RLPB 372. Algeria, Iran, Sudan: ‘Remember Those in Prison . . .’
‘Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them’ (Hebrews 13:3a ESV)
ALGERIA: FIVE YEARS FOR ‘BLASPHEMY’
In a ruling that has shocked Algerian churches and human rights groups, a judge has sentenced a Christian from Algeria’s mountainous, north-eastern, largely Berber (non-Arab) Kabyle region to five years in prison and a large fine after deeming him guilty of blasphemy. Authorities arrested Slimane Bouhafs (49) on 31 July over a social media post in which he claimed that the light of Jesus was overcoming the ‘lie’ of Islam and its prophet in the Kabyle region. On 7 August Bouhafs faced court in the eastern town of Setif, 300km east of the capital, Algiers. Though his family and an Algerian secular human rights organisation appointed lawyers for him, the court claimed that Bouhafs haddecided to defend himself. In sentencing Bouhafs, the judge chose to deliver the maximum penalty. The Eglise Protestante d’Algerie (Protestant Church of Algeria) will appeal against the verdict.
IRAN: PRISON AS A TOOL OF PERSECUTION AND REPRESSION
On 24 June Iranian security agents arrested three Azerbaijani Christians attending an engagement party in Tehran. Eldar Gurbanov (48), Yusif Farhadov (51), and Bahram Nasibov (37) — all from ‘Word of Life’ Church in Baku, Azerbaijan — were amongst a group of some ten arrested. Most of the group were later released. Also detained was Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh (45), an Iranian Christian convert from a Muslim background whose plight and whereabouts remain unknown. No charges have been filed and the men, who are being held separately in a prison somewhere in Tehran, have not been allowed access to lawyers or consular officials. There are fears the men were ‘set up and caught in a trap’. Back in Azerbaijan, the families of the three men are growing increasingly anxious. Meanwhile, the National Council of Resistance Iran (NCRI) reports that, on 12 August, intelligence officers raided a house church in Isfahan, central Iran, arresting eleven Christian men and women, of whom ten have been identified: they are Amin Ahanin, Mohammad Alyasi, Fatemeh Amini, Edmund Khachaturian, Mohammad Malek Khatai, Mohsen Khoobyari, Arash Qodsi, Hamed Sepidkar, Samaneh Shahbazi-Far and Maryam Zonubi. No further information is available.
UPDATE to RLPB 368 (27 July): Christian prisoner Maryam Naghash-Zargaran (36) has ended her hunger strike, possibly due to family pressure. Despairing and gravely ill, Maryam is not due for release until July 2017. May the Lord carry Maryam through this trial. ‘He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart …’ (Isaiah 40:11 NIV)
SUDAN: CHRISTIANS CHARGED WITH CAPITAL CRIMES
The trial of the Rev Kwa Shamaal and the Rev Hassan Abdelrahim Tawor — two Nuba pastors and leaders in the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) — commenced in Khartoum North on 21 August. [For background seeRLPB 360 (7 June).] On trial with the two pastors are Darfuri graduate and Christian convert (Muslim background believer) Abdulmonem Abdumawla Issa Abdumawla, and Czech missionary and film-maker Petr Jasek (52). The men are accused of engaging in criminal activities designed to tarnish the image of Sudan’s government, specifically of fabricating ‘false’ stories of Christian persecution and Nuba genocide. They also stand accused of conducting ‘intelligence activities and providing material support for [Nuba] rebels in South Kordofan’. Amongst the various charges, those of waging war against the state (Article 51 of the Sudanese Criminal Code) and espionage (Article 53) carry the death penalty as the maximum sentence.
As the grim hearing was under way, some 100 Christians from several denominations gathered together outside the court house and demonstrated their solidarity with the accused by singing hymns in the Nuba language. The next hearing is scheduled for Monday 29 August.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL
- Minister to all Christians who are this day suffering in prison for their faith, witness or advocacy; may they be profoundly aware of the comforting and sustaining presence of the Lord. ‘You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.’ (Psalm 139:5 ESV)
- Redeem all this suffering and use it for his divine purpose and glory. May God take that which is intended for evil and use it for good to awaken many and save lives. May Christ continue to sanctify and build his Church in Algeria, Iran and Sudan. ‘For nothing will be impossible with God.’ (Luke 1:37 ESV)
- Intervene in Algeria, Iran and Sudan to bring an end to the repression and injustice that inhibits the spread of the gospel. (1 Timothy 2:2-4)