21 January 2016
Iran- troubling times for Christians and minority groups
This week Pastor Saeed Abedni along with others, was released after three years of captivity in Iran, again bringing the world's attention to those that are suffering for their Christian faith in that country. Pastor Saeed was given an eight year sentence in 2013 for "undermining national security" after he took part in a project to build an orphanage. He was refused medical treatment in prison after being beaten, on the grounds of his Christian faith. This has been a welcome answer to prayer for many.
The persecution of Christians is rife in Iran. The current president, elected in 2013, is President Rouhani who has pledged that "all religions would feel justice". Unfortunately this has not turned out to be the case. Christians are regularly persecuted, discriminated against and constantly scrutinized. There are regular stories of Christians being arrested and taken into custody for long periods of time. This, some say, is to incite terror into the heart of other Christians.
Two days before Christmas, officials arrested a Christian convert and took him to an undisclosed location. His name is Meysam Hoajti and officials burst into his home and took him as well as confiscating possessions such as his bible, laptop and even, bizarrely, his Christmas tree. He has previously been arrested and released. His family are now unable to determine his location. Also over Christmas, a group of Christians were arrested on Christmas day as they gathered together, again with their possessions such as satellite dishes being confiscated.
Christianity has a long history in Iran, longer than the state religion of Islam and there are a number of denominations represented in the country. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 was a significant turning point for Iranian Christians, the Shah was removed and Iran was changed into an Islamic state; Shia Islamic clerics took political control.
A joint All Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry into the persecution of Christians in Iran by Christians in Parliament and the International Freedom of Religion or Belief in 2014 stated – "Christians continue to be arbitrarily arrested and interrogated because of their faith-related activities. They continue to be treated harshly, with some facing severe physical and psychological torture during periods of detention. The judiciary continues to construe legitimate Christian activities (such as meeting in private homes for prayer meeting and bible studies, or being in contact with Christians outside of Iran) as political activities that threaten the national security of Iran."
Earlier this month a Christian parliamentarian criticised the government in Iran over its treatment of minorities after it took a church from a Catholic group and turned it into a Shi'ite shrine. According to Christian Today- "Christians and other minorities including Sunni Muslims are officially tolerated in Iran and have five seats reserved for them in the parliament. However, critics say that they are systematically excluded from government, military and security positions."
Our brothers and sisters in Iran are in desperate need of prayers and support as they face uncertainty in their everyday lives. Their courage and determination to keep God first and refuse to denounce their faith, is humbling.
· For comfort and peace for those that have been imprisoned, and their families.
· For greater tolerance of all minority groups- Jews and other religious minorities are also treated poorly.
· For Pastor Saeed and the other captives that were freed- that they can adjust back to life outside of captivity.