(WNS) -- When Christians around the world mark the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church on Nov. 3 (or Nov. 10 for some groups and churches), Iranian pastor Behnam Irani will mark nearly 900 days in prison for his Christian faith.
Four years remain in the pastor’s sentence for crimes against national security. Those crimes include holding church services and telling Muslims about the gospel.
Irani, 43, has served more than two years of his sentence, and has suffered deteriorating health. The Christian group Present Truth Ministries reports the husband and father of two children has endured beatings from Iranian guards and suffers from an inflammatory bowel disease that has crippled him at times. Prison officials haven’t offered sufficient medical treatment.
In September, Irani’s attorney appealed his prison sentence. Iranian authorities had granted freedom to 11 prisoners of conscience, and the pastor hoped a judge would reconsider his sentence. Present Truth reported the judge stated the only way he would pardon and release Irani was “if he repented and returned to Islam.” The ministry reports: “He will not accept this condition and will remain in prison.”
Dozens more Christians remain in Iranian prisons as well. In a country where less than half a percent of the population are Christians, devotion to Christianity remains dangerous, and in cases of male converts from Islam — punishable by death.
At least one Christian escaped death last year: A court acquitted and released Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani last September after an international outcry over his death sentence. The court had accused Nadarkhani of apostasy from Islam.
Other cases involve less severe sentences, but have gained widespread attention: Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini remains in Tehran’s Evin Prison, serving an eight-year sentence related to his Christian activities.
His wife, Naghmeh, hand-delivered a letter asking for her husband’s release to the staff of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a New York City hotel lobby in September. But in an interview with CNN, the new president said he couldn’t interfere with Iran’s due process.
For Christians arrested and convicted in Iran during speedy trials with scant evidence, most find that due process isn’t a pressing concern for Iranian courts. In July, a judge sentenced eight Iranian Christians to as much as six years in prison for “action against the national security” and “propaganda against the system.” Authorities arrested the Christians — who denied any political activities — during an evening prayer service.
Other Christians serve lengthy sentences with little international attention. Iranian pastor Farshid Fathi has spent nearly three years in prison for his Christian activity. A judge sentenced Fathi, 34, to six years in Evin prison.
Fathi spent nearly a year of that sentence in solitary confinement, and described in a letter from prison how interrogators used emotional manipulation to try to break his resolve. (He says officials falsely told him his wife had been arrested, and his father had suffered a heart attack.)
But Fathi also reports his faith remains strong. In early October, the Christian group Voice of the Martyrs published excerpts of another letter Fathi wrote from prison: “How can I complain about my suffering when my brothers and sisters are paying a high price for their faith all over the world? I recently learned about many people killed in front of a church in Pakistan. I also heard a young sister in Christ sharing about how she lost her family for the sake of the gospel and still she is willing to share the good news. … So when I look at all these heroes of faith, how can I complain about my suffering?”
c. 2013 WORLD News Service. Used with permission.
Publication date: November 4, 2013