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IRAN: Reduction in sentences for Iranian Believers

IRAN: Reduction in sentences for Iranian Believers

Iranian Christians ask for prayer after an appeal verdict for three Christian converts from Rasht who were serving ten-year sentences.

The sentences against Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, and Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie have been reduced to six years. Mohammadreza (Yuhan) Omidi’s sentence has been reduced to two years and he is expected to be eligible for release in July. The decision regarding the fourth church member, Yasser Mossayebzadeh, who was arrested and convicted at the same time, is not known.

Pastor Yousef was arrested with his wife Tina, as well as Saheb, Yuhan and Yasser in Rasht in 2016. Following a June 2017 hearing each of the four men was given a ten-year prison sentence for “acting against the national security through propagating house churches and promoting Zionist Christianity.”  Yousef and Yuhan were also sentenced to two years’ internal exile in the south of the country.

An initial appeal in May 2018 upheld the sentences, but a further review took place in May 2020 and as announced on Monday, reduced the sentences. It is reported that legal avenues for a further appeal are being explored.

Friends of the Christian converts are delighted that Yuhan is likely to be released soon and although pleased that Yousef and Saheb’s sentences have been reduced, wish that they had been acquitted of all charges related to the peaceful exercise of their faith.

Source: Middle East Concern

  • Thank God for this positive development and pray the reduction in sentences will provide encouragement to the men and their families.
  • Pray that further review would be possible to overturn the sentences completely.
  • Ask God to use this development as a witness to the faith of these man and the Gospel for which they are imprisoned.

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PAKISTAN: Appeal Delayed for Christian Couple Accused of Blasphemy

PAKISTAN: Appeal Delayed for Christian Couple Accused of Blasphemy

Shagufta Kausar and her husband Shafqat Emmanuel have spent the last six years in jail waiting for an appeal against their death sentence for blasphemy.

The family of the poor Christian couple from the central Pakistani town of Gojra, hope an end to their ordeal could be in sight; a final hearing at Lahore High Court was scheduled for Wednesday, though it was delayed. The hearing was postponed to 22 June.

Their lawyer, Saif ul Malook, who also represented Asia Bibi, another Christian woman who had a death sentence for blasphemy successfully overturned, said the evidence used to convict the couple was deeply flawed.

However, he warned, that judges can be fearful of acquitting suspects, in case they are targeted themselves by extremists. Court proceedings have also slowed in recent weeks as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

The married couple were convicted in 2014 of sending blasphemous text messages insulting the Prophet Mohammed to a local imam from a phone number registered to Shagufta’s name. Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan, and though no-one has ever been executed for it, dozens have been killed by mobs after being accused of the crime.

Shagufta’s brother Joseph, said the couple were innocent, and he doubted they were literate enough to have written the abusive messages. Prior to the charges Shagufta worked as a caretaker in a Christian school. Her husband Shafqat is partially paralysed.

Joseph said on a visit to jail, Shafqat told him he had been tortured into making a false confession: “He told me the policeman hit [him] so hard that his leg was broken.”

The couple have four children, who Joseph said have been left traumatised.

Human rights groups say blasphemy allegations are frequently used to settle personal scores or target religious minorities. The couple’s lawyer said that in their trial they suggested a neighbour they had argued with might have purchased a SIM card in Shagufta’s name and sent the messages in order to frame them.

Sources: BBC, International Christian Concern

  • Ask the Lord to strengthen and sustain this couple as they continue the long wait for their case to be heard and resolved.
  • Pray the hearing will take place on 22 June and ask the Lord to help and guide Saif ul Malook and his team. Pray that justice will be sought and upheld.
  • Pray for the protection of those advocating for change in the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Commit to the Lord those suffering as a result of being falsely accused.

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IRAN: Hearing Cancelled Again

IRAN: Hearing Cancelled Again

Three long standing cases were combined in a ruling by presiding judge Ahmed Zargar in February 2019, with the latest appeal scheduled for 1 June.

The first case involves Pastor Victor of the Assyrian Assemblies of God, and two Persian Christian converts, Amin Nader Afshari and Kavian Fallah Mohammadi, who were all arrested at a December 2014 Christmas celebration. The second case also involves Amin Nader Afshari, re-arrested in August 2016 at a picnic with another convert, Hadi Asgari. The third involves Shamiram, Pastor Victor’s wife, summoned by authorities in June 2017. Between them they are facing 55 years in prison on national security charges.

Since the decision to combine the cases, every scheduled hearing has failed to take place.

On 1 June pastor Victor and Shamiram went to Branch 36 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran along with their lawyers and legal representatives for the Christian converts. After a long wait, they were informed that the hearing was cancelled. No reason was given and the lawyers were not allowed to approach the judge.

The on-going judicial process continues to be stressful for the defendants and their families.

Source: Middle East Concern

  • Ask the Lord to encourage Pastor Victor, Shamiram, Amin, Kavian and Hadi through this difficult trial.
  • Pray the lawyers representing the defendants will have wisdom to argue their case well.
  • Pray the cases will soon be reviewed appropriately and the heavy and unjust prison sentences overturned.

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PAKISTAN: Persecution of Christians Continues

PAKISTAN: Persecution of Christians Continues

Twenty-five Christians are in prison for blasphemy, six with death sentences. They include Shafqat and his wife, Shagufta. On 8 April the Christian couple will have their appeal heard by the Lahore Court of Appeal.

Sentenced to death in 2014, the court found them guilty of sending blasphemous texts to an Islamic cleric, even though their ‘confession’ was extracted under torture and both are illiterate. Catholic lawyer, Khalil Tahir Sandhu, will present the appeal.

Since the death of Christian farm labourer, Saleem Masih on 28 February, outraged Pakistanis have been using the hashtag #JusticeForSaleemMasih in outcry and to protest the abuse of Pakistan’s religious minorities.

Saleem died in Lahore’s General Hospital after being beaten and tortured by Muslims who accused the ‘filthy Christian’ of ‘polluting’ a well.

Source: Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin

  • Pray for justice and liberty for Shafqat and Shagufta. May the Lord bless, guide and protect their lawyers, in particular, Khalil Tahir Sandhu.
  • Ask the Lord to comfort the family of Saleem. Pray that his death will not be in vain. Ask the Lord to use the outrage expressed to help ensure justice and bring about significant cultural change.
  • Pray the Lord will sustain, bless and continue to grow Pakistani’s vulnerable and persecuted Christian church.

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IRAN: Upcoming Appeal Hearing

IRAN: Upcoming Appeal Hearing

Iranian Christians request prayer for an upcoming appeal hearing, scheduled for 3 September, at which the sentences given to six Iranian Christian believers will be reviewed.

The hearing will combine three long-standing and related cases. The first case involves Assyrian Pastor Victor bet Tamraz and Persian Christian converts Amin Nader Afshari and Kavian Fallah Mohammadi, who were arrested at a Christmas celebration in December 2014. The second case also involves Amin Nader Afshari, who was re-arrested in August 2016 along with Hadi Asgari, and Ramiel bet Tamraz (Pastor Victor’s son) and two others. The third case involves Shamiram Issavi Khabizeh, (Pastor Victor’s wife), summoned by the authorities in June 2017.

Pastor Victor was sentenced in July 2017 to ten years imprisonment for “acting against national security”. Amin, Hadi and Kavian also received prison sentences of between ten and fifteen years on similar charges. Shamiram was sentenced in January 2018 to five years imprisonment for “acting against national security”, and “acting against the regime by organising small groups, attending a seminary abroad and training church leaders and pastors to act as spies.” In July 2018, Ramiel was sentenced to four months imprisonment for “spreading Christian propaganda”.

At an appeal hearing in Shamiram’s case on 19 February, the judge, Ahmed Zargar, decided to combine her case with the two other cases.

It is noteworthy that the sentences given to Pastor Victor, Amin, Hadi and Kavian were issued by Judge Ahmadzadeh of Tehran Revolutionary Court, who was subsequently suspended from duty after being investigated in relation to allegations of corruption.

Source: Middle East Concern

  • Pray that Pastor Victor, Shamiram, Ramiel, Amin, Kavian and Hadi will know the Lord’s peace and guiding wisdom.
  • Pray that justice will be upheld in the hearing for all defendants, and that they will be acquitted of all charges against them.
  • Ask the Lord to strengthen and encourage all Iranian Christians who are falsely accused of acts against national security simply because of their Christian faith and activities.

Post your prayer in the comments below.