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Authorities in Iran Raid Christians’ Homes, Ask Them to Leave Country

Rajai-Shahr Prison in Karaj, outside Tehran. (Wikipedia)

Rajai-Shahr Prison in Karaj, outside Tehran. (Wikipedia)

(Morning Star News) – A Christian in Iran who received 80 lashes for drinking communion wine has been asked to leave the country, human right activists said.

Agents from the Iranian intelligence service, known as VEVAK, on Feb. 16 raided the home of Mehdi Reza Omidi and two other members of house churches in Rasht, Saheb Fadaie and Yasser Mosayebzadeh, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a United Kingdom-based advocacy group. Omidi was one of four men sentenced on Oct. 6, 2013 to 80 lashes for drinking communion wine and owning a satellite antenna. Rights advocates believe the flogging was carried out within a month after sentencing.

After the Feb. 16 raids on the homes of Omidi and the two others, authorities ordered the three Christians to report the next day for questioning, where officials asked them to leave Iran.

The agents also confiscated their Bibles, laptops, Christian CDs and religious literature, according to CSW. Kiri Kankhwende, press officer for CSW, said authorities asking Christians to leave the country is just one of the many ways the government pressures religious minorities and suppresses Christian growth. Other ways include harassment, confiscation of property, arrests and imprisonment on false charges.

“All of these things are designed to get converts to recant or stop their involvement with churches,” Kankhwende said. “But sometimes it is easier, as prison sentences can result in a lot of unwanted press attention, to make the lives of Christians difficult and untenable, so that they choose to leave of their own accord. Sometimes veiled threats are made, or other times – as is the case here – they can be politely asked to leave.”

The impetus for the raids remains unknown. Omidi was detained previously on Dec. 31, 2012, for his involvement in a house church.

On the same day the raid took place, authorities released Rasoul Abdollahi from Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj, according to Middle East Concern (MEC), another advocacy group. Officials, however, placed strict conditions on Abdollahi, a convert from Islam, including prohibiting him from participating in Christian activities with others. If he violates any of the terms of his release, he could be forced to serve the one year left on his sentence.

Authorities arrested Abdollahi on Dec. 26, 2010, along with a group of other Christians. In December 2013, he was sentenced to three years in prison on convictions of “collusion against the government” and evangelism. He was sent to Evin Prison, but in October 2014 officials transferred him to Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj.

The release resembles the conditional release authorities gave to Vahid Hakkani. On Jan. 26, after holding him for three years, Iranian authorities released Hakkani from Adel-Abad prison in Shiraz. According to MEC, the Revolutionary Court made Hakkani sign a document stating that he would not attend or host any Christian-related activities or house-church services. A condition for issuing his release order was that he would sign the disclaimer.

Previously, Hakkani engaged in a hunger strike starting on March 20, 2014, after authorities denied him a conditional release that inmates are eligible to obtain after completing half their prison terms.

Authorities arrested Hakkani on Feb. 8, 2012, along with several others at a house-church meeting, and charged him with numerous criminal offenses related to his faith. Hakkani was tried with three others over the course of two court hearings, one on Oct. 15, 2012 and another on Dec. 28, 2012. In June 2013, the Shiraz Revolutionary Court issued a verdict, finding all four guilty on charges of attending a house church, spreading Christianity, having contact with foreign ministries, propaganda against the regime and disrupting national security, according to advocacy groups.

Another pastor, Behnam Irani, who is serving a six-year sentence, last month was refused the same conditional release granted to Abdollahi and Hakkani. According to CSW, prison authorities agreed to Irani’s conditional release, but a judge did not.

Jason Demars, president of Present Truth Ministries, said that it is common for Iranian authorities to force Christians to sign agreements to refrain from Christian activities when they are granted an early release.

“A lot of the times when they let them out, they have them promise that they won’t engage in the activities like they did before,” Demars said.

Demars said it is possible that the Iranian government tried to get Irani to sign such an agreement to be released, which he likely refused. Demars is trying to confirm this with sources in Iran.

On Oct. 19, 2014, Irani was sentenced to six years in prison for “action against national security” and “creating a network to overthrow the system,” catch-all terms the Islamist government uses to suppress Christians and political opponents it perceives as threats. When the verdict was handed down, Irani was already serving the remainder of a prior five-year sentence for his involvement with house churches.

Irani, a convert from Islam, had originally been charged with “Mofsed-fel-arz” or “spreading corruption on Earth,” which carries the death penalty. But those charges were reduced on Oct. 2.

Lead pastor of the church in Karaj, Irani was first arrested in 2006 for evangelizing and holding house-church meetings. He was released on bail in January 2007. In February 2008 a court sentenced him to five years in prison but immediately suspended the sentence, essentially giving him five years of probation.

Irani continued his work and was arrested again on April 14, 2010. Authorities charged him with spreading Christianity, attending house-church meetings and committing other crimes against “national security.” He was released on bail in June 2010.

In January 2011, Irani was convicted and ordered to serve a one-year sentence in prison. But on May 31, 2011, when he showed up to start serving his sentence, he was informed that the suspension on the five-year sentence had been revoked.

VOP Prayer Request:

  • Please pray for Iranian Christian converts who are facing increased pressure.
  • Pray for pastors of ‘house churches’ to remain bold for Christ to continue sharing the Gospel in Iran.
  • Pray for those imprisoned such as Pastor Benham Irani mentioned above and Pastor Saeed Abedini.
  • Pray for their families to remain strong in their absence.

Colombian Guerrilla Group Bans Worship Services, Threatens Pastors

An estimated 150 churches closed since July. 

Newly-baptized-believers-in-Putumayo-River_-Morning-Star-News-David-Miller

December 18, 2013 (Morning Star News) – Christians in southern Colombia are living in constant danger from a guerrilla army that has banned worship services in rural areas under its control.

An estimated 150 churches have been forced to close since July, when the 32nd Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP in Spanish) launched a repressive campaign against Roman Catholic and evangelical churches in the department (state) of Putumayo.

The FARC-EP has prohibited celebration of the Mass and Protestant worship in most small town and villages. Only congregations that have express permission from the rebel group are allowed to hold services without fear of retaliation.

Christians at greatest risk are the members of house churches and the itinerant evangelists who serve them.

“Every time my husband or another church leader leaves to go preach in the countryside, I can only ask, ‘Lord, continue to watch out for the safety of every one of them,” Jeanet Ortiz Pinto, wife of itinerant evangelist and radio speaker Angel Pinto, told Morning Star News. “My heart is saddened to see what is happening around us.”

The Pintos have pastored the Church of God in Puerto Asis, Putumayo since 1988. Angel Pinto also serves as itinerant pastor of several newly planted churches in the region.

During his 25-year ministry, Pinto has been captured five times by armed groups. Twice they told him he would be executed for violating FARC-imposed bans against preaching.

In both cases, local commanders released the pastor once they realized who he was – his congregation operates a well-known rescue ministry for war orphans.

“Some of those orphans belong to us; their parents were our comrades in arms,” they told Pinto the last time they spared him. “If we kill you, they will have nobody else to care for them.”

The FARC is known to have assassinated hundreds of evangelical church leaders over the years, including some of Pinto’s ministerial colleagues in Puerto Asis.

Guerrilla threats have driven six priests from their parishes in the Diocese of Mocoa, according to press reports.

“In the manual of coexistence issued by area FARC units, they have ordered us to close our churches, prohibited us from visiting outlying communities, or to preach – in effect, we must cease religious celebrations altogether,” Monsignor Luis Alberto Parra, bishop of Mocoa, told El Colombiano.

In the 50 years since the FARC launched its guerrilla war, 220,000 persons have lost their lives, according to a study by Colombia’s National Center for Historical Memory. Hundreds of thousands of families have been displaced by the violence, creating one of the world’s largest populations of internal refugees.

Ironically, the current aggression against Christians is happening while the Colombian government is engaged in negotiations with the FARC in Havana, Cuba, with a view to developing a comprehensive peace plan. The Colombian government tapped politicians, journalists, businessmen, and retired police and military officers to form the negotiating team, but no religious leaders.

Eneida Herrera, an evangelical and professor of Public Finance at the Autonomous University of the Americas, lamented that the church has suffered violence from armed groups yet was excluded from talks in Havana.

“Should the Havana negotiations fail to produce anything positive, we can expect an even greater wave of violence than what has occurred to date,” Herrera told Morning Star News. “The church and the local communities are the ones who will have to live with the results, whether good or bad.”

Pedro Mercado, adjunct secretary of the Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Church, reportedly said he was “very worried.”

“We assumed that, in the face of the peace process, pressure from the FARC was going to diminish,” he told reporters. “But on the contrary, it has grown harsher. We are watching with worry the security threats to our priests and bishops, which restrict our freedom to preach the word of God.”

On Friday (Dec. 13), the 48th Front of the FARC-EP tried to take by force the village of Caicedo, about 30 minutes from Puerto Asis. In order to stall response from police and military units, guerrillas blew up an oil tanker on the road as Angel Pinto was passing through on his motorcycle. He and other travelers were unhurt but were stranded at the site for several hours until authorities could restore order and remove the burning tanker.

By Latin America Correspondent for Morning Star News

Photo: Newly baptized believers in the Putumayo River. (Morning Star News, David Miller)

Bail Denied for Young Pastor Accused of Blasphemy Sent Back To Lock up

pakistan-blasphemy-law

Lahore: Lead tells Voice of the Persecuted that on 9 October,2013 a blasphemy case FIR No.675/2013 under sections 295 A,295 B and 295 C PPC was registered at the Police Station Township by naming three Christians. The pre-arrest bail of Pastor Adnan , 26 was filled on October 26, 2013 in the court of Additional and Sessions Judge Khizar Hayat Khan and was fixed for final arguments on November 6, 2013, but the petitioned was withdrawn without arguing the case.

The Police had arrested Mushtaq Masih, the owner of the shop, who was innocent, but his name was mentioned in the FIR. Though innocent,  Arfan Masih, brother of Pastor Adnan, was also arrested as his name was also mentioned in the FIR. The third man Kamran, the uncle of Pastor Adnan, was also under police custody which was illegal. So there was much pressure from Mushtaq Masih’s side and due to the detention of other innocent members of Adnan’s family, Pastor Adnan surrendered himself to the police and on Thursday November 7 he was sent to judicial lockup by Judicial Magistrate Muzamil Ahmed Khan.
The good news is that the police set free Mushtaq, Arfan and Kamran who has suffered nearly a month in police custody.
“We think it is not wise decision of Masih to surrender, because it is too hard to prove him innocent in trial court as there is documentary evidence against him” said Gill, his attorney.
“The accuser stated to the police that both his employer, Mushtaq Masih and Arfan Masih are innocent and they had no role in committing the blasphemy offences so at last the police had to set them free”, added Gill.
Other Blasphemy case:
The other blasphemy case FIR No.678/2013 under Sections 295 A,295 B,295 C PPC and 25/D Telegraph Act registered at the Police Station Green Town on October 2,2013 against Asif Pervaiz. He was kept in a special cell at Camp Jail in Lahore. The bail petition of Asif Pervaiz has been filled in the session court Lahore and fixed for November 11th for final arguments.

Third Blasphemy case:
On October 27, 2013 a third blasphemy case FIR No. 533/13 registered at Sadar Police Station,Wazirabad against two brothers Tariq Masih and Arif Masih under section 295 B PPC on the complaint of Muhammad Khuram. In which Arif Masih was arrested but Tariq Masih was in hiding but police and Islamic Extremists are on the hunt for Masih- accused of ‘Blasphemy’. The bail petition has been filed in which the next date of hearing is November 23, 2013.

Forgotten story of Asia Bibi death convicted under ‘Blasphemy’

In accordance with the details, Asia Bibi was convicted for blasphemy yet the evidence provided was contradictory. Seeing the doubtful inconsistency in the case the court may annul the death sentence awarded to her previously if not acquitted from the charges.
Asia Bibi was predominantly supported by Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, both of them assassinated for the reason of advocating her cause. She has been withering in jail since June 2009 after her alleged blasphemous utterances came after a quarrel with some Muslim co-workers who had refused to drink water from the same glass as her– owing to the fact that she was a Christian.
We request all our brothers and sisters to stand with us in prayers so that the sword of blasphemy laws may be taken away from religious minorities in Pakistan.
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