Iranian regime releases Pastor Saaed Abedini
After a painful, long-suffering and tortuous 3 year-imprisonment, Pastor Saeed Abedini has been released by Iranian officials which has been confirmed by his wife today. Readers of the blog will already be aware of the ordeal of Abedini and his family as I blogged about it back in March 2015 :
This is indeed wonderful, joyous news and whilst God has answered prayer for the Abedini family, the wider issue of Christian apostasy and persecution remains paramount yet renewed hope has been restored for the likes of Pakistan’s Asia Bibi , currently held on death row since 2009.
Asylum figures soar as Pakistan’s Christians escape persecution
In recent years 30, 000 Pakistani Christians are said to have applied for asylum or refugee status in Thailand, Malaysia and Sri Lanka – according to the country’s religious and political leaders. The notion of asylum was recently brought to my attention when I came across heinous and downright ignorant comments about my own family regarding our October 3 Dailymail article. In accordance with the uneducated and illogical mindset, the Hussain family had apparently converted to Christianity for the sake of a British passport; solely for the purpose of UK asylum. Personally, I don’t see how this corresponds to family of second generation Pakistani immigrants born in England. In actual fact there are moments where I think I’d prefer to move to Pakistan, where certain areas and communities live in respectful tolerance of each other- in the recognition that despite Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Christian beliefs, all are fundamentally Pakistani and diversity of religion cannot alter this fact. My Christian experience in the UK’s ‘Bradistan’ can’t boast of such tolerance. Having spent a year in the Muslim nation of Malaysia where I never felt so safe, so free, I can honestly proclaim that Pakistan’s Christians would be better off there.
I abhor the lack of compassion towards persecuted minorities, or rather the selective welcome by our government. Figures such as Malala Yousafzai are more likely to be granted UK asylum/citizenship than Asia Bibi’s children for example – equally deserving of the long-standing British history of offering sanctuary to those fleeing brutal persecution. The mind boggles at the hypocrisy.
The world needs to wake up. 30,000 Pakistani Christians don’t wake up one morning and decide their homeland is no longer for them. 30, 000 don’t opt for a life of displacement and separation from their loved ones, nor willingly arrive on foreign shores – unsure of their mode of survival. Fate forces their hand. Anti-Christian persecution forces terrified coerces petrified believers into abandoning their homes and everything they’ve ever known and been accustomed to, in order to guarantee the safety of their families.
Christianity and poverty are commonly interlinked in Pakistan and the denial of economic prospects are also an incentive to claim asylum elsewhere. However, the plight of such a persecuted people by no means stops there. In Karachi, Pastor Rafaqat Sadiq of the United Presbyterian Church of Pakistan stated that the majority of Christians in the Dastagir, Essa Nagri, Azam Basti and Mahmoodabad districts have claimed asylum in Thailand. Yet, since work permits are denied to many of them they are in a state of limbo, in between a rock and hard place:
‘’Owing to poverty and lack of resources, some young girls are forced into prostitution to make a living. But they’re still clinging to the hope they’ll be granted refugee status by the UN High Commission for Refugees’’.
Kashif Javed, diocesan coordinator for the National Commission for Justice & Peace noted that the Church doesn’t support what he termed a ‘hasty and risky’ migration of Christians.
‘We extend every possible legal and financial assistance to victims of persecution instead of sending them abroad’.
Javed’s views stem from the fact that official red tape await many Christian asylum seekers resulting in hundreds of applicants returning to Pakistan or apprehended upon their arrival, detained and deported. To give an insight into the process, upon reaching Thailand for example, Christians file an asylum application with the UN High Commission for Refugees. However, several years can easily pass by before an interview with the Commission is granted in order to ascertain or reject asylum.
One case study is the plight of Karachi-born Nadeem John, who fled to Thailand in March 2014 with his wife and 2 children; leaving behind his business where he earned a decent livelihood. I was disheartened to learn that his interview with the UNHCR was scheduled for 2019. With no work permit and an interim period of 5 full years.
‘’For almost a year I remained jobless and spent all the money I brought from Pakistan by selling my shop and other belongings. Eventually we decided to return to Karachi and re-establish my business’.
It’s that ‘No Place to Call Home’ rhetoric I’ve ricocheted back and forth numerous times on this blog platform all over again. Which begs the question, where and when will it be safe enough to be Christian across the Muslim world?
India’s 15m Christian ‘Untouchables’ forced to deny faith
According to India’s caste system, the Dalit class scrape at the bottom. The Indian government have made the plight of the Dalits no better by forcing those who are Christian to convert back to Hinduism in order to receive governmental benefits. Often referred to as the ‘untouchables’, the Dalits are severely oppressed and live in extreme poverty. Those who profess to be Christian are not only a target for discrimination and persecution but face government oppression, as state officials declare that only Hindu Dalits are entitled to government program benefits, proving a life and death situation for the estimated 15 million Christian Dalits; as such financial relief enables many recipients poverty alleviation.
This deeply religiously-politicised action leaves millions of Christian Dalits to choose between following their faith or denouncing it, in a country where Christians have been systematically persecuted for 65 years. The entrenching of the Schedule Caste Order 1950 which denies routine aid to Dalit Christians is effectively resulting in the denial of the Christian faith. International Christian Concern (ICC) cites the example of a Dalit Christian who they name ‘Mr Batnam’, in which he implores the pastor of his church to write a letter to the government, stating he and his family are not members of any church.
‘I need this letter in order to show the government that we are low caste Hindus so that my son can do higher studies under the Schedule Caste Reservation Quota. I do not want my children to struggle like we do, as unskilled labourers barely meeting the ends. I want my children to study and to escape the struggles that we’re going through because we’re uneducated. Myself and my family could be denied the Scheduled Caste benefits because I go to church and believe in Jesus. We found ourselves in a worse position being Christians. As Hindus we had no status but at least we were given Scheduled Caste benefits.’
Batnam’s situation is not unique. This correlation between government benefits to Indian Dalits and religious identity is a very convenient method of de-incentivising primarily Hindu Dalits from converting to Christianity. It also serves as an enticement used by Hindu radicals to convert Christian Dalits, using the lure of Scheduled Caste benefits. Christian rights activist Franklin Ceaser states that governmental manipulation is unconstitutional.
‘The system is against the fundamental rights provided to all Indian citizens in the constitution. The Presidential Order of 1950 has destroyed fundamental and constitutional rights of Dalits from Christian and Muslim backgrounds, this benefit must be delinked from religion.’
This new policy should be viewed as nothing less than an aggressive government campaign in spreading Hinduism and given the dominance of Hindu nationals currently in power and led by Modi, it is highly unlikely the situation will change any time soon.
Meriam Ibrahim: Chained for Christ
The name Meriam Ibrahim became infamous throughout the world when refusing to denounce her Christian faith in 2014, leading to her being imprisoned and shackled – a brutal condition under which she brought her second child into the world. I count myself blessed in growing up in the example of two resilient parents, resolute in their decision to stand ground in their Christian faith despite the daily oppression and intimidation. I am very accustomed to the testimony of a Christian convert, both in person and online and over a lifetime I have at times become numb to such stories of pain and suffering, to my own personal shame.
Meriam Ibrahim’s ordeal struck a nerve, in a way I haven’t experienced for some time now. I respect this courageous sister, whose refusal to recant her faith and whose determination to revere solely her God, led to her being chained as a caged animal; as she mercilessly was forced to undergo what must have been an extremely traumatic and restrained pregnancy. It suddenly struck me why this young Sudanese mother affected me: her faith made me see God. God in her. Her faith could only come from the God she lacks no conviction in and that emboldens, encourages and uplifts me if nobody else. Her commitment to her Christianity is an example to the world and reading about her suffering should alert us to reconsider our complacency, our taken-for-granted freedom of conscience if not in practicality. Minorities in countries such as Sudan do not even have this freedom in theory and do not have to be bound physically to be prisoners. Repression of Christians of which Meriam is but an example is endemic.
I feel I owe it to our Meriam Ibrahim figures who are forced to experience trials we could never imagine, to continue in this work this blog was set out to do. To honour such unbreakable spirits. To recognise that faith, faith in God alone can ensure their enduring of unthinkable agony while swamped in a cesspit of human evil. To encourage and show solidarity towards people of similar situations or those who have loved ones in such. A simple blog to create awareness at the very least. Meriam Ibrahim’s story has been known internationally from 2014 onwards and due to my university work schedule I always find myself pushing issues I wish to write about on the back-burner. Upon reflection I decided to change this and try to aim to post a blog every day, even if my posts are mere sound bites. The least I can do is dedicate this humble platform into educating people daily on the perils persecuted minorities are facing. The least I can do especially with the freedom I have to write.
Meriam’s marriage to her Christian husband Daniel Wani prompted members of her family to open a case with Halat Kuku court of Khartoum, by alleging her marriage to Wani constituted adultery. Wani was accused of converting Meriam, deemed a Muslim by family members and Sudanese authorities. According to Sudanese law Muslim women are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims as is stated in the Koran and therefore the Wani-Ibrahim ‘inter-faith’ marriage was not recognized by Sudanese courts. However, Meriam has always maintained before her trial and during her imprisonment that she had always been raised a Christian by her Ethiopian Orthodox mother since her father left them as a young child. Upon failing to successfully establish Meriam’s Islamic identity, her family sought to annul her marriage to Wani, who had emerged from Sudan to the United States in 1998, become a citizen in 2005 and had met Meriam at church during a visit back to Sudan. On February 17, 2014 Meriam was separated from her husband and transferred to the Omdurman Federal Women’s Prison with her 20 month old son. March 4 saw Sudan’s Public Order Court in El Haj, Khartoum North charge her with apostasy and adultery.
When interviewed by Fox News some time after her release, Meriam told how she was given 3 days to renounce her faith by Sudanese authorities. When she refused she was convicted of her charges and sentenced to 100 lashes and hanging whilst heavily pregnant, making her the first to have been possibly executed on the grounds of apostasy since the 1991 Criminal Code. Ibrahim’s ordeal did not end when languishing in a prison cell, instead she received daily visitations by Imams, who would recite Koranic passages in an effort to pressure her into renouncing her Christianity.
‘While I was in prison, some people came to visit me from the Muslim Scholars Association, these were Imams that created an intervention by reciting parts of the Koran for me. I faced tremendous amount of pressure, I had my faith in God. My faith was my only weapon that I had in these confrontations with Imams because that’s what I believe in.’
Meriam’s weapon of faith was put to test when she forced to give birth to her daughter Maya on 27th May in fetters. I can clearly picture what must already be an excruciating experience, multiplied by this soldier of Christ, bound and fettered, heavily oppressed and restrained as she gave birth to her baby girl on the floor of a cold prison cell. Chained for Christ as she ushered Maya into a country and wider extreme Islamic world of hostility and hatred toward the mother that gave her life. That for me was especially poignant.
‘I was supposed to give birth at a hospital outside of prison but they denied that request as well… when it was time to give birth they refused to remove the chains from my ankles’.
While it was euphoric for countless across the globe to witness Meriam finally emerge from a plane that saw her and her children touch down safely in the United States to be reunited with her husband, attention needs to be drawn towards the continued repression of Christians throughout North Africa, of which Sudan is just one country. Olivia Warham, director of Waging Peace, a UK Non-Governmental Organisation that campaigns against genocide and systemic human rights violations in Sudan reported that millions of Sudanese Christians faced daily brutality and ethnic cleansing by the Sudanese regime.
‘3 years ago President Bashir made it plain, there would be no room for non-Muslims in his Islamist Sudan. He has been good to his word, crushing dissent and systematically killing ethnic and religious minorities. Regular aerial bombardment by the Sudanese armed forces destroys communities and Christian hospital, forcing people to flee from their fields to hide in the Muba mountains… it is shocking that Bashir’s ideology of elimination provokes nothing more than the occasional words of regret from the international community, when we should be applying smart sanctions on the architect of these atrocities.’
Meriam’s stand against the brutal attempt to lure her away from her faith and marriage, in order to lead her to Islam is inspirational. Her strength shames those who choose to remain silent in the face of such cases of persecution and I truly admire this bold, fellow believer who even when chained and hounded like a lowly animal could display a level of courage, resilience and perseverance to the world in a manner that cannot be articulated. There are very few people in this world who wouldn’t renounce their faith, when locked away with a 20 month old baby while time ticks out on the due date of another.
‘I put myself at risk for the women of Sudan and for Christians living under difficult circumstances, persecuted and treated harshly. There are many Meriams in Sudan throughout the world.’
Meriam Ibrahim has been blessed enough to have endured her persecution and be relieved slightly of her suffering in her move to New Hampshire. That doesn’t mean we should ignore nor forget her testimony, if not for her then for all the Meriam Ibrahims out there, all chained for Christ.
Iran’s Saeed Abedini: A Crime of Christianity
With the exception of the United States, most countries have remained silent while Pastor Saeed Abedini continues to languish in a prison cell, as has been his circumstance since the summer of 2012. I stumbled across his plight a few months ago when scrolling through articles on the CBN webpage. As I scoured through numerous articles detailing his suffering I couldn’t help but feel enraged and betrayed, at how such treatment of a man – whose only crime is his Christianity – could go largely unreported and unpublicised. His story is yet another example of not only political failure, but also a failure of Christendom. Yet again, global leaders have not significantly come together to draw attention to the anti-Christian actions of the Iranian regime, nor to pressurise Iran to abide by its own constitution which recognises Christianity as minority religion.
Global leaders, particularly those who claim to be Christian should not be afraid, nor gingerly approach the sheer discrimination and disregard non-Muslims in Islamic nations are facing, particularly as such leaders afford their Muslim populations ultimate freedom in order to practise their beliefs. Western leaders should be apt to state that if Iranians are awarded the right to practise their Muslim faith in non-Muslim territory, why can’t the same be said for Iran’s non-Muslims in Shia-dom?
Instead, Saeed Abedini’s situation has demonstrated once again that tepidness, that reluctance, that political correctness/weakness. That lack of courage and boldness of our David Camerons, our Barack Obamas, these so-called men of ‘faith’ to publicly express solidarity with the persecuted Saeed Abedinis of the world. To commit themselves to the freedom of these imprisoned minorities in order to deter Islamic regimes from repetitive discrimination, as opposed to rendering such oppressed people helpless; a tacit approval to intolerant authorities who are at liberty to beat, torture and maim those under their charge, who refuse to recant their faith in order to guarantee their survival .
Saeed is a former Muslim who converted to Christianity in 2000. While the minority faith is in theory recognised in the Iranian constitution, in reality Muslim converts suffer discrimination by Iran’s authorities. Converts are disallowed from worshipping or gathering together in fellowship in established churches, forcing many of them to instead opt for ‘house’ or ‘underground’ churches in order to practise their faith more freely. Abedini married his Iranian-American wife Naghmeh in 2002 and subsequently became prominent in the house-church movement in Iran, credited with establishing around 100 house churches in 30 cities. However, in the aftermath of Ahmed Ahmedinejad’s elective victory in 2005, a severe and repression crackdown of such a movement began which led to the Abedini couple returning to the US.
Saeed returned to Iran to visit his family and was apprehended by government authorities who threatened to kill him during an interrogation concerning his conversion, but was released upon him signing a pledge to cease all house-church activity throughout Iran. However, the present turmoil of the Abedini family was to begin in the summer of 2012, when Saeed returned to Iran yet again to visit family and resume his work in building an orphanage in the city of Rasht. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps confiscated and placed him under house arrest until he was later transferred to Evin Prison. In January 2013 it was reported that Abedini would be trialled and could potentially face the death penalty. His charges consisted of comprising national security and attempting to sway the Iranian youth from Islam, though of course specific detail were never publicised, due to the fact that the sole and crucial reason Abedini was detained in the first place was on account of his Christianity. Saeed was transferred from Tehran to the Rajani Shahr Prison in November 2013, in addition to being completely cut off from any contact with his wife and two young children in the United States.
Rajani Shahr is a notorious prison within Iran, where inmate violence, executions and beatings are commonplace and therefore to remain in denial of the persecution and intolerance of non-Muslims throughout the Islamic world is unequivocally unacceptable. The fact that a Christian has been transferred to a prison entailing serious offenders, with harsh, penal and life-threatening conditions speaks for itself. Saeed’s immediate family in Tehran have spoken of his deteriorating health, of the denial of vital medical treatment for the infections brought about by severe beatings – all of which has mostly fallen upon deaf ears and international ignorance and inaction.
Abedini was refused treatment in Evin Prison due to being regarded as an ‘unclean infidel’. In early 2013, Saeed’s internal injuries became too much of a concern with doctors stressing they warranted immediate attention at a non-prison hospital. The Iranian regime ignored such warnings for almost a year, whilst his health continued to rapidly disintegrate. In March 2014, Abedini was granted treatment at a private hospital but was returned to prison without the surgery deemed necessary by expert opinion.
Pastor Saeed Abedini continues to experience physical and psychological trauma, shacked up in a penal prison, enduring systemic beatings and a witness to inmate executions. A man imprisoned for his faith and ignored by the international community at large. However, the crucial underlying fact remains: while the story of the Abedini family deeply moves and troubles me – a fellow Christian who has come to know her own version of persecution – Abedini’s story echoes every jailed Christian within the Muslim world. Christians in the Islamic world struggle for their survival while world leaders go about their daily lives, prioritising oil deals and signing policies concerning arms and weapons to the very nations that brutally repress the very citizens that share the same faith some of these leaders apparently follow.
I cannot imagine the misery and pain of his children, the uncertainty and dashes of hope his wife and family have been plunged in since 2012. The resilience, courage and faith displayed by his wife Naghmeh is truly remarkable and is a personal testament to true Christian faith and those persecuted believers around her. At this time where nothing is guaranteed, I will continue to uplift Abedini families in prayer and thought; realising the only crime such a people ever commit is the conscious decision to become a disciple of Christ.
Pakistan’s Asayia Bibi: A Foregone Conclusion?
By now Bibi has become an international symbol of Christian persecution, something that should have been used as a catalyst to reboot the indifference towards such global suffering five years ago. Five years later and she remains languishing in a prison cell. Her story in itself is not unique and instead echoes thousands of told and untold experiences: an accusation made by Muslim clerics, communities or individuals against a Christian minority that have ‘blasphemed against the Prophet’ or Islam and years of violence, culminating in detention follows. In most of these cases, families of those accused are at risk of death themselves and so years on the run or in hiding is quintessentially the norm. However, Asayia Bibi’s situation remains unique as she stands to be Pakistan’s first woman to be sentenced to death via its Penal Blasphemy Law Code.
I first came to read about Bibi when I was 15 years old and her name and face has been etched within me ever since. Most people by now have come across enough instances of Blasphemy to not pay attention to the fine print but the details of her plight need to be carefully adhered to. Asayia Bibi was initially accused of blasphemy in 2009, when she sparked outrage among the group of Muslim women she would harvest berries with. The women were offended that Bibi dared to drink with the same water cup as them, since Christians in Pakistan are regarded as inferior and unclean beings.
This accusation of Blasphemy soon led to an official declaration of a death sentence in November 2010 by Lahore High Court, a decision they have refused to reverse and instead have upheld on October 16 2014. The international community may be occasionally speaking out against the treatment of this woman but since they continue to pour billions of aid into Pakistan throughout the years she has been detained, one cannot help but question just how genuinely concerned they are.
Fundamentally speaking, a cup of water has resulted in the beating, mistreatment and discrimination of Bibi and her family who have been in hiding ever since Asayia was initially arrested. A cup of water has led to five young children being deprived of their mother for years on end. A cup of water has resulted in the years of physical infliction and mental deprivation for a woman at risk of being killed by prison mates and prison guards.
Should Asayia Bibi ever be released her persecution will not end there, but instead provide Puritanical Muslims every reason to further call for her death or personally avenge their ‘grievances’ as by now she has become a global figure for the Persecuted Church and an international Christian symbol.
What the West needs to be doing is promoting the ordeal of Asayia Bibi and instilling pressure onto the Pakistani government, instead of distracting the world by parading the likes of Malala Yousafzai around on our television screens. The West in particular must wake up to the fact that a mere cup of water evoked the wrath of the Blasphemy Law and realize just how false this Penal Code actually is. The Blasphemy Law is in use daily, scavenging out minority Christian communities and manipulating it under the false pretence of insulting Islam to settle personal disputes or to impinge upon Christian territory.
Asayia Bibi represents countless of Persecuted Christians worldwide and symbolizes everything that is wrong with not only the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan.