Crackdown in Iran Hits Official Churches

Authorities target Isfahan’s Anglicans, as well as ‘underground’ Christians.

ISTANBUL, March 16 (Compass Direct News) – In a rare crackdown on a concentrated area, Iranian authorities have arrested Christians living in the country’s third largest city in what is seen as a tactic to discourage Muslims and converts to Christianity from attending official churches.

Since last month officials have arrested about 12 Christian converts in Isfahan, 340 kilometers (211 miles) south of Tehran. Authorities have arrested leaders and members of churches meeting in buildings, as well as some from underground churches, according to Mohabat News.

The targeted arrests started on Feb. 22, when intelligence officers arrested approximately seven Christians at their homes between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., Mohabat reported. Authorities raided their homes and confiscated valuables, including Bibles, computers, identification and other documents, and in one case even pictures decorating walls.

Iran is the fifth worst persecutor of Christians in the world, according to the most recent World Watch List by Christian support group Open Doors.

The Christian Iranian news service identified those detained on Feb. 22 as Hekmat Salimi, pastor of St. Paul Anglican Church, a convert of 30 years and author of theological books; Giti Hakimpour, 78, a female pastor at St. Luke’s Anglican Church; Shahram Ghaedi, an actor; Maryam Del-Aram, 54; Shahnaz Zarifi, a mother of two; and Enayat Jafari.

Another Christian, Majid Enayat, was arrested on the same day at his workplace. He is a member of a house church, and Mohabat reported that prior to his arrest, authorities arrested other members of his group. Some of these Christians warned him that authorities intended to arrest him.

Of those arrested, Mohabat reported that authorities released Hakimpour on Feb. 25. Authorities have denied proper medical treatment to Del-Aram, who is under medical supervision. When her daughter tried to bring her medication to her at the prison, they refused it, according to Mohabat.

On March 2, authorities arrested another convert in Isfahan, Fariborz Parsi-Nejad.

Authorities have allegedly arrested more Christians in Isfahan, but sources have not been able to confirm the arrests and details. None of those arrested in Isfahan last month has been officially charged.

Though religious freedom monitors in Iran said it was not clear what triggered authorities to target Christians in Isfahan, one Iranian Christian outside the country said it may be yet another tactic to stop converts from attending Farsi-speaking meetings in official church buildings.

“I now have 12 names of Christians arrested in Isfahan,” said the Iranian Christian, who requested anonymity. “Isfahan is a very Islamic city. We have two or three church buildings there. The government is very sensitive in Isfahan, which is the only city apart from Tehran with official church buildings. Now the government is focusing on the church buildings to scare the people so they don’t go.”

There are also a number of church buildings in various cities in Iran that are attended by ethnic Armenian Christians. The services are held in Armenian, and members have relatively more freedom to meet.

Earlier in February, authorities in Tehran ordered Emmanuel Protestant Church and St. Peter’s Evangelical Church to discontinue their Farsi-language services. These were the last two official churches in the capital offering Farsi-language services on Fridays.

On Feb. 12, Noorallah Qabitizade was transferred to Dastgerd Prison in Isfahan. He was originally arrested in Dezful on Dec. 24, 2010, and this is the third time authorities have transferred him to a different prison because he is outspoken about his faith while incarcerated. His conditions in Isfahan were expected to be harsher, according to Mohabat.

Previous Arrests
Since the beginning of this year, authorities have arrested Christian converts in Tehran, Ahwaz, Shiraz, Isfahan and Kermanshah.

In Tehran, authorities on Feb. 8 arrested the pastor of Narmak Assemblies of God Church. He was released on bail on Feb. 16. Sources reported that his arrest was part of a government targeting of government-sanctioned, evangelical denominations.

In Kermanshah, authorities raided a house church on Feb. 21, arresting 13 Christians who had gathered to worship. Authorities verbally and physically abused them during the arrest, according to Mohabat. Of those arrested, most were released the next day, and now only three remain in prison.
But the Revolutionary Court of Kermanshah last month sentenced Masoud Delijani, a convert to Christianity arrested last year, to three years in prison on charges of being a Christian, holding illegal house church gatherings, evangelizing Muslims and action “against national security,” according to Mohabat.

Arrested on March 17, 2011, Delijani suffered great mental and physical pressure while in prison, according to Mohabat. In July 2011 he was released on bail amounting to about US$100,000 and rearrested two weeks later. Authorities did not give him due legal process, denying him legal defense, according to Mohabat.

In January 2010, officials had ordered the Pentecostal Church of Assyrians in Kermanshah to close on charges of spreading Christianity among Muslims.

Christians in Iran, most belonging to networks of house churches meeting in small groups in secret, are routinely arrested and interrogated. Iranian authorities view Christianity as a deviant anti-government movement and Christians as pawns of the West.

Iran is the fifth worst persecutor of Christians in the world, according to the most recent World Watch List by Christian support group Open Doors.

– Crackdown in Iran Hits Official Churches, Damaris Kremida, Compass Direct News, Mar. 16, 2012 — © Compass Direct News. Published in Religion News Blog by permission.

Rumors of Imminent Execution of Iranian Pastor Unconfirmed

ISTANBUL, February 24 (Compass Direct News) – Lawyers for an Iranian pastor awaiting a final decision on his death sentence have not received communication from authorities that their client will be executed, despite reports that his death is imminent.

Rumors of an imminent execution of Yousef Nadarkhani were leaked this week after a source close to one of his lawyers contacted international media, informing them that a lower court had signed Nadarkhani’s execution papers and that his death sentence would be carried out soon, sources told Compass.

“The lawyer is waiting for confirmation, but he understood from a source that the execution was issued,” said Firouz Khandjani, a member of the council of the Church of Iran, Nadarkhani’s denomination. “Now we are trying to understand exactly what is happening. Because the information came from someone close to the lawyer, he took it seriously.”

Nadarkhani’s case had been sent to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei for a decision on his death sentence, but legally the lower court still has the authority to issue an execution order, Khandjani said. Khamenei may or may not make a decision, and if the court were to issue an execution order, Khameni would have the authority to block it, Khandjani said.

Though Nadarkhani’s lawyers have not received written confirmation of an execution order, Khandjani said he found it “worrying” that the government has repeatedly disregarded its own law and legal process in its treatment of Christians. [Note: Yousef Nadarkhani is a follower of the late William Branham, and as such a member of a group considered to be, theologically, a cult of Christianity — RNB]

The Iranian government has executed prisoners without prior notice, sources told Compass, though it is not common.

“We are concerned for the safety of Christians in Iran, because the government is not respecting the law or the legal procedures,” Khandjani said. “We are waiting for a confirmation, but we have to take action, because we know of people who were executed without notification.”

Nadarkhani spoke to his wife as recently as Wednesday (Feb. 22), according to sources, and Jubilee Campaign reported that the American Center for Law and Justice had confirmed that he was still alive earlier today.

Some sources told Compass they are skeptical of the credibility of information that Nadarkhani’s lawyers received and the certainty with which international press have been reporting his “imminent death.” They say this may be a governmental ploy to gauge international reaction to such a rumor.

Christians in Iran are routinely arrested and interrogated. Most of them belong to networks of house churches meeting in small groups in secret.

In December the head of Iran’s Judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, reportedly ordered the presiding judge over the trial in Rasht to make no moves on Nadarkhani’s case for one year.

In September 2010 Nadarkhani was sentenced to death after a court of appeals in Rasht, 243 kilometers (151 miles) northwest of Tehran, found him guilty of leaving Islam. He has been in prison since October 2009.

The court in Rasht was expected to pronounce a verdict on Nadarkhani’s appeal in October 2011 but instead sent the Christian’s case to the nation’s Islamic authority, Khamenei.

At an appeal hearing in June, the Supreme Court of Iran upheld Nadarkhani’s sentence but asked the court in Rasht to determine if he was a practicing Muslim before his conversion. The court declared that Nadarkhani was not a practicing Muslim before his conversion, but that he was still guilty of apostasy due to his Muslim ancestry.

The Supreme Court had also determined that his death sentence could be annulled if he recanted his faith. The Rasht court gave Nadarkhani three chances to recant Christianity in accordance with sharia (Islamic law), but Nadarkhani refused to do so. The Supreme Court in essence ruled that Nadarkhani could be executed if he did not recant.

“You have to consider that Nadarkhani has been condemned twice,” Khandjani said. “One time by a local court, and then the Supreme Court confirmed the death sentence.”

Authorities arrested Nadarkhani in his home city of Rasht in October 2009 on charges that he questioned obligatory religion classes in Iranian schools. After finding him guilty of apostasy, the court of appeals in Rasht in November 2010 issued a written confirmation of his charges and death sentence.

One of Nadarkhani’s lawyers, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, also faces charges for “actions and propaganda against the Islamic regime,” due to his human rights activities.

Iranian authorities view Iranian Christians as pawns of the West trying to bring down the regime, sources said. As Christians in Iran are held hostage to the government’s political whims, some Iranian Christians say the key to their freedom is continued pressure from the international community.

“We have to keep praying and sharing information about Christians in Iran, because this is a difficult moment for the people of Iran,” Khandjani said. “The minorities are particularly affected, but Iranians in general are under pressure from the government. Their freedoms are very restricted.”

– Rumors of Imminent Execution of Iranian Pastor Unconfirmed, Damaris Kremida, Compass Direct News, Feb. 24, 2012 — © Compass Direct News. Published in Religion News Blog by permission.

FOLLOWER OF WILLIAM BRANHAM
While news reports regarding the plight of Yousef Nadarkhani generally refer to him as a ‘Christian,’ theologians note that the pastor is a follower of the late William Branham — a self-proclaimed prophet who was considered a heretic of the Christian faith.

William Branham (1909 – 1965) denied the doctrine of the Trinity, which he considered to be “of the devil.” This doctrine is one of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith.

Branham also taught that the Word of God was given in three forms: the zodiac, the Egyptian pyramids, and the written scripture — and he said that anyone belonging to any denomination had taken “the mark of the beast.”

As a ‘Branhamite’ Yousef Nadarkhani is a member of a movement that is, theologically, a cult of Christianity.

That does not make his situation as the victim of religious persecution any less worse or any less wrong than if he had indeed been a Christian. But it is important that religion reporters make a proper distinction between Christians and those who promote heresy.

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