The last time I thanked someone was probably this morning when I bought the morning papers. However, the last time I thanked someone with strong meaning, rather than just a simple (though real) thank you, was on Thursday last week. The occasion of my giving thanks was when a person gave me a bicycle because they knew mine was no longer any good and I was therefore completely without transport. So I was very thankful for this very kind gesture.
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Two Iranian Christian Women Acquitted of all Charges
Young converts previously held in prison for Christian activities have fled country.
ISTANBUL, May 27 (CDN) — Nearly five months after releasing them from prison, an Iranian court has acquitted two women of all charges related to being Christians and engaging in Christian activities.
Iranians Maryam Rostampour and Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad were arrested on March 5, 2009 and detained on charges of “acting against state security,” “taking part in illegal gatherings” and “apostasy” (leaving Islam) under Iran’s Revolutionary Court system.
After nearly eight months, on Nov. 18, 2009 authorities released them conditionally.
Although the court hearing their case originally set April 13 as their trial date, Compass was unable to confirm on what date the two women were acquitted, nor the conditions of their acquittal.
Senior Iranian judges and officials repeatedly intimidated the two women and pressured them to recant their faith, according to a press statement by Elam Ministries last week.
“They were warned that any future Christian activity in Iran will be seriously dealt with,” according to the statement.
Elam Ministries said the two women had fled Iran on Saturday (May 22) to an undisclosed location and were recovering.
Another Iranian convert who was forced to flee his country under similar circumstances years ago told Compass that he believed the intense lobbying efforts to release and acquit the women brought the government to an unspoken “standoff” with Christian rights groups outside the country.
“I think the court just made a political decision, ‘We will let you go, but we will not allow you to stay in the country,’” said the Iranian Christian, who requested anonymity. “That’s a pretty old-fashioned procedure they have – ‘We will let you go if you leave the country. You can have your faith, but not here.’”
In general, when Iranian authorities arrest Christians, they release them on bail within a few weeks and keep their case files open, thus applying soft pressure while allowing them to continue living in Iran. In cases where the government wants to remove Christians from the country because of their Christian activities, authorities have handed the Christians their passports and documents and told them to leave.
Iran’s government views all Christian activities as foreign intervention and thus a threat to national security. The two women’s families had hired a private lawyer.
Since their release, the young converts to Christianity had been waiting for a trial date and decision from an Iranian court to decide their fate as Christians living their faith. During this time, sources said that authorities watched them closely and that the two women were under “pressure” and received threatening phone calls.
“The government would not want them to stay in the country as heroes,” said the Iranian Christian. “It would be better for the government if they left Iran and didn’t become a positive example for the rest of the Christian community in Iran. Otherwise they would create a precedent of [Christians] who have not denied their faith, who have been acquitted and still live as Christians inside the country.”
The two women thanked Christians who have been praying for them, according to Elam.
“We hope to eventually share some of what the Lord allowed us to go through to highlight the need and the opportunity for the church in Iran, but right now we will take time to pray and seek the Lord for His will,” said Rostampour, according to Elam’s press statement.
Iran’s Constitution gives Christians “protected” religious minority status, but in practice they face substantial societal discrimination, according to the U.S. Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report 2009.
An article mandating death for apostates in accordance with sharia (Islamic law) reportedly has been stricken from a draft penal code, but experts on Iran say The Council of Guardians and Iran’s Supreme Leader still have the final say on who receives capital punishment for leaving Islam.
Christian Who Fled Iran Wins Asylum in Kenya
Judge rules Iranian convert from Islam requires protection from persecutors.
NAIROBI, Kenya, March 15 (CDN) — Mohammad Azbari, a Christian convert from Islam who has fled to Kenya, knows what it’s like to be deported back to his native Iran.
When it happened in 2007, he said, Iranian authorities pressured the government of Norway to return him and his wife Gelanie Azbari to Iran after hearing rumors that he had forsaken Islam.
“When we arrived in Iran, we were interrogated by security and severely beaten,” he told Compass in Nairobi, where he and his family fought to persuade the Kenyan government to decline Iran’s demand to deport him back. “My son got scared and began urinating on himself.”
A cousin managed to secure their release, but not before Iranian authorities had taken valuable – and incriminating – possessions.
“They took everything that I had – laptop, camera and some of my valuables which contained all my details, such as information concerning my baptism, and my entire profile, including that of my family,” Azbari said.
Azbari had been employed in the Iranian army before fleeing, he said, and authorities were monitoring his movements because they were concerned that, having left Islam, he might betray his country and reveal government secrets.
When he and his Christian wife, a native of the Philippines, first fled Iran in 2000, he was still a Shia Muslim. The previous year authorities had arrested his wife after finding a Christmas tree in their house in Tehran; Azbari was not home at the time and thus escaped arrest, but as authorities took his wife away they left their then 3-year-old son unattended.
“I was put in a small cell for two days,” Gelanie Azbari told Compass, through tears. “While in the cell two police guards raped me. It was the worst of all the nights I have had in my lifetime. Since that time I have been sick both physically and mentally.”
Authorities soon took her husband in for interrogation, suspecting he was a spy for foreign states.
Still a Muslim, Azbari allowed his wife to follow her Christian faith. He had grown accustomed to watching her pray as a Christian and watch the Jesus Film. As time went by, he developed an urge to embrace Christianity. They started reading the Bible together.
The idea of trusting in and following Christ filled him with fear, as it was against the law to convert from Islam – it would mean losing his life, he said.
“I started questioning our leaders, who see themselves as God,” he said. “The claim of Jesus as the prophet as well as the Word and spirit of God is indicated in the Quran. When I read in the Gospels of Jesus giving people rest, it made me want to decide to accept him as my Lord and Savior.”
Sensing danger, the family fled to the Netherlands in 2000, and it was there that Azbari embraced Christianity. In 2003 the family left the Netherlands for Norway.
Azbari was an avid student of his new-found Lord; while in Norway, he became seminary teacher of Christology.
Throughout, Azbari said, the Iranian government had been monitoring his movements. In 2007 Iranian officials persuaded the Norwegian government to send him, together with his wife and son Reza Azbari, back to Iran.
After their interrogation and mistreatment upon arrival in Iran, Azbari managed to call his sister, who connected him with the army general cousin who helped secure their release. His sister took them in, but his brother in-law was not happy with their Christian prayers; he began quarreling with his wife, Azbari’s sister.
“They began looking for trouble for us,” Azbari said. “Sensing danger, we then left the home and went to find a place to stay. Everywhere we tried to book in we were rejected, since we were people who had been deported.”
They began attending a church made up primarily of foreigners, where Azbari’s wife and son felt more at home than he did. His army general cousin found out and, angry that they had sought refuge in a church after he had secured their release, grew furious.
“He was very angry, as they had also discovered this information from the laptop they had confiscated and threatened that I should be arrested,” Azbari said. “I then decided to move to central Iran to look for employment, leaving my family behind.”
The couple felt they could not go to Gelanie Azbari’s homeland as the Philippines has such friendly relations with Iran, he said.
“To go back to Philippines or Iran is quite unsafe for us,” Azbari said.
In October 2009, his sister notified him that police were looking for him and his family.
“I then decided to flee the country through Turkey, then to Kenya where I was arrested and then deported to Turkey,” Azbari said. “In Turkey they could not allow me to enter the country, hence I was returned to Kenya.”
They were arrested in January for illegal entry into Kenya. On March 4, a judge at Chief Magistrate Court No. 3 of Kenya dropped the charges against him, declaring that Azbari required international protection from his persecutors. The court also directed that Azbari be given back all his documents and the 10,000 Kenyan Shillings ($US130) in bail he had deposited.
They had applied for asylum with the United Nations. Appearing before the court on behalf of Azbari on Jan. 15, a representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had argued that he deserved asylum because his religious status had forced him to flee from his country of origin. On March 4 the court found that Azbari and his family require international protection under Section 82 of the laws of Kenya, and he was set free.
“We have witnessed the love of God and the sacrifices of what it means to love one in word and deed,” Azbari said moments after the decision. “We saw the love of Christ from the people who understood and stood with us.”
He thanked friends who introduced his family to Nairobi Pentecostal Church, which provided them spiritual strength. Three attorneys represented Azbari: Wasia Masitsa, a legal officer for the Urban Refugee Intervention Program; Christian lawyer John Swaka; and Laban Osoro of the United Nations. Rene Kiamba of the International Christian Chamber of Commerce had helped him post bail.
Report from Compass Direct News
Some 59 Christians are released from jails in Pakistan
On Friday, November 13, 2009, the sun came up with new hopes in the lives of 59 Christians in Pakistan after the Pakistani-based Christian organization, “Life for All,” had made a determined effort to give these people their lives back, reports Xavier Patras William, special to ASSIST News Service.
The imprisoned Christians, who have been in various jails in Pakistan, got the welcome news of their freedom after hard work made by Mr. Rizwan Paul, President “Life for All,” who had presented a petition to Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, President of Pakistan, for the pardon of these Christians who he stated had been “falsely accused of minor crimes.”
The President reviewed the petition and approved the release of the prisoners who had been accused of minor crimes, and he vowed to review the release of other prisoners after reviewing the nature of their crimes.
The prisoners that were freed had been incarcerated in Adyala Jail, Rawalpindi; Kot Lakhpat Jail, Lahore; Sialkot Jail, Sialkot; as well as Peshawar Jail and the Karachi Jail.
Now they are free, and can breathe and move freely.
Extremely emotional scenes were seen outside the jails when the prisoners were released. Family members were present to greet their loved ones and they thanked “Life for All” for their efforts.
Representatives from “Life for All” were present at the respective jails to receive the released. They took the record of the released and then handed over them over to their families.
However, there are still more than 2,500 Christians in jails all over Pakistan who cannot afford the legal assistance for their release. There are many church-based and Christian/Muslim civil society organizations who claim to provide legal aid assistance to Christians and other poor people, but the truth is that the poor in Pakistan are implicated in false cases and end up in jail for years.
“Life for All” did not get any local / foreign aid for the release of these Christians.
Rizwan stressed that the Christian organizations “need to work together for the development of the community” in Pakistan.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
TURKEY: CHRISTIAN HELD HOSTAGE AT KNIFE POINT IN ISTANBUL
Young Muslim threatens to slit throat of convert; police arrest him after short standoff.
ISTANBUL, August 6 (Compass Direct News) – In a bizarre show of Turkish nationalism, a young Muslim here took a Christian Turk at knife point, draped his head with the national flag and threatened to slit the throat of the “missionary dog” in broad daylight earlier this week.
Yasin Karasu, 24, held Ýsmail Aydýn, 35, hostage for less than half an hour on Monday (Aug. 3) in a busy district on the Asian side of Istanbul in front of passersby and police who promptly came to the scene.
“This is Turkey, and you can’t hand out gospels,” he yelled, according to the daily newspaper Haberturk. “These godless ones without the true book are doing missionary work.”
About 99 percent of Turkey’s population is at least nominally Muslim, and in the popular mindset the religion is strongly connected with being Turkish.
Karasu threatened to slit Aydin’s throat if anyone came near him and commanded those watching to give him a Turkish flag. Within minutes, Aydin told Compass, bystanders produced two flags. Karasu, who has known Aydin for a year, wrapped the larger of the two flags around Aydin’s head, making it difficult for him to breathe in heat that reached the low 30s Celsius (90s F) this week.
“Do you see this missionary dog?” he yelled at the crowd. “He is handing out gospels and he is breaking up the country!”
Karasu placed the smaller flag in Aydin’s hand and commanded him to wave it.
“Both flags came at the same time,” Aydin told Compass. “The big one he put very tightly over my head, and in the heat I couldn’t breathe.”
The whole time Karasu held a large knife to Aydin’s throat.
“You missionary dogs, do you see this flag?” he said, commanding Aydin to wave the flag. “This is a holy flag washed in the blood of our fathers.”
Aydin said he told Karasu, “Yasin, in any case this flag is mine as well! I’m a Turk too, but I’m a Christian.”
Karasu insisted that Aydin was not a Turk because he had betrayed the Turkish flag and country by his evangelism, according to Aydin.
Aydin said he told Karasu, “No, Yasin, I’m a Turk and I’m waving this flag with love. This is my flag. I’m a Turk.” He said Karasu replied, “No, you can’t be – you are breaking up the country, and I won’t allow it.”
Police managed to convince Karasu to put down the knife and release Aydin, telling him that if he killed the convert Turkey would be ridiculed around the world, and that as a last resort they were authorized to shoot to kill him.
“If you love this country, leave the man,” they told him.
A member of the Turkish Protestant Alliance’s legal team said Karasu was evidently trying to get attention.
“He was the type of person who would commit a crime,” said Umut Sahin. “He had just gotten out of the army, he probably didn’t have a job … Anyway he achieved his goal of putting on a show.”
Sahin added that Karasu had previously gotten into trouble for selling pirated CDs.
Aydin, who escaped with a slight cut on his throat, said that he never would have believed that Karasu would do such a thing.
The two men have known each other for about a year. While in the army, Karasu showed interest in learning more about Christianity and would call Aydin, a convert from Islam, to ask questions and talk, saying he was interested in other religions.
“He would call me often, because while in the army he was really depressed and he would often call me to tell me,” said Aydin. “He wanted relief and to talk to someone, but at the same time he was researching about religions.”
After his release from compulsory army duty, Karasu called Aydin and the two planned to meet at a Protestant church in the district of Kadikoy. Karasu came with a friend identified as Baris, who preferred to stay outside while the two of them had tea alone in the church basement.
Aydin said they spoke for nearly 20 minutes about Karasu’s life in his hometown of Erzurum and his financial and family difficulties, as well as some spiritual matters, but since his friend was outside they made it short. Karasu was smiling, in good spirits and not at all the way Aydin remembered him from their meeting nearly a year earlier when he was depressed, he said.
“He looked so healthy, and he was smiling, he was dressed well, he was talking comfortably, he looked so cheerful,” recalled Aydin with disbelief. “He was not at all depressed! I was so surprised!”
Karasu thanked Aydin for the conversation, and the two got up from the table to go up the stairs. Aydin led the way, walking ahead of Karasu about a meter. Just as Aydin reached the stairway, he felt an arm grab him around the neck.
“At the first step he violently grabbed me, putting his arm around my neck, and gripped me tightly,” recalled Aydin. “I was surprised and thought someone had come up from behind me to tease me, but then I remembered it was just the two of us downstairs. ‘Yasin,’ I said, ‘Is that you? Are you playing a joke on me?’”
“What joke!” he said, pulling out a knife, according to Aydin. “You’re a missionary dog, and I’ve come to cut your throat.”
Karasu told Aydin that he planned to make an example of him in the eyes of the nation by killing him in public. Two members of the church tried and failed to stop Karasu. The two church members and Karasu’s friend followed them to a busy street down the road.
“He took me down to the busy street by the sea, threatening to kill me,” Aydin said. “The funny thing about it is that I had the impression that we were playing a part in a film. Not a single person on the way down tried to stop him or told him to stop. They just all looked on with consternation.”
Within one or two minutes, he said, police and a television crew arrived.
“Within a minute, both police and cameras showed up – how quick was that?” he said. “I was surprised.”
Suspicion of ‘Terrorism’
Although Aydin said he believes the act was an isolated incident, other Christian Turks as well as police suspect it may have been an act of propaganda to frighten Turkey’s small Protestant community, most of whom are converts from Islam.
“I don’t think it was planned,” said Aydin, “but it is possible that it was.”
The police section on terrorism combat is researching the possibility that the attack was planned by a wider group. Aydin has decided not to press charges, telling Turkish media that he forgave Karasu.
“I think it was an isolated case, but I have to see the police report,” said Sahin of the Turkish Protestant Alliance. “If this was a provocation he would have killed him. He just wanted to show off … with the Turkish flag.” He added with a chuckle, “As if we don’t like waving it.”
According to Article 24 of the Turkish Constitution, people of all faiths have the right to spread information about their faith.
Aydin, who was convinced he was going to lose his life, said he feels the experience instilled new life into him.
“On Aug. 3 I died and was reborn,” said Aydin. “That was my date of death and birth. I was sure I was going to die. It’s like a new opportunity, a new life. I really think the Lord gave me a second chance, because if you think of it, after other events, like Hrant Dink or the Malatya killings, those brothers weren’t so fortunate, right?”
Police found two knives on Karasu’s person, along with two cell phones and the two flags he got from his audience. He is still in police custody with his friend.
In February 2006 an Italian Catholic priest was killed in the Black Sea coastal town of Trabzon, and Armenian Christian editor Hrant Dink was shot in front of the weekly Agos three months before three Christians – two Turks and a German – were killed in Malatya in April 2007.
Last month a German businessman was also murdered for being a Christian on a busy Istanbul street (see “Christian Murdered on Busy Street in Istanbul,” July 28).
All murders were committed by Turkish men in their 20s.
Report from Compass Direct News
BAD EXAMPLES DO NOT INVALIDATE THE VALUE OF PRIESTLY CELIBACY
Bishop Juan Ruben Martinez of Posadas in Argentina said celibacy cannot be reduced to a “mere imposition of the Church” and that “bad examples and even our own limitations do not invalidate the contribution of so many who, in the past and today, give their lives for others,” reports Catholic News Agency.
Bishop Martinez said that a “materialistic vision” of man that is based solely on “instinct and the physiological” makes it difficult to these values as a “gift of God” and an “instrument of service to humanity and to the common good.” He recognized that “from materialistic anthropology, celibacy and monogamous marriage tend to be considered as something unnatural.” However, he warned, “To reduce celibacy to a mere imposition of the Church is in fact to insult our intelligence and Christ himself who was ‘the eternal high priest,’ ‘celibate,’ and gave his life for all of us, and he himself recommended it. It is to insult the biblical texts which show great respect for celibacy and chastity for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, and it insults the Fathers, doctors and pastors of the Church from apostolic times to the present.”
“Uniting celibacy with the priestly ministry is a more radical Gospel choice made by the Church based on her authority and supported by the Word of God and the testimony of the saints and of so many men and women who, throughout history, strove and strive through this gift and even through their own frailties to give everything exclusively to God and his people. Bad examples and even our own limitations do not invalidate the contribution of so many who, in the past and today, give their lives for others,” the bishop said.
He went on to note that only on the basis of faith can we have “a profound understanding of issues such as life, the family, marriage, the Church and her mission, the priesthood and celibacy.”
Bishop Martinez encouraged Catholics to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, “trusting in the initiative of God and man’s response,” and he thanked God, who continues to call young people to consecrate themselves to God and their brothers and sisters. “They respond to the call because they believe in love,” he said.
Report from the Christian Telegraph