By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– As the world watched the impact of a deadly earthquake on Iran’s only known nuclear station Wednesday, April 10, Christians urged prayers for Iranian believers trapped in prisons or facing harassment.
More than 80 aftershocks hit south-west Iran following Tuesday’s 6.1 magnitude earthquake, which killed at least 37 people and injured 850, officials and rescue workers said.
Iranian authorities said the station in Bushehr, some 90 kilometers (55 miles) from the scene, was not damaged, but those claims did little to ease tensions.
Twelve villages were completely destroyed and terrified residents spent the night in the open. Iran’s Red Crescent said the search and rescue operation is now over and affected families are being relocated.
The earth quake added to anxiety among Iran’s minority Christians, who face a new government crackdown on house churches and are often used as scapegoats for a crisis in the country, Christians said.
Iranian media quoted provincial police chief Bahman Amiri Moghaddam as saying that his “forces have dealt with a group of people who had formed a network of house churches in [the Islamic city of] Mashhad and will prosecute anyone who has been involved in this.”
While not identifying detained Christians, he said “Many of these places promote superstitions and corrupt beliefs through their night parties.”
Iran’s government has also expressed concerns about the spread of Bibles, Christian booklets, and brochures in several areas distributed by house churches and their followers.
“They entice young people and by their kindness attract them to their faith,” the police official was quoted as saying.
At least 200 house-churches have been planted in that city, a remarkable development as Mashhad is an Islamic pilgrimage destination and the birthplace of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Seyyed Ali Khamenei, said Mohabat News, an agency of Iranian Chistians and activists.
Those concerns have added to pressure on prisoners linked to the house church movement, BosNewsLife established.
“I wanted to send you out a reminder to pray for [jailed] Pastor Behnam Irani,” of the Church of Iran movement said Jason DeMars, director of Present Truth Ministries (PTM), a mission group working in the region.
“While his health has improved a little, I want to remind you that he is in a roughly 40 x 40 foot cell with 34 other prisoners. The majority of those prisoners are murderers and violent drug dealers,” he said in a statement sent to BosNewsLife and PTM supporters.
“He is in need of our constant prayers and the help and protection of the Lord.”
There is also mounting concern about Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor, who was recently sentenced to eight years imprisonment for evangelism.
“More than 550,000 people from 180 countries have signed the petition to save Saeed…” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).
“As Pastor Saeed’s May 7th birthday approaches, it’s time to encourage him directly,” added Sekulow about the ACLJ initiative.
“At the ACLJ, we’ve obtained the address of Evin Prison” a notorious detention facility in Tehran, he told BosNewsLife.
“Our goal is to flood that prison with thousands of messages of encouragement for Pastor Saeed….These messages will let
Pastor Saeed know that we’re praying for him and working for his release, and these messages will send a signal to Iran that Americans will never leave him behind,” the official said.
The 32-year-old married father of two was sentenced in Tehran by Judge Pir-Abassi for “threatening the national security of Iran” through his leadership in Christian house churches.
Judge Pir-Abassi has been known among Christians and rights activists as the “hanging judge” because of his tendency to send suspects to the gallows. Though the pastor received a jail term, activists and family members have told BosNewsLife they fear for his life due to the “brutal” prison circumstances.
The European Union and the United States have also expressed concerns about the imprisonment of Saeed and other Christians in Iran.
Yet with negotiations ongoing about Iran’s nuclear program in an area now hit by an earth quake, the international community is facing the difficult task to strike a deal without forgetting about religious rights, according to a BosNewslife analyse.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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