Sunday, 8 March 2009

MNN: Iran persecutes religious minorities

Iran (MNN) ― Iran is fighting off accusations of persecuting the small sect of the Baha'i. The government arrested seven leaders of the Baha'i community nine months ago.

The group went to prison, and access to legal counsel was denied. In a pattern true to form, the Iranian government has since charged them with espionage. At the same time, according to Compass Direct, the case is still open against two converts from Islam: Jamal Galishorani and his wife, Nadereh Jamali. Although they were arrested January 21, they have been released on bail, but there's been no word on formal charges.

That's not necessarily a good thing. Iranian Christians and rights agencies have feared that they could be charged with "apostasy," or leaving Islam -- potentially punishable by execution in the Shia Islamic republic.

What concerns ministries about this situation is that even though the government seems to be eying the Baha'i right now, it won't be long before they turn their attention against believers.

Paul Estabrooks, minister-at-large for Open Doors International, says believers are already in the crucible, and the heat is expected to intensify. "They're subject to incredible pressure. First of all, they have to operate under complete secrecy. Then when they are discovered--which has happened quite frequently in this past year, their punishment is severe."

In 2008, there were 73 documented arrests of Christians in Iran. A source working closely with churches noted that "with elections coming this year, there will be more arrests. The regime rules through fear, and they want Christians to be afraid."

Estabrooks says though small, the church is vibrant. "I spent some time with a group of young people from the Iranian church. I was just impressed with their passion for sharing Christ. They are not worried. Their desire is to see people come to Christ."

Pray for strength for those who come to Christ despite the threats they may face. "The good thing we know about increased persecution is that there is concern, and rightfully so, that the church is growing very quickly in Iran."

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