Tag Archives: Evin Prison

What are Christians Afraid of?

Recently I heard an interview on the radio that shocked and motivated me. Two women, each of whom spent nearly a year in Evin Prison in Iran, explained how they were arrested for talking about Christ. The government of Iran has laws against talking about Christ, telling people how to receive Christ in their hearts, or conducting private unauthorized prayer meetings. The government of Iran even regulates the version of the Bible that Iranian Christians in authorized churches may read. The women I heard were charged with talking about Jesus, proselytizing, and possessing an unauthorized Bible.

            The prison where they served their sentence is notorious for its brutality. While imprisoned they suffered torture daily and were held in solitary confinement in total darkness for long periods. The cells used for solitary confinement are too small for an adult to stretch out full length on the floor and they have no widows. The interviewer asked if they felt afraid. One woman said that they actually felt freer in the prison because there was nothing more anyone could do to them. The prison with its tortures and brutality, including frequent executions, is the worst the government can do them, so they went ahead telling people about Jesus and leading prayer meetings.

            In worse conditions than any normal American citizen can even imagine, these two women testified to the love of Christ and his forgiveness for all sinners, inviting prisoners and guards alike to receive Christ. What would I do in such circumstances? What would you do?

            I ask myself what I do where I am. You should ask yourself the same question. Today’s rancorous public conversations are vicious enough to give anyone pause. People are careful not to say anything that might offend someone and set off the name-calling and personal attacks, but how does that sort of assault compare with a prison sentence that includes near starvation rations, horrific beatings, even on the soles of the feet, and constant death threats from both prisoners and guards. Given Christ’s call to all of us to make disciples as we go about our daily lives, how do we explain why many of us don’t do that?

            It makes me look closely at the situation where I live. The US has historically been the place where people went if they were in danger of persecution for their religious beliefs. I live in the country reputed to be the freest country on earth. Yet I don’t feel free to talk with just anyone about my faith. I have had moments when I worried that I would suffer in some way if I spoke the name of Christ. Why do I do that?

            A few days ago I found myself in a conversation with people online who were upset because Christians believe they should be able to talk about their faith openly. One of the commenters said he took extreme offense when people around him talked about Christ. He wanted a law that said nobody could do that if anybody objected. I actually read an article recently in which someone claimed that when a Christian insisted on talking about Christ in his hearing, it felt like a personal assault.

            There are people in our culture who do not want Christ, God, or the Bible mentioned in their presence. They don’t want to see or hear anything Christian. They are so offended by Christ that they do not want to permit anyone to be obedient to Christ, either. Numerous commenters online have expressed the view that people who want to be free to live according to the principles of their faith, when their faith principles conflict with secular perceptions, were asking not for freedom but for privilege.

            Against this backdrop, it is, indeed, a challenge to engage in conversation with a stranger, and then say, “Can I pray for you? Jesus loves you, and I want to pray for you.” Yet, to date, it is not a crime in the US to speak to anyone about Christ. You won’t be arrested and tortured if you talk with someone about receiving Christ in his heart. The person you speak to may or may not respond to your invitation, but you and the person you talk with are free to speak about Christ and protected by the First Amendment from being arrested or charged with a crime for doing so.

            When I heard two women who have suffered imprisonment and even torture because they just could not stop talking about Jesus, I felt I needed to pray about myself. They are confident that they are simply doing what Jesus would do. I look around and I see people every day who need Jesus. These women know that every time they speak to anyone about Christ, they are at terrible risk. In the free country of the USA, why do I even hesitate to share the best gift in the world with people who need it? Why do you? What are we afraid of?

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Not Such Good News

The latest update on Pastor Saeed’s condition is disheartening. He continues to be beaten. His internal bleeding is becoming worse. When taken to the hospital, the doctors and nurses refuse to touch him, because Christians are considered ‘unclean.’ The latest word is that fellow prisoners threaten to suffocate him while he sleeps. The objective is to persuade him to recant his faith in Christ. He consistently refuses, continuing to testify to Christ despite brutal abuse. Christ promises: “If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God.” (Revelation 3:12)

Pray for Pastor Saeed

Dangerous Places

You have been hearing news over the past few weeks about Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen imprisoned in Evin Prison in Iran. He was arrested in September, tried in January, convicted and sentenced to 8 years in prison, and his crime was that he worked with Christian house churches in Iran. He was accused of being a threat to national security, because of his work with the house churches.

Such an accusation sounds outrageous to American ears, but it is not uncommon in countries around the world. Iran is more familiar to us, because this nation has been considered a threat to the US since 1979 when the US embassy in Tehran was invaded and many Americans were held hostage there. News of Iranian hostility to the US is common. Sadly, while the arrest of Pastor Saeed is a direct insult to the US because he is a US citizen, Iran does not limit such arrests to American visitors in the country.

On March 10, five Iranian citizens,  Christians of Muslim background in Iran, were put on trial for charges related to public order, national security and evangelism. They were all arrested in October during a prayer meeting in a private home. Again, Christians were accused of being a threat to national security.

Over recent months, arrests of Christians during house church meetings or at the homes of house church members in Iran have increased. The government of Iran views Christianity as a deviant anti-government movement. That view only makes sense because the government and Islam are inextricably intertwined. The Islamic worldview is that there can be no distinction between the religion of Islam and the way of life of the people. Those who convert away from Islam are perceived as having torn the fabric of the culture.

Furthermore, the government of Iran considers Christians to be pawns of the West. The government ignores the fact that there have been Farsi-speaking Christians since the day of Pentecost. Travelers from Persia were in Jerusalem on that day. They heard Peter’s sermon, they were converted and baptized, and they took their faith with them back to the land that became present-day Iran. Sadly, the current escalating assault on Christianity recently added the shut-down of Christian worship in the Farsi language to the many prohibitions on Christians in Iran. Church buildings in Iran must be registered with the government, and the services held there must also be individually authorized. For many years, the government allowed worship in the Farsi language in two churches in Tehran, but in recent months, even those services have been prohibited. The pressure on Christians is justified as protection of the culture from pollution of Western ideas, and Christianity is viewed as a Western idea, despite its 2000-year history as part of Iranian culture.

There are many countries where it is dangerous to be a Christian. In some countries, the dangers arose via gradual cultural pressure that blended into legal and political restrictions. In countries like Iran, where Islam has become dominant through revolutionary action, the danger has dramatically increased as soon as an Islamic constitution takes effect. In other countries, Islam is becoming a threat to Christians as rebels simply overwhelm territories unprotected by weak governments, as in Mali. Some analysts actually consider Christianity to be the most heavily persecuted religion on earth at this time. Today, a Christian in the USA is free to believe and pray and worship and even wear religious jewelry, but there are forces in the culture that want to limit all these freedoms. We must pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Iran and other dangerous countries, but we must not forget to pray for our own testimony and courage to live our faith in the face of cultural and even governmental pressures to shut up.

In the US, it has for many years been possible to be complacent about Christian faith and its place in the culture. That is not justification for failure to live our testimony, but it may serve as a partial explanation. The letter to the church at Laodicea in the book of Revelation sounds a lot like US Christians:

14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

15 “ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ” Revelation 3:14-22

 

Pray for Pastor Saeed, who now needs medical care due to internal bleeding brought on by torture. Pray for all Iranian Christians imprisoned for their faith, that they may have strength and courage to continue to testify faithfully. Pray for yourself and your church that you may be faithful to testify to Christ in the US culture despite scorn and smirking and even vicious assaults on you and your faith. Pray that we who claim the name of Christ may, indeed, conquer the evil that assaults us both insidiously and obviously. May each of us hear what the Spirit says.

 

Language Alert — National Security

The term national security sounds like a matter for great concern. If something threatens national security, it sounds terrifying. Our nation might fall to an enemy if someone walking around loose in our country is aiding and abetting an aggressor nation that wants to conquer us. Ask most people what it takes to protect our national security, and they believe that it takes an army and/or a navy. We all understand that someone who sells information to an enemy is a threat to our national security, even though it takes a policeman, or someone more like a policeman than a soldier, to stop him. Whatever it takes, we want it done. We want to be secure within the borders of our nation, and we want all threats to that security destroyed.

Iran classified Saeed Abedini as a threat to national security and arrested him. He has now been tried, convicted, and sentenced to eight years in Evin Prison, because he is a threat to national security. Saeed Abedini was guilty of helping to start and operate Christian house churches after converting from Islam to Christianity. His conversion and his work in support of churches are considered by Iran’s government to be a threat to its national security.

In the USA, where we have no state church, and where everyone is free to belong to any church, to move from church to church, or to refuse to believe in any god or religion whatsoever, we cannot imagine how somebody’s religion or change of religion can possibly be a threat to national security. The people who founded the colonies that became the USA mostly came from countries that had state religions, and many of them fled their homes in those countries because they were treated like enemies of the state for belonging to the wrong religion. In countries with state churches, the religion is an integral part of the government. To do anything against the state religion is to act against the state. Ancestors of US citizens knew exactly what it meant to be persecuted for rejecting or undercutting the state religion. When they established a new nation, they made very sure that the new nation would not have a state religion.

This idea is actually quite unusual, even in today’s world. There are many nations in the world that declare that they protect freedom of religion, and most of them have signed the UN Declaration of Human Rights which declares freedom of religion to be one of the universal human rights. However, many, many nations that have signed this declaration have very unusual interpretations of their obligation to protect religious freedom. The problem usually centers in a state religion.

Iran is only one among many where Islam is the state religion or the dominant religion and the government regards an affront to Islam as a breach of national security. Islam-dominated cultures almost universally incorporate sharia law into the national law, and sharia law declares that anyone who converts from Islam to any other religion deserves to die. It is not common for the death sentence to be applied for this offense, but sharia allows such inhumane treatment of prisoners that many might actually prefer death to the suffering of imprisonment.

The World Watch List maintained by Open Doors International tells the story. This list is comprised of the 50 countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian. Below is a list of 8 of the 10 most dangerous countries. #1 on the World Watch Rank is North Korea, which is the most dangerous, most repressed, country in the world, where it is dangerous for everyone but the top leaders. #10 on the World Watch Rank is Eritrea. Of the 10 nations in the world where it is most dangerous to be a Christian, 8 are countries where the state religion or the dominant religion is Islam. The story of Saeed Abedinin can be and has been reprised in various forms in all these countries.

 

WorldWatch

Rank

Country Name The role of Islam in the Country
2 Saudi Arabia No provision for religious freedom in the constitution of this Islamic kingdom. The legal system is based on sharia. All citizens must adhere to Islam. Conversion to another religion is punishable by death.
3 Afghanistan The Constitution of Afghanistan says:Article One

 Ch. 1. Art. 1: Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic, independent, unitary and indivisible state.

Article Two

Ch. 1, Art. 2: The religion of the state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam.

Followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law.

Article Three Ch. 1, Art. 3

In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and laws [ahkam] of the sacred religion of Islam.

NOTE: Not  a single official church remains in Afghanistan.

4 Iraq Iraq’s Constitution, like those of many Islam-dominated countries, says, “Article 2: First: Islam is the official religion of the State and is the primary basis for legislation:

No legislation may be enacted that contradicts the established laws of Islam

The Constitution also guarantees religious liberty, but that liberty is confined within “the established laws of Islam.”

About 95% of Iraq’s citizens are adherents of Sunni Islam.

Christianity arrived in Persia as a consequence of Pentecost, and Christian churches thrived there until recently. In 2003 there were more than a million Christians in Iraq, but today there are less than 345,000.

 

5 Somalia Islamic religious leaders maintain that Somalia must remain a strictly Islamic state without room for Christians or churches. The largest known Christian church in Somalia has 5 members.
6 Maldives The government of Maldives considers itself to be the protector and defender of Islam. Anyone who converts from Islam to any other religion loses Maldivian citizenship, thereby becoming stateless. The law against importation of Christian publications is so strict that the personal Bibles of tourists have even been confiscated.
7 Mali Historically, Mali was a constitutionally secular state, and it did not even appear on the 2012 World Watch List. In April 2012, the northern part of the country was captured by militant Islamists who established an Islamic state under sharia law. Christian church buildings are being systematically destroyed, and the objective of the government is to eradicate Christianity with the nation’s borders.
8 Iran The arrest and conviction of Pastor Saeed Abedini as a threat to national security lays bare the truth that Iran has been arresting Christians as threats to national security for years. Islam is the state religion. Iran signed the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights, but there is no evidence that the Islamic leaders who control the government feel themselves obligated in any way by that signature.
9 Yemen Islam is the state religion, and sharia is the source of law. Evangelism is prohibited. Converts from Islam to Christianity face the death penalty.

 

The logic behind the allegation that Christianity is a threat to the national security of Islamic states  is often linked to an accusation that Christianity is alien to the nation and the culture of the people. Most often Christians are accused of representing interests in the US and western Europe. Most importantly Americans need to understand that to Muslims, there really are none of the distinctions we make between the culture, the government and religion. Islam is a religion, because it worships a god and has teachings and practices like other religions. However, for a Muslime the government, the culture and the religion are all tightly integrated. Christians believe that they must live their faith in whatever culture or under whatever government they find themselves. Islam teaches that all these areas must be subject to sharia, which, in their view, is God’s law.

Today in the US, while Christians face very obvious cultural restrictions from secularism and even face government pressure due to secular redefinitions of historic principles, the pressure from Islam is more subtle. The shock Americans felt after September 11 has somewhat subsided, and the rebound effect is leading many Americans to feel they need to make extra efforts to be accepting and accommodating toward Muslims. Christians certainly do not want to be aggressive toward Muslims in the US, no matter what Muslims are doing in countries like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or Maldives. It is a challenge.

Interestingly, the Christian worldview that everything in life must be governed by a relationship with Christ does not at first sound so different from the Islamic worldview in which everything is subject to God’s law. Both Christians and Muslims believe that faith in their supreme being shapes everything they do. Unfortunately the two groups do not hear the same messages from their supreme lawgivers. Pour these two worldviews into a pot bubbling with the notion that every person is on his own to figure out right and wrong and that humans as a species are evolving new and different ideas as the species matures, and these are the ingredients of a very caustic stew.

Citizens of the USA must not make the mistake of automatically categorizing Muslims as threats to national security the way Muslims in Iran categorize Christians. To do so would be to fall into the same error as secularists who categorize Christians as sociopaths because some Christians exercising their faith appear to act in opposition to the cultural momentum. It is obvious that Christians in the USA must walk a tightrope between the pressures exerted on the culture by Islam and by secular thinkers. It is equally obvious that in this environment, it will not be easy to share Christ and his love for all people. In fact, that is exactly what Christians in Islam-dominated countries around the world have been jailed for. How can we ever do it?

What do you think is the most important principle for Christians trying to navigate the American culture with secularism, Islam and even numerous variant Christian viewpoints in the mix? What is the right way in this setting to live our mission to share Christ’s love and make disciples of the whole world?  What do you think the Christians sentenced to long terms in Evin prison in Iran would say? Do you think the USA will ever classify Christians as threats to national security?

Pastor Saeed Writes of “Psychological Warfare,” “Physical Violence,” and “Death Threats” in Iranian Prison

This post is a reprint of an article first posted at https://aclj.org/iran/pastor-saeed-writes-psychological-warfare-physical-violence-death-threats-iranian-prison . Follow this link to see video coverage. Please join in prayers for Pastor Saeed and sign the petition for his release.  

Earlier this week, American Pastor Saeed Abedini was able to write a letter to his wife and supporters detailing the horrific conditions he suffers in Iran’s brutal Evin Prison.

Pastor Saeed has now been imprisoned in Iran nearly five months. He describes how the “the psychological warfare, a year of not seeing my family, physical violence, actions committed to humiliate me, insults, being mocked,” extremists and other bullying groups in Evin “create another prison within the prison walls.”

In his last public letter, before his conviction, Pastor Saeed wrote that he was told he “will hang” for his faith. Today, he says that he still faces “death threats” in prison.

For the first time, Pastor Saeed acknowledges that the beatings and torture are designed to get him to recant his Christian faith – something he says he will never do. “They are only waiting for one thing…for me to deny Christ,” he wrote. “But they will never get this from me.”

In one instance, a fellow cellmate “attacked” him because he was singing praise songs.

As Pastor Saeed writes, “It is during these harsh conditions, that I deeply need God’s Saving Grace so that I can be the fragrant scent of Christ in the dark house of Evin prison.”

These are the conditions he will face every day for the next eight years of his prison sentence. Pastor Saeed, a U.S. citizen, is being forced to undergo some of the most horrific conditions imaginable.

Upon receiving this heartbreaking letter, Pastor Saeed’s wife, Naghmeh, told us:

It is heart wrenching to hear of Saeed’s continued abuse and torture in the Iranian prison. We have known for some time that he is facing physical and psychological abuse. Now our worst fears have been confirmed. He continues to face life-threatening abuse at the hands of the Iranian officials simply because of his faith in Jesus. These are the dreadful conditions he will continue to face as he serves his lengthy prison sentence in Iran. Saeed is an American citizen who is being pressured and falsely promised freedom if only he will deny his faith in Jesus. We have seen this tactic used in the past. Saeed will never recant his faith in Jesus – even if it means continued torture and abuse. Our primary concern is for his health and well-being with each passing day. We know that while he is very weak physically, Saeed is strong in his faith. His situation is dire and with the continued abuse and death threats, we are not sure how long Saeed will survive these horrendous conditions in prison. The most important thing we can do is pray, continue to raise awareness of his case and continue to work for his freedom.

It is incumbent upon each of us to stand up for this 32-year-old U.S. citizen, loving father of two, devoted husband, and committed pastor.

It is rare that he is able to get a letter like this to the public. He has no voice. Each of us must be his voice. Sign the petition for his freedom at SaveSaeed.org. After you have signed the petition, please consider who of your family and friends can also sign this petition to save Pastor Saeed.

Below is the complete letter from Pastor Saeed, translated into English – a powerful testimony of perseverance in the face of unspeakable persecution:

Writing from my heart.

My Dear Friends,

The conditions here get so very difficult that my eyes get blurry, my body does not have the strength to walk, and my steps become very weak and shaky.

Various (bullying) groups, the psychological warfare, a year of not seeing my family, physical violence, actions committed to humiliate me, insults, being mocked, being confronted with extremists in the prison who create another prison within the prison walls, and the death threats…

It is interesting that because I am a Christian pastor, I am carefully watched. I am expected to smile at them despite what is being done and to understand why they are doing all of these things. But, of course, I can clearly see what is going on and because I want to serve God, I see all of these difficulties as golden opportunities and great doors to serve. There are empty containers who are thirsty for a taste of the Living Water and we can quench their thirst by giving them Jesus Christ. Maybe you are also in such a situation, so pray and seek God that He would use you and direct you in the pressures and difficulties of your lives.

There are those who are enemies of the Living Bible and do not want to hear. They are trying to put me under such horrific pressures (that are sometimes unbearable) so that they can show me that my faith is empty and not real. And after all of these pressures, after all of the nails they have pressed against my hands and feet, they are only waiting for one thing…for me to deny Christ. But they will never get this from me. This is why the Bible is Truth and they are in the way of destruction.

There is another group who does not know the Gospel of Truth. Instead of truly listening and meditating on God’s Word, they are just waiting to see how I react to all of their pressures and persecution. What will come out of me during these intense times? But again, this is another golden opportunity for me to shine the light of Christ in this dark world and to let God to use me.

Yesterday when I was singing worship songs, the head of my cell room attacked me in order to stop me from praising but in response I hugged him and showed him love. He was shocked.

It is during these harsh conditions, that I deeply need God’s Saving Grace so that I can be the fragrant scent of Christ in the dark house of Evin prison. I have often seen the Shining Morning Star in the darkness of this prison and I have seen His amazing and supernatural works. Oh, how beautiful is seeing the light of the Shining Morning Star of Christ in such evil darkness.

So:

  • See your golden opportunities in pressures and difficulties.
  • See the Shining Morning Star in the dark times of your life.

I Love Him! He is Gracious, Merciful, and Righteous to me. I now know that I have not been forgotten and that we are together in this path. God gives me Grace. This is my message for the Church: Stay Strong for His Glory. He will come back soon! Be with God and give your best efforts for His kingdom.

Pastor Saeed, servant of Jesus Christ in chains for endurance of Gospel. I love you all.

Share his letter. Pray. Join over a quarter of a million others, and sign the petition at SaveSaeed.org.

Could you be ‘Steadfast Under Fire’ the way Pastor Saeed is? Learn about persecution and the Christian response to persecution at the VOM Classroom.