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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.
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
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(Morning Star News) – The COVID-19 crisis in Iran has resulted in freedom for several Christians among the roughly 85,000 people released from prison, but convictions have continued in spite of a short-lived lull in actions against converts to Christianity, sources said.
The release of imprisoned Christians as part of the regime’s efforts to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus was pragmatic and not an indication of a change of policy by the Iranian government, rights advocates said.
“For a time it looked like the authorities were too busy with coronavirus to bother with the Christians,” a researcher at Middle East Concern (MEC) told Morning Star News. “Now we know they have really turned their attention again to targeting Christian converts.”
On April 21 Christian convert Mary (Fatemeh) Mohammadi, 21, was sentenced to flogging and three months plus one day in prison for taking part in a January protest in Tehran over the downing of Ukranian Airlines Flight 752 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran. Though the case is unrelated to her faith, since previously serving a six-month prison sentence for charges due to Christian activity, Mohammadi has been harassed and denied education, according to MEC.
In the hearing, the judged asked Mohammadi about her Christian faith, although it had no bearing on the charges of “disturbing public order” that she faced, raising concerns as to whether her faith influenced the judge’s handling of the case.
Mohammadi will not appeal her sentence, which has been suspended due to the coronavirus crisis.
Mohammadi’s court hearing was suspended in April due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The MEC researcher said he was surprised that the court pursued the charges despite recent postponements within the judicial system.
“Personally, I thought they would have given priority to more serious cases,” he said.
Similarly, multiple sentences handed down to Christian convert Ismaeili Maghrebinejad based on virtually no evidence remain in effect, alarming advocates.
Maghrebinejad, 65, was sentenced to two years in prison on Feb. 27 for “membership of a group hostile to the regime” for receiving a Bible verse from Philippians from a Christian media organization, according to MEC. According to a court document, the organization advocates “Evangelical Zionist Christianity,” which is not tolerated by the regime.
When appealing the sentence, instead of a reprieve, Maghrebinejad was given an additional one year for “propaganda against the state.”
This followed a three-year sentence for “insulting Islamic sacred beliefs,” in a civil court hearing on Jan. 8. The crime: Maghrebinejad had responded to a joke on social media deemed critical of the clergy – with a smiley face emoji.
“This was the only evidence that they could find after arresting him without cause and searching his house without a warrant,” the MEC researcher told Morning Star News. “This is very disturbing. This is an elderly man. His family is not living in the country anymore, and he is really being targeted by the authorities. They are determined.”
Maghrebinejad is released on bail and appealing all three convictions.
The disappointing conviction came on the heels of more positive developments due to the virus, including the release of Christian converts Amin Khaki, Rokhsareh (Mahrokh) Ghanbari and Fatemeh Bakhteri.
The three Christians initially were released temporarily on bail of several thousand dollars, but as the novel coronavirus crisis continued, so did their release.
Khaki was released conditionally on March 2 after paying a bail bond and serving eight months of a 14-month sentence for “propaganda against the regime and establishing house churches.” Roughly one month later, Khaki was notified that he was not required to return.
After serving about seven months of their one-year sentences for “spreading propaganda against the regime,” Ghanbari and Bakhteri were also released temporarily in March.
Prison authorities informed Ghanbari in early April that she was not required to return, while Bakhteri was informed that her temporary release was extended, according to advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
Remaining in Prison
Several other Christians with longer sentences remain in prison despite the threat of contracting the virus, including pastor Yousef Nadarkani and three others arrested with him – Mohammadreza Omidi, Yasser Mossaybzadeh and Saheb Fadaie.
All four are still serving 10-year sentences handed down in June 2017 for charges of “acting against the national security through propagating house churches and promoting Zionist Christianity,” according to CSW.
They requested furlough due to several coronavirus cases within some of the wards of Evin Prison, according to MEC, but it was denied.
Nadarkani’s case was reviewed by the revolutionary court in May, but the outcome is unknown, according a Middle East expert at CSW. He said it was unclear why Pastor Nadarkani has not been released.
“I guess he is a very high-profile case, so maybe to give a message to the Iranian society, and especially Iranian Christian converts, that, ‘Don’t think we are relaxing our policies – it is just temporary,’” he said.
Advocates are hoping that more prisoners will be released permanently, and that those who were first released temporarily will be able to retrieve bail amounts that are often several thousand dollars.
The novel coronavirus hit Iran hard economically, and released Christian converts experience an additional layer of suffering, as it is harder for those targeted by the government to find jobs, the Middle East specialist at CSW said. They and potential employers are often harassed, eventually forcing them to leave the country.
The recent releases are largely image control by the Iranian government, he added.
“This serves the Iranian propaganda, because they release the prisoner,” he said. “They get some credit for that…but they make life so difficult for them that they have to leave Iran. They use these tactics to sort of dissuade and discourage others form converting or expressing their new faith in public.”
Iran was ranked ninth on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
VOP NOTE: Voice of the Persecuted well knows the situation Iranians Christians are facing. We have asked you to keep praying for our sister in Christ, Anita. She, a Christian convert, recently appealed her sentence but was sentenced to a harsh term of 10years in prison for sharing the Gospel in Iran. This took place while others have been released during the Covid-19 pandemic. At present, Anita is under house arrest and waiting to be called back to the prison. Please continue to pray for her and all others bein persecuted for their faith by the Iranian Regime.
(Forum 18) Twenty-one-year-old Iranian Christian convert Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi has been sentenced to three months plus one day in prison, and ten lashes.
The sentence relates to Mary’s alleged participation in anti-government demonstrations following the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane in January.
The sentence is suspended for one year, and depends on her future conduct.
Mary has not appealed against the verdict, but commented:
“There was no evidence against me, so I ought to have been acquitted, but instead I was sentenced not only to imprisonment, but also flogging.
“And it should be mentioned that even before the verdict was handed down, I and my family were forced to endure all kinds of torture, none of which was sanctioned by law, and which ought to be considered crimes in themselves. So even if I would have been acquitted, it wouldn’t have been a real acquittal!”
“We have refrained from appealing against the verdict because the appeal courts have turned into confirmation courts!”
During Mary’s court hearing last week, the judge questioned her about her religious views, even though the charges were unrelated to her faith.
He cited no evidence against her, saying that her presence in the area where the rally was taking place was evidence in itself.
Mary’s hearing had previously been scheduled for 2 March, but was postponed due to coronavirus.
After her hearing was rescheduled, Mary tweeted that it would be a “crime against humanity” to send anyone to prison under the current circumstances.
Mary has already spent six months in prison as a result of her participation in house-churches, for which she was convicted of “action against national security” and “propaganda against the system”.
In July last year she faced fresh criminal charges relating to her “improper” wearing of hijab. Those charges, which were eventually quashed, were brought against her after she initially went to police to complain of an assault.
Then in December, Mary was kicked out of her Tehran university, without explanation, on the eve of her English-language exams.
Just a few weeks later, on 12 January 2020, Mary was arrested as protests took place in Azadi Square.
There was no word about Mary’s whereabouts for a month, before it was confirmed that she was being held in Qarchak women’s prison, south of the Iranian capital Tehran.
After her arrest, Mary was forced to sit in a yard, for hours, in extremely cold weather and opposite the toilets, and not given any food for 24 hours.
She was beaten so badly – by male and female officers – that the bruises were visible for three weeks.
Mary was also strip-searched twice by female officers, who told her that if she refused to remove her clothes, they would rip them from her.
Mary is a rare example of a Christian activist still living in Iran. She launched a campaign last year called “Kahma”, fighting for the rights of all Christians – whether from Christian homes, or Christian converts – to be given the right to attend church.
UPDATE on Anita
We had asked you to pray for Anita, a Christian convert who was charge with promoting the underground church in Iran. Her hearing took place on April 15th. The Iranian court had recommended 6 years in prison, but we were encouraged that the judge, who is known to be harsh, had treated her kindly during the trial. After the hearing she was released to house arrest and told the judge would send his final verdict. Sadly, she received a verdict of 10 years in prison. Please pray for Anita and her attorney who will likely appeal the sentence.
(Voice of the Persecuted) Thank you to all who have been praying for Anita. She was arrested, interrogated, tortured and charged for having a role in the underground house church movement. Later she was released to await her trial under house arrest.
Anita’s final hearing was held yesterday, April 15, 2020. The court had recommended over 5 years in prison. The judge hearing her was known to be tough. However, during her trial the judge was kind and recommended 1-1/2 years. As the hearing progressed his heart seemed to soften towards her. At the end he released her back to house arrest and said he would send his final verdict.
Please continue to pray for Anita and a favorable verdict with no prison time, and for all Christians in Iran.
Be encouraged as you read this praise report!
Morning Star News) – When a convert from Islam in Iran was sentenced to two years in exile in Sarbaz last year, the judge warned him that religious extremists in the remote desert town would treat him harshly.
When Ebrahim Firoozi arrived in November to southwest Iran near the border with Pakistan, though, he discovered the fear the judge had tried to instill in him was unfounded – local Muslims were helpful, open and hospitable, the Christian said in a recent online interview.
This discovery was all the more welcome as in March his term of exile was extended by another 11 months.
Upon his arrival in Sarbaz, one person invited Firoozi to stay at his home the first night; others quickly found him a place to live. Local people’s kindness only increased, he said, when they learned he was exiled for his Christian faith rather than for a crime.
“I found these people to be very noble,” Firoozi, 34, told Joseph Hovsepian of Hovsepian Ministries in an interview posted on YouTube in which he opened up about his conversion and his years in prison before exile.
Firoozi and advocates believe this kindness was an answer to the prayers of worried friends, family and others.
“The reason people were nice to me wasn’t because of my own character or my goodness. It was all because of God,” Firoozi told Hovsepian.
Released from Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj on Oct. 26, Firoozi was ordered to report to Sarbaz following a brief period to order personal matters. Shortly after arriving, though, he sought permission to leave the area to settle family affairs in Hamedan and, receiving no response, in December he departed.
As a result, he received an additional eight months of exile for violating terms of the sentence and three more for failing to show for a daily check-in, according to advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC).
Besides punishment, the purpose of exile is to keep people from continuing to be an influence in their areas, a researcher at MEC told Morning Star News. He added, however, that Firoozi has been an inspiration to Christians in his desire to stay in Iran, rather than fleeing in the face of persecution, and in his attitude throughout the process.
“His faithfulness in the midst of persecution is an inspiration to others,” he said.
Firoozi’s lifestyle in exile is simple, the researcher at MEC added, and he spends much of his time reading Christian literature.
It is unknown whether Firoozi has found work in the area, but Hovsepian told Morning Star News, “He is not alone, and he will be taken care of.”
Before exile, Firoozi had spent almost seven years in prison, starting in 2011, when agents searched his house, arrested him and presented tracts and other materials as evidence against him, he said in his online interview.
The judge initially sentenced Firoozi to 10 months in prison. When Firoozi was released, he continued to share his faith, and in 2013 he was given a one-year sentence and two years in exile.
Five years were added to the one-year sentence. As he was preparing to turn himself in to serve the initial one-year sentence, Firoozi said, he met with people to say goodbye, during which agents entered and interrogated them and accused him of conducting a Bible study group, and five years were added to his initial one-year sentence.
He was sentenced to five years under charges of “crimes against national security,” “participating in illegal gatherings” and “colluding with foreign entities.” Criminal charges are given to Christian converts for involvement and fellowship with Christian groups and activities. The sentences, Firoozi said, are rarely put in writing to avoid evidence of unjust convictions.
In court he was pressured to ask for forgiveness and renounce his faith in exchange for a lighter sentence, he told Hovsepian.
“But that was absolutely not an option for me,” he said. “I could never turn my back on my faith and submit to this, and by God’s grace I encountered a few years in prison in exchange for an eternity with him.”
At the beginning of his faith journey, Firoozi said he knew that he would face this type of persecution.
His journey began at age 20, when his family moved from Hamadan to Tehran. Through Christian media, he was introduced to a Christ much different than the one he had heard of while growing up.
When the friends he had been staying with blocked the Christian programs, he listenedto short-wave radio broadcasts with headphones on the roof of the house, Bible in hand, until he could find his own place. Through subsequent contacts with Christians, he said, “I came to accept him as my Lord and Savior.”
After his conversion, he openly shared his faith and gave people Bibles, and even declared himself as Christian on official forms.
Staying in Iran
While emphasizing that his experience in prison was not necessarily like that of all Christian inmates, Firoozi said he was not mistreated. He was eventually allowed to have a Bible, to build a small library, and when all Christians were transferred to Rajai Shahr Prison in 2013, he was able to be with fellow believers.
He told Hovsepian that in prison he realized the value of freedom, love and grace toward others as well as the endurance and submission required of biblical heroes like Job.
While serving his sentence, his mother died. Hovsepian said the fact that Firoozi’s heart is not filled with bitterness is a testament to his character.
“In a way I would say maybe he is an icon of the young generation of persecuted believers in Iran,” said Hovsepian, 46.
While there is hope that in future generations Christians will not be imprisoned for their faith, Hovsepian noted that persecution often strengthens the church.
“I have seen that wherever there is persecution, the church grows fast,” he said. “The church purifies. The church unites, and the opposite also happens wherever there is no persecution.”
While some might use their conversion as a means to request asylum abroad, Firoozi told Hovsepian that he has no intention of doing so. Instead, he wants to stay, bring change and spread hope and the gospel to Iranian people.
He asked for prayers that Iranians would be granted human rights, that those in prison would feel supported and that the leaders of the country would have a change of heart.
“I don’t want people to be discouraged by stories of people like myself being imprisoned or other believers being persecuted in Iran or other countries,” Firoozi said, “but instead I want them to emphasize the fact that God is with the church in Iran and gives the church grace and strength to endure in difficult times.”
Iran was ranked ninth on the Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Urgent Prayer Request: Please pray for Anita who gave her life to our Lord and converted to Christianity in Iran. She has been charged for having a role in the underground house church movement. Her final court/trial date is scheduled tomorrow, April 15 in Iran, which would be this evening for those of us in the USA. In recent weeks, we’ve heard of the many being released from Iranian prisons due to the coronavirus. However, it appears the authorities may be set on giving her a heavy conviction and they’re moving forward with her trial. Pray for the heart of the judge hearing her case to be soften. Please continue to pray for all Christians in Iran as well.
Ebrahim Firouzi says a new warrant, issued by the Courthouse of Sarbaz county, has added two charges of “insulting the sacred” and “cyber spying” to his case.
Sarbaz is a county in Sistan and Baluchestan Province in southeastern Iran.
(Mohabat News) In addition to two new charges, Ebrahim Firouzi has recently been sentenced based on a warrant issued by the Criminal Enforcement Branch of General and Revolutionary Courts in Robat Karim city.
Based on this verdict, issued on March 11, 2010, eight months have been added to the deportation of the Christian citizen.
Ebrahim Firouzi told Iranian Christians News Agency, “Mohabat News”: I requested a leave of absence because of family problems, but the city’s prosecutor added eight-month deportation to the length of my exile after three months.
This two-year exile of Ebrahim Firoozi to the city of Sarbaz (near the Iran-Pakistan border) began in mid-November 2009. He was imprisoned in Rajai Shahr (Gohardasht) Prison for four years before being deported, and his request for leave of absence was not agreed during all this time! Ebrahim, who has 35 years old, had been in prison for a total of seven years. He suffered much discomfort during his sentence that he was not allowed to attend the funeral after his mother died due to a long illness.
He says, “During the seven years of imprisonment, many things have occurred and the prison authorities did not agree to my request for a leave of absence to resolve these problems.” He added, “I was pressured by the relatives to carry out administrative matters quickly for preparing documents, and I was put on deadline. I applied for a five-day leave of absence regarding my administrative matters, but it was only agreed to six days, due to the paperwork.
“Ebrahim Firouzi says: “After being sent on leave, I was forced to get a layer to pursue administrative matters. Then, I returned to the Sabaz county and introduced myself to the police station, but they said my case is out of exile section. I went to the courthouse but they said you were absent and you left the city without permission and this report (your absence) was sent to Tehran.
Ebrahim Firouzi added, “I went back to Robat Karim and to the courthouse, and they accepted my reasons and announced that my leave had been approved, in a letter to the criminal enforcement division in Sarbaz County. I submitted the letter to the Sarbaz Courthouse but said my leave is unacceptable and my case has been sent to Tehran.
“He said: “It took me about three months to get this sentence and I was in exile all this time. Nevertheless, these three months are not counted as exile and I was fined eight months, namely, a total of six months was added to the exile.
These cases don’t involve all problems of Ebrahim Firouzi. Although he was acquitted of “insulting the sacred” in his first case, two charges of “insulting the sacred” and “cyber spying” were added to his case based on a new warrant issued by the Sarbaz Courthouse. Now, the fate of this Christian convert is uncertain. There have been a few reports indicating this high level of psychological harassment for a prisoner of conscience, if not unprecedented, and his situation is still unclear./ Persian