(World Watch Monitor) Activists and representatives of the Croatian Baptist Church are urging the state not to deport Christian asylum-seekers to Iran, saying they could face serious consequences because of their faith, reports Balkan Insight.
Iran is known to be a country where living as a Christian is difficult, especially for those who have converted from Islam. It is ranked eighth on Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Late last year, Iranian and European human-rights and religious-rights organisations urged the international community to hold the Iranian government to account over its treatment of Christian converts. In their letter, they detailed what they described as “a pattern” of treatment by the Iranian authorities that included arrests, interrogations, detention, raids on churches and harassment by security agents. They also mentioned the ongoing trial of four converts – including Youcef Nadarkhani, a church leader previously sentenced to death for apostasy.
Croatia is one of the nations that saw thousands of refugees and migrants cross its borders in 2015/2016 and remains a transit country, according to Amnesty International. Most refugees and migrants have set their eyes on going further West. And it is in the migrant camps of Europe, like the so-called former “Jungle” camp near Calais, where the Christian presence hidden in Iran is becoming visible.
Mohabat News – A while ago, a UNESCO representative praised the Islamic Republic of Iran for including a few Armenian Historical church buildings on the list of national heritage sites. The St. Mary Church in Tehran was among the newly registered churches.
Some reports quoted Robert Biglarian, the Armenian member of the Iranian parliament, as saying “Recently, a group of extremist Muslims destroyed an Armenian church in Sava near Marivan County. Armenians have voiced their concern over this issue and officials are investigating to find those responsible.”
This is not an isolated incident. On May 12, 2016, another church called St. Mary in Salmas County in Urumia province was destroyed as well.
Some Iranian news services reported that a mal-intended group entered the church property stealthily, breaking into the church building through its roof and began destroying the cross inside the building using sledgehammers and axes. They also broke the statues of Mary and tore the pictures on the wall.
Destroying church buildings has a long record in the history of the Islamic regime of Iran.
In the spring of 2012, reports indicated that another church near Salmas County is on the verge of destruction.
A year before that in the summer of 2011, judicial authorities in Kerman issued a ruling for a historical church building in their city to be brought down, even though a few years earlier this church had been registered as a national heritage site.
On April 5, 2012, a historic Christian cemetery, more than 200 years old, was destroyed by a group of extremists. No one has been arrested so far in connection with the incident.
A historical evangelical church building in Mashhad that had been registered as a national heritage site in 2005, was destroyed a few years ago.
Currently, there are around five hundred registered church buildings in Iran, with many of them abandoned or on the verge of destruction.
An Iranian Christian convert who recently started a hunger strike is in a critical health condition. He went on a hunger strike to protest the unfair handling of his case, as Iranian authorities have been keeping him in prison in uncertainty.
Mohabat News – Reports coming from Iran indicate that Iranian Christian prisoner, Amin Afshar Naderi is in critical condition in Evin prison. He began his hunger strike more than a week ago.
He had been arrested together with five other Christians in Firouz-kouh county. While three of those arrested were released, Mr. Naderi and another Christian believer were held in prison.
Mr. Naderi together with another Christian prisoner Hadi Asgari, have been on a hunger strike since February 5, 2017. The latest reports by sources close to Mr. Naderi state that the hunger strike has resulted in significant weight loss and a drop in his blood pressure.
These two Christian prisoners have been on a hunger strike to protest the unfair handling of their case and being held in uncertainty in prison before even being convicted of charges laid against them.
This is not the first time Mr. Naderi has been in prison for his faith. He had been arrested in 2014 as he attended a house church. On that occasion, he was detained for 40 days and spent some of that time in solitary confinement in ward 209 of the notorious Evin prison. He was later released on heavy bail.
Other Christian prisoners who have recently been on a hunger strike are Ebrahim Firouzi and Maryam ( Nasim) Naghash Zargaran. Their hunger strike was also to protest the unfair handling of their cases and the fabricated charges against them.
In a report published in September 2016, individuals close to these prisoners told Mohabat News, “the greatest concern of the families of these Christian men is that the authorities may fabricate charges against them, as they found three Bibles in their gathering. They are also concerned that authorities would put their loved ones under pressure, forcing them to confess to crimes they have not committed.”
Mohabat News – Iranian Christian prisoner, Maryam Naghash Zargaran, who is imprisoned in the notorious Evin prison for her Christian faith, was sentenced to an additional 45 days in prison upon her return to prison on Tuesday, December 6, 2016 from a medical leave.
Prison authorities say she received 45 extra days in prison as punishment for her delay in returning to prison from her leave. She was originally granted a five day leave, which was later extended by a court ruling.
Her family confirmed that while she was on leave, court officials told her to remain out of prison until they reviewed her plea for conditional release. Her plea was eventually rejected and when she returned to prison, prison authorities sentenced her to an extra 45 days in prison for not returning to prison on time from her leave.
Ms. Maryam Zargaran has been in prison for almost three years and four months in the women’s ward of the notorious Evin prison. During her time in prison she has gone on a number of hunger strikes, mainly to demand a conditional release from prison.
Since her imprisonment on July 19, 2013, her family has exhausted all of their options for her release with no success.
Maryam Naghash Zargaran suffers from a number of health problems, including a heart condition known as atrial septal defect (ASD), for which she underwent surgery years ago.
Conditions in prison have further deteriorated Ms. Zargaran’s health. Mental, as well as physical pressure in prison has caused chronic joint pain in her hands, feet and spinal cord. Medical doctors in prison have diagnosed her with osteoporosis, arthritis and lumbar disc disease.
Three Christians from Azerbaijan who spent months in Iran’s Evin prison, one of the worst prisons in the world, are now free.
(World Watch Monitor) Iranian and European human rights and religious rights organisations have urged the international community to use new opportunities for trade with Iran to hold the government there to account over its treatment of Christian converts.
Nineteen NGOs, including Middle East Concern, Forum 18, Impact Iran and Justice for Iran, issued a joint call for governments to “explore avenues beyond dialogue alone” to ensure that human rights violators are held accountable and that trade and diplomatic relations do not contribute to further abuses. They noted that converts from Islam to Christianity have been especially affected.
Opportunities for trade have opened up since a deal was reached in July 2015 between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. Under the terms of the deal, Iran agreed to curtail its nuclear activities in return for many of the economic sanctions against it being lifted.
The charities noted that the EU’s strategy for relations with Iran, published after the nuclear agreement was signed, “disappointingly includes very little mention of human rights”.
They wrote: “In the summer of 2016, Iranian authorities increased their persecution of Christians, honing in on converts from a Muslim-background,” and detailed what they described as “a pattern” of treatment by the Iranian authorities that included arrests, interrogations, detention, raids on churches and harassment by security agents.
They cited the case of four converts – including Youcef Nadarkhani, a church leader once sentenced to death for apostasy – arrested in May and charged with acting against national security, three of whom are also appealing their sentence of 80 lashes each for drinking Communion wine. The next hearing is scheduled for 14 December.
The NGOs also asserted that such actions contravene Iran’s Constitutional and international legal obligations, which include not taking action against someone solely on account of his or her beliefs, and urged Iran to comply with them.
They called on the UN Secretary General and the newly appointed Special Rapporteurs on freedom of religion and human rights in Iran to report extensively on violations of freedom of religion in Iran.
The full list of signatories is below:
Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation
All Human Rights for All in Iran
Association for Human rights of Azerbaijani People in Iran
Association of Human Rights in Kurdistan of Iran-Geneva
Baloch Activist Campaign
Center for Supporters of Human Rights
Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort
European Ahwazi Human Rights Organisation
Human Rights Activists in Iran
International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran
Iran Human Rights
Justice for Iran
Middle East Concern
Siamak Pourzand Foundation
United for Iran
- Pray for the release of Christians detained in Iran
- Pray that the authorities would act justly and stop discriminating against Christians
- Pray that Christians in Iran, especially church leaders and pastors, would continue to remain firm in their faith despite the pressures and persecution
- Pray for God’s protection over all Christians in Iran
IRAN: (Morning Star News) – Three Iranian Christians sentenced to receive 80 lashes for drinking wine during a Communion service filed an appeal Wednesday (Oct. 25) to have their case overturned, a noted advocacy group reported.
In a trial that lasted a mere 10 minutes, the three converts from Islam, Mohammadreza Omidi, Yasser Mossayebzadeh and Saheb Fadaie, on Sept. 10 were all sentenced to receive 80 lashes for drinking wine. It was the second time Fadaie and Omidi have been sentenced to flogging for taking Communion.
Although Christians are allowed to consume alcohol in Iran, Muslims are not. According to advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC), the charges “reflect the state view that a Muslim cannot change his or her religion.”
The Iranian government uses the alcohol statute as another way to harass converts to Christianity, Kiri Kankhwende of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) told Morning Star News.
“The charge of drinking alcohol for Muslims is found in the sharia penal code and is illegal,” Kankhwende said. “Consuming alcohol by non-Muslims is not illegal in Iran, however, Iranian authorities tend to use this to intimidate Christians from a Muslim background, to discourage conversion and make life more difficult for converts.”
Some Iranian Christians believe that more conservative elements in the government are trying to create an Iranian church that is compliant with sharia [Islamic law] or an “Islamic-style church,” she said.
The attorney for the three Christians has not publically released the grounds for the appeal on the alcohol charges, but the filing was submitted on the last day possible. Advocates monitoring the case expected an appeal to be filed on Oct. 15, but complications with another trial in which the three Christians are charged led to a delay in filing the appeal.
On Oct. 15 the three men and a third convert, pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, were tried on charges of “acting against national security,” a catch-all charge often used by the government to punish different types of religious and political dissent, according to human rights activists. The government often uses it against converts instead of the charge of apostasy, according to Rob Duncan, MEC’s regional manager for Iran.
“Prosecutors in Iran are not keen to charge converts with apostasy because of the legal complications as well as international condemnation,” Duncan said. “Therefore, active converts are frequently charged with action against national security as a catch-all. It is poorly defined what such actions are and relatively easy for interrogators, prosecutor and court to say that by becoming a Christian, a Muslim convert is a threat to the stability (security) of the Islamic nation.”
The penalty for crimes against national security can vary from long-term imprisonment to death, but sentences in such cases or even verdicts can be difficult to predict, Kankhwende said.
“Such accusations are often unsubstantiated, and evidence is generally weak or even fabricated,” she said. “Confessions, if they are made, are done under torture or threat of torture. It is very difficult to predict the outcomes at court as prisoners are usually denied access to lawyers.”
Domestic, regional, and international politics may sometimes impact verdicts as cases related to freedom of religion or belief can carry political messages that may reflect certain political tensions, she added.
Iran’s internal security apparatus, VEVAK, on May 13 conducted a series of raids against at least 10 Christian-owned homes. Officials temporarily detained Nadarkhani and his wife, Fatemeh Pasandideh, but then released them both. Authorities took Mossayebzadeh, who was also at one of the houses, into custody.
VEVAK agents summoned Omidi and Fadaie to their office by phone and then arrested them in connection with the raids, according to CSW. Weeks later, Mossayebzadeh and Fadaie were released each on the equivalent of a $33,000 bond, Mossayebzadeh on May 28 and Fadaie on May 29. Omidi remained in detention until officials released him June 7, also on a $33,000 bond.
On July 24, court officials summoned Nadarkhani to court and charged him with crimes against national security. He was ordered to post a bond of $33,000, released and given a week to raise the money.
Nadarkhani is no stranger to government persecution. In 2010, the Iranian government charged Nadarkhani with apostasy and sentenced him to death. The charges stemmed from a 2009 arrest after Nadarkhani went to his children’s school to question the Islamic-only religious education that was available.
Eventually court officials acquitted him on the charges, and in September 2012, he was released from prison. He was found guilty of evangelizing, however, and three months later ordered back to prison on Dec. 25, 2012, and released almost one year later, on Dec. 7, 2013.
Behnam Irani Released
On the evening of Oct. 17, after serving six years in prison, Behnam Irani, a pastor and convert from Islam, was released from prison, according to Present Truth Ministries, a ministry group that specializes in Iran.
Irani, one of the leaders in the “Church of Iran,” was initially arrested in 2006 and found guilty of action against national security in 2008 and given a five-year suspended jail sentence. In 2010, Irani was arrested during a house-church meeting and eventually found guilty on new charges of action against national security. He was sentenced to serve one year in prison.
In May 2011, he was ordered to begin serving the sentence to which the suspended five-year sentence was added.
All throughout Irani’s imprisonment, he suffered serious health issues, including chronic, life-threatening internal bleeding. He was also tortured by prison officials and subject to numerous beatings by his fellow prisoners.
In September 2014, Irani was placed in solitary confinement after being charged with “Mofsed-e-filarz.” Loosely translated as “spreading corruption on Earth,” the charge carries the death penalty.
The charge was eventually reduced, and on Dec. 9, 2014, it was dropped in an appeal.
CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in a press statement that he welcomed Irani’s release but that his detention lacked even the appearance of justice.
“The continuing systematic harassment and imprisonment of Christians and other religious minorities is in violation of Iran’s commitments under its constitution and the international covenants to which it is party,” he said. “No one should suffer as pastor Irani has done, simply for following their conscience and belief.”
Fishing Trip Arrests
On Oct. 10, Iranian officials released Ramiel Bet Tamraz and Mohamad Dehnay after each submitted a security bond equivalent to $33,000. They were part of a group of five Christians arrested in August while on a fishing trip with their families.
On Aug. 26, at about 1:30 p.m. security officials from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) arrived at the picnic in Firuzkuh, 93 miles (150 kilometers) east of Tehran, raided the picnic, separated the men from the woman and arrested all the men. When one of them asked to see an arrest warrant, which the officials did not produce, he was beaten, according to MEC.
Tamraz and Dehnay were taken into custody along with Amin Nader Afshar, Hadi Askary and Amir Sina Dashti. Originally there were reports that Afshar had been released, but those reports proved unwarranted.
Tamraz is the son of Assyrian pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, who was arrested along with other Christians at his home on Dec. 26, 2014 at a Christmas celebration. The elder Tamraz was informally charged with conducting evangelism, conducting illegal house-church activities and printing and distributing Bibles. He was released on bail on March 1, 2015 without ever being formally charged in court.
According to MEC, no charges have been filed against any those arrested, “despite weeks of interrogation.” Hadi faced particularly intense interrogation, according to MEC.