A New Year for Iran’s Christians: Will Anything Change?

3/20/2014 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – As millions of Iranians celebrate the start of a New Year, International Christian Concern (ICC) continues to call attention to the flagrant persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in Iran. As the new Iranian president took office this past summer, his words promised a change in the respect of fundamental rights for Iranians. Unfortunately, those promises have not been met with action. Iranian-American Pastor Saeed Abedini is still serving out an eight-year prison sentence. He is just one of 49 Christians who remain imprisoned in Iran as a result of their faith. If this past year is a sign of things to come, many others may join them in prison this year.

The ordeal for Saeed Abedini continues to drag on. It has been more than 540 days since he was imprisoned in Iran. “Praying and hoping that the kids would not have to celebrate another birthday without their dad and we can bring him home soon,” Naghmeh Abedini wrote on March 17, the day they celebrated their son’s sixth birthday, yet another family celebration without Saeed. “I’ve been holding onto Romans 8:18: ‘Our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed,’” Naghmeh told ICC. She has continually spoken out on behalf of her husband, taking the case before international media, congress, and the United Nations. As the United States is engaged with Iran at the highest level in decades, it is shocking that the administration has not compelled Iran to release Saeed, an American citizen, who is being held on charges solely based on his faith.

Iran has severely cracked down on Christians and churches, especially those which carry out any activities in Farsi. “In 2013 alone, the authorities reportedly arrested at least 42 Christians, of whom 35 were convicted for participation in informal ‘house churches,’” wrote Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, in a March 2014 report. Iranian authorities at the highest levels have designated house churches and evangelical Christians as threats to national security,” wrote Shaheed. In an interview with ICC, Naghmeh Abedini said that Saeed had been told he was committing “soft war” as a Christian. Despite the fact that he had stopped these activities and was working with the government’s permission, he was arrested and convicted on the basis of previous activities.

Saeed’s case has brought international attention to the horrific abuses that are occurring in Iran, many of which are never known to the outside world. Lazarus Yeghnazar, writing for Farsi Christian News Network, reflected on the intense abuse Saeed has faced and then said, “It would not be hard to imagine what is happening to many Iranian Christians incarcerated in prisons from Zahedan to Tabriz, from Mashad to Abadan and for whom no foreign power intercedes!

As the Iranian people celebrate the New Year, there should be many interceding on their behalf. The global Church should be the voice speaking for the Iranian people, both to government officials and speaking out in prayer. Reflecting on the message she has for the church, Naghmeh said, “I would ask for prayer for the Iranian people, that this would be the year that many find saving Grace in Jesus and follow Him as their Lord and Savior and for prayer for Saeed’s freedom, and that the Lord Jesus Christ would be glorified through it.”

Todd Daniels, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “As the people of Iran celebrate this New Year, we call on the government of Iran to treat their citizens with respect and to protect their most fundamental freedom, the freedom to worship God. We appeal to President Rouhani for the release of Saeed Abedini that he may return home to his wife and children. We urge President Obama and the government of the United States as they engage with Iran, to continue to press for the release of Saeed and to demonstrate their commitment to human rights and religious freedom for all peoples.”   

For interviews, contact Todd Daniels, Regional Manager for the Middle East: RM-ME@persecution.org

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