[Above photo: Iranian Christians Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz, Amin Afshar-Naderi, another fellow prisoner Kaviyan Fallah-Mohammadi, and Hadi Asgari]
Iran continues to take a hard line against Christians for practicing their faith, especially when the charges involve house churches. In one of the most recent reports, four Iranian Christians have been sentenced to a combined total of 45 years in prison for forming or being part of a house church, amid other charges.
Both Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz and his wife Shamiram Issavi, who are ethnic Assyrian Christians, were jailed for church-related activities. Amin Afshar Naderi and Hadi Asgari, who are Christian converts from Islam, have also been sentenced.
In 2014, Pastor Bet-Tamraz was arrested when plain-clothed security forces raided his home during a Christmas party. Five years before in 2009, the government closed the church the pastor led. He and the others are facing charges for forming house churches, attending seminars abroad and evangelizing. They have each been sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Naderi was sentenced an additional five years for “insulting the sacred” (blasphemy). According to Amnesty International, he shared a Facebook post from someone else “that adopted a Quranic writing style about the sharp rise in the price of chicken in Iran.”
All four believers are currently free on bail, awaiting the outcome of their appeals. If they are imprisoned, they will be prisoners of conscience–which means they are imprisoned for holding political or religious views that are not tolerated by their own government. In Iran, prisoners of conscience are often sent to the infamous Evin Prison, described by inmates as “hell on earth,” where beatings, torture, mock executions and brutal interrogations are the norm.
In the past six months, Iran has imprisoned more than a dozen Christians for participating in house churches, including the son of Bet-Tamraz and Issavi (last month) and a pastor, his wife and their entire house church of 10 Christians.
Praying With Iranian Christians
Father, we pray today for these men and women who have turned in faith to follow and serve Christ in the midst of peril. We thank You that Your church is growing in Iran despite persecution. As these men and women prepare to serve long and dangerous prison sentences, we pray that You will encourage and uphold them daily and protect them from attack and mistreatment. We pray that You will sustain their health and protect them against discouragement and doubt. We pray all this not only for these believers and their families but for all the Iranian Christians who face threats, fines, and imprisonment because of their faith in Christ. In the name of Jesus, who has compassion on those who fear him (Psalm 103), Amen.