Iran (MNN) – It is common in Iran for Christians to go to prison for their faith. However, it seems that the stakes have been rising for those following Jesus.
Miles Windsor of Middle East Concern says it can be very challenging to be a Christian in Iran. “That notwithstanding, it’s a place where we see the Church growing and developing and Christians being, really, very bold with their faith in the spread of the Gospel. So there are reasons for encouragement there as well.”
Windsor shares the case of Assyrian pastor, Victor Bet Tamraz, who he says has been a target of harassment for many years now. Tamraz was arrested, along with several other Christians, including Amin Naderi Afshari, at a Christmas celebration on December 26, 2014.
Originally, they were released on bail. However, Amin was rearrested two years later at a picnic along with Hadi Asgari and several others. They were then held in Evin Prison in Tehran, a prison notorious for its poor conditions. Amin was finally released on bail last July, and Hadi was likewise released this past April. However, it seems their troubles are far from over.
“There was a hearing on the 11th of June last year. And a judge called Ahmadpour issued his verdict in July, sentencing Pastor Victor and Hadi Asgari to ten years imprisonment and Amin Naderi to 15 years imprisonment for conducting evangelism and illegal house church activity. So, these are charges which are entirely directed at their Christian faith.”
He explains that usually, this type of persecution against Christians is veiled under charges like “undermining national security”. Initially, terminology was used like this in the case against Pastor Victor, Hadi, and Amin. But now, the fact that this is about their Christian faith has been spelled out in the charges.
And if this case is any indication, Christians could be facing longer prison sentences in the future.
“Whilst Christians have consistently been put in prison for their faith in Iran in considerable numbers, the length of the sentence has seemed to have increased in the recent year or so,” Windsor says.
Before this, Christians could typically expect to serve 18 months to five years in prison.
The defendants had an appeal hearing on April 25th. Windsor says a degree of encouragement came out of that hearing.
“It’s interesting what causes encouragement for Christians facing persecution in Iran because the encouragement wasn’t necessarily that they felt that they were about to receive an acquittal but rather that they were allowed to give their side of the story.”
Additionally, the judges overseeing the appeal hearing seemed to be respectful of the defendants and their lawyer.
The relationship between the United States and Iran means that there’s little that can be done politically on behalf of Pastor Victor, Hadi, and Amin. However, there is still something very important and powerful that all of us can do.
“The key for us, hearing and watching this from a distance is to be praying for them—praying for their continued witness to the love of Jesus in Iran, praying for their continued strength under extraordinary pressure, and praying for justice to be done in their situation.”
Middle East Concern encourages you to stay up to date on what is happening with believers like these so that you can continue to pray for them. Learn more, here.
“We ultimately have the most powerful figure, if you like, to go to… for advocacy, with our cases, and that’s the Lord Jesus. So, I’d encourage that as a primary sort of activity.”
Finally, you can let these believers know you are standing with them by signing this petition at avaaz.org.