persecution.org

Shedding light on Christian persecution around the world.

In Iran’s 1979 revolution, many Iranians believed that an Islamic-based government would offer the reforms and freedoms they had long sought under the Shah. Thirty-three years later, however, Iranians have grown disillusioned as their government has plunged them into economic stagnation and has isolated them from the international community. Though massive protests have thus far failed to grant Iranians the freedoms they desire, idleness and hardship have led many Iranians to seek answers outside of Islam. Thousands are now finding hope in the Christian faith, but not without great cost.

Religious freedom violations committed against Iranian Christians began in 2012 in the same manner that marked the end of 2011 – with mass arrests, lengthy prison terms, and potential executions. In February alone, eleven Christians were arrested; their health and circumstances unknown. Another Christian, Leila Mohammadi, was issued a two-year prison sentence for “deceiving citizens by forming house churches,” among other charges. The recent wave of arrests, beginning with a raid on the Assembly of God Church in Ahwaz in late-December, signifies that a renewed crackdown on Christians may be underway.

Christians Arrested in Church Raids

In the latest incident, Iranian security forces raided a house church meeting in a residential building in Shiraz. According to sources in Iran, ten Christian converts from Islam were detained, Bibles were confiscated, and the homes of those arrested were thoroughly searched for Christian literature.

Among those arrested were a family of three, including a 17-year-old boy and Mojtaba Hosseini, who was imprisoned once before along with eight other Christians in May 2008. The detainees have been unable to contact their families and their location remains unknown.

On the same day, Maasis Mosesian, an Armenian Christian and elder at Narmak Jama’at-e Rabbani Church in Tehran, an affiliate of the Assemblies of God church (AG), was arrested at his workplace and taken to Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj. Like those in Shiraz, Mosesian has been denied visitations with his family.

Mosesian’s arrest was not the first time members of AG churches were detained in recent months. On December 23, state security raided the AG church in Ahvaz and arrested everyone in attendance, including children.

The authorities herded the entire congregation, including children, into two buses that had been brought specifically for this purpose,” Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported. “The majority were interrogated, threatened and eventually released.  However, the church’s senior pastor, Pastor Farhad, remains in detention.”

Pastor Farhad Sabokroh along with two other church members, Naser Zamen-Defzuli and Davoud Alijani, are reportedly being held in Ahwaz’s Karoun Prison. Prior to his arrest, Pastor Farhad underwent cataract surgery, but does not have access to the medication he needs in prison. Farhad’s wife – who was also arrested and released on January 1 after submitting the deed to their house as bail – has since visited her husband in prison and is very concerned about his health.

While most churches targeted by Iranian authorities are not registered with the government and consist of Muslim converts to Christianity, the AG church in Ahwaz is officially recognized. Nevertheless, Pastor Farhad has been detained on several occasions in the past and was warned not to allow Christian converts into his congregation.

Long-term Sentences

On January 18, Leila Mohammadi, was given a two-year prison sentence by the Revolutionary Court in Tehran for “collaborating with foreign-dependent groups, broad anti-Islamic propaganda, deceiving citizens by forming house churches, insulting sacred figures and acting against national security.” Mohammadi was arrested at her home on July 30, 2011 and was held for 74 days in solitary confinement at Tehran’s Evin prison before being released on bail. After the verdict was issued, sources said that Mohammadi’s attorney sent the case to Tehran Province’s high court for review.

While Mohammadi was issued the first known prison term for being a Christian by an Iranian court in 2012, many other Christians remain behind bars, serving long-term sentences following arrests in previous years.

Noorollah Qabitizade and Farshid Fathi, both arrested during Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in 2010, have now spent over a year in prison.
Qabitizade (left) is being held at Karoun prison in Ahwaz and has reportedly been under severe psychological pressure. Fathi is being held at Evin prison in Tehran and is scheduled to appear in court in the coming weeks.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani – arrested in 2009 for denouncing Iran’s educational practice of requiring children to read the Quran in public schools – is on death row for apostasy. In December, the Iranian judiciary decided to delay Nadarkhani’s final verdict for up to one year following aggressive international pressure. While in prison, Nadarkhani has been struck by authorities during frequent interrogations and placed in solitary confinement for extended periods of time. Nadarkhani has also reportedly been given materials aimed at discrediting the Bible and propagating Islam in hopes that Nadarkhani will renounce his Christian faith.

Behnam Irani, who belongs to the same denomination as Nadarkhani, the Church of Iran, has been in prison in Karaj since May 2011. In January 2011, a court found Irani (below) guilty of “crimes against national security” and sentenced him to one year in prison. Irani is also serving a five-year sentence that was handed down during a previous arrest in 2008. Irani has been beaten by fellow inmates in prison.

A Glimmer of Hope

The arrests and sentences mentioned indicate merely a few of the numerous Christians and other minorities – mainly from the Bahá’í faith – that are imprisoned for nothing more than their religious beliefs. Although far less severe, some churches in Iran – while unharmed by raids – face other forms of discrimination. On February 10, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security ordered Emmanuel Protestant Church and St. Peter Evangelical Church in Tehran to stop holding Farsi language services. If the churches comply, there will no longer be services offered in Farsi in any officially registered church in Tehran. The AG Church in Tehran was ordered to cease their Farsi services in October 2009.

However, despite church crackdowns, mass arrests, long-term prison sentences, and a potential execution for apostasy, Iranian Christians continue to worship in secret and share their faith somewhat openly.

On the ground, we’re moving forward and talking to people daily. This month alone, we had over twenty people come to Christ,” an Iranian church leader, who requested anonymity, told ICC in December. Persecution is on the rise daily and inside has become more and more volatile. People are scared of the Iranian government. They’ve filled the streets with undercover officers to entrap people who speak against the government.”

Whereas anti-Christian crackdowns appear to be used to discourage the church, some speculate that Iranian officials realize that the opposite is true. Nonetheless, officials are still intent on persecuting the church.

The issue has little to do with perceptions of how Christianity might respond, but rather with the obligation under Islamic doctrine to put and keep [non-Muslims] in their ‘place’ within Muslim society,” Clare Lopez, a senior fellow with the Center for Security Policy, told World Net Daily. “The forces of Sharia Islam are in the ascendant all over the Middle East these days and with the new-found sense of empowerment combined with what is perceived as Western complicity and weakness in the face of that situation, it is to be expected that all religious minorities, especially Christians and Jews, increasingly will feel the brutality of Islamic supremecism.”

While it appears that a renewed crackdown on Christianity is underway, the church remains undeterred. “Iranian church leaders have accepted persecution and are using it to their advantage,” an Iranian pastor told ICC. In fact, the church is thriving under persecution.”

It was December 15th, 2011 and a group of Christians were praying at a private home Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; it was part of their weekly prayer gathering. But that particular Thursday was different because it was the day Saudi Arabian officials discovered about the underground prayer gathering. At first, the security forces seemed to be friendly; they even let the Christians finish their prayers. Then they took the twenty-nine female and six male Christians to their office. The securities promised the Christians that they would release them after brief investigation. Unfortunately, the Christians still remain behind bars.

In a recent interview with the Voice of America’s Amharic language interview, one of the female Christian prisoners recounts the ordeal they went through simply because of their faith in Christ. The prisoner said:

They (the Saudi security officials) took us to their office at 2 am in the night. We spent the night in their office. Then in the morning, they put us in a very cold room. There is a restroom within that room and it is very stinky. There are insects in the room. In the night, they took us to a waiting room at Briman jail. When we arrived, they started to insult, harass and push us around. Then they started to search us. They took off all our clothes, including our underwear.  Then they inserted their fingers into our genitals. They used the same hand glove to search about ten of us. Then they threw away our clothes and gave us pajamas to wear.

The plight of our brothers and sisters has continued. When ICC called them on February 7 to inquiry about their situation, a female prisoner spoke about Saudi officials pressuring the Christian prisoners to convert to Islam. The Saudis sent a preacher who gathered the prisoners and vilified Christianity and the Bible. The preacher told the Christians to convert to Islam because “Islam is the only true religion.” Despite such pressure the Christians refused compromising on their faith.

We at ICC have continued to raise our voice on behalf of our brothers and sisters. We are asking all concerned to sign this petition on behalf of the prisoners. We are also organizing a protest rally demanding the Saudis to release the Christians. The rally will be held on February 21st at 10 am in front of the Saudi Arabian Embassy located at 601 New Hampshire Ave, NW Washington D.C. If you live in Washington D.C. area, please join us! The Bible clearly tells us that we are the same body of Christ and commands us to “remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering,” Hebrew 13:3. Also pray for our imprisoned brothers and sisters. Pray for their release and that they stay encouraged in their faith.

February 15, 2012

Post Revolution

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By Aidan Clay

Washington, D.C. February 15 (ICC) – Thousands of activists gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square last weekend in continued protests to denounce the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and, in a surprising turn of events, the election of the Muslim Brotherhood-ruled parliament. The large demonstrations marked the one year anniversary of President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster from power.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which won 47 percent of the votes in Egypt’s elections for the lower-house of parliament in January, has fallen under increasing pressure in recent weeks, Christian and moderate activists told ICC. Many accuse the Muslim Brotherhood of participating in fraudulent elections and tacitly allying with the SCAF. Meanwhile, protestors continue to demand that the SCAF immediately cease power to civilian rule while condemning them for committing human rights violations that rival those of Mubarak’s regime.

“Protestors were shouting, ‘No military council and no Brotherhood. This is our revolution, the youth’s revolution,’” Coptic activist Wagih Yacoub told ICC. “Many people have regretted electing the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is more concerned with their movement than the benefit of the country.”

Mary Ibrahim Daniel, the sister of Mina Daniel – a well-known Coptic activist who was killed by the SCAF during a peaceful protest on October 9 – continues to march with demonstrators to defend the memory of her brother and to demand the same freedoms that were sought in Egypt’s revolution.

“I dream that one day all the Egyptian people will demonstrate against the Brotherhood,” Daniel told ICC. “I was surprised to see so many people, including Muslims, protesting against them outside the House of Parliament. I think that finally the Egyptian people are waking up to the fact that the Brotherhood used religion to get into power and are using religion to stay in power. The Brotherhood is hijacking the ideals and motives behind the revolution.”

The Muslim Brotherhood recently pulled away from popular demands that Egypt’s new parliament should immediately replace the military-appointed government, which raises concerns that the Muslim Brotherhood is tacitly allying with the SCAF for political gain. Alliances formed by the Muslim Brotherhood will likely set the agenda of the new parliament, including its appointment of an assembly to draft the constitution. The SCAF has made clear its intention to influence the process and has opted for autonomy from parliament oversight, The Wall Street Journal reported last November.

The Egyptian daily Al-Wafd, published by the Wafd political party, recently reported that the SCAF has discretely helped finance the Muslim Brotherhood, enabling them to carry out social programs which have played a major role in securing votes. Some Egyptians claim that the SCAF will hand over internal powers to the Muslim Brotherhood while it remains in control of defense, security and the country’s enormous budget.

“The Brotherhood has always publicly insisted that there is no deal [between them and the SCAF]. But especially since they offered immunity from legal action to the SCAF for its actions since the revolution, the allegations grew louder,” Mara Revkin, analyst at the U.S. think-tank the Atlantic Council, told Now Lebanon. The SCAF has been accused of killing hundreds of protestors, including 27 Christians on October 9 and at least 41 activists during demonstrations leading up to the parliamentary elections.

Renewed protests are planned to take place outside the hospital where former President Mubarak is being held. In a message intended to undermine demonstrators, the SCAF warned on Friday that it will not bow to threats and plots that aim to topple the state and spread chaos, The Associated Press reported. The Muslim Brotherhood also condemned recent protests, saying that it will not take part in demonstrations that will hurt Egypt’s already fragile economy. However, many activists, including Coptic Christians who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, remain hopeful that change is still on the horizon.

“Every day is a new day. Every hour is a new hour,” Yacoub said. “I stopped predicting what will happen next. I’ll wake up and find that a new disaster has happened. You just don’t know in Egypt. The 24th of January was different than the 25th, which was different than the 11th of February when Mubarak stepped down. I’ve learned to take things step-by-step, day-by-day, hour-by-hour.”

February 13, 2012

Post Revolution

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Coptic homes set ablaze in Ameriya

Washington, D.C. (February 13, 2012) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that eight Coptic Christian families were evicted from their homes in northern Egypt following two attacks by radical Islamists on Christian homes and businesses in late-January. The attacks were in response to an alleged affair between a Christian man and a Muslim woman.

On January 27th, hundreds of Muslims, led by Salafists who adhere to the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, looted and torched Christian homes and shops in Kobry el-Sharbat near Alexandria following rumors that a Christian man, Mourad Samy Guirguis, had an affair with a Muslim woman. On January 30th, a group of Muslims attacked the village for the second time, setting fire to three Christian homes. Guirguis denied the accusations, but reportedly turned himself into the police for his own security.

Village elders, including representatives from the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and local police, agreed to evict eight Coptic families and put their property up for sale. Ironically, they came to this decision after holding three ‘reconciliation’ meetings, Asia News reported. At the first meeting, Muslims argued that “Muslim honor has been damaged,” and refused to offer compensation to Coptic Christians who were innocent victims of the violence. Father Boktor Nashed from St. George’s Church in el-Nahdah, who was present at the meeting, called the decision a “complete injustice.” Sherif el-Hawary, a Salafist sheik, was given the authority to execute the meeting’s demands.

Who gave them the right to form a committee headed by a Salafi to sell Christian property? This is thuggery and the blatant targeting of Copts,” said Magdi Khalil, head of the Middle East Freedom Forum. “If we accept this, we will open the door to an avalanche of forced evictions.”

Reconciliation meetings are a traditional form of ‘conflict resolution’ that bypasses Egypt’s judicial system and often fails to bring perpetrators of attacks against Christians to justice. In its 2011 Religious Freedom Report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) stated, “Reconciliation efforts should not be used to undermine enforcing the law and punishing perpetrators for wrongdoing. The State Department also has concluded that reconciliation sessions not only ‘prevented the prosecution of perpetrators of crimes against Coptic Christians and precluded their recourse to the judicial system for restitution’ but also ‘contributed to a climate of impunity that encouraged further assaults’.”

Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “Reconciliation meetings are nothing more than a method to excuse those responsible for violence, shift blame on the victims, and to completely ignore justice. The recent attack in Kobry el-Sharbat again proves that nothing has changed in the ‘new’ Egypt after President Mubarak’s ouster, as perpetrators of attacks against minorities continue to be pardoned and allowed to pursue their bloody campaign to rid the country of Christians. Most disturbing is that the reconciliation meetings were not led by the military council, but by representatives of the very groups that won a majority in Egypt’s new parliament and claim to support democracy and a civilian judicial system. We urge Egyptian officials to retract the illegal decision that was made to evict the eight Christian families and to arrest and convict those responsible for burning down Christian homes and businesses.”

Washington, D.C. (February 13, 2012) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that eight Coptic Christian families were evicted from their homes in northern Egypt following two attacks by radical Islamists on Christian homes and businesses in late-January. The attacks were in response to an alleged affair between a Christian man and a Muslim woman.

On January 27th, hundreds of Muslims, led by Salafists who adhere to the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, looted and torched Christian homes and shops in Kobry el-Sharbat near Alexandria following rumors that a Christian man, Mourad Samy Guirguis, had an affair with a Muslim woman. On January 30th, a group of Muslims attacked the village for the second time, setting fire to three Christian homes. Guirguis denied the accusations, but reportedly turned himself into the police for his own security.

Village elders, including representatives from the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and local police, agreed to evict eight Coptic families and put their property up for sale. Ironically, they came to this decision after holding three ‘reconciliation’ meetings, Asia News reported. At the first meeting, Muslims argued that “Muslim honor has been damaged,” and refused to offer compensation to Coptic Christians who were innocent victims of the violence. Father Boktor Nashed from St. George’s Church in el-Nahdah, who was present at the meeting, called the decision a “complete injustice.” Sherif el-Hawary, a Salafist sheik, was given the authority to execute the meeting’s demands.

“Who gave them the right to form a committee headed by a Salafi to sell Christian property? This is thuggery and the blatant targeting of Copts,” said Magdi Khalil, head of the Middle East Freedom Forum. “If we accept this, we will open the door to an avalanche of forced evictions.”

Reconciliation meetings are a traditional form of ‘conflict resolution’ that bypasses Egypt’s judicial system and often fails to bring perpetrators of attacks against Christians to justice. In its 2011 Religious Freedom Report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) stated, “Reconciliation efforts should not be used to undermine enforcing the law and punishing perpetrators for wrongdoing. The State Department also has concluded that reconciliation sessions not only ‘prevented the prosecution of perpetrators of crimes against Coptic Christians and precluded their recourse to the judicial system for restitution’ but also ‘contributed to a climate of impunity that encouraged further assaults’.”

Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “Reconciliation meetings are nothing more than a method to excuse those responsible for violence, shift blame on the victims, and to completely ignore justice. The recent attack in Kobry el-Sharbat again proves that nothing has changed in the ‘new’ Egypt after President Mubarak’s ouster, as perpetrators of attacks against minorities continue to be pardoned and allowed to pursue their bloody campaign to rid the country of Christians. Most disturbing is that the reconciliation meetings were not led by the military council, but by representatives of the very groups that won a majority in Egypt’s new parliament and claim to support democracy and a civilian judicial system. We urge Egyptian officials to retract the illegal decision that was made to evict the eight Christian families and to arrest and convict those responsible for burning down Christian homes and businesses.”

February 10, 2012

'Bloody Sunday'

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Watch the video closely. You’ll see Christians and moderate Muslims running from a radical mob that is pursuing them. At the end of the video, you’ll see a flash of gunfire and then hear cries of agony. The painful shrieks are from a friend of ICC’s who was shot and taken to the hospital immediately after. Thank goodness he is now okay, but he still suffers pain from the injury. He asked ICC to share the video online to raise awareness. More than 24 people, mainly Christians, were killed that night on October 9, 2011.

February 10, 2012

Somalia, Uncategorized

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Walking from Eastleigh to his home in another district of Nairobi, Kenya, 25-year-old Hasan was being followed. Hasan had made the mistake of mentioning his Christian faith over his cell phone to a friend while shopping in the crowded Eastleigh marketplace. For Kenyans in Nairobi, this would not be a problem, but Hasan is not Kenyan, he’s Somali.

In Eastleigh, where the Somali terrorist group, Al-Shabaab and its sympathizers are known to be active, it is assumed that a Somali Christian is a convert from Islam – an apostate – and should thereby be punished in accordance with Islamic Sharia law. Execution by beheading is one form of punishment that is often carried out against Christian converts in Somalia.

Christianity, however, was all that Hasan had ever known. The son of an evangelist in southern Somalia, Hasan had been raised a Christian from an early age. He and his family had fled Somalia ten years earlier when his father was brutally murdered for his Christian faith. Little did the family know that the persecution they faced in Somalia would follow them to Kenya.

Nearing his house with the supplies his mother had asked him to purchase, Hasan was attacked by six Somali Muslims with iron rods and wooden clubs. Hasan remembers little, as he soon lost consciousness. His assailants, thinking he was dead, dropped him off bleeding and naked outside the gate of a Presbyterian church as a ‘warning’ to other Christians. The church guards called his mother and immediately took him to the hospital.

When I reached the scene of the attack, my son was lying in a pool of blood. The attackers had covered my son all over with dirt,” Hasan’s mother, whose name cannot be disclosed for security reasons, told ICC.

At the hospital, Hasan received a blood transfusion and eventually regained consciousness, but a slow and arduous healing process awaited him.

Since the time my son was attacked, we have been spending sleepless nights due to the pain that he has been going through,” his mother said. “He risks losing a third tooth, which is adding more pain for him. He also complains of abdominal pains; possibly he might have hurt some of his internal organs. But we are helpless; we have no money for specialized medication for him.”

Hasan filed a report at the police station and was asked to identify his attackers. Two of the Somali men were arrested soon after, but have since been released. While police claim the Somalis had escaped, Hasan thinks that a bribe was paid for their release.

Now, out of prison, the Somali group is looking to finish the job they had started. Hasan has received several phone calls threatening to kill him and other members in his family. “When we find you again, we will not make the mistake of leaving you alive,” Hasan recalled one caller as saying.

Hasan, his mother and five younger siblings have since been in hiding, moving from one house to another to avoid being attacked again.

When ICC visited Hasan a month after the attack, he was still badly bruised, could hardly see out of his right eye which was black, and was missing teeth. ICC is paying for Hasan’s surgery and medication, and is helping the family move into a safe neighborhood and setting up a small business.

February 9, 2012

Post Revolution

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By Aidan Clay

The court hearing of Egyptian Coptic billionaire Naguib Sawiris, who was accused of “insulting Islam” last month, is scheduled to reopen on Saturday. Sawiris’ hearing follows the prison sentence of Egyptian actor Adel Imam who was tried on similar charges last week. The two cases underline concerns about freedom of expression in Egypt.

Christian telecom mogul Naguib Sawiris, who founded the Free Egyptians political party, was charged for “blasphemy and insulting Islam” on January 9 when he reposted a cartoon of a bearded Mickey Mouse and a veiled Minnie Mouse on Twitter. The initial court hearing held on January 14 was postponed because the billionaire failed to show up, Agence France-Presse reported. The independent Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm accredited the trial’s adjournment to a “fistfight” between the defense and prosecuting lawyers after Sawiris was branded as a “criminal” in court.

Among the group of Islamist lawyers who filed the lawsuit against Sawiris was Mamdouh Ismail, a former member of Islamic Jihad who has been known to represent accused terrorists and was himself arrested for complicity with al-Qaeda in 2007.

The Muslim Brotherhood, who won 47 percent of the votes in Egypt’s parliamentary elections, quickly backed Ismail’s lawsuit while the ultraconservative Salafists led a nationwide campaign to boycott products and services offered by Sawiris’ companies. Many Egyptian Christians and liberals believe Islamists rallied the nationwide outcry to discredit Sawiris and his secular Free Egyptians Party.

“Sawiris is one of the biggest supporters of the Egyptian liberal parties,” Wagih Yacoub, a Coptic human rights activist, told International Christian Concern (ICC). “The Islamists are delivering a message to Coptic Christians that they can take down our leaders. They’re saying, ‘This is our country now. You’ll live as we want you to live.’”

Adel Imam, Egypt’s leading comic actor, faced similar charges last week when he was sentenced to three months in jail for “defaming Islam” in an Egyptian court for a role he played in a 2007 film, the state-run Ahram Online English website reported. The cases have added to concerns that Islamists are using their newfound political powers to stifle freedom of expression.

“Christians and many Muslims are supporting Adel Imam. Whether we like him or not, we are defending the freedom of speech and the freedom of art,” said Yacoub. “What is Adel Imam’s sentence based on? His old movies made years ago? It’s crazy. We’re going through a dark time in Egypt.”

“In both cases, the men didn’t do anything against ‘Islam’ but merely made fun of Islamists,” said Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center in Herzliya, Israel. “The battle, of course, is being waged by Islamists who want their interpretation of the religion to be declared as the only acceptable version. Westerners don’t understand that when that happens anything more moderate or flexibly traditional hence becomes illegal and punishable. The Islamist counter-Bill of Rights proclaims that the country’s people have no freedom of speech or freedom of religion, no right to free assembly or of the press.”

Sawiris is a champion of secularism and has publicly opposed the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the prospect that Islamists will draft a new constitution influenced by Sharia law. Sawiris has also dismissed the Muslim Brotherhood’s official moderate stance, accusing the group of wanting to turn Egypt into an Iran-style theocracy, Reuters reported. Sawiris’ Free Egyptian Party, in alliance with secular political parties known as the Egyptian bloc, won nine percent of the seats in Egypt’s new parliament. If convicted, Sawiris could spend up to six months in prison.

February 7, 2012

'Bloody Sunday'

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February 1, 2012

China, pastors

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When officers from China’s Jiangsu Province Municipal Public Security Bureau travelled nearly 400 miles from their home base on a special trip to arrest Pastor Shi Enhao, few could have thought it would turn out well. The fifty five year old Pastor had committed the “crime” of holding “illegal meetings and illegally organizing venues for religious meetings”. This criminal offense was not severe enough under Chinese law to warrant a trial, but just bad enough to be sentenced to two years of forced labor.

This sentence, which can be handed out by the police in China without even needing to charge the suspect, would put Pastor Enhao (left) in a labor camp alongside perpetrators of other “minor” crimes such as prostitutes, petty thieves, and small time drug traffickers.

However the imprisonment and forced labor, up to 19 hours a day of it, would be anything but minor. Just a few years ago, another house church pastor had collapsed, vomiting on the floor of a labor camp, only to be ignored by the prison guards until he died. In that case the prison simply stated that the pastor, only a year older than Shi Enhao, had died of natural causes. To make matters worse, an investigation of China’s labor camps in 2006 by Western lawyers reported on the likelihood that political prisoners were being allowed to die or even killed in the camps in order for China to harvest and sell their organs.

For Pastor Shi Enhao, who comes from a family with four generations of service to China’s Christian church, and who is the deputy director of the Chinese House Church Alliance, the arrest was not necessarily a surprise. His arrest would be followed by a surge of pressure on his church to close its doors permanently. Leaders were repeatedly detained and released while church property, from $22,160 in offerings to the church vehicle and choir robes, was confiscated.

It was during this time that ICC began sending regular support to Pastor Shi Enhao’s family. Pastor Enhao’s 86 year old mother needed 24hr a day care, even as his wife, son, and three daughters were being threatened by police. ICC also posted news of Pastor Shi Enhao’s story on its website in an effort with other organizations to draw attention to his plight.

It came than as a sudden and palpable feeling of relief when word arrived in January that Pastor Enhao has been unexpectedly released. Not only did he serve just six months of his two year sentence, but Chinese officials failed to even have an explanation for why he was released, saying only that his case would need “further investigation”. Today Pastor Shi Enhao is at home with his family, and there can be no doubt that the prayers and attention his case received played a major role in getting him there.

However the battle is not over. The pressure on Pastor Shi Enhao and the Chinese House Church Alliance will almost certainly continue, and there are more Christians like Pastor Enhao who remain locked away in China’s labor camps because of their love for Christ and their unwillingness to attend a government controlled church.  For our persecuted brothers and sisters in China the support they receive from outside is not only helpful, but life changing.