After four years of imprisonment relating to charges of acting against national security, Maryam Naghash Zargaran has been released from Evin prison. She was released on 1st August.
Maryam, aged thirty nine, a convert from Islam, was ‘first questioned by intelligence officers in January 2010 because of her work with underground churches’. She was arrested in January 2013, alongside Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini, in connection with their work at an orphanage and both were sentenced a few months later.
While in prison Maryam was harassed and consistently denied medical treatment for longstanding medical issues. Maryam received heart surgery ten years ago and requires regular checkups. ‘Amnesty International referenced her case when it accused Iran of ‘cruel’ denial of medical care in its prisons.’
On seldom occasions Maryam was granted short term release to receive health checkups and was ordered to return soon after. She also endured many hunger strikes while in prison and her health often deteriorated.
Please pray that Maryam will return to full health and continue to remember many Iranian Christians including Amin Afshar Naderi currently out on bail and for Ebrahim Firouzi who is currently on hunger strike while in prison. Pray that they would know courage and strength and would know God’s daily faithfulness: ‘O LORD You have heard the desire of the humble and oppressed: You will strengthen their heart. You will incline your ear to hear’.
Three Iranian Christians including a pastor along with his son have received long term prison sentences for crimes such as ‘organising and creating house churches’, ‘conducting evangelism’, and ‘Bible printing and distribution. Their lawyer will appeal against the court’s decision this week.
Yousef Nadarkhani, Mohammadreza Omidi, Yasser Mossayebzadeh and Saheb Fadaie are currently awaiting the outcome of an appeal against a sentence of 80 lashes each. They have been accused of acting unlawfully and consumption of alcohol because they drank communion wine. They have appealed against the sentence of 80 lashes and await a final verdict.
According to Middle East Concern, ‘The situation of religious minorities has deteriorated in recent years, including during the tenure of President Hassan Rouhani. Scores of Iranian pastors are languishing in prisons solely for their beliefs.’
Young Iranians Christians face terrible pressure and difficulties. Many can’t even obtain a Bible. Also, it is very difficult to meet with other believers.
‘Iran is currently number eight on the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List of the fifty countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. At least 193 Christians were arrested or imprisoned in Iran in 2016, many of them converts from Islam.’
Please pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Iran. Pray that the prisoners and families will have strength to endure suffering and courage to press on as believers in Christ. Pray that justice would prevail: ‘God makes a home for the lonely; He leads the prisoners into prosperity’ Psalm 68v6.
‘The status of two Christian converts detained in Urmia is still unknown and security agencies have refused to answer about their fate.’
Over three months ago, two Christian converts of Persian descent were detained. ‘They were identified as: “Anousheh (Veronica) Rea-bakhsh” and her son “Sohail (Augustine) Zagarzadeh Sani” and detained in Urumia a Turkic-speaking city located in the Western Azerbaijan province in northwestern Iran.’ Since their arrest, there have been no further updates on their situation.
They were arrested on 20 February 2017 by men dressed in plain clothes believed to be Urmia Revolutionary Guards who invaded their home and placed them under arrest in an unknown location.
“Soheil Zargarzadeh Sani” is a psychology university student in his senior year. ‘Eye-witnesses told Mohabat News that a group of intelligence officers raided their home and confiscated their books, including their Bibles and some books on Christian theology.’
Please pray that God would strengthen them and protect them at this time of imprisonment.
According to sources, Maryam Naghash Zargaran’s health has rapidly deteriorated within the past week and has suffered continued weight loss. Reports have suggested that Maryam is in need of specialist care.
Maryam has already received heart surgery and continues to suffer from heart related complications. Maryam’s family announced in 2016 that ‘following frequent hunger strikes, pressure from judicial authorities by leaving her court case pending and poor prison conditions has resulted in Maryam suffering from depression and trauma’
It is also worth considering that the unpleasant situation of “Mrs. Zargaran” has caused much worry for her family. ‘Maryam’s mother as a result of high stresses over her daughter’s health and consequent to her frequent visit to prosecutor’s office asking about her case is now suffering and diagnosed with a brain illness.’
Please pray for Maryam and her family that Maryam will be released and given specialist care and that she would remain strong in the faith: ‘On God my salvation and glory rest: He is my rock of unyielding strength, my refuge is in God’.
The Court of appeal was held for a Christian prisoner named Ebrahim Firouzi last year on 11th December, 2016,’ and the initial sentence of five years of prison was re-affirmed. Ebrahim is due for release from jail in January 2020.’
Ebrahim, a Christian convert who has been held in Rajai Shahr prison, was refused permission for special leave during the Persian New Year’s holiday. ‘He has been in this situation in prison for about four years and has not been given permission for temporary leave even for a single day.’
As a result of his prison sentence he has been refused medical leave which has caused him to suffer both physically and mentally. At present, he has an elderly and ill mother who is now been suffering from cancer for over a year and Ebrahim’s younger brother has been caring for his mother. As his mother is currently receiving medical treatment and due to her frailty she has been unable to visit Ebrahim in prison.
However Ebrahim is due to be released in 2020. After release from prison ‘he will be exiled to Sarbaz township, one of the most deprived and disadvantaged areas of the Sistan-Baluchestan province.’
Please continue to pray for Ebrahim that God would strengthen and sustain him and allow him to receive medical treatment and subsequently be released in God’s time. Pray also for his family especially his mother: ‘He gives strength to the weary and to him who has no might he increases power’.
A mother and her son have been arrested in Iran just months after being baptised.
‘Veronika and her son Augustine were arrested in Urmia, northwest Iran, on February 20 and haven’t been seen since.’
‘Veronika and Augustine, who were baptised in Istanbul last August, were detained after Revolutionary Guard intelligence officials raided their home last month and discovered Christian books and materials.’
Following their arrest, officials have not declared any information on their whereabouts or future. ‘Friends believe they are being held at the intelligence building of the Revolutionary Guards, where information about detainees is not given.’
Pray that Veronika and Augustine would know God’s strength and comfort in their trials and that their faith would remain strong in the face of adversity: ‘this is the victory that has overcome the world-our continuing, persistent faith in Jesus the Son of God’. Pray that release would come and that God would also strengthen the many believers in Iran.
Sahat, a Christian living in Tajkistan who was arrested after sharing the Bible with a member of the security services, has been released.
However, Sahat is still having difficulties. His laptop and flashcard containing Christian materials and some printed Christians materials have been confiscated, and are currently being examined by the security services. They may find further reasons to imprison him again, along with other Christians he knows.
On Sunday 19 February’ officers from the security services visited church services in two towns in Tajikistan’. They appeared to be guests, but filmed the services and took photos. Children and teenagers were present at the church service, ‘which is prohibited by Tajik legislation – the involvement of children and teenagers in religious events is prohibited until the age of 18.’
As a result, ‘criminal investigations into both churches have begun and church activities have been suspended until the investigations finish. All the members of the churches are questioned every day.
In the town of one of these churches, a Christian called Akhmed* was severely beaten by a group saying, “You should visit mosque, not the church.”’
Please pray for Sahat and other Christian believers that God would strengthen and protect them. Pray also for Akhmed that he would recover from his injuries. Continue to pray for the churches that are currently being investigated that no charges would be incurred and pray for God’s hand of protection to be upon the believers: ‘He rescued us from so great a threat of death, and will continue to rescue us. On him we have set our hope. And he will again rescue us’.
Iranian judicial authorities refused to grant Maryam Naghash Zargaran’s plea for temporary release from prison. A week following her return to prison after medical leave, Tehran’s general prosecutor turned down her request for temporary leave.
Ms Zargaran commenced her medical leave on 27th November 2016 and while on leave was permitted an extension and was ordered to stay out of prison until instructed to return. “Later, she received instruction to return to prison on 6th December 2016. Upon her return, Maryam was accused of returning late and was summoned to an additional forty-five days in prison.”
Maryam’s health is seriously deteriorating both mentally and physically. Maryam suffers from a number of conditions including a heart problem and osteoporosis. Please continue to pray for Maryam that God would strengthen her and in time she would be released: ‘The Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted’.
Family and friends of three Christians from Azerbaijan and an Iranian Christian are pleased to report that they have been permitted to leave prison on bail.
Middle East Concern report that ‘the three Azerbaijani men, all from Baku, were allowed to travel back home on 6 November.’ Many people have been praying and writing to the Iranian authorities on behalf of the men and so it is encouraging to see this result.
Eldar Gurbanov , Yusif Farhadov and Bahram Nasibov were arrested on 24 June when security officials raided a wedding party they were attending. ‘Seven others were also arrested, most of whom were quickly released. However Eldar, Yusif, Bahram and Iranian Christian convert, Naser, were taken to Evin Prison for interrogation.’
Subsequently, the four men were kept in solitary confinement for two months and interrogated. Their whereabouts were not made known, to the concern of family members. They were refused access to any legal support during this initial period of their detention.
‘In September, the men were transferred out of solitary confinement to shared cells in Ward 350 in Evin Prison, much to their mutual encouragement. They faced charges of engaging in missionary activity and propaganda against the regime, but it is hoped that they will be acquitted of these charges.
Finally, on 29 October they were released on bail.’
Let’s give thanks to God for answered prayer and pray for continued strength for the men and their families. Eldar, Yusif and Bahram are all married and have children. Yusif has a young son with Down’s Syndrome. Continue to pray that they would be aware of God’s presence very close and that they would receive any necessary emotional and spiritual support required after the trauma and pray that the men would be acquitted of the charges.
Recently, more than 200 Iranians and Afghans were baptised in a location just outside Iran and the service was attended by people from eight different Persian-speaking churches. During their baptism the believers shared testimonies as to how Jesus had changed their lives.
‘One man said he had been suicidal, but Jesus intervened and brought him new hope.’
‘Another new believer shared: “I never thought I would find freedom from my past, but Jesus has set me free.’
The church in Iran has been growing mightily in recent times. Twenty years ago, everyone thought there were 2,000-5,000 believers in Iran and now the conservative estimate is 300,000 to 400,000 Muslim-background believers, with others saying that the number could be as high as one million.’
Certain factors have spurring the growth of the church in Iran. There is disillusionment with the Iranian regime and with Islam and life has not improved in the last few years, particularly with the sanctions. People are also disillusioned by violence carried out in the name of Islam.” Iranians are spiritual people and are hungering for the truth and when they hear of Jesus they are intrigued and eager to learn more.
Let’s give thanks to God who is continuing to build his church even amidst fierce persecution.