The morning of Sunday, July 22, 10 plain-clothes Iranian police officers raided the home of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani in Iran’s northern city of Rasht, brutally attacking both him and his teenage son, Danial.
When Danial answered the door and started to call for his father, officers attacked him with an electroshock weapon, leaving him motionless. When Youcef came in, they attacked him with the same weapon and then beat him—despite the fact that Yousef, nor his son, “offered any resistance,” Article 18’s Kiaa Aalipour told World Watch Monitor.
Yousef, a convert from Islam, is now serving a 10-year sentence in Evin Prison (aka the “dark hole of evil”) in the capital city of Tehran, convicted of “acting against national security” by running house churches (the maximum sentence for the charge is supposed to be six years imprisonment). Reportedly, the 39-year-old pastor was held in quarantine in a ward known for its especially difficult and unhygienic conditions—where “prisoners of conscience” are often taken for “punishment purposes.”
Fellow convert and church leader Mohammadreza Omidi was also sentenced to 10 years, along with Yousef–as well as 80 lashes for drinking wine during communion. He is serving his 10-year sentence in Evin Prison while he awaits the outcome of his appeal against the impending beatings.
The pastors are among many Iranian Christians who in recent months have been arrested and imprisoned, typically on charges of “acting against national security.” In Iran (#10 on the World Watch List), being an Iranian and expressing your Christian faith—especially when that expression involves being part of a house church—is an inevitable invitation to arrest often followed by prison terms.
To help you pray specifically with Christian prisoners in Iran and those waiting for the verdict on their appeals, we have compiled a list of names and stories to introduce you to those who, at this moment, are suffering behind bars because they are “not ashamed of the gospel” (Romans 1:16) and, like the Apostle Paul, have risked their lives to tell others about the Jesus who revealed Himself to them and transformed their hearts and lives.
The Christian Prisoner Experience in Iran
The list and our research point to several brutal conditions common to most Christians imprisoned in Iran:
- Medical treatment is often withheld. Repeatedly, refusal to offer treatment for medical conditions is a consistent complaint by Iranian Christians. Current prisoner Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh, also sentenced to 10 years in Evin Prison for leading a house church, began his term in January. In May, Article 18 reported that if he didn’t receive the medical treatment he had requested numerous times, Naser was in danger of losing his teeth.
- Prison terms for Christians are getting longer. In May, Miles Windsor of advocacy group Middle East Concern told Mission Network News: “Whilst Christians have consistently been put in prison for their faith in Iran in considerable numbers,” he said, “the length of the sentence has seemed to have increased in the recent year or so.”
- Prisoners are often tortured physically and mentally. They are subjected to near-daily interrogations, including prolonged beatings, and forced to endure twisted acts of persecution. While he was in prison, church teacher and ex-prisoner Morad recounted how the guards would bring him tea but not allow him to go to the bathroom. Ex-prisoners report sleep deprivation and threats of harm to family members—as well as pressure to recant their faith. Some Christians held in Section 209 of Evin Prison have suffered up to 34 days in solitary confinement.
- Any requests for Christian literature is refused.
- A prison term is often followed by two years of internal exile. Even after a prisoner serves their full sentence, they are not free. Pastor Yousef and fellow convert and house church leader Mohammad Reza Omidi, among others, were both sentenced to two years of internal exile. They will serve this sentence in the south of Iran, far away from their families in Rasht.
- Release is not freedom. When Christians are released, it’s often on payment of exorbitant bail, ranging from a few thousand dollars to the deeds of a house. And they face further arrest or prosecution if they continue to meet with other Christians. Often, police will contact their employers and instruct them to sack the “apostate.”
Currently, an estimated 21 Christians are serving prison sentences, often suffering under inhumane conditions. And an estimated 15 are awaiting their appeals—praying that they could somehow find true justice
Called to Remember the Prisoner
In God’s Word, we see the specific call on the Body of Christ to pray for and encourage our jailed brothers and sisters. Perhaps the most familiar comes from the writer of Hebrews:
“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3).
The Bible teaches us that Jesus expects His church to visit those who are in prison. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I was in prison and you came to me” (Matt 25:36), and this is how He sees it: “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt 25:40).
We are called to intercede for one another, and when we do, God uses that obedience to strengthen both us and the prisoner. We have numerous accounts from ex-prisoners and persecuted believers telling us that they sensed the body of Christ praying for them in their prison cell—and that they drew strength from that knowledge, especially in the most difficult situations.
For lists of Christian prisoners and those awaiting their appeals in Iran, plus a list of prayer points, click below: