As many of us were enjoying Christmas 2013 with our families, and attending worship services to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, some Christian believers in Iran had another nightmarish experience at the hands of the Iranian mullahs. On these pages, I have written about the troubles of Iranian pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani. You may recall that Pastor Nadarkhani, a man in his early 30s, became a Christian as a teen, and spent three years in the notorious Iranian Evin prison awaiting execution for “apostasy.” In 2012, following an international outcry, Pastor Nadarkhani was freed from death row when charges of apostasy against him were dropped. However, he was again arrested on Christmas Day. However, he has now been released after fourteen days.
Mohabat News reported that Iranian police and security officials raided a private home in Tehran where “approximately 50 newly converted Christians had gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and the occasion of Christmas.” The group included Pastor Nadarkhani and a pastor of Armenian descent, Vruir Avanessian, who suffers from kidney disease, about whom I have written on these pages. The British Foreign Office, in a statement issued January 3, 2014, condemned the re-arrest of Pastor Nadarkhani and other Christians, calling religious freedom in Iran “a matter of ongoing and deep concern.” The statement went on to say, “Reports that more than 50 people were arrested for celebrating Christmas in a private home show the depths of intolerance with which the Iranian Government treats its own citizens.” A copy of the British Foreign Office statement is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/foreign-office-condemns-persecution-of-religious-minorities-in-iran. Neither Secretary of State John F. Kerry, nor his State Department, have issued any official statement regarding Pastor Nadarkhani’s arrest and those of the other Iranian Christians.
The American Center for Law and Justice (“ACLJ”) issued a statement that read:
The ACLJ welcomes [Pastor Nadarkhani’s] release from this unjust and illegal imprisonment. Iran must not be allowed to persecute individuals because of their faith. His re-arrest on Christmas Day shows Iran’s intent to make an example of Pastor Youcef to intimidate people of minority faiths. Pastor Youcef’s release is a direct result of people across the world standing up and demanding his freedom.
Please continue to pray for Pastors Nadarkhani and Avanessian as they boldly share the Holy Gospel of our Lord, and for the new Iranian Christians. Further, in this new year, please do not forget to pray for American pastor Saeed Abedini, who is serving an eight-year sentence on trumped-up charges of endangering Iranian national security. Pastor Abedini was in Iran working to build an orphanage (with the permission of the Iranian government). Of course, he is being punished for converting from Islam to Christianity. Many Christians (including me) have been critical of the Obama Administration for its failure to do more to secure Pastor Abedini’s release from prison.