Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Persecuted Church: Iran, Libya, Azerbaijan

Believers suffer in Iran
Youcef and Tina Nadarkhani
IRAN - Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani remains in Lakan Prison awaiting a ruling on his execution. He continues to stand strong in his faith and remains in good spirits and health. The 11th circuit court in Gilan is still awaiting a response to their two letters to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini. Youcef’s attorney says that if the court does not receive a response in a month, they will issue a ruling in mid-December. 

Youcef was arrested in 2009, and convicted a year later of apostasy (abandoning Islam). On appeal, the Iranian Supreme Court sent the decision back to the Gilan court to consider other evidence. Prayer and international pressure has given the court anxiety about a ruling, so they have appealed twice to the Ayatollah, but he has not responded.

ayatullah khameneiImage via WikipediaThe Ayatollah does have an option to pardon Youcef via an upcoming festival. It has become traditional to pardon prisoners during Eid Al-Ahda in some parts of the Muslim world, as the festival commemorates the willingness of the patriarch Abraham to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God. 

 Already during Eid 2011, hundreds of prisoners have been pardoned in Morocco, Egypt and Dubai. There is a call for urgent action during the next two days to secure a pardon for Pastor Nadarkhani during Eid. Continue to pray for brother Youcef, that God will sustain him and give him courage and boldness to testify to those around him.  Pray Ephesians 6:18-20 for him.

While we await Pastor Youcef’s verdict, other Iranian believers and pastors suffer. Five were convicted of crimes against the Islamic Order on 3/8/2011 in Shiraz, Iran, and sentenced to one year in prison. The judge ruled that they were not guilty of an additional charge of blasphemy against Islam, but the prosecutor has appealed this verdict. They are therefore still awaiting a second trial for blasphemy. All five -- 3 men, 2 women -- began a one-year prison sentence on Sept 25.
Mehdi "Petros" Foroutan
The crime of Pastor Mehdi "Petros" Foroutan, 27, was evangelism, and his habit of sharing Jesus with others has made trouble for him in prison. On Oct 17, Petros was put into solitary confinement for evangelizing Muslims in the prison, but he was returned to the general prison area Nov 1. One of the imprisoned women, Nazly Belyad, is seven months pregnant, and there is concern for her and her baby.
Behnam Irani
Meanwhile, the prison sentence of another pastor, Behnam Irani, 41, has been extended by five years. The extension of his one-year sentence for "propaganda against the regime" was issued on October 18, three days before his scheduled release from prison. Behnam was arrested in April 2010 following a raid on his home in Karaj where approximately 10 young men newly converted to Christianity had gathered for fellowship and Bible study. According to local sources, there is concern that he may be charged with apostasy.

Pray the authorities will have mercy on these Christians, especially Nazly who is expecting soon, and for the disappointment for Pastor Behnam and his family. Pray they will not despair but instead they will keep their eyes on Jesus, persevere in their faith, and not grow weary or lose heart (Hebrews 10:32-39; 12:1-3).Ask the Lord to protect them while in prison and pray for their release. Pray also for the prison guards. 

Gaddafi's fall of no benefit for Libyan Christians
LIBYA– The fall of Gaddafi has not helped Christians in Libya. On Oct 24, National Transitional Council leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil declared Libya to be "liberated." In a blow to religious freedom, Jalil declared that the law against polygamy will be repealed, Islamic banking will be adopted, and Shariah (Islamic) Law will form the basis for all Libyan law. Just as in Iraq and Afghanistan, the supremacy of Shariah law will prohibit fitna (anything that could shake the faith of a Muslim like evangelism), blasphemy (criticizing Islam), and apostasy (leaving Islam). Please pray for all Christians in Libya. Ask the Lord to protect them and make them courageous followers of Christ (2 Timothy 1:7). Pray that the Lord, in his good timing, will bring genuine religious freedom to this nation.

Azerbaijan to criminalize religious literature
AZERBAIJAN – Just north of Iran on the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan’s parliament is set to adopt prison terms and hefty fines Nov. 15 for people who produce or distribute religious literature without first submitting to compulsory state censorship. Those found guilty will be subject to up to five years imprisonment or maximum fines of nearly nine years' official minimum wage. The punishments are in proposed amendments to the Criminal and Administrative Codes, which were approved by committee on October 28. Pray the Lord will flood this nation with His Word and that the gospel will continue to spread in spite of these restrictions. Pray the Church in Azerbaijan will grow in number and in faithfulness. Pray the Lord will bless their efforts as they act as witnesses to Him. Pray that religious freedom will be respected in Azerbaijan. 

Sources: Present Truth Ministries, Christian Solidarity Worldwide