Thursday, January 31, 2013

Uptick Seen in Sudan's Purge of Foreign Christians

Westerners, Koreans, Africans join South Sudanese among those jailed or expelled

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

Christians worshiping in Sudan. 
(Barnabas Fund photo).
NAIROBI, KENYA (ANS) -- Three South Sudanese took an airline flight out of Sudan after authorities ordered them to leave the country because of their Christian activities - the latest in a rash of expulsions as the Islamic regime rids the nation of Christianity, sources said.

According to a story by Morning Star News, dozens of foreign Christians have been ordered to leave the country in the past two months, and many others have fled to Kenya as authorities have stepped up pressure by denying visa renewals and by other means, the sources said.
The three Christians ordered to leave the country on Jan. 28 had been jailed earlier this month.

Sudan's Ministry of Interior, in conjunction with the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), ordered a South Sudanese couple, Anthony and Cecilia Jamu, and a pastor also from South Sudan, Ismail Bashir, to leave the country within 24 hours, sources said.

Morning Star News reported that accused of aiding Sudanese churches, Cecilia Jamu was arrested when she was linked with an associate from Germany, Jasmin Neuman, who was deported on Jan. 7.

For many years Neuman had cared for children in Omdurman (opposite Khartoum on the River Nile) who had taken refuge from conflict in Darfur.

After Cecilia Jamu's arrest, Morning Star News reported the sources said, her husband was also later jailed, leaving their children to be cared for by friends.

The government incarcerated Pastor Bashir also on Jan. 7 for his involvement with a Christian radio station owned by Sudmedia, they said. The government suspected the radio station had ties with a Korean pastor, Kang Bomjin, who along with his wife Sune Kang had been deported on Dec. 10 because of their Christian activities.

Morning Star News said before his deportation, Bomjin owned a farm that Sudan's intelligence service confiscated, forcing him to sell his cows, sheep and other animals at throw-away prices, sources said. The pastor received no compensation for the land.

Another foreign Christian, Ronald Ssemuwemba of Uganda, had been living on Bomjin's land. Also accused of engaging in Christian activities, Sudanese authorities early this month arrested and beat Ssemuwemba after linking him with Christian organizations - confiscating his passport, laptop and cell phone before ordering him to leave the country, sources said.

According to Morning Star News, Ssemuwemba, who had lived in Sudan for five years on a student visa, went into hiding with friends until he was found and deported on Jan. 5.

"The Christian atmosphere in Sudan is alarming and frightening," said a Christian source in Khartoum. "This crackdown at the moment for foreigners who are suspected to be Christians in the country is alarming."

The source, who like the others requested anonymity for security reasons, said the government is declining to renew visas of many foreigners suspected of being Christians.

Morning Star News said Sudan does not allow missionary visas, and those deported were in the country on tourist, work or humanitarian visas. Besides South Sudanese, many of the deported foreigners were from the United States, Europe or South Korea, sources said.

The government of President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted for crimes against humanity, has reportedly indicated that foreigners will find it more difficult to renew visas, and it has reiterated its policy that all arriving foreigners must register with the immigration department within 24 hours of arrival.

Morning Star News reported a Kenyan government source said that many foreign church workers, especially Western Caucasians, have been leaving Sudan on short notice at a high rate, with most of those going initially to Kenya.

Harassment, violence and arrests of Christians have reportedly intensified since the secession of South Sudan in July 2011, when Bashir vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language.

According to Morning Star News, South Sudanese have been ordered to leave the country following the new republic's secession, but thousands are reportedly stranded in the north due to loss of jobs, poverty, transportation limitations and ethnic and tribal conflict in South Sudan.

South Sudanese Christians in Sudan have faced increased hostilities due to their ethnic origins - though thousands have little or no ties to South Sudan - and their faith.

On Dec. 19, Morning Star News said, security forces arrested at least four staff members of Sudmedia, a non-profit company that produces Christian songs and films, and interrogated them because the manager, Nehemiah Lopai, is a South Sudanese national and a Christian. The staff members, whose identities were withheld for security reasons, were released the following day

Security agents on Jan. 3 arrived at the Christian-run Aslan Education Center for English, arrested three staff members and interrogated them about evangelizing Muslims, sources said.

Morning Star News said at least two of them were beaten during interrogation and were warned not to reveal the incident to Western media or churches, sources said. The head of the center, whose identity was not disclosed, had already been arrested and deported to the United States on suspicion of undertaking Christian activities.

Morning Star News said all facilities and assets of the center, which provided English-language instruction to some 500 adults in Khartoum, were confiscated by security agents, including computers and laptops.

Additionally, a primary school in Khartoum run by Aslan Associates, Nile Valley Academy, will close at the end of the academic year in April after the government found it was not teaching Islamic religion - long required by law of all schools in Sudan - and was not separating male and female students.

Sources said NISS, in conjunction with the Ministry of General Education, made the determination to shutter the institution.

Morning Star News said secession has brought other changes. Christians were surprised to find that Christmas was not officially observed as a public holiday in Sudan last month, and church leaders complained that government permission for a Yuletide "March for Jesus" was withdrawn one day after being granted.

"They have denied us Christmas holiday this year for the first time since South Sudan separated in 2011," one source said.

Morning Star News reported the source said government officials stated only that the situation in the country does not allow for such marches.

"They banned the march in the last minute after all arrangements were met," the source added.

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More people punished for their faith

Kazakhstan (MNN) ― It's been a year since Kazakhstan expanded its Religion Law, and more people are being punished for their faith.

According to Forum 18 News, several large fines have been handed out since August, and two more are pending for local Baptists. Forum 18 says believers are being punished for "illegal missionary activity," and the fines are equal to seven months' wages, or $1,150 USD.

A few of the seven people punished for "illegal missionary activity" were sharing their faith on the street, while others were leading religious meetings within their communities. Forum 18 says prosecuted individuals include four Jehovah's Witnesses, two Muslims, and a Christian.

The two believers awaiting trial are part of Almaty's Council of Churches Baptist congregation, reports Forum 18. Along with accusing Yuri Bronitsky and Fedor Karabeinikov of violating Kazakhstan's new religion law, officials visited another Baptist church in the region.

"[Police] came during worship and photographed us," congregants complained to Forum 18. "They said they had an order…that now the new law has been adopted, they will close us down."

Elsewhere in Kazakhstan, reports Forum 18, courts fined a believer for handing out Christian books to people on the streets. The man expected a hearing for his case, but instead was taken directly to the court after work.

These are the latest cases in a series of crackdowns since Kazakhstan passed two new religion laws in October 2011. It was thought to be one of the freer countries in Central Asia, but with more and more cases surfacing, Kazakhstan is starting to look very similar to the other restrictive "Stan" countries.

Lawyers to challenge Abedini's sentencing, but more help is needed

Iran (MNN) ― Calling it a "mockery of justice," lawyers representing the family of an American pastor jailed in an Iranian prison won’t let his conviction pass without challenge.

Tiffany Barrans is the International Legal Director for the American Center for Law and Justice. She says, “Under Iranian law, Pastor Saeed and his attorney in Iran have 20 days from the sentencing to appeal. We have heard from him and the lawyer in Iran that that is something they do plan to do, although we recognize that the fruitfulness of those appeals are rarely successful.”

Pastor Saeed Abedini was sentenced to 8 years Sunday on charges that included "disrupting national security."

Barrans explains, “In 2000 to 2005, it was not unlawful for Pastor Saeed to have a house church in Iran. In fact, it’s technically not unlawful today. But because he had this church from 2000 to 2005, the regime says NOW that those actions were a threat to the national security of Iran.”

Abedini, a Christian pastor who became an American citizen in 2010, was arrested in September last year for his involvement in an underground house church movement. However, he plainly stated his visit in Iran was to help establish an orphanage.

On January 25, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the State Department is "actively engaged in the case" and called for his release. The extra pressure can only serve to help, notes Barrans. “Because we lack diplomatic ties with Iran, we need other governments--governments that are trade partners, governments that are closely tied, even with religious affiliation to Iran--to step up to Iran and say that they need to release Pastor Saeed and all prisoners of conscience inside Iran.”

(Story image courtesy of ACLJ)
Barrans goes on to say that international pressure, similar to that which built up surrounding Youcef Nadarkhani’s case, is one avenue they’ll pursue for recourse in Abedini’s case. “We do believe that this is something that is bigger than the judiciary, but we are hopeful that through international attention, through international pressure, and gaining some support from governments who have economic ties and diplomatic ties with Iran, we will be able to see this conviction dropped.”

The Iranian government has long been adversarial to Christians, according to the reports from religious rights groups like Open Doors and the Voice of the Martyrs. Barrans explains, “They see that Christianity is a threat because it’s growing in Iran. Iran is a theocracy of Islam so, as the youth start to turn to Christ, they find that they have less control over their people.”

Pray for a change of heart, for an overturning of the conviction. Pray that Pastor Abedini will maintain his faith and hope in Christ while in the notorious Evin Prison. Mobilizing advocates is another way to let the Iranian government know this case has not been forgotten.

There’s a petition circulating from the ACLJ, calling for Abedini’s release, among other things. More than raising the awareness, it’s calling governments to account. Barrans concludes,“It’s so important for us to make sure this concept of religious freedom and how it affects the security of every country around the world, when it is violated, is taken to the world leaders so that they start to put pressure on Iran. So that really is our focus right now, in making sure that we have other government support.”

U.S. Representatives demand intervention for persecuted pastor

(Image courtesy of ACLJ)

USA (MNN) ― U.S. Congressmen are demanding more action from national leadership on behalf of Pastor Abedini, an Iranian American pastor from Boise, Idaho.

While "protecting human rights around the world is central to U.S. foreign policy," as stated on the U.S. State Department's Web site, it remained silent following Abedini's arrest in September 2012. The governmental body didn't issue a peep during the pastor's subsequent months of imprisonment in Iran's notorious Evin Prison.

Last Friday, the State Department commented on Abedini's situation in a daily press briefing.

"We remain very concerned about U.S. citizen Saeed Abedini, who is detained in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs," said spokesperson Victoria Nuland. "We call on the Iranian authorities to respect Mr. Abedini's human rights and to release him."

Two days later, the persecuted pastor received an 8-year sentence from the Iranian courts. His crime? "Planting house churches that are intended to undermine national security," Abedini's lawyer told Mohabat News.

"In the Middle East, they react by strength. You show weakness, they react against weakness. When you show strength, they, in many cases, back off," says Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger.

He adds, "If you have the President of the United States come out and [make] it obvious and evident that he's paying attention to what's going on..., it makes it hard for a nation to put them in a facility...that is known for torture and terrible conditions."

In December 2012, Fox News brought Abedini's story to light when his wife expressed hope that a media campaign would help set him free. Nearly a month later, the State Department made its first comments on the situation.

In mid-January, Kinzinger and his fellow Congressmen wrote a letter of appeal to Secretary of State Clinton, calling the U.S. to intervene on Abedini's behalf.

"The administration has seemed to be hesitant to engage, concerned they might offend Iran or something like that," says Kinzinger. "But it's important to engage at this level. So we sent this message, and hopefully it hit home loud and clear."

Overall, says Kinzinger, the government's response to this cut-and-dry example of persecution is lackluster at best.

"It's been pretty disappointing to me, frankly, how the State Department has not engaged on this issue. This is something very serious," he states.

But despite America's rocky relationship with Iran, Kinzinger believes a happy ending is possible.

He says, "It's important for the administration to come out and stand tall, and say it's time for the pastor to be released. I think we can see a positive end to this."

Encourage your friends to sign the petition for Pastor Abedini, and keep him in your prayers. Pray that President Obama would take a stronger stand on this issue.

2 attacks prompt Christians to stop meeting at Indian church

Angry Hindus restore access to water, back off threat to deny food rations

Photo Credit:
New Delhi, Jan. 30 (World Watch Monitor) — An uneasy calm prevails 20 miles east of India’s largest city, in a rural village where Hindus recently have twice attacked Christians, who in turn have agreed to stop holding meetings in a prayer hall.

The first attack came Dec. 30, when Adivasi tribal Christians living in the village of Tamsai gathered for a worship service at the Yehovah Nisih Prayer Church. About 20 people burst in, said church member Bharat Patel.

The intruders “shouted that there is no place for worship meeting in the village for Christians, and if we want to pray, we should all go to Mumbai. (They) tore bibles and broke musical instruments and stared to beat us up,” he said.

Patel said his left ear was injured, and that three other members suffered injuries, one of them a severe cut on the head. The hour-long assault ended when area Christian leaders intervened and took the victims to the police to report the incident.
The police, however, were of little help, according to Catholic Christian Secular Forum, a Christian-rights group based in Mumbai.

Ravindra Yadav, a pastor in a neighboring area, said Christian men from Tamsai came to him seeking shelter because of death threats from the militants.

“Most of the Christian men fled the area in fear leaving behind their wives and children after the extremists threatened to kill all them if they do not renounce Christ,” he said. Those who remained in the village were forbidden to fetch water from the public well or gather firewood, he said.
“The Hindu extremists even threatened to cut off our ration card,” Patel said.  Ration cards are used by villagers to buy rice, sugar, wheat and other staples at reduced prices.

The Catholic Christian Secular Forum brought the incident to the attention of Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil, who instructed the state’s director general of police to launch a formal inquiry.

Christians in Tamsai didn’t gather again until Jan. 13, this time under heavy police protection.

“The Hindu extremists massed up to attack the Christian again but they backed off when they saw the police near the church,” said Yadav, the pastor.
On the same day, police arranged a meeting of the Christians and Hindus. The extremists agreed to stop their social boycott of the Christians, restoring their access to water and other community services.

For their part, “the Christians agreed to conduct prayer meetings in their homes even though the Christians said that they had the relevant land records for the prayer hall,” Joseph Dias, general secretary of Catholic Christian Secular Forum, told World Watch Monitor.

The truce lasted one day.

At about 2 p.m. on Jan. 14, three Christian women were washing clothes in a public well. Nearby, a 12-year-old held a mobile phone, which was playing a gospel song.

Other villagers within earshot protested that “such songs should not be played within their hearing range,” Dias said. Later, about 50 people massed near the houses of the three women, summoned them from their homes and started beating them up, according to Patel.

The girl, whose mother was among those assaulted, rushed out to help and also was beaten, Patel said. One of the women suffered bruises and abrasions all over her body and her face was swollen. Two others received minor injuries, Patel said.

According to Dias, the Christians in Tamsai were attacked because the Hindu extremists did not like their worship, including healing services. Christians, he said, refused to partake in Hindu idol worship, while some Hindus were discovering Christ.
“There were reports of healings, villagers giving up alcohol and not socializing with the other villagers,” he said. “Instead the new converts spend time reading the Word and discussing it, or in praise and thanksgiving. Many also went to nearby villages to share how God had blessed them.”
Five Indian states have laws regulating religious conversions, but Maharashtra, where Tamsai is located, is not among them.
India is ranked No. 31 on the 2013 World Watch List, an annual report on the 50 countries where life as a Christian is most difficult. The list is published by Open Doors International, a ministry to persecuted Christians.
In India, “one of the most prominent attackers of the Christian minority are religious militants, namely Hindu nationalists, who claim that every Indian has to be Hindu,” according to the World Watch List. “This ideology also has firm roots and strong support in many government structures as in the police. The Christian minority therefore never counts on a fair treatment and is discouraged to claim their rights.”


Copyright 2013 World Watch Monitor

North Korea's Overlooked Atrocities

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

Robert Park
NORTH KOREA (ANS) -- Pyongyang's decision to move forward with its December 12 ballistic missile test-last year's second-was made in defiance of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and repeated warnings from the United States and the international community.

According to an article by Robert Park published in the World Affairs Journal, more than two decades of engaging and negotiating with North Korea on security issues while relegating mass-atrocity crimes occurring within the country to a low-grade status, has borne no fruit.
Park said that for the millions who suffer from a state-induced famine and the hundreds of thousands of innocent people languishing in hellish concentration camps, this approach has proven to be both unethical and harmful.

Park said in the wake of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay's Jan. 14 call for an international inquiry into what "may amount to crimes against humanity," and with reports of North Korea's plan to conduct a third nuclear test in the very near future now surfacing, it is high time for the world community to act.

He said, "There must be a reassessment of policy on North Korea to focus on the unparalleled humanitarian and human rights emergency occurring in the country."

Park said the North Korean government spent an estimated $1.34 billion on its rocket program last year, according to South Korea's Ministry of Unification. An official with the ministry stated these resources could have taken care of food shortages within the country for "four to five years." Recent missile tests have taken place at a time when North Korea's famine is reportedly at one of the worst points in the nation's history.

Park wrote that a report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) indicates that North Korea's hunger situation is at the "serious level," with its Global Hunger Index (GHI) at 19 points, substantially higher than that of 15.7 in 1990.

Park said, "This is very alarming news, especially since the famine in the 1990s claimed the lives of between 2 to 3.5 million people."

According to the IFPRI, Park wrote, North Korea had the highest GHI growth rate since 1990 (21 percent) of any country in the world, in spite of significant international humanitarian assistance.

Park said those who cite poverty or natural disasters as the reasons for North Korea's ongoing famine are not correct.

Park said the UN's former special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, Vitit Muntarbhorn, stated in his report to the General Assembly in 2010 that the DPRK, which has the largest per capita army and the highest military expenditures in the world according to GDP, was not at all poor.

Muntarbhorn noted that North Korea has very large mineral resources and generates billions in export and trade, but that the profits from this activity are being used entirely on the party elite and for militarization.

Park said he concluded, and has since reiterated in interviews, that the DPRK has the means at its disposal to feed its people and that the real issue is not a lack of resources but the military-first policy, blatant discrimination, and misappropriation of provisions (including the mass diversion of international humanitarian aid) by the authorities in Pyongyang.

Park commented, "One must never forget the fact that the North Korean state has brutally and systematically starved masses of people within its prison camps for over six decades."

Among several important reports analyzing North Korea's human rights crimes issued over the past 20 years, the law firm DLA Piper published "Failure to Protect: A Call for the UN Security Council to Act in North Korea" in 2006. It found that North Korea's discriminatory and exploitative food policy, resulting in famine, and its inhuman treatment of political prisoners constituted crimes against humanity as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Park said the report recommended the UN Security Council adopt a resolution urging open access to North Korea for humanitarian relief and for the release of political prisoners.

In an op-ed for the New York Times the same year, the late Czech President Vaclav Havel, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, and former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik (who commissioned the report mentioned above) called on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to "make his first official action a briefing of the Security Council on this dire situation."

Park said again, in 2009 and 2010, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea urged for the "totality of the United Nations system, especially the Security Council," to be mobilized "to take measures to prevent egregious violations and protect people from victimization," and for an "end to impunity." These recommendations have yet to be implemented.

Park said North Korea's mass atrocity situation continues annually to be the subject of a vast and growing body of documentation.

In recent years, the North Korean state has been found to be comprehensively violating the UN genocide convention by targeting for destruction every group protected by the international treaty while also employing every method defined as genocidal in Article 2.

Park wrote that Genocide Watch, a nonpartisan NGO that exists "to predict, prevent, stop, and punish genocide," published a report in Dec. 2012 "that determined conclusively" that North Korea has committed genocide as defined by Raphael Lemkin's 1948 convention, stating that there is "ample proof that genocide has been committed and mass killing is still under way in North Korea."

Park said genocide is taking place through the DPRK's decades-long, racially based policy of killing the half-Chinese babies of North Korean women forcibly repatriated by China, and through its targeted and systematic extermination of its indigenous, religious (predominately Christian) population and their families.

Park commented, "Ignoring mass atrocities in North Korea is no longer a viable option. Mass human rights violations within the country amount to the most egregious of international crimes and a clear obligation to act has been flouted for too long, and at an inconceivable cost."

Park concluded, "What is long overdue is for the United States and other members of the world community to bring the matter of crimes against humanity and genocide in North Korea before the UN Security Council and, in all bilateral or multilateral discussions and initiatives on North Korea, to now prioritize the fundamental freedoms, rights, and lives of the North Korean people."

Robert Park is a minister, human rights activist, and founding member of the nonpartisan Worldwide Coalition to Stop Genocide in North Korea, a nonprofit working to provide life-saving resources to victims and their families in North Korea.

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Wife worries she won't hear husband's voice for 8 years

U.S. authorities not hopeful Saeed Abedini will be released from Iranian prison

Colorado Springs, Jan. 28 (World Watch Monitor) — The wife of an American citizen sentenced to an Iranian prison for eight years expects she won't hear from her husband until 2021, unless U.S. pressure is able to pry him free.
Naghmeh Shariat Panahi told World Watch Monitor that the last time she heard Saeed Abedini's voice was Jan. 9, during a 3-minute cell phone call between Boise, Idaho and Tehran, Iran. Abedini's family in Iran held two cell phones together -- one linked to Panahi in America, the other to Abedeni in a holding cell -- so the two could exchange words.
"He wanted to hear the kids' voices," Panahi said Tuesday from her Idaho home. The couple has a 6-year-old girl, Rebekkah, and a son, 4-year-old Jacob. After the 3 minutes were up, "we heard there will be no more phone calls," she said.
Abedini, 32, was sentenced Sunday by a Revolutionary Court judge who concluded that Abedini's work to establish Christian churches threatened Iran's national security. A native of Iran and born Muslim, Abedini converted to Christianity in 2000 and spent several years establishing small "house churches."
He was arrested in September, though his U.S.-based advocates say Abedini had agreed in 2009 to stop organizing churches. Since then, they say, he had turned his attention to building a non-religious orphanage and had made several trips to Iran for the purpose.
His trial began Jan. 21. Though he testified that he had no political intent in sharing his faith, he and his Iranian lawyer were barred from the next day's proceedings, in which other Christians were called in to testify about Abedini's church work. He has been sent to Iran's Evin prison, where the country has locked up a long list of political prisoners over the years.
Panahi said her husband's lawyer is preparing an appeal of the conviction. The window of opportunity won't be open for long, she said.
"Appealing his case, the sentence, we have limited time to put pressure on Iran," she said. But neither she nor Tiffany Barrans, a U.S.-based international lawyer who represents Panahi, said they hold out much hope for persuading the Iranian Revolutionary Court to overturn the decision of one of its most prominent judges.
The judge, Pir-Abbassi, is known in the West primarily for his harsh sentences, including execution, of students who participated in protests after Iran's 2009 elections. The European Union has branded Pir-Abbassi, among other Iranian judges, a human-rights violator. The U.S. religious-freedom commission has recommended that the State Department make a similar declaration, but it has yet to do so.
Barrans told World Watch Monitor on Tuesday the more promising route to freedom runs through American diplomatic pressure. She said the United States, which does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, can exert leverage by enlisting the help of U.S. allies that trade with the Islamic Republic.
"They are in an economic bind now," Barrans said. "They cannot afford to risk an economic partnership. It's key that the U.S. look to economic partners with Iran."
While Barrans said such arm-twisting should occur behind the scenes, she said the U.S. administration should speak loudly about principles.
"They need to be a world leader in religious freedom," Barrans said. "There needs to be a higher priority in our government, in the White House, for religious freedom."
Barrans is international legal director for the American Center for Law and Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney group that uses litigation to press for religious and speech freedom. The group represents Panahi and the family's children.
Panahi said the State Department has been in regular contact with her since mid-December, sometimes to update her with new information, but more often to ask her for information, which she said she obtains from near-daily phone contact with Abedini's family, under house arrest in Iran.
"Their response has been there's not much they can do," Panahi said about American authorities. "They're saying they're working on it. It seems they are dragging their feet."
"They have said they are concerned," Panahi said. "But there is not a lot of information on what they are doing."
State Department spokesman Darby Holladay issued a statement Sunday condemning "Iran's continued violation of the universal right of freedom of religion."
Katrina Lantos Swett, chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an appointed advisory body to Congress and the State Department, called the ruling "yet one more damning piece of evidence pointing to the rampant denial of religious freedom and the absence of any semblance of rule of law in Iran."
Panahi, born in Iran but raised in the United States and a naturalized U.S. citizen, met Abedini during one of her visits to family in Iran. The couple married in 2004, and moved to Idaho in 2005 after Abedini endured an interrogation session over his church activities, Barrans said. As the spouse of an American citizen, Abedini too was granted citizenship.
Panahi said she cannot phone her husband in prison. Nor can she visit him.
"This is the very hard, heartbreaking part of it," she said. "As a wife, my first reaction was to travel and be there. Unfortunately, I was threatened that if I step one foot in an airport in Iran, I would be arrested, and then the children would have no mother or father."
She said she and the children are living with her parents, in Idaho. Her church community, Calvary Chapel of Boise, has rallied around the family with prayer, she said.
"The greatest support has been prayer," she said. Urgent prayer.
"Unless we get him out quickly," she said, "we won't have a chance to release him for years to come."
Iran is ranked No. 8 on the 2013 World Watch List, an annual roster of the 50 countries where Christians are persecuted most harshly.


Copyright 2013 World Watch Monitor

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Egypt declares state of emergency after five days of violence

(Story image credit: Omar Robert Hamilton.)

Egypt (MNN) ― It's been two years since President Hosni Mubarak fell from power, and it seems Egyptians aren't happy with the results.

"Two years later, we see there's less religious freedom, there's less democracy, and the Muslim Brotherhood just seems to be moving toward consolidating power and taking control of the whole country," says Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs USA.

As "tahrir" means liberty, Tahrir Square seemed to be a fitting place for Egyptian protestors to gather on January 25, 2011 and demand freedom from Mubarak's iron-fisted rule. Later termed a "Day of Wrath," thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in anti-government protests.

On the Day of Wrath's two-year anniversary, "freedom fighters" arrived in Tahrir Square to once again demand liberty for the Egyptian people. Reportedly, protestors torched a Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Cairo, and mass demonstrations broke out throughout the country.

Even more violence broke out when a court gave several Egyptians the death sentence for their involvement in deadly soccer violence last year. Five straight days of violence led the Morsi regime to declare a state of emergency.

So far, the unrest has claimed more than 50 victims.

"This affects everybody in Egypt, and that includes our Christian brothers and sisters," says Nettleton. "They face this uncertainty; they face this upheaval as well."

Ask God to protect His people in Egypt, and pray for believers to be encouraged. Since Morsi came to power this summer, violence against Christians has increased and Egyptian leaders forced a new constitution into being without any input from believers.

Nettleton says, "It would be easy to get discouraged, and so I think we can pray that they will remain encouraged, see opportunities to serve the Lord, and [have] opportunities to witness and minister, in spite of the direction that things are moving politically."

Mubarak relinquished his power on February 11, 2011. As the two-year anniversary of this date approaches, keep the Egyptian Church covered in prayer.

Appeal will be launched for Convicted American Pastor, sentenced to eight years in Prison in Iran

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

The pastor with his family during happier times
TEHRAN, IRAN (ANS) -- Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of U.S. pastor, Saeed Abedini, who has been sentenced to eight years in an Iranian prison for his Christian activities, has revealed that there will be an appeal against the sentence.

Speaking with Mohabat News (, the Iranian Christian News Agency, she said, "Saeed's lawyer will appeal the court ruling within the given twenty days. We hope that the high court will overturn the verdict."
According to Mohabat News, in his interview with the ISNA's legal reporter, Mr. Naser Sarbazi, Pastor Abedini's attorney said, "I was called to branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court on Sunday and received the court's verdict. Of course, my client, Saeed Abedini, was also brought to the courtroom and was informed of the verdict at the same time.

The lawyer added, "My client was sentenced to eight years in prison for planting house churches that are intended to undermine national security."

Regarding his release, the lawyer for the 32 year-old pastor, Mr. Sarbazi said, "The submitted bail for my client's release has not been approved yet and I am still in the process of pursuing it."

After Pastor Abedini's trial, his lawyer had indicated that according to some comments the pastor would be released in a matter of days and would have no problem leaving the country.

Regarding this statement, Naghmeh Abedini told Mohabat News that the lawyer's remarks concerning Mr. Abedini's release were "just a game to keep the international media quiet."

She had also said that it seems the lawyer was asked to make these statements concerning Pastor Abedini's release.

Mohabat News stated that the Iranian judicial authorities promised the pastor's family numerous times to release him on bail. However, they have refused to release him each time.

They had earlier demanded 400 million Tomans (roughly $330,000 USD) bail for Mr. Abedini's release.

According to reports, Pastor Abedini had been transferred to public ward 3, hall 1, of the notorious Evin Prison the day before and will be now be permitted visits from family members.

Pastor Abedini's trial was held without public access to the courtroom, in branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran and judged by Mr. Pir-Abbasi. As a Fox News report says, Mr. Pir-Abbasi has been sanctioned many times by the European Union for his court actions and sentences.

During the hearing, Pastor Abedini's charges were announced as "creating house-churches aimed to undermine national security and conspiring to commit crime".

Pastor Abedini was arrested during this trip to Iran to "visit his family and continue efforts to establish an orphanage in Iran". He has been in Evin Prison since September 26, 2012. After his arrest, his wife had said, "When he became a Christian, the Islamic regime considered him a criminal in his own country."

Blasphemy Appeal for Pakistani Christian Younis Masih has been adjourned until February

He was sentenced to death for asking Muslims to 'turn down the music'

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

Younis Masih
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Younis Masih, a Pakistani Christian, who was sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy - he had asked some Muslims to "turn down the music" of a Muslim religious song -- and has been suffering in prison for more than seven years, has had his appeal against the death sentence adjourned until February.

Mr. Masih, who suffered a serious heart attack on January 8, 2013, was in court on January 23, 2013, and one eye-witness, Mr. Sardar Mushtaq Gill, an advocate with the Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD) team later told Wilson Chowdhry of the British Christian Pakistani Association, about the intimidation that occurred in the courtroom during the hearing.
"When the call for arguments was made, there were about 40 Muslims, who were present wearing black turbans, and were makings gestures and comments with intent to cause fear and apprehension," he said.

"Feeling the pressure, Naeem Shakar, Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, requested a non-public trial in the Court Chamber. The presiding judge however encouraged the defense and prosecution by saying, 'There is no need to be scared, we will discuss this case in an open court.'

"The state lawyer then requested an adjournment as he alleged that he had not yet received the case file. Justice Najam-Ul-Hasan ordered for the date for another hearing to be fixed by early February."

The appeal was due to be conducted by the Legal Aid for Destitute and Settlement (LADS) lawyers who had previously filed their appeal following the death sentence handed down to Mr. Masih.

According to a report at, Younis Masih, then 27 years old, a resident of Chungi Amer Sidhu, Lahore, was arrested under the charges of blasphemy on September 10, 2005.

An angry mob of 400 protestors armed with sticks and bricks attacked and ransacked Christian houses, broke down the doors and even stoned the local churches, where they threw Bibles on to the floor. Younis Masih was also brutally tortured and his wife, Meena was beaten when she came to save her husband. More than 100 Christian families then fled the Chungi Amer Sidhu area to save their lives.

On Saturday night, September 9, 2005, Younis Masih went to the house of Baba Chaby, where a mid-night Qawali (Muslim religious song) was held and musicians were singing very loudly. Younis asked them not to sing so loudly because his nephew had died and he claimed it was also disturbing people and stopping them from sleeping.

Baba Chaby apparently refused to turn down the music. When Younis Masih reiterated his request, the Muslim men in attendance became angry and abused him for asking (them) to turn down the volume. As a result, Younis Masih went home.

The next day, the Muslim men who had been listening to the music discussed the issue with local Muslim fellows, exaggerating and manipulating the facts and incited them.

Some of those people who had been in the house listening to the music were looking for Younis Masih. They found him playing billiards, and thrashed him with sticks and beat him till he fell on the ground and became unconscious. His wife attempted to intervene she was also badly beaten, and her clothes were torn to shreds.

The attackers left Younis Masih, thinking he was dead. She took him home with the help of Younis' cousin Noble Masih. When Younis Masih regained consciousness, she and Noble Masih went with Younis to the police station to register a complaint. There they told the story to the SHO of the factory area police station who, promised to investigate the incident.

Meanwhile, announcements were made in area mosques, instigating the local Muslims to attack and burn Christian's houses saying that a Christian man Younis Masih committed blasphemy and uttered derogatory remarks against the Holy Prophet, Mohammad.

After hearing that, about 400 protesters carrying sticks attacked the houses where Christian lived. Because of this, more than 100 Christian families have fled the area to save their lives This angry mob surrounded factory area police station and demanded the case to be registered against Younis Masih and refused to leave until they were shown copy of First Information Report (FIR).

To appease the angry mob, police registered a blasphemy case against Younis Masih under section 295C with FIR number 723/2005 at factory area police station Lahore on September 10, 2005, at 7:30 pm and showed a copy of FIR for dispersing the mob.

Police then arrested Younis Masih and his cousin Noble Masih, who were already sitting in the police station to lodge their complaint with police against the attack. The police took Younis Masih and his cousin into custody and tortured them brutally. Younis Masih was subsequently sent to Kot Lakhpat jail, Lahore.

Younis Masih was later sentenced to death and given a huge fine, by additional and session judge Lahore on dated May 30, 2007 and his defense counsel Mr. Pervaiz Aslam Choudary conducted his jail trial due to security reasons. The court also directed the police to provide security to the lawyer because he had been receiving threats during the trial.

LEAD is a Christian relief, development and advocacy organization dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice. As followers of Jesus, we are motivated by God's love to serve all people regardless of race, religion, gender or ethnicity.

Now the British Christian Pakistani Association is planning a protest in London's Trafalgar Square against the "intolerance and discrimination of Pakistani minorities on 2nd March 2, 2013. (See

Said Wilson Chowdhry "The Blasphemy Laws of Pakistan that have created second class citizenship, for non-Muslims living in Pakistan. Section 295b&c and 298a of the Pakistan Penal Code have frequently been used as a tool to oppress people of faith minorities and to enact retribution for personal vendettas on the vulnerable."

Note from Dan Wooding: This is yet another shocking case of the Pakistan blasphemy laws being misued to gain revenge in what appears to be a rather petty dispute of the loudness of some music. Please pray that Younis Masih, will be freed by the court in February.

Two Ayatollahs Make Anti-Christian Comments to Provoke Authorities against Christians

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

Ayatollahs Sobhani and Tabarsi
IRAN (ANS) -- Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, influential figures of the Islamic regime, especially Ayatollahs affiliated with the regime, have frequently tried to provoke government and security authorities to take action against Christians by making negative comments.

According to a story by the Iranian Christian news agency Mohabat News, some Ayatollahs have made anti-Christian remarks because one of the greatest concerns of the Islamic clerics in Iran is the growth of Christianity in Iran.
Mohabat News said by so doing the ayatollahs hope to decrease the growth of both Christianity and house churches in Iran.

According to Mohabat News, in a statement, Ayatollah Noor-Allah Tabarsi, the Friday Prayer Imam in Sari, defamed Christianity and called today's Christians "a shame for Christianity."

Mohabat News said that Tabarsi, who is also the Supreme Leader's representative in Mazandaran province, claimed that all the corruption in the west was due to the inappropriate application of Christianity.

Mohabat News commented, "He seems to see things differently from behind the pulpit, because in reality church and state are completely separate in western societies. He also neglected to glance at the situation around him, in a country that claims a leading role in imposing pure Islamic rules."

Mohabat News added, "Problems like poverty, sexual immorality, prostitution, corruption in offices, drug trafficking and child addiction have grown so much that even instituting the death penalty for crimes does not seem to be an effective solution. All these problems are growing worse while Iran's Supreme Leader and government authorities believe they have been imposing genuine and pure Islamic laws for more than three decades."

Mohabat News said another report on Jan. 7 noted that Ayatollah Jafar Sobhani, who is based in Qom, again warned about the growth of the house church movement, and called for Islamic seminaries to be vigilant concerning this..

Mohabat News said the pro-regime Ayatollah also said that house churches attract ungodly youth who have gone astray and try to induce them to accept their faith.

According to Mohabat News, Sobhani, whose remarks are always strongly reflected by pro-regime news services affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard, like Fars News Service, has taken harsh positions against Christianity before. He has tried to get the Iranian Intelligence Services and security authorities to take action against the Christian community in Iran.

Mohabat News commented, "His activities have always pointed towards putting more pressure on Iranian Christians and new converts."

However, Mohabat News continued, taking anti-Christian positions is not a new phenomenon in Iran. Other influential Ayatollahs, including Mesbah-Yazdi, Vahid Khorasani and Makarem-Shirazi, have spoken out harshly against Christianity. Their comments have prompted the Iranian security and intelligence authorities to intensify their pressure and threats against Christians.

Mohabat News concluded by saying, "Taking an overall look, one can readily see that pro-regime Ayatollahs use every opportunity to warn against house churches in Iran."

ACLJ: Iran Convicts and Sentences American Pastor Saeed Because Of His Christian Faith

It is more evidence of the lack of human rights in Iran and a ’mockery of justice’

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

TEHRAN, IRAN (ANS) -- The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which focuses on constitutional and human rights law, said today’s action by an Iranian court convicting and sentencing American Pastor Saeed Abedini for his Christian faith is a travesty that sadly underscores Iran’s brazen violation of international law and a tragic reminder that Iran is one of the world’s worst offenders of religious freedom.

According to ACLJ, in an unexpected development in Iran today (Sunday, January 27, 2013), and without family present, Judge Pir-Abassi of Branch 26 of the Iranian Revolutionary Court – known as the “hanging judge” – verbally convicted and sentenced Pastor Saeed to eight years in prison for threatening the national security of Iran through his leadership in Christian house churches.

“This is a real travesty – a mockery of justice,” said Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the ACLJ, who represents Pastor Saeed’s wife and children living in the U.S. “From the very beginning, Iranian authorities have lied about all aspects of this case, even releasing rumors of his expected release. Iran has not only abused its own laws, it has trampled on the fundamentals of human rights. We call on the citizens of the world to rise up in protest. We call on governments around the world to stand and defend Pastor Saeed.”

Pastor Saeed and his attorney were permitted to attend just one day of his trial, which began January 21st. They were barred from attending and participating in further proceedings. During his imprisonment, Pastor Saeed has been beaten and tortured raising serious concerns about his medical condition.

Pastor Saeed’s conviction and sentence in the Iranian Revolutionary Court had to be approved at the very top – The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei had to sign off.

The ACLJ represents Pastor Saeed’s wife and children who reside in the U.S. This statement from Pastor Saeed’s wife, Naghmeh, after learning about today’s court action, says: “The promise of his release was a lie. We should not trust the empty words or promises put out by the Iranian government. These false hopes amount to psychological torture. You don’t want to trust them, but they build a glimmer of hope before the crushing blow. With today’s development I am devastated for my husband and my family. We must now pursue every effort, turn every rock, and not stop until Saeed is safely on American soil.”

ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow added: “Here’s the troubling reality: we have a U.S. citizen, who has been beaten and tortured since him imprisonment last fall, now facing eight years in Evin Prison, one of the most brutal prisons in Iran. A harsh sentence in a notorious prison – likely facing life-threatening torture and abuse at the hands of the Iranian regime. Simply because of his Christian faith.”

The ACLJ has been working with the U.S. Government and at the United Nations to generate support for Pastor Saeed. Both the White House and the U.S. State Department have condemned Iran and called for Pastor Saeed’s release.

Pastor Saeed, 32, was granted U.S. citizenship in 2010 through marriage to his American wife. He and his wife, Naghmeh, have two children, a 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son. In 2008, Pastor Saeed became an ordained minister with the American Evangelistic Association. Naghmeh and the children reside in the western U.S. The Iranian government does not recognize his U.S. citizenship and for 3 years he travelled freely back and forth from Iran until this summer when he was put under house arrest. He was imprisoned in September.

The ACLJ is providing legal representation to his U.S.-based family and working with various contacts in Iran on his case. Further, the ACLJ launched an international campaign urging the United Nations, the U.S. State Department and Congress to get involved and demand Pastor Saeed's release. The ACLJ also has heard from nearly 250,000 Americans demanding Pastor Saeed’s release.

Led by Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow, the American Center for Law and Justice is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and has affiliated offices in Israel, Russia, Kenya, France, Pakistan, and Zimbabwe. The ACLJ is online at

Renewed calls for justice, equality and human rights on second anniversary of Arab Spring uprising in Egypt

By Michael Ireland
Special Reporter, ASSIST News Service

Tahrir Square is once again filled with Egyptians
 protesting the hijacking of the Arab Spring
 uprising by President Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.
(Photo: Li Muzi Xinhua News Agency/Newscom)
CAIRO, EGYPT (ANS) -- Two years ago Egyptians of all creeds and backgrounds joined together to demand equality, justice and the rule of law.

In the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Mubarak regime, there was hope for a new Egypt, where the rights of all Egyptians would be respected and upheld.

Now, on the second anniversary of the Egyptian uprising in Tahrir Square, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) continues to call for the equality of citizenship for all Egyptians, regardless of their religion or beliefs, as Egyptians once again rally against what they see as a takeover of the Arab Spring uprising by President Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.

In a media update, CSW says: ".repression has continued in the subsequent years, with brutal tactics being employed against pro-democracy protestors by the previous military and by the government of President Morsi in order to enforce the status quo, resulting in the loss of many lives.

"Most recently, seven people died and hundreds were injured during the widespread protests that took place late last year, following the negative reaction to the new constitution, which restricts freedom of expression and the rights of women and religious minorities."

In addition, CSW says that sectarian violence has continued with little or no official intervention. Members of Egypt's Coptic community have been physically attacked or killed; their homes, businesses and church buildings have been destroyed and several young women have been abducted.

In a statement issued on the eve of the anniversary, His Grace, Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom said: "The uprising in Tahrir Square on 25 January 2011 inspired the world as it saw Egyptians standing side-by-side in an effort to reclaim their national identity."

He continued: "There was hope for a new Egypt, one that could offer its people the freedom and responsibility of equal citizenship while no longer focusing on their religious or political stance. It is unfortunate however, that two years down the line we have not seen sufficient signs of this transformation, and we still witness the marginalization and alienation of many, Christians and Muslims alike, within Egyptian society, while repeatedly witnessing others committing crimes and not being brought to justice."

He added: "Considering the significant sacrifice that has been presented over the past two years, even leading to the loss of life, it is time for Egypt to emerge out of the pattern of discriminatory practice, and take on its new identity of a promised democracy that the January 2011 uprising sought to establish."

United Action for Egyptian Copts (UAFEC), a United Kingdom-based Diaspora NGO said: "The Egyptian revolution in 2011 is a dream that has not yet come true. Let us keep dreaming and working hard towards a truly free and democratic Egypt and have faith that God will deliver Egypt very soon."

CSW's Advocacy Director, Andrew Johnston, said: "The revolution promised to usher in a new era of rights for Egypt's citizens, and there was particularly hope that the rights of religious minorities would improve. However, the past two years have seen increasing restrictions of fundamental freedoms, a marked increase in attacks against Copts, as well as the jailing and harassment of those who have opposed the Morsi government, or who do not share the Muslim Brotherhood's political or religious vision.

"If the government is truly as democratic as it claims, it should begin to take concrete steps to allow for freedom of expression and to ensure that the rights of all citizens are respected, and that any attacks on individuals or communities are thoroughly investigated."

CSW is a Christian organization working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.