The Iranian Revolutionary Court has sentenced two Christians, Ebrahim Firouzi and Sevada Aghasar, to five years each in prison for ‘action against national security through collusion and gathering’. According to Mohabat News, this is the maximum sentence for the charge, which both men will attempt to appeal. Having converted from Islam to Christianity, Ebrahim Firouzi was originally arrested on 25 August 2013 and convicted of propagating against the Islamic regime, evangelism, connections with enemies and foreign ‘anti-regime networks’, and launching a Christian website.
He was sentenced to one year in prison and a further two years of exile in Sarbaz, a remote town near the Iran-Pakistan border. Although he completed his sentence on 13 January this year, Iranian authorities continued to hold him in Rajaei-Shahr prison.
Sevada Aghasar is an Iranian Armenian Christian from Tehran. He was arrested along with Ebrahim Firouzi in August 2013 and released on 2 March this year after having spent six months in Tehran’s notoriously violent Evin prison.
Armenian Christians in Iran are a state-recognised religious minority who are permitted a certain degree of freedom to practise their religion. However, Mr Aghasar was suspected of being in contact with Farsi-speaking Christians, and therefore considered to be working against the Islamic regime and jeopardising national security.
Farsi is the main language spoken in Iran, whereas Armenian and Assyrian Christian populations speak their own languages. Christians who speak Farsi are therefore not included in the state-recognised minorities and are often Muslim converts to Christianity or from Muslim convert families. As such, they undergo severe persecution from Iranian authorities who fear the rapid growth of Christianity among the country’s majority Muslim population.
In a hearing at the Khartoum Bahri Criminal Court in Khartoum, capital of Sudan, Pastors Yat Michael and Peter Reith were formally charged on 4 May 2015 with several offences. Two of the charges listed against the pastors (namely, undermining the constitutional system and waging war against the state) carry the death sentence or life in prison.
The church in Khartoum has suffered significant pressure from government authorities over land rights, resulting in parts of the church property being destroyed in December last year. (See pages 22-23 for a fuller picture.)
Over 400 Christian leaders and social activists gathered together in Hyderabad, in India’s Telangana state, on 2 May, to hold a peaceful protest against a recent spate of attacks against Christians. The protest came in the wake of yet another brutal mob attack in the state, when at least 100 Hindu radicals stormed a Christian meeting shouting anti-Christian slogans and beating the believers with wooden clubs, iron rods, and knives.
After breaking the lights and sound system, the assailants then proceeded to attack the Christians who had gathered together in Pebber town, in Telangana state, at around 9:30pm on 8 April. The Christians ran outside and into the bushes to hide from the attackers, but at least 15 were wounded, some of them sustaining serious injuries.
The believers had been concluding an event in which they had organised three days of open-air revival meetings held 6-8 April. Over 300 Christians from nearby villages had come especially for the event. This latest incident is one of around 25 in the past eleven months in Telangana state alone.
Speaking at the protest, Ahmed Bin Abdullah Balala, a member of the Telangana Legislative Assembly, said: ‘There has been increased fear and intimidation among the minorities of this country even since the Modi-led government came to power.’
This, too, was the conclusion of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report published on 30 April this year.
Eritrea is one of the most trying places in the world to be a Christian. The country became an independent nation in 1993, breaking away from Ethiopia with overwhelming majority support from the population, but its government has always feared that Ethiopia aims to reconquer the land. The result is that authorities repress, jail, and torture anyone they consider to be a threat to the state, which includes Christians who don’t attend registered Orthodox, Lutheran, or Catholic churches.
The United Nations Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has designated Eritrea a ‘Country of Particular Concern (CPC)’. USCIRF defines these countries as ones ‘where particularly severe violations of religious freedom are tolerated or perpetrated,’ and where violations are ‘systematic, egregious, and ongoing’.
The report estimates that between 1,200 and 3,000 people in Eritrea are currently in jail for their faith, the majority of which are Evangelical Christians. Because of these abuses, Eritrea has been commonly called the ‘North Korea of Africa’.
Christians in Pakistan are in serious danger as a minority population, deprived of religious freedom and victim to mob attacks. At least sixteen people were confirmed dead in twin suicide bomb attacks against two churches in the city of Lahore on Sunday 15 March, and over 100 more were injured.
Fighters from the Jamaatul Ahrar – a splinter group from the Pakistani Taliban – targeted the two churches in the morning when around 2,000 Christians were meeting together to worship.
On the day following the attacks, Muslim residents gathered in Youhanabad to harass the Christian community. Shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (god is great) they fired shots into the air and threw stones at another church in the neighbourhood. A representative of Jamaatul Ahar told al-Jazeera, ‘We promise that until an Islamic system is put into place in Pakistan, such attacks will continue.’ Jamaatul Ahrar pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in the Middle East, which has been effectively cleansing its territory of Christians and other non-Muslims by repeated acts of brutal terror.
‘To the nation of the cross, we’re back again,’ says a masked Islamic State (IS) fighter on a video posted on social media sites on Sunday 19 April, just before 30 Ethiopian Christians are brutally executed on screen, their killings justified by their refusal to accept Islam or pay the humiliating jizya tax. Fifteen are gruesomely beheaded on a Libyan beach and another fifteen are shot in the back of the head in the Libyan desert.
This is reminiscent of a video posted in February this year in which 20 Egyptian Christians and a believer from Chad were beheaded on the Libyan coastline, the latest video threatens Christians all over the world. ‘We tell Christians everywhere that the Islamic State will spread, God willing,’ says Al-Nashwan. ‘It will reach you even if you are in fortresses.’ A masked militant warns believers everywhere, ‘We swear to Allah… you will not have safety even in your dreams until you embrace Islam.’
There have always been religious zealots trying to destroy Christianity, most notably Saul of Tarsus. By his own testimony: ‘I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death’ (Acts 22:4) and ‘I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities’ (Acts 26:11). And ‘Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples’ (Acts 9:1). In Galatians 1 – a chapter that mentions Syria, Damascus and Arabia – Paul refers to himself as ‘the man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’
Why shouldn’t we pray not just for the persecuted but the persecutors? Could we imagine such evil men arrested by the living God and his Son Jesus Christ? Why shouldn’t ISIS leaders ‘preach the faith they once tried to destroy’?