Date: February 10, 2021
By Elizabeth Kendal
According to the Iranian regime, Iran respects religious freedom and Christians currently serving prison sentences in Iran are not in prison because of their faith. Rather, it insists, the condemned Christians have all been found to be members of 'enemy groups' that, 'under cover of promoting Christianity', spread 'evangelical Zionism with a view to enmity and confrontation with the Islamic Establishment and subversive acts against it ...'
On 27 January the 4th Branch of Bushehr Court of Appeal upheld the custodial sentences against Habib Heydari and brothers Sam and Sasan Khosravi. The three men were among a group of eight believers (four men and four women; including three married couples) arrested on 1 July 2019 in a house church in the city of Bushehr in south-west Iran [for details see: RLPB 510 (10 July 2019)]. While Sam and Sasan's mother was released because of her age, the remaining seven believers were charged with 'actions against national security', 'gathering and collusion against the state' and 'membership of an illegal organisation'. They were released on bail on 16 and 17 July 2019 and sentenced on 21 June 2020. The three women/wives were hit with fines and work bans while the men received custodial sentences. Pooriya Peyma was sentenced to 91 days in prison, while Habib Heydari and the Khosravi brothers were each sentenced to one year in prison, after which the Khosravi brothers must also serve two years in internal exile.
After hearing the appeal, Judge Hedayat Rahavi ruled that the men are indeed guilty of 'organisation of house-churches and promotion of Christianity, which are clear examples of propaganda against the state'. Mansour Borji, the Director of Advocacy for advocacy group 'Article 18', said the ruling exposes as a lie the regime's claim that 'no-one is put in prison in Iran simply because of their beliefs'. 'These people [the Bushehr eight] have done nothing that could be construed as "propaganda against the state" or "acting against national security", but nevertheless they have been treated so unjustly'. Human rights lawyer Hossein Ahmadiniaz maintains the ruling reveals the 'hatred and resentment' felt by Iran's intelligence agencies towards Christian converts in Iran.
Meanwhile, Sam and his wife Maryam continue the fight to retain custody of their daughter, Lydia, a special needs child whom they adopted from an orphanage as a three-month-old baby in February 2019. In July 2020, in the wake of the sentencing, the court ordered that Lydia be returned to the orphanage because, as Christians, Sam and Maryam were 'not fit' to raise her [RLPB 571 (14 Oct 2020)]. Thus Maryam - who, because of the ruling, has lost her job as a nurse - is now faced with the prospect of also losing her husband to prison and their now two-year-daughter to state care. Please pray!
Christian convert Ebrahim Firouzi (34) has endured a decade of severe persecution. After six years in prison - five of which were spent in the notorious Rajaei Shahr prison in Karaj (a maximum-security prison housing the state's most violent criminals and terrorists) - Firouzi was released on 26 October 2019 to serve a further two years in internal exile in Sarbaz County, some 1600km southeast of Tehran, in Iran's remote south-east [RLPB 526 (30 Oct 2019)].
In September 2020 police stormed Firouzi's home in Rask village, Sarbaz County. They confiscated his laptop and mobile phone, along with the textbooks he was using to study theology online - textbooks published with the permission of the Ministry of Guidance. Subsequently, Firouzi was summoned to the local prosecutor's office to answer fresh charges of 'insulting the sacred', which carries a maximum five-year jail sentence and 'propaganda against the state through promoting the Christian faith', punishable by up to a year in prison. On 27 September the prosecutor threw out the charges due to lack of evidence. In early February 2021, with the authorities still refusing to return his property, Firouzi publicly protested his treatment in a series of videos published on the Facebook page of a Swiss-based activist. It only took days for the regime to strike back. On 7 February Ebrahim Firouzi was given five days to report to the prosecutor's office in Sarbaz city to answer the allegation that he has engaged in 'propaganda against the Islamic Republic in favour of hostile groups'; a charge which could see him returned to prison for another three years. Please pray!
PLEASE PRAY: MAY GOD OUR MERCIFUL FATHER ...
- sustain all Iran's incarcerated and suffering Christians, especially for the 'Bushehr Eight': for Habib, Sam and Sasan as they commence their custodial sentences; and for Khatoon (Sam and Sasan's mother) and the wives and children left behind; may the Spirit of the Lord provide comfort, faith and peace, and the 'rest' (Matthew 11:28) that comes from trusting the God who is faithful. May Jehovah Jireh (God our provider) sustain them in every way.
- intervene on behalf of Sam and Maryam as they continue their struggle to retain custody of their adopted daughter Lydia (2), a helpless and needy child seemingly at the mercy of the hostile Islamic state, yet ultimately in the hands of the compassionate Almighty God. (Matthew 18:10) Lord have mercy!
- intervene on behalf of the long-suffering and faithful Ebrahim Firouzi; may he be assured of the Lord's eternal presence and sustaining grace; may Firouzi's 'light' (Matthew 5:14-16) continue to shine brightly despite all efforts by the regime-of-darkness to suppress it.
And may the Lord Jesus Christ continue to build his Church in Iran. 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts' (from Zechariah 4:6 ESV).