SEND YOUR LETTER TO HELP: Personal Updates of Iranian Prisoners

As you may know from previous updates we’ve given, Iran is a country that regularly detains Christians for acting out their faith. At Jubilee Campaign, we’ve recently received many reports on the status of various Christian prisoners.

Firstly, we’d like to praise God for the release of the following prisoners:

Yasser Mossayebzadeh
Saheb Fadaie
Mohammad Reza Omidi
Amin Khaki
Leila Abdi Nejad.

Secondly, these brothers need your help. At the end of June, three Christian Azerbaijani men were arrested. Their families are desperate for their release and gave this appeal, “On 22nd June 2016 our husbands and fathers – Eldar Gurbanov, Yusif Farhadov and Bahram Nasibov – travelled to Tehran in the Islamic Republic of Iran.They were invited as guests in Iran to participate in an engagement ceremony and meet with their Iranian friends. As we discovered later, they were arrested on 24th June by security agents during an engagement ceremony and they have not been charged with any crime. Eldar (48), Yusif (51) and Bahram (37) are all married and have children. Yusif has a young son with Down’s Syndrome under his care. They have not been charged with any crime and their future is unknown to all of us. We ask all who are concerned to help our husbands and fathers to return safely to their homes!” Attached is a letter that the families have requested be sent to Iranian authorities demanding these men’s release. The more people who send these letters, the more pressure the Iranian government will feel to release these prisoners! Access the letter and suggested mailing addresses here.

Maryam Naghash Zargaran is a prisoner who was arrested for “acting against national security” through her Christian activities. She has serious health issues that require medical attention but while in prison she has not been given the adequate treatment that she needs. She’s gone on multiple hunger strikes to call for better treatment. However, her hunger strikes have been detrimental to her health, and family and friends are relieved to report that she has stopped her most recent hunger strike, in which she was demanding her immediate release.

Ebrahim Firoozi, who has been detained since 2013, was summoned for an appeal hearing. He refused to go on the notion that he thought it was sufficient for just his lawyer to attend. He was consequently apprehended, beaten and forced into court. Once he got there, his appeal was postponed to November because one of the judges was absent.

Youcef Nadarkhani, once given a death sentence for his conversion from Islam to Christianity, has now been charged with acting against national security. Our latest update is that he was released with the condition that he raise 100 million Touman bail (US$ 33,000) within a week, or face re-arrest. Friends posted this bond by deeding their homes.

Hossein Barounzadeh, Mohammad Bahrami and Rahman Bahmani were originally arrested in 2014 along with Amin Khaki, who was recently released. They were not released with Khaki and have four months remaining in their prison sentence.

Please keep all of these prisoners in your prayers as they desperately need the strength of God. Through their imprisonment, may God be glorified, and though humans seek to bind them, may they rest in the true freedom they have in Christ.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

Read the Moving Testimony of an Eritrean Refugee

Last month, Jubilee Campaign accredited a team of individuals to participate at a side-event at the 32nd UN Human Rights Council Session, organized by Human Rights Concern-Eritrea and Christian Solidarity Worldwide. The event was co-sponsored by Article 19, DefendDefenders, and International Fellowship for Reconciliation. Those who have escaped Eritrea shared their experiences and stories. The following testimony was given by Hanna Petros Solomon:

“Dear Ladies and Gentlemen……..

My name is Hanna Petros Solomon and I came here today to share my experiences with you all. An experience that many Eritreans can relate to.

Very recently I had a trying time in my life. No, I didn’t have to dodge bullets to cross another border, I had to write my transfer essay to university. In order to understand who you are as a person, universities ask you to describe the journey that brought you to them. I wrote what I thought was an excellent essay about why I came to America, and handed it to my professor who was helping me with the process. He told me that the essay spoke more about my country and the state of dictatorship than it did my own experiences, it had to be personal. In an effort to apply his advice, I changed every “we” pronoun to “I”, and suddenly the words on paper became too personal, painful even. As I share some of it with you today, without any of my usual comic relief, I hope, at the very least, that you will recognize my life’s story for what it is; not “a laughable claim” but a tragic injustice.

At a very young age my siblings and I were stripped of our parents. My father, Petros Solomon, was Chief Strategist and Head of Military Intelligence before Eritrean independence in 1991. After the independence, he served as Minister of Defense, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Minister of Maritime Resources. A man revered, adored and respected by all. Petros Solomon was a charismatic, playful person with extraordinary skills of making friends and principle not afraid to take on the responsibility of being a leader in achieving the vision we all had of Eritrea. When he noticed that Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afeworki, was slowly turning the government into an autocracy, he voiced his concern with many others who fought to see freedom in Eritrea.

On September 18, 2001 my father along with other ministers, government officials, journalists and other concerned Eritreans who had shared his objections were apprehended in their own homes by government officers. These men who, like my father, ha fought for their country and strived to bring a better and prosperous future were sent to unknown prisons and held incommunicado for over 15 years, and counting.

My mother, Aster Yohannes, also a freedom fighter, was a devoted wife and loving mother. She was pursuing her education in the United States at the time, dropped everything to be with her family. She was promised safe entry by the former Eritrean Ambassador to the United States, Girma Asmerom. But, she was betrayed. On the day of her arrival, on December 11, 2003, as we were waiting to welcome out mother with flowers, she was kidnapped by government officials. It has not been 13 years now and I have not seen or heard from my mother, nor do I know about her well being.

My siblings and I have worn the orphan badge ever since that fateful day. Although that is not a completely holistic picture of what we go through. Orphans know where their parents stand, it’s in the system, in traceable paper. Our entire lives we have had to grow up with the crippling reality that IF our parent were alive they were most likely chained up in some hole, being tortured, starved, or even driven to madness.

The thing about being the child of a patriot, is that the question “What for?” is embedded in you at the depth that is unfathomable for a child of 2, 10, or 11 to deal with (respectively my youngest sister’s age when she last saw our mother and myself and my brother’s age when we last saw our father). “What for?” “What did my parents fight for?” “What did thousands of Eritreans fight and die for, for over 30 years?”…”What for?”

In June of 2009, my siblings and I, decided to flee Eritrea. Well aware of the dangers that were awaiting us, we agreed that this mad leap of faith was our only chance to escape the make shift enslavement that would await us if we stayed. Unfortunately for us, we were caught, and as popular practice dictated, we were sent to prison. The two years that I would spend in the depths of the countryside, moving from prison to prison, and farm to farm doing hard labour, have proven to my the hardest of my life.

From June till September of 2009, I was help prisoner in Naval Base. A prison ground in Massawa known for its steel shipping container prison cells. My first hand insight to the atrocities of my country began here, when I heard the dying screams of a man who was suffocating inside one of the containers, on a day above 40 degrees Celsius. It was there that I also spent time with people who had lost a lot more that I had on their way to freedom. In jail with me, was a one-year-old little girl named Nadia. Nadia had lost a sister. The desert and the miserable conditions of prison proved to be too harsh of an environment for Nadia’s pregnant mother who lost the life of her unborn child.

From September 2009 until December of 2009, I was detained at Ghedem, a desert camp prison with more inmates then there was food. From December 2009 until March 2010 I was moved to bigger prison: Miitir. In addition to almost a thousand inmates, this was where I met people who had actually been incarcerated because of their faith.

In every prison we were physically pushed to our limits. The men were subject to hours of hard labor under the sun that included tasks such digging holes, 2m wide, 2m long and 2m deep. Holes that I later learned would be used as underground cells.

In every prison, I was shocked by the rate that diseases spread. The lack of medical treatment meant that diarrhea could be and was a cause of death.

The Eritrean regime mandates that all of its citizens go through military training. Instead of heading directly to Sawa, we were sent to farms like Af Himbol, Molober, and Mogoraib, along with whichever farm owned by Military Generals we happened upon, to work the fields. There, we planted, weeded and collected tomatoes, onions and jalapenos. Our guards made sure to maximize on our free labor, they would provide the labor, and in exchange the generals would reward them for their efforts. We were being constantly beaten for not working hard or fast enough. In many of the prisons and farms, I was detained, we never had shelter. We slept on the ground out in the open being subject to rain, sand storms, sweltering temperatures, and fending off hyenas in the night. The next morning, we were back in the fields with wet clothes, empty stomachs, and no sleep.

Furthermore, the guards used food or breaks from work as bait for sexual favours. I was disgusted by the crass nature of their approach, especially their willingness to take advantage of these women at their vulnerable time. Some of my fellow detainees fell victims to despair. While others, like myself, who refused, were targeted and physically punished.

When I had served my unjust time, and finished my “training” I was finally assigned to a post in Tesenei, only to be reassigned to another training. When I got there, it became clear to me that the equality women earned beside their brothers out in the field, during the thirty-year war, was long gone. Every woman in the training was assigned to cleaning and cooking for the entire division or higher rank persons. I begged and pleaded for my division leader to let me go back to Asmara, informing him that it had been two years since I had seen my family. Miraculously he agreed, sending me off with a belligerent threat, convinced that my spirit had been broken, when in reality everything that I had been through only sealed my conviction to leave the country and find my freedom. On the morrow of my father’s 60th birthday, May 6, 2011, I left Eritrea for good.

Isaias Afeworki’s regime has been using media as a way to control its people since the day of its implementation. In Eritrea I was exposed to very little of the outside world, but was constantly bombarded by pro-government propaganda. Because I feared for my life, I did not speak out against them. Today I am appreciative of the fact that I get to address this, feeble attempt at saving face, in a manner that it deserves. Recently, on June 8th, 2016 in Geneva, the President Advisor, Mr. Yemane Gebreab, stated that Eritrea is a country that provides government housing and employment to the spouses of imprisoned officials. I stand here today as an example of this untruth. My family has never received help from the government. The only government my mother, who is undoubtedly the spouse of an imprisoned official, has been utilizing is the prison cell she has lived in for the past 13 years . And the only employment the government has provided her is staying sane, and alive while she stares at her cell walls.

For a man who yesterday, here at the Human Rights Council, in Geneva, claimed to know me and my parents, to be my neighbor and my father’s close friend has sure done nothing but bring sorrow and turmoil to my family. What does that say of him as a person? What does that say of the people in power who, like Mr. Yemane Ghebreab, claim to have shared bread with my father, and yet throw him and his wife to rot in jail?

So I ask again- “what for?” For me, it seems that more so than anything my parents fought for their legacy. My mother’s devotion to her family, my father’s unbending loyalty to his country and their resilience to see things through, is what my siblings and I see when we think of Petros Solomon, Aster Yohannes and all Eritreans who languished in prison before and after them. But it doesn’t have to end there.

Every Eritrean has been scarred by the self-proclaimed president Isaias Afewerki, and all I am asking of you today is to bear witness to these scars, and do what is just, look through the facade and grant freedom, justice to the Eritrean people. Give the people a chance to have a say in the process of how our Nation is built. A chance to show their heroes the Eritrea they gave their lives for.

Thank you all, for your courage, your endeavors and for all that you do. Stand strong.”

URGENT: Christians Under Threat in Nepal

nepal photo
The freedom of religion in Nepal is under threat since the adoption of the new constitution in September 2015. Even though it affirms that Nepal is a secular state, it concurrently prohibits evangelization. Article 26 makes any act illegal and punishable by law “to convert another person from one religion to another or any act or behavior to undermine or jeopardize the religion of another.”

Since then seven people have been arrested in Nepal due to their evangelization activities amongst school children in the Dolakha district and one in a separate incident. According to missionary Bram Krol, who is currently in Nepal, Christians are increasingly being limited in their freedom.

According to Krol, last week all leaders of Christian orphanages and boarding schools in Kathmandu were assembled where the government announced that even as much as one Christian booklet found in their institution would amount to a huge fine, closing down of their institution and confiscation of their possessions. It is also prohibited to pray with the children or to let them attend a bible club.

Another Christian Nepalese contact, who we want to remain anonymous, has informed us that the Social Welfare Council, through which all foreign aid to conduct programs needs to be approved, has now completely ceased to grant approval for Christian activities. He also stated that acts of Hindu extremism against Christianity are increasing daily.

The most plausible reason for this anti-Christian policy is that the already fragile Nepali government wishes to create goodwill amongst its Hindu majority. Until 2008, Nepal was the only official Hindu state in the world. The Nepali government is currently constructing Hindu temples and there are plans to build an enormous Buddhist statue in Damak (in Nepal, Hinduism and Buddhism are closely connected). Subsequently, Nepal is to a large extent influenced by India, where the majority is Hindu. India already has anti-conversion laws in place in some regions, which means that clergy will have to obtain permission from the government to convert someone. Under certain circumstances it is even criminalized to conduct conversion or baptism. There is a legitimate fear in Nepal that this practice will spread and affect the Christian community largely.

The legal bases for halting Christian activities are based on article 26 of the constitution and number 1,512 of the Country Code under the Section on Decency. It states that no one shall propagate any religion in such manner as to undermine the religion of another nor shall cause others to change his or her religion. If a person attempts to conduct such an act, the person shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of three years. If a person has already caused the conversion of a person, the person shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of six years, and if such person is a foreign national, he or she shall also be deported from Nepal after the service of punishment by him or her.

Our Christian contact from Nepal stated that he considers filing a petition at the Supreme Court. He is however hesitant since all Supreme Court members are Hindu and a verdict in favor of religious freedom is not expected.

Call to Action
From sources in Nepal we have recently heard that the Nepalese government has dissolved. It is yet uncertain when a new government will be instituted and what the policy of a new administration will be towards Christians. Jubilee Campaign calls out to the prospective government to allow the full exercise of the right to religious freedom. All impediments of the free expression of religion should be removed. According to the by Nepal ratified ICCPR, everyone shall have the right to adopt a religion of his or her choice and will have the freedom in public or in private to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

URGENT: Pray for the Release of Pastor Yang Hua

Recent information has revealed that a Chinese house pastor that has been detained since December has been enduring torture by the Chinese government.

Yang Hua was arrested on December 9, 2015 after trying to prevent authorities from stealing property Huoshi Church in Guiyang. Leading up to the arrest, the church, which Yang is a pastor of, received notices from the government stating that the church was being used for illegal gatherings and must be demolished. It had also issued a fine to the church that would increase over time if not paid. The church was given a date of November 21 to stop all its activities.

On November 29, authorities raided the church, took video footage, and warned that the church leaders would be forced to pay the$15,650 fine that had accumulated if the church’s activities did not stop. On December 9, Yang was arrested.

After his arrest, Yang was charged with attempting to obstruct justice and sentenced to five days in detention. However, five days later his family received a notice stating that Yang was charged with “gathering a crowd to disturb social order” and sentenced to five more days.

On December 20, Yang’s wife arrived to the detention center to pick up Yang. However, she witnessed him being put in a black hood and being transferred to an unlicensed car. She later learned that his charge had changed to “illegally holding state secrets.” He was moved to the Nanming District Detention Center.

Family and Yang’s attorney have had a difficult time visiting him, although a few visits have been permitted. Yang has reportedly shared that authorities have pressured him to confess to the crimes he has been charged with.

According to Yang, during an incident with the prosecutors, one of the prosecutors used very threatening language, stating: “You’d better confess. Your life is in my hands. I’m here to meet with you because I see you as an ally. If you refuse to cooperate, I’ll treat you as a spy, as someone on the opposing side. In that case, we won’t treat you this nicely. I can make you disappear from the face of the earth. I’m a powerful man. Not one of the policemen [at this detention center] would stand if I asked him to get on his knees. [If you refuse to cooperate,] not only you, but your wife and your children will face problems. I’m a torture expert. I know how to beat you up without leaving a mark on your body for people to see. Doctors won’t be able to diagnose you. Even you won’t know what you died of.”

Currently, Yang’s lawyers have sued the prosecutors, however there has not been any additional news regarding the lawsuit.

Please Jubilee Campaign in praying for Pastor Yang Hua:
-Please pray for the safety of Pastor Yang Hua, and for the Chinese authorities to release him immediately
-Pray for the safety of his wife and children, who the prosecutors have threatened, as well as others who are associated with Pastor Yang Hua and his church
-Pray for the Christians in China, who are regularly faced with persecution, that they would be encouraged by the Holy Spirit and spread the Gospel throughout China

To learn more about helping Yang, please visit: http://www.freeyanghua.org/.
China Aid has also started a petition for Yang’s release. Sign the Petition!

Coptic Christians Ask for Prayer; Attacks Continue in Egypt

Jubilee Campaign received a horrifying update from Middle East Concern about the current climate in Egypt for Coptic Christians. In the last six weeks, there have been at multiple attacks on Christians.

“On 20th May several Christian homes were attacked in al-Karam village in Minya province, as a result of a rumour about a relationship between a Muslim woman and a Christian man. During the attack the man’s mother was publicly stripped of her clothes and dragged naked through the streets. The woman is around 70 years old. Of the 16 people arrested for the assault, 11 were released on bail this past week (three on 27th June and eight on 28th June).

On 9th June in Damshir village in Minya province four Muslims armed with knives attacked a Coptic man and his family. They alleged that construction work he was doing was intended to build a church and they threatened him and told him to leave the village. After he filed a complaint the four men were detained, but the authorities told him to stop the construction work.

On 10th June a man attacked a nun at a medical centre run by the Coptic Orthodox Church in the town of Biba in Beni Suef province. When a guard tried to help the nun he was also attacked. Later the same day the attacker returned, armed with a knife. The guard managed to lock the man out of the centre. A complaint was filed with the police, but no action has been taken so far.

On 17th June a mob of a few thousand people gathered at the house of a Copt in al-Bayda village near Alexandria, after prayers had been held at the mosque. They shouted that they would not allow a church in the village and accused him of turning the building which contains his apartment into a church. Several Coptic homes were attacked, two were seriously damaged and at least ten were looted.

On 29th June in Kom al-Loufy village in Minya province four houses belonging to Copts were set on fire after a rumour spread that two brothers were constructing a church. After the rumour started the police asked the brothers to sign a statement saying that the building they were constructing on their land was for residential purposes; however, their homes and the homes of others were attacked nevertheless.

On 30th June Father Raphael Moussa was killed in Arish in Northern Sinai. Father Raphael was the parish priest of St George’s church. He was shot by several perpetrators on his way back from a church service. The Egyptian branch of the so-called “Islamic State” movement has claimed responsibility for the murder and has threatened to carry out more killings.

The Egyptian Parliament is also undergoing debate regarding legislation that would directly impact the Coptic Community. One debate is about possible amendments to the legislation on blasphemy, while other discussions include legislation to regulate personal status law for Christian communities and church construction. There are two draft bills on equal citizenship for all and countering discrimination.

Middle East Concern has asked for the following to be prayed for on behalf of Coptic Christians:

a. the victims of the above-mentioned attacks and their families will experience the comfort and peace of the Lord
b. Christian and other communities will be protected from attacks of this kind
c. the victims will not be forced to take part in “reconciliation meetings” where they have to forego any right to seek legal redress, and that the authorities will apply the law and prosecute the perpetrators
d. the debates in parliament will lead to the adoption of legislation that will grant all Egyptians equality before the law and protection against discrimination on the grounds of religion