WASHINGTON, D.C. (Worthy News / International Christian Concern) – No country in the Middle East has seen more Christians imprisoned in 2011 than in Iran. A recent report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide revealed that 254 Christians were arrested in more than thirty cities across the country since June 2010.
The majority of those arrested were released within a few days in what proved to be an Iranian government tactic to intimidate and disperse Christian communities. Some of those arrested, however, were less fortunate. Six currently await trial on charges of blasphemy in Shiraz, an allegation that may warrant the death sentence. Another Christian, an Armenian along with his Jewish wife, was secretly executed on March 14 in Tehran’s Evin Prison.
Most of the Christians in prison are new converts to the faith who are considered apostates from Islam. These new believers are viewed as a threat to the laws of Islam, which the Iranian regime uses to control its people. They are now paying the ultimate price to follow Christ, but say the reward far outweighs the cost.
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was a church leader in Rasht, Iran, before being arrested for opposing the education practice that forces Christian students – including Youcef’s own children – to read the Quran in school. On October 12, 2009, Youcef was brought before a political tribunal for his unwillingness to conform to Iranian authority.
Persecution was nothing new to Youcef. Having been arrested once before, Youcef anticipated the punishment he would receive. After the tribunal, Youcef was thrown in prison, interrogated, tortured, and commanded to renounce Christianity and return to Islam. Neither was Youcef’s family exempt from intense suffering for Youcef’s defiance. His wife, Fatemeh Passandideh, was arrested on June 18 and told that unless her husband recanted his faith, their young children would be given to Muslim parents. Youcef still refused.
In late September 2010, Youcef appeared again in court and was orally given the death sentence for apostasy. He was transferred to a high security prison in Lakan where he was held in solitary confinement. A formal verdict was given on November 13, 2010, announcing that Youcef would be executed by hanging. The sentence was appealed in December and Youcef is currently awaiting his final judgment from the Supreme Court of Iran.
Through it all, Youcef is finding solace in the Lord. In a letter written to the international Christian community, he consoled believers around the world: “What we are bearing today, is a difficult but not unbearable situation, because He has not tested us more than our faith can endure.”
If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you
As the crackdown on Christians continues, the Gospel is going forward in a powerful and mighty way. Iranian church leaders are not fighting persecution, but have accepted it and are using it to their advantage. “We have been implementing a new church planting strategy that persecution does not slow down.” an Iranian pastor said. “In fact, the church is thriving under persecution.”
Remember, Jesus did not merely warn His followers that they might be persecuted; He promised it, saying, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you… If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you,” (John 15:18-20).
Like the Apostle Paul, Youcef has learned to delight in hardships and persecution for Christ’s sake (2 Cor. 12:10). “Many attempt to flee from their spiritual tests… [but] no one will be victorious by escaping from them, but with patience and humility he will be able to overcome all the tests and gain victory,” Youcef wrote from Lakan Prison last June. “Although heaven and earth will fade, His word will still remain.”