China Crackdown On Christmas Celebrations Of House Churches *Iran Security Forces Raid Christmas Celebrations; Pastor, Wife Detained

December 28, 2011 by  
Filed under newsletter-world

China Map BelieverChina, December 27, 2011: One of China’s largest house congregations planned to hold its last outdoor worship service on Christmas Day in the capital Beijing after months of detentions, while elsewhere several congregations were raided by Chinese security forces as part of a Christmas season crackdown, local Christians and activists said.

In comments, monitored by Worthy News Saturday, December 24, the Beijing-based Shouwang Church said it would for the last time publicly worship in the open air because authorities detained dozens of believers and denied access to a building the congregation already bought.

“Shouwang Church had her 37th Sunday outdoor worship service,” last week, however “As Christmas is approaching, each police station puts more force in guarding and watching believers,” the church explained in a statement.

“As far as we know, on Sunday morning, [December 18] at least 35 believers were taken away [by police] for going to the planned location to join the outdoor service, either at the spot or on their way there.”

The church added that “Except for a few believers who were released on the way, most of the rest were sent to 15 local police stations in their respective area. Besides them, five believers waiting outside of Haidian Street police station were also taken into police station to be detained by violent policemen for no reason.”

HOUSE ARRESTS

Hours later, all 40 believers were released. On the eve of the worship service, Shouwang said, many believers were also detained at home” including a sister who was detained in a hotel nearby since Friday,” December 16. The statement suggested that they have been released as well.

China Aid Association (CAA), a group assisting the Christians, said Shouwang was no exception as several house churches have been targeted “As part of an annual escalation of persecution against Christians in China to prevent planned Christmas celebrations from being held.”

CAA said the situation was especially serious in two provinces, including southwest China’s Sichuan province, where police reportedly raided the main house church Friday, December 23, in Gaoxue village in Dazhu county, while believers prepared for a Christmas celebration.

Police allegedly grabbed believers and confiscated the church’s musical instruments. Five believers were taken to the police station, including three believers identified as Gao Qiyun, Li Qiong and Guo Xuying, CAA added. It was not immediately clear whether they would be released before Christmas Day.

Elsewhere on Friday, December 23, in coastal Zhejiang province, members of the Hongtang village house church in Dongyang county, were preparing for their Christmas meeting when they “were attacked” by police. CAA added that the village government, Communist Party officials and representatives from China’s Religious Affairs Bureau were also involved in the operation.

BELIEVERS BEATEN

“In the attack, some believers were beaten, including Brother Luo Sennian, who was punched in the face. The believers were also threatened and told that they must not hold any Christmas celebrations on Saturday, [December 24] which is Christmas Eve,” added CAA, which is in close contact with the Christians.

CAA said it had urged the government to “respect citizens’ right to freedom of religion and their basic right to celebrate Christmas and calls for the immediate release of the five believers and an apology for the believers who were beaten.”

Chinese officials could not immediately be reached, but te government has consistently denied wrongdoing saying Christians can worship freely in state-approved Protestant and Catholic denominations.

Many of China’s estimated 130 million Christians prefer to worship outside Communist government control however, rights groups and local Christians say.

Iran Security Forces Raid Christmas Celebrations; Pastor, Wife Detained

 

Iran PrisonIran, December 27, 2011: A senior evangelical pastor and his wife are spending Christmas behind bars in southern Iran after security forces raided their Assemblies of God-affiliated church, detaining everyone in the building, including children attending Sunday School, a friend of the couple told Worthy News.

“Pastor Farhad Sabokrouh and his wife Shahnaz were among those detained in the southern town of Ahwaz Friday morning, [December 23] while they were having Christmas celebrations”, explained their friend, Firouz Khandjani, early Sunday, December 25.

He said security forces pushed dozens of worshipers, including children, into two buses and brought them to a local police station. Most were eventually released, “but the pastor and his wife remain in jail,” Khandjani explained.

Khandjani is a council member of the Church of Iran, a large house church movement, which maintains ties with the Protestant ‘Assemblies of God’ congregation in Ahwas.

He said he expected the couple to be released after Christmas, but cautioned that they will banned from inviting Muslims to their meetings. It was not immediately clear on what charges the pastor and his wife, who are both in their 40s, were held.

“LOOKING FOR CHARGES”

Iranian officials could not be reached. “They arrest Christians and after that they look for charges,” Khandjani stressed. “It seems Friday’s raid was a warning to Christians that they are not secure. They [the authorities] want make clear that the time of protestantism is over in Iran,” he said.

The church in Ahwaz is not a part of the house church movement, but a long-established church whose membership mainly consists of former followers of the Biblical John the Baptist who converted to Christianity, according to Iranian Christians.

“However as [the authorities] they lack information about underground groups, they want to create am atmosphere of fear by detaining even members of tolerated groups,” explained Khandjani to Worthy News. “Ahwas is really known for its persecution of Christians.”

Pastor Farhad was detained previously and warned not to allow Muslim converts into his church.

Authorities have expressed concerns about the spread of Christianity among Muslims in this strict Islamic nation. Khandjani and other Iranian Christians have suggested that this is part of a wider crackdown and that other Christmas celebrations in Iranian churches have also been raided for the last three years.

CHURCH OF IRAN

Khandjani said besides Assemblies of God leaders, several pastors of the Church of Iran were spending Christmas in jail, including Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani who received a death sentence on charges of “apostasy” or abandoning Islam.

Two other Church of Iran pastors, Behnam Irani and Petros Furouton, are also held in prison. Behnam is to serve until 2016, Petros until the fall of 2012, and there is still no resolution in Youcef’s apostasy case, Khandjani confirmed.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani to remain jailed for at least one year, trial observers say.

Pastor Nadarkhani was detained in the city of Rasht in October 2009, while trying to register his Church of Iran home congregation, with hundreds of members in Gilan province.

The Gilan court sentenced the 34-year-old Nadarkhani to death in November 2010. His appeal against that ruling was rejected on June 27, 2011. The Supreme Court said “he can be executed” but added it would first ask a “re-examination” by the same court that already sentenced him to death.

Amid an international outcry, judges asked Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khameini for advise. With no opinion forthcoming, the court was told by Iranian authorities to keep the pastor in jail for another year, giving judges time to use all means to make him recant his faith in Christ and convert him back” to Islam, Khandjani said.

RIGHTS ACTIVISTS

Rights activists said in a reaction that the wave of detentions comes as Iranian media published a Christmas message sent to Pope Benedict XVI from Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani.

He reportedly congratulated Christians on the “auspicious anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ”, wished “blessing, happiness and prosperity” to the pontiff and all Christians in 2012 and said “the world’s ills were caused by ignoring ethics and justice.”

However Mervyn Thomas, the chief executive of Britain-based advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), told Worthy News he wasn’t impressed with the Christmas message.

“Mr. Larijani’s Christmas message may have been well intentioned, but it is entirely undermined by these arrests, which violate the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Iran’s own constitution.”

Iranian authorities have reportedly insisted in previous cases that Christians are being arrested for “indulging” in actions that “threaten public security.”

CHILDREN THREAT?

However, Thomas said, “it is difficult to conceive how children attending Sunday school or, for that matter, legitimate Christmas celebrations fit into this category.”

In as statement, Thomas added that “It increasingly appears as if the Iranian regime has decided to deem every act of Christian worship a threat to national security. If this is indeed the case, then the right to freedom of religion or belief is gravely under threat in Iran.”

Despite the reported crackdown, there are at least 100,000 devoted Christians in Iran, many of them former Muslims, according to conservative estimates, while some church groups estimate that number to be several times higher.

Officially 98 percent of Iran’s roughly 78 million people are Muslims, said the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in previous statements.

– worthy news

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