Iran (MNN/MEC) — Iran has never been a bastion of religious freedom, but over the past couple of months, the government seems to be especially clamping down on believers.
Three Christians, two of whom are Muslim converts, were recently sentenced to at least a decade in prison for gathering with fellow believers. According to a press release by Middle East Concern, on July 3rd and 4th, Pastor Victor Tamraz was sentenced to ten years in prison, Amin Naderi 15 years (possibly including time already served), and Hadi Asgari to ten years and a subsequent two-year travel ban.
Tamraz and Naderi’s situation dates back to December 2014 when they were arrested at a Christmas celebration hosted by Tamraz. According to the press release, Tamraz was verbally charged with actions “against national security.”
Amin was charged with “acting against national security” and “insulting the sacred” (blasphemy). Hadi did not attend the celebration but was arrested in August 2016 at a picnic in Firuzkuh and charged with “acting against national security” and “organizing and creating house churches”. Both are converts from Islam.
Ramiel Tamraz, Pastor Victor’s son who also attended the picnic and was arrested in August 2016, was charged with “acting against national security” and “organizing and creating house churches”, as well as charges relating to his father’s ministry.
Pastor Victor’s wife, Shamiram Isavi Khabizeh, was also charged with “participating in foreign seminars” and “acting against Iranian national security” as a church member. She was released after one day on bail of 100 million Tomans (approximately US $30,000). Neither Ramiel nor Shamiram’s hearings have been scheduled.
“The Iranian authorities I think are paranoid about anything which doesn’t sit with their perception of the world and of government and religion,” says Miles Windsor with Middle East Concern, an organization dedicated to defending Christians in the Middle East and North Africa. “So, anything which is perceived as outside of that, even though these house churches and these believers pose no threat to the Iranian regime, they see these house churches and these believers as a threat.”
These arrests are part of a larger crackdown over the past couple of months on Christians by Iranian authorities.
On June 14th, four Christians charged with “acting against national security” were summoned to Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, but the judge was unable to reach a verdict. Three of the four Christians have appealed a charge of 80 lashes for drinking wine during communion.
Four other Christians in another region were also arrested in June for engaging in missionary activity and also charged with “acting against national security”. They were sentenced to 10 years in prison.
It’s a desperate time, and believers need your prayer. Windsor asks that you pray for justice for these believers and that they would feel God’s peace. Also, pray for religious freedom in Iran as a whole.
“More broadly, I think we can be praying that the Iranian regime loosens its grip against Christians and other minorities, that God would be changing the hearts and minds of those who currently seek to attack His Church and His people,” Windsor says. “And we’re called also to pray for our enemies. So be praying that there would be those in authority as well in Iran who would be turning to Jesus.”