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Four Iranian Christians were reportedly sentenced to 80 lashes for drinking wine for communion, a shocking punishment meted out even as a new United Nations report blasted the Islamic republic for its systematic persecution of non-Muslims.
The four men were sentenced Oct. 6 after being arrested in a house church last December and charged with consuming alcohol in violation of the theocracy’s strict laws, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide. They were among several Christians punished for their faith in a nation where converting from Islam to Christianity can bring the death penalty. According to a new October UN report by Ahmed Shaheed, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, such persecution is common, despite new President Hasan Rouhani’s pledge to be a moderate.
“At least 20 Christians were in custody in July 2013,” Shaheed wrote. “In addition, violations of the rights of Christians, particularly those belonging to evangelical Protestant groups, many of whom are converts, who proselytize to and serve Iranian Christians of Muslim background, continue to be reported.”
Iran’s regime has made stopping the spread of Christianity a cornerstone of its crackdown on religious freedom. There are estimated to be as many as 370,000 Christians in Iran, according to the most recent U.S. State Department report. The clerical rulers see Christianity as a threat to Iran’s majority ultra-orthodox Shiite Islamic religion.
“Despite the recent Iranian charm offensive, Dr. Shaheed’s report reminds us of the true nature of the Iranian regime where the abuse of human rights continue,” Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), chairman and founder of the Iran Dissident Awareness Program, told FoxNews.com. “Political prisoners like blogger Mohammad Reza Pourshajari are being denied adequate medical care, journalists and their families continue to be targets of the regime, Pastor Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati are still languishing in prison and the Baha’i community faces increasing persecution. This is the true nature of the regime we’re dealing with during negotiations in Geneva.”
Alireza Miryousefi,a spokesman for Iran’s mission to the UN, did not respond to requests for comment, but Iran’s government blasted Dr. Shaheed’s report as not objective. According to Iran’s state-controlled news outlet Press TV, an Iranian official from the UN mission said Shaheed “has not paid sufficient notice to Iran’s legal system and Islamic culture and considers whatever he sees in the West as an international standard for the entire world.”
Shaheed is widely considered to be one of the world’s leading authorities on human rights. He served as the minister of foreign Affairs of the Republic of Maldives.
“It should be no surprise that Iran’s human rights record as documented by the UN is nothing short of atrocious,” Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told FoxNews.com.
“If the regime thinks that its international charm offensive will help whitewash its appalling human rights record as documented by the UN report, they are sorely mistaken.”
The UN reported noted Iran’s “Authorities continue to compel licensed Protestant churches to restrict Persian-speaking and Muslim-born Iranians from participating in services, and raids and forced closures of house churches are ongoing…More than 300 Christians have been arrested since 2010, and dozens of church leaders and active community members have reportedly been convicted of national security crimes in connection with church activities, such as organizing prayer groups, proselytizing and attending Christian seminars abroad. “
On Monday, a retired California pastor, Eddie Romero, managed to sneak into Iran to demand the release of imprisoned Iranian Christians. Pastor Romero protested in front of Iran’s notorious Evin prison, declaring “Let my people go.” Prison officials detained Romero and he was sent back to the U.S. Romero sought to shine a spotlight on the plight of imprisoned Christian Iranians, including Farshid Fathi, the American-Iranian pastor Saeed Abedini, Mostafa Bordbar, and Alireza Seyyedian.
The four Christian Iranians sentenced to 80 lashes for violating Iran’s anti-alcohol law have ten days to appeal their verdict.
“The sentences handed down to these members of the Church of Iran effectively criminalize the Christian sacrament of sharing in the Lord’s Supper and constitute an unacceptable infringement on the right to practice faith freely and peaceably,” Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said.
Pleases continue to pray for our Christian family in Iran. And pray for the all Iranians who are being oppressed by the government.
Former ChinaAid volunteer taken into custody in Iran after protesting imprisonment of five Iranian Christians
While the church in America slumbers, Christians all over the world are being killed, tortured and falsely imprisoned for their faith. One man, a Hispanic pastor from Southern California decided he would try to bring the plight of Iranian Christians to the public’s attention.
Tehran—Oct. 21, 2013) A California pastor and former ChinaAid volunteer was taken into custody at Evin Prison in Iran at 12:30 a.m. CDT, Monday after a verbal protest against the detainment of five Iranian Christians.
Eddie Romero protested in English, Spanish and Farsi against what he says is the illegal detainment of Farshid Fathi, Saeed Abedini, Mostafa Bordbar, Alireza Seyyedian and Mohammad Ali Dadkhah. In his protest, he cited Exodus chapter eight, verse one: “…This is what the Lord says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may worship me.’”
Updates on Romero’s situation can be found on his website, exodus8one.org.
Romero conducted a similar protest before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and again in 2012 when China’s then-vice president Xi Jinping was visiting Los Angeles. ChinaAid reported on the second instance, which can be read here
ChinaAid asks Christians worldwide to join with us in prayer for Romero, his family and his church family. We pray that the Lord will protect Romero during his time in custody and for his safe and swift return. We also pray that the Lord will provide protection to the five Iranian Christians for whose release Romero petitioned and that a passion for the Lord will spread across the nation of Iran.
Prison guards in Evin and Karaj raided cells of Christians being held there, damaging facilities and stealing personal belongings.
According to Mohabat News, early in the morning on July 18, 2013, one hundred and fifty prison guards in Evin prison raided ward 350, pulled prisoners from their cells, physically inspected them and began searching there. During their searching operation, the guards broke and stole prisoners’ belongings. Ward 350 holds mainly political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.
According to a message Mohabat News received from inside the prison, other than political prisoners’ cells, cells of Christian prisoners were raided as well. Christian prisoners held in that ward include Farshid Fathi, Mostafa Bordbar, Alireza Seyyedian and the American-Iranian pastor, Saeed Abedini. In addition to their personal belongings, prison guards damaged facilities in their cells, including cooling systems, electric wires, etc.
To carry out the attack, prison authorities in Evin prison requested support from Ghezel-Hesar prison. The operation was led by Mr. Ghobadi, Chief of Security of Evin prison. The guards used handheld scanners and also physically inspected prisoners’ bodies in a disrespectful fashion.
This sort of humiliating and aggressive attack is unheard of. The guards violated the prisoners’ privacy and searched their personal belongings which resulted in the loss of several items belonging to the prisoners.
It is worth mentioning that Christian prisoners in ward 350 of Evin prison are imprisoned merely for their Christian faith and no other offense. Farshid Fathi and Alireza Seyyedian were sentenced to six years in prison and Pastor Saeed Abedini was sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment. All three of these Christian prisoners are serving their sentences. The other Christian prisoner, Mostafa Bordbar, is waiting for a verdict from his trial which was held earlier. He has been held in prison for eight months now.
– Prison Guards Raid Behnam Irani’s Cell in Karaj Prison
In this latest incident, Iranian authorities raided the cell of Behnam Irani, a prisoner of conscience, and his cellmates in Karaj prison, inspecting their cells and damaging their personal belongings.
As authorities raided his cell, Behnam Irani objected to their behavior. As a result, he was threatened to be put into solitary confinement. According to the report, such inhuman and violent attacks are often carried out against Mr. Irani and his cellmates. It is reported that his cell was raided 10 times in the past two months alone.
This is not the first time that prisoners of conscience have been harassed for insisting on their beliefs. The Islamic regime’s inappropriate and violent behavior towards these prisoners has been consistently criticized and condemned by Human Rights activists and the International Community.
It is noteworthy that Mr. Behnam Irani is a member of a non-Trinitarian Christian group who has been sentenced to six years in prison and is currently serving his sentence in ward two, hall seven of Karaj prison. Iranian security authorities had arrested him in his house in March 2010.
Dear Dr Rohani, the elected president of our dear nation,
Greetings, … We, the Christian prisoners, would like to congratulate your success in getting elected as our president and becoming the head of the law enforcement in Iran. We ask God’s wisdom and blessings upon you and your office. May your office, having such a delicate and sensitive role, by God’s help, bring honour and glory to our country Iran.
We pray that you may bring freedom of religion to religious minorities of Iran, especially Christians, freedom which would allow us to worship God, the creator of heaven and earth. We wish that we may not be prisoners during your office term, although being in prison just because of our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is an hour for us.
We pray that God’s fear would be in your heart and his wisdom and grace a light to your feet. May God’s grace help you to go through the challenging years ahead.
Farshid Fathi, Alireza Seyedian, Mostafa Bordbar
Please keep these men in your prayers and all others imprisoned and persecuted for Christ!
To learn more about Farshid Fathi imprisoned for his faith in Christ- click here
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– A pastor of the Central Assemblies of God (AoG) Church in Tehran was detained Tuesday, May 21, as part of Iran’s wider crackdown on evangelical believers, Christian rights activists confirmed. The arrest of Reverend Robert Asserian came as his church prepared for possible closure by the end of June due to pressure from the feared Iranian Intelligence Ministry, said advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
Security forces reportedly raided Asserian’s house and confiscated some of his belongings, including computer and books. “They then proceeded to the church where he was leading a prayer meeting. He was arrested and taken to an unknown location,” CSW told BosNewsLife in a statement.
Earlier this month another AoG pastor, his wife and two church workers were returned to jail after their one year sentences for converting to Christianity and “propagation against the Islamic regime through evangelism” were upheld by a High Court on May 1, BosNewsLife learned Tuesday, May 21.
Pastor Farhad Sabokrooh, his wife Shahnaz Jayzan and church workers Naser Zaman-Dezfuli and Davoud Alijani were initially detained in December 2011 when authorities in the southern town of Ahwaz raided their church’s Christmas celebrations, arresting everyone in the building, including children attending Sunday School, Christians said.
They were temporarily released, but summoned to court on May 1, and re-arrested, trial observers explained. Alijani was reportedly transferred to Ahwaz’s Karoon Prison to complete his sentence while Pastor Sabokrooh, Shahnaz Jayzan and Zaman-Dezfuli were taken to Sepidar Prison.
The detentions come as another setback for the embattled AoG Church in Tehran, the capital, as it was one of few churches that offered services in the Farsi language. In 2009, they were already ordered to end Farsi services on Friday, a day off for Iranians, and were only permitted to hold services in Farsi on Sundays, Christians said.
Iranian authorities reportedly ordered the ending of Farsi services on Sunday, giving church leaders the option of conducting Sunday services in Armenian or facing closure.
Article 18, an Iranian human rights group, said church leaders have informed the congregation that they would make an important decision about the future of the church, later this week. A local Christian was quoted as saying:
“The pressure has become unbearable, they [the authorities] constantly threaten the church leaders and their families with imprisonment, unexplained accidents, kidnapping and even with execution. We cannot go on like this.”
Additionally Mostafa Bordbar, a Christian arrested in Tehran in December 2012 and whose case details remained unclear, was confirmed to be detained in Ward 350 of Tehran’s norotious Evin Prison, along with evangelical Church of Iran member Alireza Seyyedian and AoG Pastors Farshid Fathi and Saeed Abedini, CSW said.
Iranian-American Pastor Saeed Abedini, who Christians said had been placed in solitary confinement for supporting a peaceful protest against prison conditions, was returned to Ward 350 after being taken to hospital following “a further deterioration in his health,” according to Christians familiar with the case.
Another Christian prisoner, in Adel-Abad Prison in Shiraz city, is also in urgent need of medical attention, Iranian Christians said. Vahid Hakkani, who was detained in February 2012 with eight others during a raid on a prayer meeting, is reported to be suffering from internal bleeding and has been informed by prison doctors that he needs surgery urgently.
CSW said it also learned that Iran temporarily released Ebrahim Firoozi, who was detained for a second time in March this year for “launching and administering a Christian missionary website, distributing Bibles, cooperating with student activists and involvement in actions against national security”. He was reportedly freed on bail of some $20,000 after spending 53 days in Evin Prison.
“The continued and sustained pressure by the Iranian regime on churches in Tehran has boxed them into a corner to such an extent that they can no longer function,” noted CSW Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston in a statement to BosNewsLife.
He said CSW had urged Iran’s government to respect international treaties it signed including Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which guarantees “freedom of religion or belief, and the right, either alone or in community with others, and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
Iran’s government has denied wrongdoing saying it protects Islamic values and the laws of the land. Despite the reported pressure there are at least 100,000 evangelical believers in Iran, including many former Muslims, missionaries say, though some church groups claim the real figure may be several times higher.