confiscated during the security operations.
One of the shops, located in Fardiss neighborhood in Karaj is owned by one of the detainees, Milad Goudarzi.
On Tuesday, the government’s official news agency, IRNA reported that “Elements of a devious Christian cult who were promoting it and attempting to disrupt the market and economic order have been arrested”.
IRNA did not elaborate what it meant by “disrupting market and economic order.
One of the detainees, Amin Khaki was earlier detained along six of his fellow Christians in 2013 and recently freed after serving his term in a prison in Ahvaz, capital of Khouzestan province, southwestern Iran.
Many Muslims who converted to Christianity have been arrested in recent years, days before Christmas.
Last year, in a joint statement, 19 human rights organizations called on the international community to press Iran to end the persecution of newly converted Iranian Christians.
According to Christian and human rights organizations, “In less than two months, since June 2017, Judge Mashallah Ahmadzadeh of Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran has issued long prison sentences to at least 11 Christian converts and the former leader of the Assyrian Pentecostal Church in Iran.”
On July 6, Ahmadzadeh sentenced four Protestant Christian converts to 10 years in prison each in a trial completely lacking due process, according to Mansour Borji, the advocacy director of Article 18, a London-based organization that defends Christians in Iran.
“Charges against these Christians is legally unfounded, and their conviction to 10 years’ imprisonment is violating the obvious right of freedom of opinion,” Borji told Radio Farda. “So many Christians in Iran are accused of merely attending Mass and prayer gatherings even in the privacy of their homes. They are all waiting for the Revolutionary Courts’ verdict against them.”
There are no recent official statistics available on the number of Christians in Iran, but 117,704 were counted in a 2011 state census, CHRI maintained. Those who said were Christians in an official census mostly belong to recognized and tolerated traditional ethnic churches, such as Armenian churches.
But evangelical or other new Christian movements, which are spreading covertly among Muslims, are treated harshly by the Islamic Republic.
In 2010, the World Christian Database (WCD) recorded 270,057 Christians in Iran. Some Christian organizations argue the number is much higher.
At least five church leaders have been murdered and hundreds more have been either interrogated or incarcerated in Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Publishing the Persian version of the Bible in Iran is forbidden, while several churches have been forced to shut down.
Mohabat News – Since the family of the Christian convert prisoner, Abdol-Ali Pourmand, who has been in prison for two weeks, has not yet been officially informed of their loved one’s charges, their efforts to hire proper legal representation for him have been hindered.
Mr. Pourmand (Elias) who is 38 years old, is one of the ministers at the Payam-e Aramesh (Message of Peace) house church in Dezful. He was arrested on October 19, 2017 and immediately transferred to Ahwaz.
His family told Mohabat News that the judge handling Mr. Pourmand’s case told them they do not have the right to hire a lawyer to represent him in court.
Even though Article 35 of the Iranian constitution recognizes the right for all prisoners to have proper legal representation, it is common practice by the Iranian judiciary to prevent religious prisoners and prisoners of conscious from hiring a lawyer to represent them in court.
On October 19, 2017, before Mr. Pourmand’s arrest, Iranian security authorities raided his house although he wasn’t home at the time. The Iranian authorities searched his house thoroughly in his absence and confiscated several Bibles, notebooks and Christian CDs. Later Mr. Pourmand was summoned to the Ministry of Intelligence office in Dezful where he was arrested upon his arrival.
- Read more: Another Christian Convert Arrested in South-Western Iran
- Read more: No information on the condition of the Christian convert Mohammad Ali Torabi in Iran
- Read more: A Group of Christian Converts Arrested in South-Western Iran
October 21, 2017, Mr. Pourmand was allowed to make a short phone call to his family informing them of his whereabouts and that his interrogators had told him he would be released soon.
Another Christian prisoner, Mohammad-Ali Torabi, who had been arrested on October 10, 2017, was also transferred to Ahwaz after his arrest. Mr. Torabi is 39 years old.
Knowledgeable sources told Mohabat News that his family went to the court ready to post a bail for Mr. Torabi’s release but court officials told them his judge had not even begun reading his case!
Although Iran’s slightly more moderate President Rouhani had promised during his presidential campaign to improve the situation of religious minorities by opening the Office of Religious Minorities Affairs and drafting the Charter of Citizen’s Civic Rights, the situation of religious minorities, including Iranian Christians, has deteriorated. This increase in persecution of Christians is more evident through longer prison sentences (10-15 years) and exile to remote parts of the country.
In her most recent report, Asma Jahangir, United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, emphasized the increase of religious minority persecution in Iran and called on the Iranian government to put an end to its oppression of religious minorities in the country. The Iranian government has renounced her report and accused her of false reporting and of having drafted her report with a political agenda in mind. / FARSI
Mohabat News – Another member of the Payam-e Aramesh (Message of Peace) house church in Dezful, Abdol-Ali Pourmand (Elyas) was arrested on October 19, 2017 and transferred to Ahwaz.
Knowledgeable sources told Mohabat News that the security authorities raided Mr. Pourmand’s house when he was working on his farm. Plain-clothes security authorities searched his house thoroughly in his absence and confiscated a few Bibles and Christian CDs.
Later, Mr. Pourmand received a call from the Ministry of Intelligence. He was summoned to their office in Dezful. He went to the ministry’s office and was arrested on the spot.
Three days after his arrest, on October 21, 2017, Mr. Pourmand was allowed to make a short phone call to his family. During the call he told his family that he is told he will not be held there for long.
Mr. Pourmand has been married for two months and is currently separated from his new bride.
Three other Christians have been arrested in Dezful recently. Mohabat News has obtained confirmed reports of them being beaten in prison and threatened that if they don’t renounce their faith in Christ and turn away from their Christian faith they will be forced to leave the country or be beaten to death.
- Read more:No information on the condition of the Christian convert Mohammad Ali Torabi in Iran
- Read more:A Group of Christian Converts Arrested in South-Western Iran
Persecution of Christians in the south-western province of Khuzestan has intensified in the last several weeks, especially in the city of Dezful.
Another member of the Payam-e Aramesh (Message of Peace) house church, Mohammad Ali Torabi, also known as Davoud, had also been arrested at his work place on October 10, 2017. He was transferred to Ahwaz immediately after his arrest. His family was also told that he will be released soon, but he has not yet been released.
The Islamic regime of Iran has been using different methods, including harassment, terror, arrest and heavy sentences to persecute Christians over the last three and a half decades, especially Farsi speaking Christians in the country. Time and time again International Human Rights and Religious
Watchdog organizations have condemned the Islamic regime for its mistreatment of Christians, but they deny all reports of Christian persecution.
Despite Iranian government’s extensive programs for spreading Shi’ite Islam and punishing conversion to other religions by death, embrace of Christianity among Iranians citizens has been on the rise across the country./FARSI