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Iran

Hassan Rouhani became President of Iran in June 2013 promising to release political prisoners and uphold the rights of religious minorities. There were some early signs of encouragement. Two Christian women, Maryam Jalili and Mitra Rahmati, were among at least 80 prisoners of conscience and political prisoners freed in September; while on 30 October, an appeals court overturned the ten-year jail term given to Mostafa Bordbar for his Christian activities.

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Saeed Abedini was jailed for eight years for planting house churches in Iran 
Image source: ACLJ

But the harassment and imprisonment of Christians, mainly converts from Islam, continues. On 20 October, four Christians were sentenced to 80 lashes each for drinking communion wine, and in a particularly high-profile case, Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini’s eight-year jail term was upheld on appeal in August. On 3 November, he was transferred to one of the deadliest prisons in the world. Prisoners of conscience are said to be sent there to disappear; murders or unexplained deaths are a regular occurrence.

Church services continue to be raided, and even the historic Christian groups recognised under Iran’s constitution face discrimination and harassment. A church in Tehran was closed in May over its refusal to stop holding services in Farsi, the Iranian national language spoken by the Muslim majority. The Iranian Church comprises historically Christian non-Persian groups, such as the Armenians and Assyrians, who have their own languages, plus a large number of recent converts from Islam and their children. The latter suffer the worst persecution. 

Hundreds of Christians, mainly converts from Islam, have been arrested and detained throughout the country in the past few years. Some are subjected to intense interrogation and verbal and physical abuse. Some are eventually prosecuted on pretexts such as “threatening national security”, while others have to pay exorbitant sums for bail.

The authorities’ brutal anti-Christian campaign is an attempt to quash the revival that has seen large numbers of Iranians turning to Christ in recent years. Persecution against Christians has increased to a point not seen since the early days of the 1979 Islamic revolution. 

Although there is no official law against apostasy, leaving Islam, on the Iranian statute book, the constitution allows judges to draw on Islamic law and fatwas for their rulings in such cases, so a number of converts to Christianity have been charged with this offence. While sharia requires that an adult Muslim male apostate be put to death, the last time a Christian was officially sentenced and executed for apostasy was in 1990. However, several Christian converts from Islam who had been charged with apostasy were found murdered after their release.

Christianity began to spread in Iran (formerly Persia) shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection. By 642 AD, when Arab Muslims overran the country, 25% of the population were Christian. Today, the number is estimated at less than 1%. Shia Islam is the state religion.

Christians are treated as second-class citizens and are subject to discrimination in many areas, such as education and government jobs and services.

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    • Pray for a Christian family in Kandhamal in Orissa state, India, who have been left devastated after their home was destroyed for the third time by Hindu extremists. The Digals of Budruka village were among hundreds of Christian families to lose their home in the horrendous anti-Christian violence of December 2007. They returned two months later and rebuilt their house, but in August 2008 the attacks resumed, and their second home was also destroyed. After receiving financial aid from the government they were able to rebuild it again this year, but in April it was wrecked once more, shattering their hopes of returning to their village to cultivate their land. Pray that the Lord will comfort them in their distress and provide them with a peaceful dwelling-place and secure home (Isaiah 32:18). Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 7 hours ago

    • The landslide victory of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India’s general election in May sparked alarm for Christians and other minorities in the country. The BJP is the political wing of a Hindu nationalist movement, Hindutva, which is striving to make India a religiously pure nation. It has given support to Hindu extremist groups that attack Christians, and states under the party’s rule have generally experienced a rise in anti-Christian violence. The BJP has introduced “anti-conversion” laws in a number of states, which are used to prevent legitimate Christian evangelism. Prior to the general election, the BJP pledged to introduce national legislation to curb “missionary” activity and end proselytising if elected. Pray that the BJP will rule justly and that the rights and freedoms of all Indian citizens will be upheld. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sat, Sep 2014 00:00

    • Pray for Christians in Sri Lanka facing attacks from Buddhist extremists, who have forced the closure of numerous churches. In an apparently positive move, the government has created a Religious Disputes Unit to address conflicts between different groups and combat attempts to create religious discord. But many Christians and Muslims believe that Buddhist extremists are allowed to operate with impunity and that the new unit will not solve the problems faced by non-Buddhists. A cap on the building of places of worship has also been announced, and this seems to serve the Buddhist lobby, which is opposed to expanding Christian activity. Pray for protection for Christian congregations and that their ministry and mission will not be further impeded. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Fri, Sep 2014 00:00

    • Cry out to the Lord for Alexis Prem Kumar, a 47-year-old Christian minister from India who was abducted in Afghanistan on 2 June. No group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, but three Taliban militants have been arrested in connection with it. Alexis had worked for an NGO in Afghanistan since 2011, helping returning refugees. He was leaving a school near Herat for Afghan children who have recently returned from Iran or Pakistan when he was seized. Give thanks for Alexis’ willingness to serve the Lord in what remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for Christians, and pray for his safe return. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Thu, Sep 2014 00:00

    • The case of an Egyptian Christian man arrested following complaints by Muslim neighbours that he had been using his home as a church without a permit highlights the need of the Christian community for more places of worship. The 55-year-old man from Minya in Upper Egypt, where Christians are particularly vulnerable to persecution, was arrested once before, in 2011, for the same offence. Every church building in Egypt requires a permit, but these are notoriously difficult to obtain. Pray that the authorities will show leniency to the Christian man and that a provision in the new constitution addressing the issue of church buildings will be enacted. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Sep 2014 00:00

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