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Persecution Watch: Praying for Iran

(Voice of the Persecuted) You are invited to join us on Tuesday, Nov 1st, 2022, in a prayer conference call for the persecuted church hosted by Persecution Watch.

Iran: Population 87 Million

  • Islam 99% – Shia Islam -90% to 95%; Sunni Muslims – 4% to 8%
  • Christianity – 0.15%
  • Iran – officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, and also called Persia
  • Iran has numerous ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups – Persians, Azeris, Kurds, Mazandaranis, and Lurs.
  • Judaism has a long history in Iran, dating back to the Achaemenid conquest of Babylonia

Prayer Points

The many promises of the Iranian Revolution proved hollow.

  • Pray people look for new answers with Jesus

Iran’s government has been in an unofficial war with Israel.

  • Pray the country would look at their own problems instead.
  • Pray for the Iranian women, girls, Christians, and all who are protesting Iran’s government.

Iranian authorities surveil and raid the house churches where converts from Islam to Christianity attend. Pastors and church members are often arrested and imprisoned, often on charges of threatening national security or promoting Christianity. Converts may also be cut off from their families.

  • Pray for Christians who have converted from Islam.

There are now at least 10 Christian prisoners of conscience in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison and many more at various prisons throughout the country.

  • Pray for Christians who are imprisoned for their faith
  • Pray for the Iranian regime – Keep Praying that a Great Wave of the Holy Spirit in Iran will Continue Bringing Muslims to Faith in Jesus Christ.
  • Keep Praying that the death curses spoken against America and Israel will be broken and turned to the Blessing of Knowing Life in Jesus Christ.
  • Show yourself in mighty ways – in visions and dreams and in different ways.
  • Comfort – Many protestors have been arrested and their families do not know where they are. Many people are afraid to leave their homes amid the unrest. Many people are so hurt and angry they are consumed by it. Pray they find comfort in Him.
  • Hope – So many people are hurt, angry, and despairing. They desperately need hope. They feel unseen and unheard. But Father, you see all. You hear the cry of every heart.
  • Courage – Strengthen the church to be courageous as they go out to share your love with the hurting. Be with them by your Spirit and protect them as they go on prayer walks, as they hold out your words of hope, as they minister to people practically.
  • Light – We pray the fear of God would enter the hearts of Iran’s leaders: that they would repent and turn to you.
  • Massive numbers have been turning to Christ, and there are an increasing number of ministries reaching out to Iranians – pray they continue!
  • The Iranian diaspora is over 4 million, usually in places easier for missionaries and ministries.  Pray that they hear the Gospel!

We are continuing to lift up these persecuted witnesses to the Lord:

Leah Sharibu prisoner of Boko Haram since 2018. Pray for her release.

Alice Loksha Ngaddah was kidnapped in February 2019. She is a mother of two, working as a nurse for UNICEF. Pray for her release.

Pastor Wang Yi to be released from Chinese prison.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani from Iran for his release and his family as their persecution continues. Pastor Nadarkhani is serving the second year of his six-year sentence.

Anita, a Christian convert, had faced a long prison term but was able to escape from Iran. She and her family have finally arrived in their permanent host country where they can express their faith openly. Pray for an easy transition into the new culture. Pray also for her family still waiting for asylum. May they be reunited soon.

The Harvest

“I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:18)

Michael Laird, Persecution Watch Prayer Call Moderator

Prayer Conference Call Details

Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday

From any location on your phone

USA Time Zone:

9:00 PM Eastern

8:00 PM Central

7:00 PM Mountain

6:00 PM Pacific

Call in number: (667) 770-1476 

Access Code: 281207#

Recommended: For those who may be subject to added charges for conference calls. Please download the app, it’s free!

MOBILE APP: Free Conference Call HD also provides a quick and easy way for you to dial into conference calls without having to remember the dial-in credentials. Save all of your conference call dial-in numbers and access codes using this free app. With the Free Conference Call HD you can instantly dial into a conference call via 3G/4G data network and or regular mobile carrier. Google Play link or App Store – iTunes

If you are experiencing any difficulties joining the call, please let us know.

What is Persecution Watch?

Persecution Watch is a U.S. national prayer conference call ministry that prays specifically for the global Persecuted Church. For over a decade, Blaine Scogin led this national network of believers who faithfully pray for the persecuted and the global harvest for the Kingdom of God. The group meets via a free call-in service every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday night at 9pm Eastern time in the United States (please check your time zone). Blaine also served as Prayer Director for Voice of the Persecuted, and the missions became one. Brother Blaine passed into glory on December 26, 2019. It was truly a blessing for all of us to serve alongside this dear man of God and he will be greatly missed. The prayer mission of Persecution Watch remains an important part of our mission. Voice of the Persecuted is committed to continue the prayer conference call for the persecuted along with the dedicated Persecution Watch prayer warrior team.

Prior to the passing of Brother Blaine, he confirmed the passing of the torch as prayer conference call leader to Nadia Dybvik. Nadia has a burdened heart for the persecuted and is a prayer warrior standing in the gap for them. She joined the Persecution Watch prayer team in 2013 and has been part of the core ever since. Before becoming the prayer call leader, she served in the role of prayer moderator since 2015. Blaine chose Nadia for her faithfulness to pray for the persecuted and her strong commitment to the Persecution Watch mission. We are blessed not only with her gift of prayer, but her genuine love for every brother and sister in Christ that comes on the call to pray. May the Lord continue to bless Nadia and the prayer team in the mission and their personal lives.

“Pray for us” is the number one request that we hear from the persecuted. As the members of the first century Church were moved by the Holy Spirit to pray, we too must continue to serve those suffering persecution by lifting them up to the Lord through prayer.

On occasion, persecuted brothers and sisters have been invited on the conference call to share the trials they are facing. The team serves to encourage them by washing their feet in Spirit led prayer. Time is often reserved for those on the call to ask questions. We believe this helps to gain a better understanding of the situation that persecuted Christians endure in their specific nations. Q&A also helps us to focus our prayers based on their current needs.

Persecution Watch also hosts callers who want to pray united from other nations. If your heart is perplexed by the sufferings of our persecuted brothers and sisters, you no longer need to pray alone.

We welcome all who desire to pray for the persecuted church and consider it a joy to pray together with you. If you are new to the call and cannot find your voice, listen in and pray silently or on mute. We are grateful and thank the Lord for bringing us all together to pray in agreement for our persecuted family in Christ. We can all be prayer warriors on this call!

God bless and protect you in your faithfulness to serve.

Lois Kanalos, Founder, Voice of the Persecuted, Nadia Dybvik, Persecution Watch Prayer Call Leader and the Persecution Watch Prayer Team

NOTE: Please fill out the form in the sign-up link below to be included in our distribution list to receive urgent prayer requests, prayer points, notification of special prayer events and special guest speakers.

Note to Voice of the Persecuted (VOP) readers: The Persecution Watch prayer team is also the prayer team of Voice of the Persecuted. SIGN UP today.

News: Iran Punishes Christians with Harsh Prison Sentences

Sara Ahmadi and Homayoun Zhaveh. (Article 18)

(Morning Star News) – When authorities in Iran summoned a Christian couple in Tehran on Aug. 13, the house-church members supposed it concerned the return of their confiscated belongings.

Instead, Homayoun Zhaveh and his wife Sara Ahmadi were detained in Tehran’s Evin Prison, notorious for its harsh treatment of people deemed political enemies of the state, rights organizations say.

“Friends are concerned about their well-being, especially as Homayoun suffers from advanced Parkinson’s disease,” Christian Solidarity International (CSI) said in an Oct. 6 statement, citing information from Middle East Concern.

CSI and other advocacy and aid organizations recently issued calls for prayer for Zhaveh, 63, and Ahmadi, 44. Middle East Concern (MEC) reported they were first arrested in June 2019 on suspicion of belonging to an “illegal organization,” with Zhaveh spending a month in Evin Prison and Ahmadi held there for 67 days – half the time in solitary confinement.

In November 2020, Ahmadi was sentenced to 11 years in prison for her alleged role in leading a house church, according to MEC, adding that Zhaveh was sentenced to two years for house church membership. The sentences included a two-year ban on membership in any social or political group, a two-year ban on foreign travel and six months of community service.

The convictions were upheld on appeal in December 2020, but Ahmadi’s prison sentence was reduced to eight years, MEC reported. The couple expected to start their prison sentences on June 15, 2021, but upon arrival at Evin Prison in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, they were told they could return home for an indeterminate time.

“On Aug. 13, Homayoun and Sara answered a summons to the prison, expecting to have confiscated property returned,” MEC stated. “Instead, they were both detained. Prayer is requested that their harsh sentences will be reviewed, especially since Homayoun is in poor health, and that they will be acquitted; and that the Iranian authorities will stop the persecution of their citizens for the peaceful expression of their faith.”

Rash of Imprisonments

Also serving time in Evin Prison for his faith is house-church leader Joseph Shahbazian, sentenced to 10 years by Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court on June 7 for “founding and leading an organization that aims to disrupt national security,” according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Initially arrested on June 30, 2020, following raids on house churches in several cities, Pastor Shahbazian was released on bail on Aug. 22 of that year. An appeals court in Tehran rejected his appeal in August of this year, and on Aug. 30 he began serving his sentence at Evin Prison, USCIRF reported.

As an Iranian-Armenian he was permitted to worship as part of Iran’s historic Armenian Christian community, but he was targeted as a pastor of a church that included Iran converts from Islam, according to Barnabas Fund.

In the Shiite stronghold of Mashad in northeastern Iran, a grandfather with cancer is being held in Vakilabad Prison for converting to Christianity, according to advocacy group Article 18. Gholamreza Keyvanmanesh, in his late 50s, and three other Christians arrested in Neyshabur face charges of “acting against national security through propaganda against the regime” and “insulting the sacred” (blasphemy), Article 18 reported.

“The other three – two women and another man, in their 40s and 50s, whose names cannot be reported – are being held in Neyshabur Prison,” the organization stated.

Members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps warned at least eight other Christians present at the meetings of the four arrested Christians that they will soon be summoned for further questioning, according to Article 18.

“They were also forced to sign commitments to refrain from gathering with other Christians,” Article 18 reported. “Bibles and mobile phones were among the items confiscated from the church members.”

Christianity is among the official minority faiths in Iran, but converts to Christianity are not recognized and are vilified as “enemy groups of a ‘Zionist’ cult,” the group stated.

Converts are banned from attending the churches of Armenian and Assyrian Christians, who are permitted to teach only in their own ethnic tongues and not to seek new members, Article 18 stated.

Hence converts meet at private homes but are frequently raided and charged with belonging to “illegal” groups with “anti-security” purposes, “even though in reality the meetings are no different from church gatherings anywhere else in the world,” Article 18 stated. “In recent years, dozens of Iranian Christians have been handed prison sentences of up to 15 years on such trumped-up charges.”

Iran was ranked 9th on Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Persecution Watch: Praying for Believers in Iran

(Voice of the Persecuted) You are invited to join us on Thursday July 7, 2022, in a prayer conference call for the persecuted church hosted by Persecution Watch

IRAQ: Population: 42.6 million, Christians 166,000 thousand

Iraq continues to be plagued by conflict, losses of territory to the Islamic State Group which effects the Christian minorities. In 2003, before the US invasion of Iraq, there were an estimated 1.2 million Christians living there. Today, that number is less than 250,000 — an eighty percent drop in less than two decades. If this trend continues, a religious minority that has been in Iraq for centuries will be gone entirely.

Persecution level have remained the same.  This not only includes ISIS’s reign of terror, but day-to-day discrimination against Christians that is causing so many to seek to leave the country.

Also, the Turkish government is using its military actions against the Kurds in Iraq to further its longstanding persecution of Christians. This persecution includes the ongoing discrimination against and harassment of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the remaining Christians of Turkey.  

On March 7th, 2022, just a few hours before the start of March 8th, also known as International Women’s Day, another femicide occurred in the southern Kurdish capital Erbil. 20-year-old Iman Sami Maghdid, also known as Maria, was murdered in cold blood. Several shots ended her life.

The South Kurdish (Iraqi Kurdistan) public began the ceremonies on International Women’s Day with more shocking news, part of a series of cruel murders of women since the beginning of 2022. As if the news of the murder and the perpetrators, who often fled, weren’t bad enough, all sorts of political parties and personalities took this day as an opportunity to announce their supposed commitment to the issue of women’s liberation. Unfortunately, they are nothing more than platitudes, which was made clear by the fact that on the evening of March 8th, a radio interview was aired by what is one of the largest broadcasters, K24, where Maria’s brother and murderer was able to explain the motives of his cold-blooded murder for almost 15 minutes uncensored and without criticism – while he was still on the run.

  • Pray to the Lord that He will give Iraq a stable government that will be able to take control over the radical groups as Islamic State and like groups.
  • Pray to the Lord that the politicians will continue to work for more religious freedom and thwart and block the influence of Islamic hard liners. (Christmas is now an official Holiday)
  • Pray for peace and stability so that displaced Christians can return home. 
  • Pray for unity among churches of all denominations, that all minority Christians will live in peace with each other.
  • Pray to the Lord for special protection for all MBB to be protected from so-called “honor’ killings.
  • Pray to the Lord to comfort believers who feel isolated and help them to connect with other believers for fellowship.
  • Pray for believers to continue to grow in strength and faith and keep their eyes on Jesus. That they know they are not alone, that they are prayed for.
  • Pray for powerful messages on the internet that draw Muslims in and minister to Christians.
  • Pray to the Lord that His believers are bold and courageous to witness to Muslims. 
  • Pray that Christians will remain love to their enemies and forgive them.
  • Pray that pastors and elders will be granted protection and wisdom as they minister to Christians.
  • Pray for the NGOs who bring hope, relief, and spiritual nourishment to the Iraqi Christians.
  • Pray for the Lord that He will do a mighty work in Iraq in multiplying the number of Christians 5, no 10-fold.

We are continuing to lift up these persecuted witnesses to the Lord:

Leah Sharibu prisoner of Boko Haram since 2018. Pray for her release.

Alice Loksha Ngaddah was kidnapped in February 2019. She is a mother of two, working as a nurse for UNICEF. Pray for her release.

Pastor Wang Yi to be released from Chinese prison.

Anita a Christian convert, facing a long prison term who escaped from Iran and praying to go to a country where she can express her faith openly.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani from Iran for his release and his family as their persecution continues. Pastor Nadarkhani is serving the second year of his six-year sentence.

The Harvest

“I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:18)

Andy, Persecution Watch Prayer Call Moderator

Prayer Conference Call Details

Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday

From any location on your phone

USA Time Zone:

9:00 PM Eastern

8:00 PM Central

7:00 PM Mountain

6:00 PM Pacific

Call in number: (667) 770-1476 (Note: We have a new call-in phone number)

Access Code: 281207#

Recommended: For those who may be subject to added charges for conference calls. Please download the app, it’s free!

MOBILE APP: Free Conference Call HD also provides a quick and easy way for you to dial into conference calls without having to remember the dial-in credentials. Save all of your conference call dial-in numbers and access codes using this free app. With the Free Conference Call HD you can instantly dial into a conference call via 3G/4G data network and or regular mobile carrier. Google Play link or App Store – iTunes

If you are experiencing any difficulties joining the call, please let us know.

What is Persecution Watch?

Persecution Watch is a U.S. national prayer conference call ministry that prays specifically for the global Persecuted Church. For over a decade, Blaine Scogin led this national network of believers who faithfully pray for the persecuted and the global harvest for the Kingdom of God. The group meets via a free call-in service every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday night at 9pm Eastern time in the United States (please check your time zone). Blaine also served as Prayer Director for Voice of the Persecuted, and the missions became one. Brother Blaine passed into glory on December 26, 2019. It was truly a blessing for all of us to serve alongside this dear man of God and he will be greatly missed. The prayer mission of Persecution Watch remains an important part of our mission. Voice of the Persecuted is committed to continue the prayer conference call for the persecuted along with the dedicated Persecution Watch prayer warrior team.

Prior to the passing of Brother Blaine, he confirmed the passing of the torch as prayer conference call leader to Nadia Dybvik. Nadia has a burdened heart for the persecuted and is a prayer warrior standing in the gap for them. She joined the Persecution Watch prayer team in 2013 and has been part of the core ever since. Before becoming the prayer call leader, she served in the role of prayer moderator since 2015. Blaine chose Nadia for her faithfulness to pray for the persecuted and her strong commitment to the Persecution Watch mission. We are blessed not only with her gift of prayer, but her genuine love for every brother and sister in Christ that comes on the call to pray. May the Lord continue to bless Nadia and the prayer team in the mission and their personal lives.

“Pray for us” is the number one request that we hear from the persecuted. As the members of the first century Church were moved by the Holy Spirit to pray, we too must continue to serve those suffering persecution by lifting them up to the Lord through prayer.

On occasion, persecuted brothers and sisters have been invited on the conference call to share the trials they are facing. The team serves to encourage them by washing their feet in Spirit led prayer. Time is often reserved for those on the call to ask questions. We believe this helps to gain a better understanding of the situation that persecuted Christians endure in their specific nations. Q&A also helps us to focus our prayers based on their current needs.

Persecution Watch also hosts callers who want to pray united from other nations. If your heart is perplexed by the sufferings of our persecuted brothers and sisters, you no longer need to pray alone.

We welcome all who desire to pray for the persecuted church and consider it a joy to pray together with you. If you are new to the call and cannot find your voice, listen in and pray silently or on mute. We are grateful and thank the Lord for bringing us all together to pray in agreement for our persecuted family in Christ. We can all be prayer warriors on this call!

God bless and protect you in your faithfulness to serve.

Lois Kanalos, Founder, Voice of the Persecuted, Nadia Dybvik, Persecution Watch Prayer Call Leader and the Persecution Watch Prayer Team

NOTE: Please fill out the form in the sign up link below to be included in our distribution list to receive urgent prayer requests, prayer points, notification of special prayer events and special guest speakers.

Note to Voice of the Persecuted (VOP) readers: The Persecution Watch prayer team is also the prayer team of Voice of the Persecuted. SIGN UP today.

Persecution Watch: Praying for Believers in Iran

(Voice of the Persecuted) You are invited to join us on Thursday, May 12, 2022 in a prayer conference call for the persecuted church hosted by Persecution Watch.

IRAN: Population: 84.3 million, Christians 800,000

Iran Seeks Regional “Eliminationism” of Christians. Iran is an overlooked source of Christian persecution in the Middle East, according to a senior fellow with The Philos Project. In a recent presentation, Farhad Rezaei discussed the West’s view of Christian persecution that often silos the issue to jihadists, failing to account for Iran’s “strategy of eliminationism” in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon.

In an organized and strategic campaign, Iran seeks to shrink and suffocate the Christian minority communities in the Middle East through discrimination, imprisonment, abduction, and confiscation of property, to name a few. Domestically, Iran has made recent headlines for a “victory” in a case of nine Christians who were acquitted of their crimes of house church membership. However, several of the Christians from the group already face new charges and the vast majority of Iranian Christian converts have little hope for appeal. Intelligence officers at the notorious Evin Prison also recently violated the rights of imprisoned Iranian Christians by refusing to return the confiscated equipment to the interrogation branch.

Regionally, Iranian-backed factions in Iraq and Syria disrupt attempts for peace and restoration, pushing an anti-Christian agenda. Rezaei provided two rationales for Iran’s attempts to smother the region’s Christian population. One is strategic for Iran to expand a land bridge to the Mediterranean, across land that Christian communities currently reside in. The second is ideological and the “new Shi’ism” views that Christians are “pollution”.

The severity of persecution facing Christians in Iran remains largely unchanged. Sadly, things may get worse following changes to the country’s penal code, which further strangles religious freedom. Under the amendments, teaching the Bible or telling others about the Christian faith—which contradicts the teaching of Islam—could result in prosecution, as could the claim that Christians can communicate with Jesus, whom Islamic teaching regards as a prophet. Christians could also be accused of “insults … with the intent to cause violence or tensions.” This vague wording is open to interpretation, making Christians more vulnerable to unjust accusations.

Several Iranian Christian converts face persecution at the hands of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence. Fariba Dalir, age 51, began her two-year prison sentence at Evin Prison on April 16. Rahmat Rostamipour, age 49, remains imprisoned after being interrogated and arrested at his home on April 18. Rostamipour’s wife Azar was originally to be arrested as well but was summed later due to a panic attack their teenage daughter suffered during the raid. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) agents arrested Dalir alongside five other converts in July 2021, including her fiancé Soroush. Guards held her in solitary confinement for 38 days and later released her on November 18, 2021 after posting bail of about $22,000 USD.  

Rahmat’s home in Anzali was raided by a dozen plainclothesmen in the early morning. IRGC agents confiscated Bibles, phones, ID cards, books, and the children’s school tablets. Authorities intended to arrest his wife as well but allowed her to stay due to their daughter’s trauma. Azar was summoned on April 19 for hours of interrogation, during which she was informally accused of “propaganda against the regime through involvement in house-church activities”.

  • Pray that President Raisi will honor the rights and contributions of Iran’s religious minorities.
  • Pray that God will change the hearts of religious leaders of Iran to recognize Jesus as their Lord.
  • Pray that God will open the eyes of the authorities to see that Christians aren’t a threat to Iran but a valuable part of Iranian society. Ask Him to change the hearts of those in charge, that they may even see the hope of Jesus.
  • Pray house churches will continue to powerfully equip believers for serving Jesus, and that God will keep them safe from raids and from harm.
  • Pray for believers who are in prison because of their faith that God will give them hope and peace.
  • Pray for the Christians to be protected and given wisdom in covert ministry work.
  • Pray that the believers keep their eyes on Jesus and remain joyful amid suffering.
  • Pray that the believers can love and forgive their persecutors.
  • Pray that the internet will be a spiritual resource for all Christians and also have messages that minister to Muslims.
  • Pray for believers that God will open doors to evangelism so that they can boldly share the Gospels.
  • Pray to the Lord that the NGO’s will continue to support Christians, both spiritually, trauma counseling and daily needs.
  • Pray to Jesus that He will continue to give an increase to the number of believers, encourage the leaders that the church will experience amazing growth.

Again, we want to lift up these persecuted witnesses to the Lord: 

  • Leah Sharibu, prisoner of Boko Haram since 2018. Pray for her release.
  • Alice Loksha Ngaddah, kidnapped February 2019. She is a mother of two, working as a nurse for UNICEF. Pray for her release.
  • Pray for Pastor Wang Yi to be released from prison.
  • Pray for Anita, a Christian convert facing a long prison term who escaped from Iran and praying to go to a country where she can express her faith openly.
  • For the release of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani from Iran, and his family as their Persecution continues. Pastor Nadarkhani is serving the second year of his six-year sentence.

Andy, Persecution Watch Prayer Call Moderator

Prayer Conference Call Details

Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday

From any location on your phone

USA Time Zone:

9:00 PM Eastern

8:00 PM Central

7:00 PM Mountain

6:00 PM Pacific

Call in number: (667) 770-1476 (Note: We have a new call-in phone number)

Access Code: 281207#

Recommended: For those who may be subject to added charges for conference calls. Please download the app, it’s free!

MOBILE APP: Free Conference Call HD also provides a quick and easy way for you to dial into conference calls without having to remember the dial-in credentials. Save all of your conference call dial-in numbers and access codes using this free app. With the Free Conference Call HD you can instantly dial into a conference call via 3G/4G data network and or regular mobile carrier. Google Play link or App Store – iTunes

If you are experiencing any difficulties joining the call, please let us know.

What is Persecution Watch?

Persecution Watch is a U.S. national prayer conference call ministry that prays specifically for the global Persecuted Church. For over a decade, Blaine Scogin led this national network of believers who faithfully pray for the persecuted and the global harvest for the Kingdom of God. The group meets via a free call-in service every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday night at 9pm Eastern time in the United States (please check your time zone). Blaine also served as Prayer Director for Voice of the Persecuted, and the missions became one. Brother Blaine passed into glory on December 26, 2019. It was truly a blessing for all of us to serve alongside this dear man of God and he will be greatly missed. The prayer mission of Persecution Watch remains an important part of our mission. Voice of the Persecuted is committed to continue the prayer conference call for the persecuted along with the dedicated Persecution Watch prayer warrior team.

Prior to the passing of Brother Blaine, he confirmed the passing of the torch as prayer conference call leader to Nadia Dybvik. Nadia has a burdened heart for the persecuted and is a prayer warrior standing in the gap for them. She joined the Persecution Watch prayer team in 2013 and has been part of the core ever since. Before becoming the prayer call leader, she served in the role of prayer moderator since 2015. Blaine chose Nadia for her faithfulness to pray for the persecuted and her strong commitment to the Persecution Watch mission. We are blessed not only with her gift of prayer, but her genuine love for every brother and sister in Christ that comes on the call to pray. May the Lord continue to bless Nadia and the prayer team in the mission and their personal lives.

“Pray for us” is the number one request that we hear from the persecuted. As the members of the first century Church were moved by the Holy Spirit to pray, we too must continue to serve those suffering persecution by lifting them up to the Lord through prayer.

On occasion, persecuted brothers and sisters have been invited on the conference call to share the trials they are facing. The team serves to encourage them by washing their feet in Spirit led prayer. Time is often reserved for those on the call to ask questions. We believe this helps to gain a better understanding of the situation that persecuted Christians endure in their specific nations. Q&A also helps us to focus our prayers based on their current needs.

Persecution Watch also hosts callers who want to pray united from other nations. If your heart is perplexed by the sufferings of our persecuted brothers and sisters, you no longer need to pray alone.

We welcome all who desire to pray for the persecuted church and consider it a joy to pray together with you. If you are new to the call and cannot find your voice, listen in and pray silently or on mute. We are grateful and thank the Lord for bringing us all together to pray in agreement for our persecuted family in Christ. We can all be prayer warriors on this call!

God bless and protect you in your faithfulness to serve.

Lois Kanalos, Founder, Voice of the Persecuted, Nadia Dybvik, Persecution Watch Prayer Call Leader and the Persecution Watch Prayer Team

NOTE: Please fill out the form in the sign up link below to be included in our distribution list to receive urgent prayer requests, prayer points, notification of special prayer events and special guest speakers.

Note to Voice of the Persecuted (VOP) readers: The Persecution Watch prayer team is also the prayer team of Voice of the Persecuted. SIGN UP today.

Persecution Watch: Iranian Christians released from Prison / Suicide spikes in Japan

Evin Prison, Iran

12/12/2020 (Voice of the Persecuted) “15 Through Him then, let’s continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips praising His name. 16 And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:15-16

Two Iranian Christians acquitted after imprisonment

Iran (MNN) — Two Iranian Christians have seen their prison sentences (a combined 10 years) overturned in the courts. Both were arrested during a raid of a house church in Tehran in 2018. Authorities charged them with “acting against national security.”

Iran has recently been condemned by the United Nations for human rights violations, a report the country has rejected. This mostly related to allegations of abuse during the November protests last year.

Daniel Hoffman of Middle East Concern says it’s hard to know why these two sentences were overturned, while many other Iranian Christians continue to languish in prison. “It’s always difficult to know exactly why certain governments do certain things. Of course, Iran has been called out over human rights abuses for quite a long time now. So it’s difficult to know what exactly was the reason why this happened. But we know from the past that the Iranian government is concerned about its image in the international community.”

Christians still in prison — The two Christians stated they loved their country and were simply gathering for a legal house church meeting. Still many Christians using the same arguments in court have not seen their sentences overturned.

Hoffman says the release brings welcome news, but we must continue to pray for Iranian Christians still in prison. “Sometimes they are mistreated by either their captors or by other prisoners. And of course, there is still very much the issue of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well, which has spread through some of the prisons in Iran. So prayer for their physical well-being and protection is definitely appreciated. And of course, we can pray for justice to be done in their situation and for them to be released and reunited with their loved ones.”

Pray these prisoners will know they are not forgotten, and that Jesus will comfort them.

And rejoice over these two prisoners that have been released. Pray they would continue bearing witness to the love and peace of Jesus.

Dear Prayer Warriors, let us praise the Lord!

” 1 Praise the Lord!
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
For His mercy is everlasting.

2 Who can speak of the mighty deeds of the Lord,
Or can proclaim all His praise?” Psalm 106:1-2

“Let love of the brothers and sisters continue.” Hebrews 13:1

Suicide killing more people in Japan than COVID-19

(MNN) — While other countries battle rising COVID-19 cases, Japan is seeing a different kind of spike – suicides.

More people in Japan have died by suicide in 2020 than from COVID-19. In fact, their suicide numbers in October alone outnumbered the nation’s total COVID-19 deaths in the first 11 months of the year.

One of the reasons for the rise in suicides is because Japan has a very group-oriented culture. Belonging to a group – whether it’s a family, a workplace, or some kind of community – and functioning within that group is incredibly important.

Pandemic shutdowns and solitary quarantines can cut individuals off from their group identity. As a result, many Japanese people are dealing with severe depression and anxiety.

Takeshi Takazawa with Asian Access says even online tools like social media and Zoom aren’t the same. “I’m talking with you now even though we’re miles apart, but this is a little bit different from face-to-face group talking [and] processing, and that is challenging for us and especially younger people who need heavy connection.”

Many single young people in Japan travel to Tokyo to work. Throughout the year, they make frequent visits to their families back home, but the pandemic has changed that too.

Takazawa says, “They’re told by their homeland family, ‘Please don’t come back. Don’t bring the pandemic. It’ll be bad. Grandma and Grandpa need to be protected so don’t come back.’”

It’s also hard for college students. “Many of the freshmen, they never went to campus. They never met anybody even though they entered school. Then all they see is a screen… They join a club or team but they practice separately.”

What Japan needs is hope – the kind found in Jesus. According to The Joshua Project, 97 percent of the Japanese population is unreached with the Gospel.

Pray for the people of Japan to find their hope and belonging in Christ alone.

We will also continue to pray for:
· Leah Sharibu and Alice that they will be set free from Boko Haram captivity

On Jul 08, 2020 · Leah Sharibu was kidnapped along with 109 other students on February 19, 2018 when Boko Haram attacked a boarding school in the city of Dapchi, Maiduguri Diocese, in north-eastern Nigeria. A month later, some of the girls died in captivity and all the others were released, except Leah.

· Pastor Wang Yi to be released from prison, for his family, the children, and the church in China

On December 28 the police raided the Early Rain Church and arrested Pastor Wang Yi, his wife Jiang Rong, and ten elders of the well-known 750-member church for holding “illegal” services. Some 100 believers were detained, questioned, and later released. Pastor Wang’s wife was also released. Pastor Wang remained in detention.

· For Anita, an Iranian Christian, persecuted by the Islamic regime.
· For the release of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani from Iran, and his family as their Persecution continues

Pastor Nadarkhani is serving the second year of his six-year sentence, recently reduced from ten years.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani converted to Christianity at the age of 19 and leads a 400-member house church in Rasht, Iran. Since 2006, Iranian authorities have consistently harassed and detained Pastor Nadarkhani and his family. In 2010, the authorities sentenced him to death for apostasy before acquitting him in 2012. Pastor Nadarkhani was tried again in 2017 on false charges of “acting against national security” and promoting “Zionist Christianity,” for which he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. By July 2018, plainclothes agents raided Pastor Nadarkhani’s home to execute the sentence, beating and apprehending him and using a taser gun on one of his sons. He is now incarcerated at the notorious Evin prison near Tehran.

· For the harvest

“2 And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Luke 10:2

In the love of Christ,

Nadia Dybvik, Persecution Watch Prayer Call Leader

Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday

From any location on your phone

Time:

9:00 PM Eastern

8:00 PM Central

7:00 PM Mountain

6:00 PM Pacific

Call in number: 712 775-7035

Access Code: 281207#

Recommended: For those who may be subject to added charges for conference calls. Please download the app, it’s free!

MOBILE APP: Free Conference Call HD also provides a quick and easy way for you to dial into conference calls without having to remember the dial-in credentials. Save all of your conference call dial-in numbers and access codes using this free app. With the Free Conference Call HD you can instantly dial into a conference call via 3G/4G data network and or regular mobile carrier. Google Play link or App Store – iTunes

What is Persecution Watch?
Persecution Watch is a U.S. national prayer conference call ministry that prays specifically for the global Persecuted Church. For over a decade, Blaine Scogin led this national network of believers who faithfully pray for the persecuted and the global harvest for the Kingdom of God.

The group meets via a free call-in service every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night at 9pm Eastern (please check your time zone). Blaine also served as Prayer Director for Voice of the Persecuted and our missions became one. The prayer mission of Persecution Watch is an important part of our own.

With the passing of Blaine into glory on December 26, 2019, Voice of the Persecuted is committed to continue the prayer conference call for the persecuted along with our dedicated prayer warrior team.

On occasion, persecuted brothers and sisters have been invited on the call to share the trials they’re facing. The team serves to encourage them by washing their feet in Spirit led prayer.

Time is often reserved for those on the call to ask questions. We believe this helps to gain a better understanding of the situation that persecuted Christians endure in their specific nations. Q&A also helps us to focus our prayers based on their current needs.

Persecution Watch also hosts callers who want to pray united from other nations. If your heart is perplexed by the sufferings of our persecuted brothers and sisters, you no longer need to pray alone. We welcome all who desire to pray for the persecuted church and consider it a joy to pray together with you.

If you’re new to the call and can’t find your voice, listen in and pray silently or on mute. We are grateful and thank the Lord for bringing us all together to pray in agreement for our persecuted family in Christ. We can all be prayer warriors on this call!

NOTE: Persecution Watch has a new email address for the prayer team and those who would like to receive urgent prayer requests, weekly call prayer points and notification of special prayer events and special guest speakers.

Please fill out the form below to be included in our new distribution list to receive this important information. We are grateful for your prayers and to the Lord for guiding us as we continue the Persecution Watch prayer call mission.

Note to Voice of the Persecuted (VOP) readers: The Persecution Watch prayer team is also the prayer team of Voice of the Persecuted. SIGN UP today.

Separating a child from its parents Human rights violation in the courts of the Islamic Republic

The sentence was issued to a Christian couple converts who had taken care of a child from the age of 10 weeks. Because the child was born a Muslim, the Christian family could not take care of him.

(Mohabat News) – In an unprecedented case, a two-year-old adopted by a Christian couple was separated from his family by the ruling of the Bushehr Revolutionary Court!

The verdict issued for “Maryam Fallahi” and “Sam Khosravi”, a Christian couple who have taken care of a child from the age of 10 weeks, states that due to the child being born a Muslim, the Christian family cannot take care of him.
According to “Article 18” organization, the final verdict in this case was issued on Wednesday, September 23, 2020.

The verdict was upheld after a Bushehr family court judge ruled on July 19 that there was a “strong emotional connection” between the child and the Christian couple, Maryam Fallahi and Sam Khosravi. The orphanage has an “unknown future” ahead for him, and the chances of another family adopting Lydia due to her illness are “zero.”
The two-year-old suffers from heart and gastrointestinal diseases, and Welfare did not notify the Christian couple of Lydia’s condition, the report said. However, they are making every effort to improve the child’s condition without any objection. The Welfare and Forensic Medicine Supervisors have also confirmed that Maryam Fallahi, a nurse at Bushehr Heart Hospital for many years, and her husband provided the best care for the child during her care.

“The judge’s ruling to separate Lydia from the Christian couple is completely contrary to the fatwas issued by Makarem Shirazi and Yousef Sanei, two Shiite religious leaders,” their lawyer said. Nasser Makarem Shirazi, in response to the explanation and question of the lawyer of the case, had issued a fatwa that due to “necessity”, the child can stay in this family. Sanei also issued a fatwa stating that “his guardianship does not have any legal problems for couples, and that being a non-Muslim does not prevent them, and choosing a religion for the child should be done after puberty. The issuance of this sentence is not only contrary to international law, but also to Iranian law.”

The lawyer added, “Article 3 of the Law on the Protection of Unaccompanied and Malnourished Children and Adolescents states that all Iranian nationals residing in Iran can adopt children, and does not specify any religious affiliation. They are Iranians and the religion of Christianity is recognized in the system of the Islamic Republic of Iran. According to paragraph T of Article 6, the transfer of a child to religions accepted in the constitution is permitted.”

Maryam Fallahi and Sam Khosravi are among the seven Christian converts who were arrested by Bushehr security agents on July 1, 2019 and tried in the Bushehr Revolutionary Court.

Sam Khosravi was given one year imprisonment and two years ban to stay in Bushehr and Maryam Fallahi to 80 million Rials ($320) fine and permanent dismissal from government services

It should be noted that despite the fact that Christians are legally recognized as a religious minority, the security services are still pursuing the issue of Muslims converting to Christianity with particular sensitivity and are dealing harshly with activists in this field. Separating a child from its parents is the latest human rights violation in the courts of the Islamic Republic. “Adopted child” is just a legal term, and it is a crime to separate a two-year-old child who loves his [or] her legal parents.

The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on September 24 added a number of judges from the Islamic Republic’s judiciary, three prisons, and one Revolutionary Court to the list of sanctions.

“Revolutionary Court judges do not administer justice fairly, but instead seek to deprive the Iranian people of justice, as well as human rights and fundamental freedoms. The United States will continue to stand with the Iranian people,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. He called on the regime to treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve.

“The United States is exposing the true nature of the Iranian revolutionary courts and their judges as tools designed to carry out the Iranian regime’s brutal ideology and suppress dissent,” he said.

Tonight on Persecution Watch: Report of new crackdowns on Iranian Christians

In an organized operation Iranian security police arrested 12 Christian converts in different cities across the country.

On July 8th, Mohabat News reported that Iranian security officers have begun a new wave of arrests across the country to crackdown on Iranian Christians and especially targeting Christian converts.

Reports of this new campaign state that plain-clothed security officers raided a prayer gathering in a house church in Yaftabad region in Tehran, at 8pm on Tuesday June 30. At least 20 worshipers were in attendance at the time. Officers arrested a few of the congregants and thoroughly searched the house where they had gathered.

Article 18, an Iranian Christian advocacy group, verified the news and added, among the security officers were two female agents as well, which is not a common sight. Security authorities video recorded their raid and few rounds of questioning and arrests took place during the attack.

Eyewitnesses reported, after authorities turned off their video cameras they began mistreating and beating the house church congregation. At the end of this ordeal, authorities forced these Christians to sign a paper stating they were not subject to any kind of violence or mistreatment. During the raid security authorities arrested six Christians and confiscated all Bibles and cellphones belonging to the congregants.

The same day, Iranian authorities raided homes of a number of other Christians in Karaj and Tehran. The names of some of those arrested are Joseph Shahbazian, Reza N, Salar A, Mina Kh, Maryam Kh and Sonia. At least three other Christian converts, Farhad M, Arash and Farhad Kh were also arrested in Karaj. Some of these Christians have already received a bailing order for 50 Million Tomans (approx. $12,000 USD).

In addition, three other Christians, Sohrab A, Ebrahim and Yaser, were also arrested on the same day in Malayer, Hamedan Province. All three were temporarily released the following Thursday after each posted a 30 Million Tomans (Approx. $7,000 USD) bail.

Credible sources in Tehran told Mohabat News, a Christian woman by the name of Maliheh Nazari was also arrested in Western Tehran.

Ever Increasing Pressure on Iranian Christians

This new wave of crackdown on Iranian Christians is happening as the country is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus continues to spread in Iranian prisons where poor hygiene accelerates virus spread. The danger of catching COVID-19 in Iranian prisons is so high that Iranian Judicial System decided to temporarily release around 80 thousand prisoners to avoid mass infection.

The regime continues to violate the human rights of its citizens at a time when the people are already suffering as a result of widespread mismanagement and embezzlement among top ranking authorities in addition to economic pressure caused by international sanctions on the country.

Iranian political and religious dissidents are usually arrested under false accusations such as propaganda against the Islamic regime or receiving support from Israel. These dissidents are often used as a scapegoat for the problems that plague the country.

The Islamic regime uses media propaganda to win over public support before each crackdown campaigns against political and religious dissidents. As expected before this new wave of attacks, the regime began a media propaganda campaign to shed a negative light on Iranian Christians.

Last week, Yahya Yasrebi, an Iranian professor of Islamic Philosophy stated, “gravitation of our youth towards Christianity is not as a result of their pursuit for truth, but rather it’s out of frustration, mortal needs and stupidity”.

Likely, the number of arrests reported in this crackdown campaign are much lower as families of Christians who are arrested are always warned not to publicize the arrest and threatened that it will result in worsening of their situation.

Dear Prayer Warriors, Marziyeh Amirizadeh and Maryam Rostampour, two women who were born into Muslim families who went on to lead house churches and evangelized to Muslims, are examples of converts who have been arrested for their faith.

The women spent a total of 259 days in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison in 2009. Since departing from Iran in 2010, they have often shared their experiences as converts.

“We know firsthand how difficult it is for those who attend house churches because they risk their lives to attend house churches,” Amirizadeh said at an event in February hosted by the Family Research Council. “Any time if the government find out, they can raid the gathering, arrest people, torture them and confiscate their property.”

Open Doors reported that 169 Christians were arrested in Iran during the organization’s 2019 reporting period — Nov. 1, 2018, to Oct. 31, 2019.

According to Iran Human Rights Monitor, the Iran Revolutionary Court in southern Iran sentenced last month seven Iranian Christian converts for the alleged crime of “spreading propaganda against the state.” The converts were sentenced to prison, exile, a financial penalty, and a ban on work and social activities.

In addition to being one of the world’s largest state sponsors of terrorism, Iran is also listed by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for tolerating and engaging in systemic and severe violations of religious freedom.

Iran ranks as the 9th worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors 2020 World Watch List. Converts from Islam in Iran often face persecution from the government and face the threat of arrest for attending an underground church. It is illegal to hold church services or produce Christian literature in Farsi, the main language.

Pray for the believers in Iran who have been arrested

  • Ask God to calm their fears, that they would know that they’re not alone and that the worldwide Church is standing with them. Pray that they would be treated well and for quick release to be back home with their families.
  • We continue to pray for Anita, an Iranian convert also arrested by the Iranian Regime. We have learned from Voice of the Persecuted that her original 10-year sentence was lowered to 6 years. Her attorney has appealed the lengthy prison term with the hope of lowering it to 1 year. At present, she has not yet been called back to the prison and is still under house arrest. Pray she will be released without serving the prison sentence and for her faith to remain strong.

Please also remember:

  • Leah Sharibu and Alice, captives of Boko Haram, to be set free.
  • Pray that Pastor Wang Yi in China will be able to minister to inmates and that soon he will be released from prison. Pray for his family and for the Church that God gave him to lead.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, I read a beautifully illustrated story a Victory!

“The Eagle does not fight the snake on the ground.
It picks it up into the sky and changes the battle ground, and then it releases the snake into the sky.
The snake has no stamina, no power and no balance in the air. It is useless, weak and vulnerable unlike on the ground where it is powerful wise and deadly.
Take your fight into the spiritual realm by praying and when you are in the spiritual realm God takes over your battles.
Do not fight the enemy in his comfort zone, change the battle grounds like the Eagle and let God take charge through your earnest prayer.
You will be assured of clean victory.
Pray without ceasing.”

If Holy Spirit is leading you please join us tonight as we pray on the Persecution Watch prayer conference call for the persecuted church and the global harvest of souls.

Your Sister in Christ Love,

Nadia Dybvik, Persecution Watch Prayer Leader

Prayer Conference Call Details

Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday

From any location on your phone

Time:

9:00 PM Eastern

8:00 PM Central

7:00 PM Mountain

6:00 PM Pacific

Call in number: 712 775-7035

Access Code: 281207#

Recommended: For those who may be subject to added charges for conference calls. Please download the app, it’s free!

MOBILE APP: Free Conference Call HD also provides a quick and easy way for you to dial into conference calls without having to remember the dial-in credentials. Save all of your conference call dial-in numbers and access codes using this free app. With the Free Conference Call HD you can instantly dial into a conference call via 3G/4G data network and or regular mobile carrier. Google Play link or App Store – iTunes

What is Persecution Watch?
Persecution Watch is a U.S. national prayer conference call ministry that prays specifically for the global Persecuted Church. For over a decade, Blaine Scogin led this national network of believers who faithfully pray for the persecuted and the global harvest for the Kingdom of God.

The group meets via a free call-in service every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night at 9pm Eastern (please check your time zone). Blaine also served as Prayer Director for Voice of the Persecuted and our missions became one. The prayer mission of Persecution Watch is an important part of our own.

With the passing of Blaine into glory on December 26, 2019, Voice of the Persecuted is committed to continue the prayer conference call for the persecuted along with our dedicated prayer warrior team.

On occasion, persecuted brothers and sisters have been invited on the call to share the trials they’re facing. The team serves to encourage them by washing their feet in Spirit led prayer.

Time is often reserved for those on the call to ask questions. We believe this helps to gain a better understanding of the situation that persecuted Christians endure in their specific nations. Q&A also helps us to focus our prayers based on their current needs.

Persecution Watch also hosts callers who want to pray united from other nations. If your heart is perplexed by the sufferings of our persecuted brothers and sisters, you no longer need to pray alone. We welcome all who desire to pray for the persecuted church and consider it a joy to pray together with you.

If you’re new to the call and can’t find your voice, listen in and pray silently or on mute. We are grateful and thank the Lord for bringing us all together to pray in agreement for our persecuted family in Christ. We can all be prayer warriors on this call!

NOTE: Persecution Watch has a new email address for the prayer team and those who would like to receive urgent prayer requests, weekly call prayer points and notification of special prayer events and special guest speakers.

Please fill out the form below to be included in our new distribution list to receive this important information. We are grateful for your prayers and to the Lord for guiding us as we continue the Persecution Watch prayer call mission.

Note to Voice of the Persecuted (VOP) readers: The Persecution Watch prayer team is also the prayer team of Voice of the Persecuted. SIGN UP today.

New Law in Iran Threatens More Arrests of Christians, Rights Advocates Say

Shrine of Imam Ali Reda in Mashad Iran. (Iahsan at English Wikipedia)

Legislation could enable regime to ban any group as a ‘sect.’

(Morning Star News) – Legislation passed by parliament in Iran could make it easier to arrest and imprison Christians and other religious minorities, rights advocates said.

Under amendments to articles 499 and 500 of the Islamic Penal Code, those found guilty of “deviant psychological manipulation” or “propaganda contrary to Islam,” whether in the “real or virtual sphere,” could be labeled as “sects,” according to advocacy group Article 18.

The law enables the regime to ban any group as a sect and may lead to punishment that could be escalated to include the death penalty, said Hamid Garagozloo, U.S. representative of The International Organization to Preserve Human Rights (IOPHR), while moderating a recent webinar panel discussion with representatives of religious minorities that could be affected by the law.

Expanding the margin for Iranian authorities to justify discriminatory actions against Christian converts, the law would make it more difficult for lawyers to defend them and other religious minorities, according to a Middle East expert at advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

While the amendment has been in the pipeline for two years, it was recently approved by parliament in the middle of May, according to a researcher at advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC).

“The last couple of weeks, religious minorities have started to take notice and are thinking about what to do and how to raise awareness,” he said. “It is quite worrying, because the amendments made, rather than protecting religious freedom at all, try to define exactly who is following fundamental theology or not.”

Before the law is implemented, it must be approved by the Guardian Council in Iran, he said, adding that it is unclear when that decision could be made.

The government has been arresting Christian converts and giving them sentences of up to 15 years under vague terms such as, “acting against national security,” said Mansour Borji, advocacy director of Article 18 in the webinar hosted by IOPHR. In the past decade, these charges have been used to replace more obvious religious charges such as apostasy, he said. This obscuring of religious freedom violations by shying away from terms like “apostasy” was largely due to international pressure, according to Article 18.

Advocates believe this effort to extend greater control could be the regime’s reaction to losing credibility among its people amid economic difficulties and poor handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic. As crises in the country mount, they said, religious minorities and Western Christianity may become an easy scapegoat.

“Many Christian groups and church leaders are worried because this would add another layer to their ongoing suffering at the hands of the Islamic regime,” said the expert at CSW.

Other religious minorities that would be affected by the law include Sunni and Sufi Muslims and the Baha’i.

Aside from Shia Islam and Judaism, Christianity is one of the three recognized religions in Iran. Protections, however, apply only to a small number of approved Christian groups, namely ethnically Christian Assyrians and Armenians.

All but a handful of churches who offered their services in the national language of Farsi have been forced to close since the Islamic revolution in the 1970s, Borji said in the webinar. The remaining churches are monitored to make sure that no Muslim-born Iranians attend them. Converts are forced to practice their faith in secret, underground churches and are routinely harassed and arrested, he said.

Recent Arrests

Most recently, four Iranian Christian converts accused of endangering state security and promoting Zionism obeyed a summons issued at the end of May and presented themselves to Evin Prison to begin serving sentences of five years each, according to MEC.

Hossein Kadivar, Khalil Dehghanpour, Kamal Naamanian and Mohammed Vafadar had been released on bail of about $13,000 each last July. All but Vafadar are married with children.

The four were among nine Christian converts belonging to the Church of Iran who were arrested at the beginning of 2019 over a four-week period. In October 2019, all nine were convicted of “acting against national security” and given five-year sentences, which were held on appeal in February.

“It is very sad, of course, for those people involved,” the MEC representative said. “It’s easy to say five years, but for the people who actually experience this, it’s so difficult.”

The remaining five men out of nine have been in Evin Prison, unable to post bail following a disagreement with a judge over their choice of a defense lawyer.

About a year-and-a-half ago, Iran set which lawyers would be able to defend political prisoners. The five were unwilling to let go of the lawyer they chose, who was not on the list. This angered the judge and caused him to set the exorbitant bail, according to the researcher at MEC.

They were immediately transferred to Evin Prison after not being able to meet the bail amount of $130,000 each, according to MEC.

Reduction in Sentences

After an appeal, three other Christian converts who had been handed sentences of 10-years were given a reduction of their sentences.

Sentences against Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani and Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie were reduced to six years, and for Mohammadreza (Yuhan) Omidi, to two years, according to MEC.

Omidi was expected to be eligible for release in July. The decision regarding a fourth church member who was arrested and convicted at the same time, Yasser Mossaybezadeh, was not yet known.

The men will appeal again, said the expert at CSW.

The men and their families were hoping that the sentences would be completely overturned, said the expert at MEC, as they should never have been in prison in the first place.

“On the one hand it’s great that it’s been reduced, but on the other hand, they were expecting more,” he said.

Hearing Delayed

An appeal hearing to review the cases of Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, his wife Shamiram Issavi Khabizeh and three Christian converts was canceled with no reason given, according to MEC.

Advocates are not sure why the appeal has been delayed but it could be because the case of Tamraz has become publicized, said the researcher at MEC. There are many inconsistencies and mistakes in handling the case, he said, which could be another reason for the delay. Continually delayed hearings are also often used as a form of harassment, he added.

New Arrests

Four other Christians belonging to the Church of Iran denomination were accused of spreading “Zionist Evangelical Christianity” and “home church meetings,” according to a CSW press statement.

They received a summons from the third branch of the Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor’s Office of Tehran on June 19, according to the release.

Judges Hassan Babaie and Zenjani signed a verdict based on Article 498 of the Islamic Penal Code, which criminalizes the establishment of groups that aim to “overthrow the system,” according to CSW.

Iran was ranked ninth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

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