IRAN: THREE CONVERTS ORDERED TO STOP ‘CHRISTIAN ACTIVITIES’


Judge puts them on probation, threatening them with ‘apostasy’ trial.

LOS ANGELES, March 31 (Compass Direct News) – Declaring three Iranian Christians guilty of cooperating with “anti-government movements,” a court in Shiraz on March 10 ordered the converts to discontinue Christian activities and stop propagating their faith.

An Islamic Revolutionary Court judge handed an eight-month suspended prison sentence with a five-year probation to Seyed Allaedin Hussein, Homayoon Shokouhi, and Seyed Amir Hussein Bob-Annari. The judge said he would enforce their prison sentence and try them as “apostates,” or those who leave Islam, if they violate terms of their probation – including a ban on contacting one another.

A new penal code under consideration by the Iranian Parliament includes a bill that would require the death penalty for apostasy.

“The warning that they will be ‘arrested and tried as apostates’ if they continue their Christian activities is quite chilling,” said a regional analyst who requested anonymity.

The Islamic Revolutionary Court was created after Iran’s 1979 revolution to prosecute those suspected of seeking to depose the Islamic regime. The “anti-government movements” referred to by the judge are satellite television stations Love Television and Salvation TV. Unlike the Internet, which is heavily censored in Iran, the two 24-hour satellite TV stations can bypass government information barriers.

Sources said links between the accused and these organizations, however, remain tenuous.

“The TV link came up almost six months after [the original arrests], so it is very new,” said an informed source. “We believe they just made it up, or it is something they want to make appear more important than is the reality.”

The three men were arrested by security forces on May 11, 2008 at the Shiraz airport while en route to a Christian marriage seminar in Dubai. According to a report by Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN), at that time the families of the three men avoided formal charges by agreeing to terms of release, including payment of a bond amount. Details of the terms were undisclosed.

 

Churches Pressured

The sentencing of three converts from Islam follows more than 50 documented arrests of Christians in 2008 alone, and the recent government crackdown includes Christian institutions that minister beyond Iran’s tiny indigenous Christian community.

On March 19, Assyrian Member of Parliament Yonathan Betkolia announced that by order of the Islamic Revolutionary Court, an Assyrian Pentecostal church in Tehran would be closed. According to FCNN, the church in the Shahrara area of Tehran was facing closure because it offered a Farsi-language service attended by converts from Islam.

During a speech following his election to Parliament in October, Betkolia had lauded freedoms accorded to minority groups in Iran, and he has publicly protested the Shahrara church allowing “non-Assyrians” – that is, Muslims – to attend services. The regional analyst said that Betkolia made these pronouncements as the increase in government pressure on the Christian community has put him in a difficult position.

“As a representative of the Assyrian community, a priority for Betkolia is to ensure the preservation of the limited freedoms and relative peace his traditional Christian community enjoys,” said the analyst. “Disassociation from a church which has welcomed believers from a Muslim background should therefore be seen as a form of self-defense.”

The number of Assyrian Christians in the country is estimated at between 10,000 and 20,000, with estimates of Armenian Christians in Iran ranging from 110,000 to 300,000.

Advocacy organization Human Rights Activists in Iran strongly criticized the decision to close the Assyrian church.

“The closing of the church is clearly a violation of human rights,” the organization stated, “because the right to change one’s religion and the right of self-expression are hereby targeted by the Islamic Revolutionary Court.”

The pastor of the Shahrara church has indicated that cancelling Farsi-language services may allow it to continue, though it was unclear at press time whether the congregation’s leadership was willing to make that compromise. FCNN reported in February that church leaders had on some occasions cancelled Farsi-language services at church.  

Report from Compass Direct News

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IRAQ: SON OF KIDNAPPED, MURDERED CHRISTIAN KILLED


Syrian Catholics in Mosul targeted for their faith; captors didn’t seek ransom.

ISTANBUL, September 23 (Compass Direct News) – An unknown group of armed men killed a Syrian Catholic in violence-plagued Mosul, Iraq two weeks after his father was kidnapped and murdered.

The gunmen killed Rayan Nafei Jamooa near his home on Sept. 10. Few details have emerged in the murder case, but sources said he and his father were targeted purely for their faith. Nassar Jamooa, the victim’s father, was kidnapped two weeks before his son’s murder; the elder man’s body was found four days later in the city’s western industrial area.

A shrinking minority in Iraq, Christians are frequently kidnapped for a mix of financial and religious reasons, but Nassar Jamooa’s kidnappers did not ask for any ransom. He and his son were targeted strictly for their faith, said a clergyman.

“Nobody asked about money, they just kidnapped and killed him,” said Father Bashar Warda, dean of St. Peter’s Seminary in Ankawa, a small town near Erbil. “The reason [for Nassar Jamooa’s kidnapping] would definitely be a religious one.”

The murder comes amid other attacks against Mosul’s Christian population. In August, Haytham Khadar was killed inside his workshop by unknown armed men, according to Iraqi Christian website Ankawa.com.

In February, armed militants kidnapped Mosul’s Chaldean Archbishop Paulus Faraj Rahho, holding him for a $2.5 million ransom and demanding Christians in Mosul begin attacking U.S. soldiers. The archbishop was found dead on March 13.

Last October, two Syrian Catholic priests were kidnapped in Mosul while heading to St. Fatima Church to celebrate Mass and held for a week at a $1 million ransom. Church leaders did not confirm whether they had paid the ransom.

While the city’s security has improved following Iraqi military operations against Mosul’s militia, criminal and al-Qaeda forces in March and April, the situation for Christians remains tenuous.

Many Christians have fled Iraq from the violence embroiling the country since the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Attacks against non-Muslims are so common that police do not bother to investigate the kidnappings and murders of low-status Mosul residents such as Rayan and Nassar Jamooa.

“There are many incidents going on around Mosul, so nobody is bothering with an investigation,” Fr. Warda said. “Hundreds of incidents occurred like this last year and in Mosul especially.”

According to the U.S. State Department 2008 Report on International Religious Freedom, the Iraqi Christian population in 2003 was between 800,000 and 1.2 million. This year estimates of the Christian population have ranged from 550,000 to 800,000.

Mosul, the ancient biblical city of Nineveh located 250 miles northwest of Baghdad, has the highest proportion of Christians of major Iraqi cities.  

Report from Compass Direct News