Iran (MNN) — As of January, the U.S. State Department declared eight countries to be seriously violating religious freedoms. According to USA Today, the list includes Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, China, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, Myanmar and Sudan.
The list looks similar to the Open Doors World Watch List for 2009, which lists countries where Christianity is most threatened. This list also includes North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Iran in its top three for Christian persecutors.
The situation for Iranians is growing particularly disconcerting. The country has strict laws about the fate of those who convert from Islam. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran "has said that he will eliminate Christianity from Iran," says Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs. "That's a promise that he has made, so he's doing everything in his power to act against the church."
Threats to religious freedom include a provisional law passed last year to make a mandatory death penalty law for any male who converts from Islam. Females found guilty of apostasy can look forward to a life sentence in prison.
This is the current fate of two women who were arrested in March for being "anti government activists;" but the highest criminal behavior these women have been engaged in is following after Jesus Christ. They are now being held in a prison known for its poor treatment of women, and they are both very ill.
In the meantime, there is some hope of a relative government turnaround. The presidential elections of Iran will be held in June, and one candidate has expressed a desire to create more religious freedom if voted into office. If the candidate is elected, there will still be large hurdles to jump.
"The thing that we need to remember is that the president there is not the final authority in the country," says Nettleton, explaining that there are several other branches of government to go through before a law is passed. "So even if the reformist president is elected, he won't necessarily have absolute authority or absolute power to enact all of the things that he might want to do.
From this angle, the situation may seem relatively hopeless; but in the midst of intense persecution, the church is skyrocketing in growth. The number of believers in Iran is growing every day and will likely continue to, as in other countries where persecution is high.
Pray for the two imprisoned women to receive treatment and healing for their illnesses and for them to be released from prison to their families. Pray also for godly leaders and disciple makers to rise up as the church rapidly continues to grow.
To learn more about the situation in Iran or the work of Voice of the Martyrs, click here.