Iran (MNN) — U.S. sanctions, mixed with political and economic turmoil, are among the latest challenges facing Iran. The Islamic nation has never been a friendly place for Christians, but now it appears things are getting even tougher.
Miles Windsor of Middle East Concern says prison sentencing for Christians recently doubled, leading some to speculate that Iran’s crack-down is in response to U.S. sanctions.
One of the Christians caught up in a recent sweep of arrests is no stranger to accusations, beatings and time in Evin Prison: Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.
“This is a situation which has been ongoing for many years now,” says Windsor, recalling when Nadarkhani received the death penalty for apostasy back in 2010.
His 2010 apostasy case made Nadarkhani a household name and his face that of the persecuted Church in Iran.
“The international outcry about this sentence that was handed down to him meant that he was eventually able to go free,” says Windsor.
Nadarkhani’s 2012 acquittal met with international celebration…but the scrutiny never let up. Over the next few years, he faced a series of new accusations and ongoing trials.
In June 2017, Nadarkhani and three members of his congregation — Yasser Mossayebzadeh, Mohammadreza Omidi and Saheb Fadaie — received verdicts of 10 years in prison. Nadarkhani and Omidi received two additional years of internal exile.
“The decision represents a further cruel injustice against them, on top of the severe jail sentences,” Windsor states.
Lawyers tried to appeal these verdicts, but were rejected in May of this year. Typically, explains Windsor, people who have been convicted of a crime receive a notice. Then, they come to prison of their own accord to begin their sentence.
However, authorities treated Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s case a little differently. Nadarkhani didn’t receive a notice, and in July, Windsor tells us, “10 police officers arrived at Pastor Nadarkhani’s house. Both Pastor Nadarkhani and his son were tasered, despite offering no resistance.
“This manner of their arrest was interpreted as an attempt to intimidate the Christian community.”
A few days later, police also arrested Mossayebzadeh, Omidi, and Fadaie. They joined Nadarkhani in the notorious Evin Prison, where they remain today.
For these persecuted believers, the remaining options are slim-to-none.
“My understanding is that there is no further recourse at this point,” Windsor explains. “They’ve been through the appeals courts already, so unless there is some…intervention on the part of the leadership in Iran…my understanding is that they’ll be serving out their sentences.”
Would you surround this situation in prayer?
Prison “can be extraordinarily lonely and isolating, there can be a real sense of hopelessness,” shares Windsor. Pray that God would be with these men in their situation.
Pray also for the Iranian authorities. We’re given the mandate in Scripture to pray for those who persecute us, notes Windsor.
“Pray for those people to turn from the wickedness of their actions and turn to saving faith in Jesus.”
Header image courtesy the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).