Tag: Christians

Iran: Christians face long prison sentences

Iranian Christians request prayer for Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz (pictured), Amin Afshar Naderi and Hadi Asgari, who face long prison sentences.

Following a hearing on 11th June Judge Ahmadzadeh issued his verdict on 3rd and 4th July.

Pastor Victor was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, Amin to 15 years (possibly including time already served) and Hadi to 10 years.

The three men were also sentenced to a 2-year travel ban. The judge also raised the amount of bail for Amin to 200 million Tomans (approximately US$60,000) and for Hadi to 170 million Tomans (approximately US$50,000).

The men were not present at court when the sentences were read out, but their lawyer was present. Their lawyer will appeal against the court’s decision this week.

Pastor Victor and Amin were among several Christians arrested on 26th December 2014 at a Christmas celebration at Pastor Victor’s home in Tehran.

Pastor Victor, who is of Assyrian background, was verbally charged with “conducting evangelism”, “illegal house church activities”, “Bible printing and distribution” and other charges which amount to “acting against national security”. He was released on bail on 1st March 2015.

Amin, a convert from Islam, was charged with “acting against national security” and “insulting the sacred” (blasphemy).

Hadi, also a convert, was not present at the Christmas celebration but was arrested in August 2016 at a picnic in Firuzkuh and charged with “acting against national security” and “organising and creating house churches”.

Ramiel Bet Tamraz, Pastor Victor’s son, who was also arrested in August 2016 in Firuzkuh, is awaiting a hearing. Ramiel was charged with “acting against national security” and “organising and creating house churches” as well as charges relating to his father’s ministry.

Pastor Victor’s wife Shamiram Isavi Khabizeh was summoned by the authorities in June 2017 to Evin Detention Centre, Branch 3 of the Revolutionary Court, and charged with “participating in foreign seminars” and “acting against Iranian national security” as a church member. She was released after one day on bail of 100 million Tomans (approximately US$30,000).

Ramiel and Shamiram’s hearing has not yet been scheduled. It is highly likely that their case also will be handled by Judge Ahmadzadeh.

Source: MIDDLE EAST CONCERN



Most Christians Unlikely to Return to Mosul, Even after ISIS Defeat

Veronica Neffinger | Editor, ChristianHeadlines.com

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Although ISIS territory has been diminishing and their strongholds have been falling, it is doubtful Christians will return to the city of Mosul, even after this last ISIS stronghold is liberated.

CBN News reports that, even before ISIS took over control of Mosul and surrounding areas in 2014, Christians faced persecution.

There used to be 700,000 Christians in Iraq, but that number has now fallen to 250,000. Thousands of Iraqis have been internally displaced and are living as refugees in their own country. Many others have emigrated to other countries.

A new report has found that it is unlikely these displaced Christians will return to their homeland, especially since 75 percent of them reported facing threats and violence before the ISIS takeover.

CBN News spoke with a pastor in the region who works with refugees fleeing the violence.

“How could the church have a great future if the Christians are leaving?” he asked. “Of course living in the West or anywhere else would be better than living in Lebanon and the Middle East, but if we leave who’s going to be the salt and light.”

“The best thing for the church in the West would be to pray for the Christians to feel the calling to stay and make a difference,” he continued.

Source: Christian Headlines



Christians Among Most Persecuted People in the World, Watchdog Groups Warn

As the world marks the U.N.’s International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of Genocide, persecution watchdog groups are warning that Christians continue to be some of the most widely targeted people.

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People hold crosses and signs during a rally organized by Iraqi Christians living in Germany denouncing what they say is repression by the Islamic State militant group against Christians living in Iraq, in Berlin, Aug. 17, 2014.

“Ahead of Genocide Prevention Day on Dec. 9, Christian Solidarity Worldwide is calling for the perpetrators of crimes against humanity in North Korea and Eritrea to be held to account,” CSW said in a short statement. Last year, the day was officially designated to raise awareness for the 1948 Genocide Convention, which seeks to prevent and punish genocide.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that “Member states and the international community must honour the suffering of the victims of genocide, and of their families, by working even harder against expressions of hatred, intolerance, racism and xenophobia.”

As CSW notes, North Korea has been one of the worst and one of the most secretive persecutors of Christians and other people, with prison camps across the country holding thousands of political prisoners.

Open Doors USA is another watchdog group that has reported on the murder, torture, rape, and other atrocities that everyone deemed a threat to Kim Jong Un’s regime faces, with untold numbers of Christians being punished for things like reading or possessing a Bible.

“There were over 70,000 Christians that were imprisoned for their faith this year. You have executions — we don’t know how many, but we know of enough. There has been no let up in persecution in North Korea,” Open Doors CEO David Curry told The Christian Post back in January.
Top 7 Nations With Worst Record of Christian Persecution: Report
Christians in the Middle East, especially those in Iraq and Syria, have been facing genocide at the hands of the Islamic State and other terror groups, suffering beheadings, enslavement, forced conversions into Islam, and being driven out of their ancestral communities.

Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, warned at an interfaith panel in New York last week that this massacre, along with people’s indifference toward it, is reminiscent of other major genocides in the past that still haunt the world today.

“Today we are witnessing the world’s indifference to the slaughter of Christians in the Middle East and Africa,” Lauder said at the panel, according to Catholic News Service.

“Since 1945, genocide has occurred again and again. ‘Never Again!’ has become hollow. You can’t just declare genocide and say the job is done. You have to back it up with action.

“Jews know what happens when the world is silent to mass slaughter. We learned it the hard way,” he added, referring to the genocide of Jews and other minorities during World War II.

The conflict in South Sudan is another ongoing crisis affecting many Christians, Vox noted.

When the country achieved independence from the Muslim-majority Republic of the Sudan, it was hailed as a victory by a number of Christian groups in the United States, but ethnic divisions have since been ripping the new country apart.

“There is already a steady process of ethnic cleansing underway in several areas of South Sudan using starvation, gang rape and the burning of villages; everywhere we went across this country we heard villagers saying they are ready to shed blood to get their land back,” said Yasmin Sooka, chairperson of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, after a 10-day visit this year.

“Many told us it’s already reached a point of no return,” she added.

Source: The Christian Post



Survivors’ stories: life after Islamic State violence

A Syrian refugee and two displaced Iraqis use their skills to survive after losing everything

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A job at a local bakery helps Ghazan provide for his family, February 2016 WWM

The New York Declaration for more humane treatment of refugees, made on 19 September at the 70th UN General Assembly, will be welcomed by the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Syrians, including many Christians, living in displacement camps or with relatives, after fleeing the conflict with so-called Islamic State (IS).

Many live in unfamiliar parts of their own country after losing their homes. They don’t always feel welcome, but they get by, using skills that helped them earn a good living before the war.

Two Iraqis – Ghazan and Suaad – and Jonas from Syria told World Watch Monitor their stories of escaping the conflict and survival in the camps.

The baker

Ghazan, 47, a father of three, used to own his own business. In the summer of 2014, he was forced out of his house in Mosul, the city in northern Iraq now controlled by IS. He says living in a displacement camp has been hard, but he found a job at a local bakery and this helps provide for his family.

Ghazan, with his head sticking through the shop window waiting for the next customer, is one of the first people you see when you walk down one of Erbil’s busy shopping streets. When a customer arrives, he quickly and skillfully fills a clear plastic bag with samoon, a traditional Iraqi bread. He looks like he’s been doing this his whole life. “Please try some,” he says.

Speaking in a backroom at the bakery, Ghazan says this is all new to him. Standing next to a hot oven, he talks about the humbling experience of working here, earning one tenth of his former salary. “Back in my own town on the Nineveh Plain, I used to have a successful transport company,” he says. “We had a good life until IS came and forced us out.”

He shrugs his shoulders. He misses his house, the village church and his business. He doesn’t know what happened to the first two, but he knows what happened to his company. “I heard that IS stole all our cars and are using them in Mosul right now,” he says.

Ghazan has a daughter and two sons. The oldest is 21, the youngest nine. “It was hard to see my family displaced. We lost our home, our place to stay,” he says.

At first the family stayed with Ghazan’s sister, but, because there was no local college for his eldest child, the family continued on to Erbil. The city has been a safe haven to many Christians fleeing IS.

They arrived in Erbil with nothing. “The first 15 days were hard,” he recalls. “I couldn’t find a job, I had no income, and the rent for our apartment was high.”

He’d started to visit a church in Erbil and it helped him find a job. When the church asked him to manage a bakery, he accepted immediately.

Wiping the sweat off his face, he says: “Although I don’t earn much here and I have to work much longer hours than I did in my last job, I can at least pay rent so my family doesn’t have to live in a camp.”

Ghazan has barely known peace. During his lifetime his country has engaged in wars against the Kurds, Iran, two Gulf Wars and the current conflict with IS. He hopes for a brighter future for his family. “I have lost everything, but I thank God that my family is still with me.”

The farmer

When Jonas lived in Syria he owned a big farm. He too had a good life, but in common with many refugees, lost everything: his property, his job and his friends. He now lives, like more than one million other Syrian refugees, in neighbouring Lebanon.

Jonas is in his early 50s and had a caretaker to help him run the farm. “One day IS came and they wanted all my cows,” he says. “I was at the farm with the caretaker. I told them I didn’t want them to take my cattle. They started shooting and then my caretaker fell dead on the ground. I was hit in my leg three times.”

He lifts his trouser leg to show three round scars.

“They took all my cows and I heard they sold them in Turkey,” he says. “Turkey is playing a dirty game in Syria.”

He opens Google Maps on his phone to find an old satellite image of his property. Pointing at the map he says: “This was my farm. It is very big. These buildings here were huge.” He explains what each of the buildings was for and then tries to indicate the borders of his land. “I had about 2,000 olive trees here too. They’re now all gone. IS destroyed everything – the house, the buildings, they cut down all the trees. I lost everything there.”

He survived the attack, but, knowing IS were closing in, decided to move his family to Lebanon, where he found work helping build community centres in the refugee camps. “We’re living in a small apartment now and I have some work in construction,” he says. “The first year here I became depressed. But I started to pray more to God and that has helped me. I pray very often but have all these questions about why [attacks by IS] happen to Christians.”

Jonas is confident that he and his family will be taken care of but, for Syria, he is less hopeful. “Syria is finished. When the war is over, people will be full of hatred. They don’t forget who killed their brother, son or father. They will want to take revenge,” he says. “I think there is only a future for the Church in Syria when Christians all around the world help. If the Christians really disappear from Syria it will be a disaster for Christianity all around the world. You know, we Christians love our country, we would love to stay, would love to return, but we need the basic conditions to live there.”

The tailor

Suaad has been a tailor all her life. It’s a job she loves.

In 2014 she too was forced to leave her home because of the growing conflict with IS. She joined the many displaced people in Iraq. After arriving in Erbil she found a job managing a small sewing factory on the second floor of a residential flat.

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Suaad: ‘sometimes a displaced person asks me to make a dress. I don’t charge them. How could I? WWM

She’s currently making children’s pyjamas. “Feel how soft the fabric is,” she says, as she stands cutting fabrics on a table in the middle of the factory. Behind her is a row of sewing machines used by other displaced people to make robes and pyjamas.
Suaad’s eyes light up when she talks about her old job in Mosul, where she’d worked since the 1980s. But there is sadness. “Actually, I haven’t experienced much happiness since I became displaced from my town on the Nineveh Plain,” she says.

She remembers the good things – how she lived together in peace with her neighbours, whether they were Christian, Yezidi or Muslim. She was born in Mosul and had expected to grow old there, but in 2014 she had to flee from IS overnight. “I haven’t been able to return since,” she says. “I feel heavy inside, not knowing what has happened to my town.”

Suaad says she will only be happy again when she can return home.

A widow with no children, Souad has been staying with her brother and his family for two years. She says her brother would never ask his older sister for rent but she saw him struggling financially as the economic crisis in the country got worse. So Souad found work through a church-run project that set up a sewing factory, which meant she could then contribute to the family income.

“The priest asked me to be in charge of the factory so I took the job,” she says. “I would have done it for nothing if necessary, but I am happy that I get paid and I can share it with my [brother’s] family.”

Suaad makes clothes for those who need them most. If they can afford to buy the clothes, they pay for them; if they can’t, they don’t have to. “It’s what I like most about the job. That I can share with those in a worse position then me,” she says. “Sometimes a displaced person asks me to make a dress. I don’t charge them. How could I?”

She helps train other displaced women; some are then hired to work in the factory. “In just a few weeks I can teach them the basics of tailoring. They can use these skills to earn money for their families either here in the factory or elsewhere. Either way, it helps them work towards a future,” she says.

According to the UN, one in every 113 people on earth is a refugee. About one fifth of Lebanon’s population is made up of refugees – at 1.4 million it is only second to Turkey (2 million) in accepting the highest number of refugees from Syria. Syria’s own population has undergone “the largest displacement crisis globally,” says the UN – more than half its pre-war population of 22 million are no longer living in their own homes. About 7.6 million Syrians are internally displaced within the country and 4.4 million are refugees outside it.

About 3.3 million Iraqis have been displaced within their own country. Many have ended up in Erbil in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. Since June 2016, the city has absorbed another 90,000 people seeking refuge from conflict.

Source: World Watch Monitor



When Mosul is freed, Christians may face a new crisis

Nina Shea: Refugees returning to their homes may find them occupied by those who flee battle

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Displaced Iraqi Christians in Kurdistan hung “Liberate Mosul” signs in August. Photo courtesy of Open Doors

The eventual liberation of Mosul, Iraq, from the so-called Islamic State will end one crisis for dislocated Christians only to create a new one, a religious-freedom expert says.

Planning documents drawn up by the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government anticipate that driving IS out of Iraq’s second city will create a surge of at least 100,000 people and possibly as many as 1 million, depending on how the fighting goes, Britain’s Guardian news organization has reported.

“Those people are probably going to go into the towns and villages of the Nineveh Plain, that are standing there, unprotected and uninhabited, that belong to Christians and Yazidis, and they will become entrenched there, especially if Mosul’s infrastructure is damaged and they can’t go back immediately,” said Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Washington, D.C.-based Hudson Institute, on 23 Sept. “That would preclude these genocide minorities … from being able to leave the camps in Kurdistan, where they are today, and going home.”

Shea addressed her remarks to the Religion News Association, meeting in Washington.

The Nineveh Plain is a region in northwest Iraq where Christians have lived since the earliest days of the church. IS militants burst out of Syria in 2014 and overran the region, sending hundreds of thousands of Christians and Yazidis, a Kurdish ethno-religious group, fleeing eastward to Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region. Thousands remain in sprawling refugee camps; others have trickled into Kurdistan’s majority-Muslim society or have sought asylum beyond Iraq’s borders.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in August the assault to break IS’ two-year grip on Mosul will begin before the end of the year.

“I have deep fears about the aftermath of the Mosul offensive, what will happen to the Christian community,” Shea said.

Christians faced a similar situation a decade ago, Shea said, after al-Qaeda drove them and other minorities out of the Dora district of Baghdad. US-led forces later uprooted the militants, but the Christian presence in Dora today is much diminished.

Nor is there much reason to hope that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will be inclined to give special regard to the dislocated Christians, she said. While governments in Europe and America have formally accused IS of Christian genocide, the UN has demurred.

In a June report, the UN-created Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic declared Christians “live difficult and often precarious existences” under IS control, but that they enjoy a “right to exist” if they pay a tribute tax.

Said Shea: “Far from the truth.”

“The bishops of the region, the religious leaders, say there’s absolutely no Christian communities living under ISIS. There are Christian individuals. But no communities that have access to churches, religious leaders, their religious rites, their sacraments, as Christian had who paid an Islamic tax over 1,300 years under various caliphates.”

Three months prior to the commission’s report, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the American government had concluded Christians could find no safe quarter under IS rule.

“We know that in Mosul, Qaraqosh, and elsewhere, Daesh has executed Christians solely because of their faith; that it executed 49 Coptic and Ethiopian Christians in Libya; and that it has also forced Christian women and girls into sexual slavery,” he said, using the English form of the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

The Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, part of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, said in November 2015 that IS in July 2014 offered Christians safety return for the tax, known as jizya. Today, “it is unknown whether Christians who were given the option to pay a jizya or leave, instead of convert or face death, would still be given this option should they return now.”

Such second-guessing of Christians “comes dangerously close to blaming the victims,” said Andrew Walther, a vice president of the Knights of Columbus at the Religion News Association gathering. The Knights, a Catholic men’s service organization, lobbied the U.S. government to classify IS treatment of Christians as genocide.

“One could logically conclude that the untold numbers of Christians who died, were kidnapped, forced into sexual slavery and dispossessed … somehow they must have brought this on themselves by just not paying that tax,” Walther said.

He said half of the remaining Christians in Iraq live as refugees in the Kurdish capital of Erbil. UN policy permits providing relief to individuals, but does not address groups targeted for genocide, he said.

“Christians get no US or UN money, and should the private aid they receive dry up, they would very quickly face a large-scale humanitarian crisis,” he said.

Source: World Watch Monitor