While Youcef Nadarkhani awaits the death sentence for practicing his religion in Iran, scores of Christians across the Middle East are fleeing their countries amid rising hostility. Sadly, the religious diversity of the Middle East is rapidly vanishing.
In contrast to pervasive terror attacks against Christians, Nadarkhani’s case garnered tremendous media coverage, including a statement from the U.S. State Department demanding that Iran halt his execution.
The pressing urgency of Nadarkhani’s case cannot be overstated enough. Earlier this month, he refused to renounce his Christian beliefs and recognize the prophet Mohammed as God’s messenger.
Only international media attention, NGOs and government pressure can spare Nadarkhani from Iran’s wrath.
Our colleague, the former New York Times reporter Clifford D. May, writes that “persecution of Christians in numerous Muslim-majority countries is the most important international story not being told by the mainstream media.”
Take the example of Habib Bastam, an Iranian who converted to Christianity and sought political asylum in Romania. In 2009, one of Tehran’s star chamber courts sentenced him to death for “apostasy.” Earlier this month, the Romanians denied him asylum.
U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom chairman Leonard Leo declared that Arab Christians face increasing persecution. “Christianity in Iraq could be eradicated in our lifetime, partially as a result of the U.S. troop withdrawal,” Leo wrote.
After Hosni Mubarak’s regime collapsed, 100,000 Christians fled Egypt in what the Egyptian Union of Human Rights called a “mass exodus.” In the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the radical Islamic terror group Hamas, 3,000 Christians face persecution.
According to Justus Reid Weiner of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, some 1,000 Palestinian Christians are leaving the city of Bethlehem, in the West Bank.
In a recent Christmas celebration hosted by the territory’s ruling Fatah faction, central committee member Mohammad Shtayyeh appealed to Christians to “remain in the land.”
Should the exodus of Christians from Bethlehem continue in the next two or three decades, there may be no clergy left to conduct religious services in Jesus’ birthplace.
Unsurprisingly, but nonetheless largely ignored by the media, Israel is the only country in the Middle East where a Christian population is vibrant and growing. As documented in the Jerusalem Central Bureau of Statistics, the Israel’s Christian community that numbered 34,000 people in 1949 is now 163,000 strong, and will reach 187,000 in 2020.
In Egypt, the provisional military rulers’ traditional hostility toward radical Islamic groups has led them to embrace the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood.
The public backlash has empowered more radical Salafists, who’ve been implicated in deadly attacks onCoptic Christian churches.
In 2005, Syria launched a nefarious campaign against Lebanon’s Christians, targeting pro-Western politicians and journalists.
In Saudi Arabia, religious police beat and torture Christians.
In a late December commentary in the Jerusalem Post, David Parsons, the media director for the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, explained what’s at stake in the transformations unfolding across the region. “As the Arab Spring runs its course,” he said, “the litmus test of whether democracy truly is taking root in Egypt and elsewhere in the region will be if the emerging rulers respect the rights of their Christian minorities.”
Christian refugees from Iraq and other countries have found refuge in Europe and the United States, but as their regimes are shaken, only so many of them can escape.
The U.S. and its European allies should exert their muscle to help them, denying foreign aid, preferential trade treatment and other economic enticements to countries that treat their Christian minorities poorly.
The IMF and World Bank ought to use its loan policies as an instrument to combat the persecution of Christian communities.
U.S. embassies across the region, particularly in Iraq and Egypt, can also redouble their efforts to combat rising hostility toward Christians.
American diplomats can publicly issue support in Arab language news publications and help provide resources for Christian communities to practice their religion in a non-discriminatory environment. Unless measures are implemented to halt its decline, Middle Eastern Christians will go extinct.
Youcef Nadarkhani’s case has helped shed light on the persecution of Middle Eastern Christians, and break down Western indifference toward it. But, sadly, it hasn’t yet saved any lives.
Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Giulio Meotti is a journalist with “Il Foglio” and author of the book “A New Shoah.”
Iran, January 01, 2012: Crushing demonstrations, killing political opponents, and silencing religious minorities, Iran’s regime has attempted to suck dry the hopes and aspirations Iranians have for a free society. Under such oppression – which outlaws anything not deemed Iranian or Islamic – many Iranians turn to addictions if they cannot find a healing faith to fill the void inside them. Farzad experienced both. From drug abuser to Christ follower, from being healed to being imprisoned and tortured for his faith, Farzad’s astounding testimony encourages us to rejoice in times of both joy and affliction.
Born into a Muslim family, Farzad (not real name) left his home at the age of fifteen after disagreeing with his father for taking a second wife. He began living with his aunt whose husband was an opium addict. “Their son stole opium from them and shared it with me,” Farzad told ICC. “Because of my inner anger and troubles, it was not long until I started smoking it on a normal basis.”
After three years, Farzad was so addicted that he would inject himself 16 to 20 times a day. “I realized that from my neck down there was nowhere to inject myself. No vein was available; I was damaged so badly.” Farzad went to the hospital to ask if they would inject him, but instead they called the police. When the policeman arrived, he refused to take Farzad to the station. “Let the refuse (garbage) collectors take him,” the policeman said. “I don’t want him in my car.”
“After this session at the hospital, I had lost faith in myself,” Farzad said. “I had been reduced to such a state that life wasn’t worth living after that. I decided to kill myself. Why live if I couldn’t live like a human being?”
Late one night, Farzad attempted suicide by overdosing. Halfway through the injections, everything went black. “It was like the electricity went out,” he recalls. Suddenly, Farzad saw a man standing between two bright lights who called him by name, saying, “Listen to me. You are not supposed to die. You are not supposed to just exist. You are supposed to go on living.”
“Who are you?” Farzad asked while trembling in fear. The voice replied, “The Father loves you so much that He sent me to save you.” Farzad’s eyes were then opened and he saw his body lying on the kitchen floor as if he was looking at his dead corpse. The syringe had fallen out of his arm and blood was oozing out.
Suddenly, Farzad awoke. He immediately flushed his remaining drugs down the toilet and realized what he needed to do. With a long and difficult road before him, he felt a strength to overcome that was not his own.
One night he relapsed by getting drunk and went to his Armenian friend’s home. His friend asked Farzad why he started drinking so much, trading one addiction for another. The friend went on to tell Farzad about the Bible. When Farzad told him about his dream, he directed him to Colossians 1:15, which says that Jesus is the “image of the invisible God.”
“When I asked my friend about the concept of embracing your enemy, he brought out the passage in the Bible. And, when I talked about sexual desire, he brought out the verse that says if you even look at a woman in a sexual way than you have sinned,” Farzad said. “I was quite impressed. What a fantastic God you have, I told him.
“All the years I had lived with religious convictions that were in opposition to what I was hearing, yet the words I heard from the Bible were touching my heart.”
The Armenian friend said, “Wait. I’ll show you something.” He read from John 3:16 that God loves the world enough to send His Son to save him. “Suddenly, it came to me,” Farzad said. “It was Jesus Christ who came and saved me.” At that moment, Farzad confessed his sins and gave his life to Christ. “It was very emotional,” Farzad said. “My heart was pumping. It was the moment I will never forget.”
Farzad went in for a medical test following his conversion. “The doctor said I had hepatitis C. My liver was 70 % dysfunctional and 96 % of my blood was contaminated. The doctor said it was too late for me. There was nothing I could do,” Farzad explained.
Farzad’s sickness was announced at a church he had begun attending. “The whole church decided to fast and pray for a whole week,” Farzad said while trying to hold back tears. “No one ate anything and they had a 24-hour chain of prayers for me.”
One member had a vision and at the next service he thanked God for giving Farzad his health back. He told Farzad that God had saved him and that he should return to the doctor for a second test. The test results came up negative. “Do you believe in miracles?” the doctor asked Farzad. “Yes, God has performed a second miracle in my life,” Farzad replied. Handing the doctor a Bible, Farzad said, “Read this so that you will know how miracles are performed.”
Farzad began dedicating his musical talents to the church and completely surrendered his life to ministry. He sold everything he had to open a studio to record Christian music in Farsi. “It took off nicely,” Farzad said. “But, one night I got a call from the police that the studio had caught fire and burned down. I couldn’t believe it. Where had the fire come from? We had taken every precaution to prevent a fire when we built it. And, it was a rainy night!”
Just like that, Farzad lost everything and was $65,000 in debt. “I resorted to driving a taxi for a while to pay off the bills,” Farzad said. “Yet, this never stopped me from sharing about my faith in Jesus Christ.”
With the help of an organization, Farzad began training outside the country to become an assistant pastor. After returning home to share the Gospel and baptize new believers, an informant for Iranian intelligence who had slowly infiltrated into his church group arrested him. “They arrested me; tortured me to get names. They hung me by the feet from the ceiling and lashed me,” Farzad said. The picture at left was taken weeks after the lashing.
Farzad’s uncle, a mullah who had refused to speak or even shake Farzad’s hand after his conversion, asked Iranian authorities to release Farzad temporarily so he could receive medical attention at a hospital. After the treatment, the mullah promised, Farzad would be brought back to prison. The Iranian authorities agreed.
“I was worried about my uncle,” Farzad said. “He had promised to return me to the prison.”
One night, however, Farzad’s uncle knocked on his door. “He said to me, take your wife and children and leave the country. It’s too dangerous for you. They’re determined to kill you. Don’t worry about the bond, just leave,” Farzad said.
They left the next day. “We didn’t even have time to say goodbye to the family,” he said.
Today, Farzad continues his incredible ministry by teaching Iranian fellowship groups and leading worship services. Please pray for Farzad and his family who live off a meager income provided by donations alone as they are not allowed to be employed as refugees in a foreign land.
Iran, December 20, 2011: This Christian convert is one of the hundreds of believers who was raised in a Muslim family, but despite knowing the hardships Chrisitans had to endure from the Iranian Islamic regime consciously and willingly, converted to Christianity.
Iranian Christian News Agency, Mohabat News – Abbas Sarjalou-Nejad trusted Christ in 1387 (Persian Calendar) (i.e. 2008), while his wife converted a little earlier in 1385 (i.e.2006). Abbas, together with his wife and 9 year old child were forced to leave their hometown for unknown territories in order to save their life and be secure. The story of the hardships that Abbas Sarjalou-Nejad and his family have gone through shows only a small fraction of the noble people in whose hearts Jesus’ light has risen. But the darkness and ignorance of the government of Iran has made the situation so difficult that they were forced to leave their homeland.
Abbas Sarjalou-Nejad, 39, spoke to Mohabat News about his conditions. He said “… I believed in Jesus Christ 3 years ago through my wife. We were happy in our faith. We were going to the church and wanted to share our joy with others. So, we were evangelizing and everything in our life had taken on a new color of life and truth. Everything was good until my family learned about our conversion to Christianity. That was when everything changed tremendously.
Abbas’ Family learns about their conversion
Mr. Sarjalou-Nejad’s 9 year old child had received a Christmas gift from the Sunday School of their church. The little boy showed the present to the family who had come for a visit and said that he received it from the church. That was when the visiting family suspected that they had converted to Christianity. Another reason that caused them to suspect their conversion was that Sarjalou-Nejads no longer participated in any of the Islamic ceremonies that were held in their family’s house from the time they trusted Christ. And the childish words of Sarjalou-Nejad’s son about his Christmas gift made the visitors almost sure that Sarjalou-Nejad’s family had turned away from Islam.
Threats from the Family
Sarjalou-Nejad said that his family was extreme about their faith and that his brothers were members of the Basij militant group and highly devoted to Seyed Ali Khamenei, the Iranian Supreme Leader. This caused intense problems for Sarjalou-Nejad and his wife and their only son. He added: “My mother tried to change our mind by advising and admonishing us. She was thinking that we had gone astray way and should repent. When she saw that we defended our faith with logic and love, she shared the matter with other members of our family. At first my brother tried to force us back to Islam by threats and anger. He was also thinking that my wife had made me convert and that she had deceived me, so he told me to divorce her.” This tension continued until Farvardin month (Persian Calendar) or March. It was on 5 March that my elder brother came to our home together with an Akhoond (Muslim cleric) and one of his friends called Shahram Saharkhiz, who was a member of Revolutionary Guard. At first, the Muslim cleric tenderly and kindly tried to show us that we had gone the wrong way and been deceived. He told me about the so called “beauties of Islam”. But those were words that I had heard a thousand times. After some hours of talking, the cleric’s tone changed and his so called reasonable words gave way to threats.
He pursued this issue to the extent that he invited us for a debate. When he was leaving, his last word to us was, “you’re apostates and a severe punishment awaits you”. My brother beat my chest severely and said be sure that you can tolerate suffering and pain. Then they all left our house.”
“I didn’t consider my brother’s threat serious. How is it possible that my brother with whom I had a very happy childhood, would cause troubles for me?”
Arrest and presence of security authorities
Sarjalou-Nejad’s description of the security authorities raiding his home is such a harsh experience and depicts the situation which religious minorities face in Iran. He remembered the bitter experience of that night and told Mohabat News, “Some days passed after that meeting. It was 8 p.m. on 1 April, 2011 and we were watching T.V. We heard the doorbell. My wife went to open the door. I heard my wife arguing with some people, so I left the living room. I saw four agents in plain clothes, one of whom had a walkie-talkie in his hand. They pushed into our home. I told them with whose permission are you entering our house? The one with walkie-talkies, whose colleagues were calling him “Haji”, said “we’re from the national security and intelligence office and we need no permissions or warrants”. I was shocked because I was neither politically active nor supporting any special party. Suddenly I thought its better if I call the police but they blocked my way and began to search the house. They even searched our bedroom. I tried to stop them and told them that we have some personal stuff in our bedroom. But one of the agents slapped me on the face. My son was scared and crying. My mother and father in law were living in the upper floor of our house and when heard the sound of my son’s crying and screams of my wife, they came downstairs to see what had happened. My father in law tried to ask them for a warrant but they assaulted him and ordered him to back off.”
“That night, the security officers seized all my CDs (even my son’s cartoons) together with some Christian literature, six New Testaments, one Bible and a satellite receiver. They also told me to come with them. My wife tried to prevent them from taking me but then the one called “Haji” tried to arrest my wife as well, however my mother in law stopped them from doing that.
- mohabat news
The United States and Iran got into a spate over trade routes, sanctions, oil, and nuclear weapons as 2011 drew to a close. The Islamic Republic then launched 10-day war games in which they tested advanced missiles and torpedoes. In addition, an American federal judge this week declared that Iran, Hezbollah and al Qaeda were liable in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The judgment came as the result of a $100 billion lawsuit brought by family members of victims of the attacks. With District Judge George Daniels’ ruling, the 2001 attacks were caused by the support the defendants provided to al Qaeda. The findings also said Iran still supports al Qaeda by providing a safe haven for al Qaeda leadership and lesser members.
Evangelist Sammy Tippit says, “To see the specific [evidence] that they had, and hear the testimonies that they had, was just absolutely shocking as to the role that Iran played in it. It’s really heart-breaking especially for the families.”
Shocking, but not surprising. What’s more, Tippit is sobered by another aspect of this case. “To know that there was an actual government, and not just a group of renegade Islamic fundamentalists that were doing this, but there was an actual government participating in this, this has to be heart-breaking.”
Iran has been taking rogue action since efforts for revolution failed. As the government grows increasingly suspicious and hostile, Tippit notes that there is a big difference between the government and the people of Iran. “There is a huge portion of the population that does not want to go this route, and they are turned off with the way that their government is behaving–and they want freedom. I believe that’s where, if anything is going to change Iran, that’s what’s going to change Iran is a people movement from within.”
Efforts for change have created a backlash effect, though. Iran has been cracking down on dissidents, protestors, and anyone deemed dangerous to the regime. This includes Christians.
The Iranian Christian News Agency reports raids from different cities of Iran indicate that security authorities are expanding their anti-Christian projects to exercise tighter surveillance of churches. Tippit says, “The government has cracked down on believers. It has become very difficult for them. Many have been thrown in prison. What we have been told is that the television broadcasts have become very important because it’s dangerous for them to meet together.”
Prior to Christmas, the intelligence minister of the Islamic Republic called the house church movement a threat to Iranian youth. He warned of a new series of broad actions against the spread of house churches. The mayor of Tehran has gone on record with an objection to evangelical Christianity.
“More than likely, it’s going to get worse for them,” says Tippit, adding, “We just really need to pray for them, lift them up to the Lord because what has happened in the past year has gotten much more difficult for them.”
Sammy Tippit Ministries has long had presence in Iran’s Church. Their Gospel work caught the attention of the government resulting in a declaration of their ministry as an “Enemy of the State.” However, “We developed a Web site and started doing some leadership training with Iranian believers outside of the country. We actually started a television broadcast which went for several years, and we discontinued it last year.”
Due to the changes sweeping across the country, Tippit’s team is retooling the broadcast to meet the current needs. “We’re starting it up this year with a whole new emphasis because there’s been just incredible numbers of people who’ve come to Christ. We’ve been trying to help disciple them. The television broadcast has become very important because there’s revival that has taken place within Iran.”
It’s a Gospel grassroots movement igniting at a time when Iran is tinder-dry. Tippit urges prayer. “That type of a thing can reach right into the hearts and the homes of the people. We’re really excited about the broadcasts that we’ll be having. It will be primetime and with a new station that is starting satellite.”
Iran, November 16, 2011: Iran’s supreme leader has called on the world’s Muslim-majority nations to form an “international Islamic power-bloc”, laying down an ominous challenge to Western powers.
Speaking to more than 2.5 million Hajj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said that Islamic countries should “make the most of [the] opportunity” created by the Arab Spring, as well as the anti-capitalist movement across the world.
He said that Islam has become the guiding principle of the Arab uprisings despite the efforts of secular rulers to curtail the influence of religion in their countries. And pointing to the victory of the Islamic Ennahda Party in Tunisia’s recent elections, he predicted similar outcomes elsewhere: “Without doubt, free elections in any Islamic country will result in nothing but what happened in Tunisia.”
Heralding a global power shift and issuing an ominous challenge to Western powers, theAyatollah said that “the West, the United States and Zionism are weaker than ever before”, adding:
During the last decades, arrogant powers, led by the United States, had reduced regional states to a state of subjugation through their political and security ploys… But now, they are the primary target of disgust and hatred of the region’s nations.
He urged the entire Islamic umma (nation) and especially the revolutionary nations to “continuity of their stance and avoidance of slackness in their resolve” and “vigilance against the plots of arrogant international powers”.
The Ayatollah’s comments will raise alarm among Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, who are often associated with the West and are already feeling vulnerable and insecure as a result of the Arab Spring, which has seen Islamist groups growing in power and influence. There has, for example, been an increase in anti-Christian attacks in Egypt since the revolution, and 100,000 Christians have emigrated from the country as a result of the aggressive tactics of hard-line Muslims.
The Ayatollah did advise the revolutionary nations to maintain “national unity and official recognition of sectarian, tribal and ethic differences” as “a precondition for future success”, but his own country, Iran, is hardly a model of this. Christians there face regular and severe harassment from the authorities, who are trying to clamp down on the growing house church movement.
If the Arab Spring movement were to develop into an “Islamic power-bloc”, Christians would surely be in increasing danger across the region.
- barnabas team
Iran, November 08, 2011: An Iranian convert from Islam to Christianity who has been imprisoned for the last ten months has resisted pressure to renounce his faith and instead tried to share the Gospel with other prisoners.
Noorollah Qabitizade, a house church leader, was arrested on 24 December 2010, along with ten other Christians who had gathered at his home to celebrate Christmas Eve.
For the first month of his detention, at Dezful prison, Noorollah was not allowed to contact his family and was subjected to intense interrogation in a bid to force him to renounce his faith.
The authorities tried to get him to sign commitments pledging not to evangelise, repenting his decision to leave Islam and renouncing his Christian faith. They promised to release him if he would do so, but he refused.
Noorollah even tried to share his faith with other prisoners and organised prayer meetings inside the prison. This angered the guards, who consequently transferred him to another prison, in Ahwaz, over 160km away.
Noorollah’s first trial was held two months ago in Ahwaz; he was threatened with the death penalty and offered another opportunity to return to Islam to reduce his punishment.
- barnabas team
Iran, November 8, 2011: Iranian officials are trying to convince an imprisoned pastor to return to Islam while he awaits word from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on whether he should be executed for converting to Christianity.
Recently these officials presented a book of Islamic literature to Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani at his cell in Rasht, informing him that they will return to discuss it.
The book, titled “Message of the Two Eras,” refers to both the New and Old Testaments; it claims Christianity is a fabrication, thus Islam is superior to it.
Attorney Tiffany Barrans, international legal director for the American Center for Law and Justice, questioned whether this latest move showed the ayatollah’s willingness to give Nadarkhani another chance, or was merely another way for Khamenei to convict Nadarkhani for leaving Islam, a crime pusinable by death.
Iran’s judiciary believes a death sentence may have far-reaching political repercussions from the international community, which continues to petition for the pastor’s release, so it sent a letter to Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority on shar’ia, asking him to make the final decision; should he decline to give his opinion, the lower court will be responsible for making a final judgment.
Under shar’ia, apostacy is punishable by death: Article 225 of the Iranian penal code states that “Punishment for an Innate Apostate is death.”
Barrans said that to confuse the media, the Iranian government denied that the charge against Nadarkhani was apostasy and instead alleged that he was being held for rape and extortion.
According to Barrans, Nadarkhani was arrested October 2009; he was tried and found guilty of apostasy by a lower court in Gilan, a province in Rasht, after which he was told of an impending death-by-hanging sentence. His lawyers appealed this decision in December and the case was sent to Iran’s Supreme Court. In June, the court upheld the lower court’s decision provided it could be proven that Nadarkhani had been a practicing Muslim from the age of 15 up to 19 when he converted to Christianity.
Although the lower court ruled that Nadarkhani had not practiced Islam as an adult, it still upheld the apostasy charge because he was born into a Muslim family; the court then gave Nadarkhani the opportunity to recant his beliefs and return to Islam, but Nadarkhani has repeatedly refused.
All religious minorities in Iran have faced persecution and political marginalization throughout the regime’s reign, but the government always reserves its severest penalties for those who leave Islam.
- joseph de caro, worthy news correspondent
Iran, October 13, 2011: The Holy See has “expressed its concern” to Iran over the death sentence given to a Christian pastor for his conversion from Islam, reports the Catholic Herald.
A spokesman for the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said: “We are concerned at the reports from Iran about the death sentence for Youcef Nadarkhani. The Holy See has expressed its concern through diplomatic channels and we remain hopeful that the Courts will revoke the death penalty over the coming days. Meanwhile, our prayers are with him and his family.”
Youcef Nadarkhani, 33, has been given fresh hope after his case was referred back to the country’s lower court following a ruling that the conviction was based on “insufficient investigations”.
The Protestant pastor was arrested in the northern city of Rasht in 2009 on charges of refusing to reconvert to Islam, and sentenced to death. He was due to die for his faith last week.
But following criticism from governments, human rights groups and Christian leaders, the regime claimed that he had been condemned not for apostasy but for “being a Zionist and a traitor, who had committed security-related crimes”.
- ucan, catholic herald
Italian priest shot dead
Philippines, October 17, 2011: An Italian priest doing mission work in the hinterlands of North Cotabato, Philippines, was gunned down inside the compound of Mother of Perpetual Help parish in Arakan town, according to a local official.
Fr Fausto Tentorio, 59, of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), was shot dead by a lone gunman as he was about to board his pickup truck at around 7:30am, said town councilor Leonardo Reovoca.
The murder was immediately condemned by the Diocese of Kidapawan, Church groups and environmental organizations in the country.
“This is really heinous. We’re so sad and shocked that this killing happened in broad daylight,” said Bishop Romulo dela Cruz of Kidapawan.
Autopsy reports showed Father Tentorio sustained eight gunshot wounds in different parts of his body. Senior Inspector Benjamin Rioflorido, chief of Arakan police, said four empty shells from a 9mm pistol were recovered from the crime scene.
“We’re studying lots of angles but nothing is definite as of this time. We have yet to know the motive and the identity of the killer and the mastermind in the killing,” Rioflorido said.
The suspect was wearing a crash helmet and made his escape by walking away casually from the scene to a nearby motorcycle, Reovoca said.
The priest was due to attend a regular meeting of Kidapawan diocese clergy at the house of Bishop Romulo de la Cruz in Kidapawan City yesterday.
Reovoca said Father Tentorio had been an active law and order campaigner in Arakan town.
Only recently, he was appointed as head of a civilian anti-criminal task force in the town, councilor Reovoca said.
“I am a witness to Father Tentorio’s strong stance against mining and other projects which are not sustainable and would harm and affect the indigenous peoples, in particular.”
Father Giovanni Re, PIME Philippines regional superior, said Father Tentorio had escaped attempts on his life by paramilitary groups in the past, “but this is a bit of a surprise for us because the situation here has been quiet for some time.”
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) also condemned the killing, calling it a sign of degeneration of morality and spirituality in the country.
“We condemn this killing in the highest possible terms. This is brutality and savagery that no civilized men or groups could possibly do,” said Muhammad Ameen, chairperson of the MILF Secretariat.
Bishop dela Cruz said Father Tentorio’s remains will be brought to his parish in Arakan town for the wake until Wednesday, before his body is transferred to the compound of the bishop’s house in the city.
“What we really want is for authorities to act swiftly so that justice for Father Tentorio’s death would be achieved.” he said.
Father Tentorio first arrived in the Philippines in 1978 and served in Zamboanga archdiocese. He becomes the second PIME priest killed while doing missionary work in North Cotabato.
Father Tulio Favali was killed in 1985 while serving as parish priest in Tulunan town.
Iran’s Supreme Court has upheld the death penalty for a church pastor convicted of apostasy last year – unless he recants his faith.
After confusing reports about the outcome of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s appeal, a written verdict from the court has now confirmed a verbal notification, made earlier this month, that it was unsuccessful. Dated 12 June, the document was not made available to Pastor Nadarkhani’s lawyer for around a month. The death penalty will be annulled if the father of two recants his faith.
The decision was strongly condemned by the US State Department, which said:
We are dismayed over reports that the Iranian courts are requiring Youcef Nadarkhani to recant his faith or face the death penalty for apostasy, a charge based on his religious beliefs. If carried out, it would be the first execution for apostasy inIran since 1990.
Pastor Nadarkhani (33) was arrested in his home city of Rasht, northern Iran, in October 2009 for objecting to the teaching of Islam to Christian children in schools. He was initially charged with protesting, but the charges against him were later changed to apostasy and evangelising Muslims. His wife, Fatemeh Passandideh, was also later arrested, in June 2010, and sentenced to life in prison. Supporters say that this was an attempt to pressurise Pastor Nadarkhani to renounce his faith, but he remained steadfast. Fatemeh was released on appeal in October after four months in prison.
Pastor Nadarkhani was found guilty of apostasy in September 2010; a written confirmation of the death sentence was received on 13 November. Apostasy – or renouncing Islam – is not a crime under Iran’s penal code, but the system does make provision for judges to draw on fatwas and Islamic sources where national law is silent. Islamic law states that an adult male apostate should be given the death sentence. The verdict was based on fatwas by key Iranian religious leaders including the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei. Pastor Nadarkhani, who was born to Muslim parents and is thus considered a Muslim in Islamic tradition, became a Christian aged 19.
The case was tried by the court in Rasht and has now been referred back there. The Supreme Court has asked the Rasht court to re-examine some procedural flaws in the case but has ultimately given local judges the power to decide Pastor Nadarkhani’s fate in October. The outcome seems likely to rest on whether or not he will recant his faith.
His lawyer, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, a prominent defender of human rights in Iran, is involved in a legal battle of his own. He is appealing a nine-year prison sentence and ten-year ban on practising law or teaching at university for “actions and propaganda against the Islamic regime”.
Pastor Nadarkhani was previously imprisoned, in December 2006, on charges of apostasy and evangelism; he was released two weeks later.
A Christian student has been arrested in Iran, accused of sharing his faith at the university he attends.
Mostafa Zangooyee (24) was detained by plain-clothes security officers on 30 June as he was leaving his home. He was taken away to an undisclosed location and there is no information about his condition or whereabouts.
The arresting officers later contacted Mostafa’s parents to inform them of the arrest and charges against their son; he is accused of evangelism and propagating the Christian faith on his university campus.
Mostafa, who is from Gachsaran in south-west Iran, remains in custody.
His arrest follows a report in Iranian daily newspaper Keyhan, which is closely managed by the strict Islamic government, that a professor had been sacked for propagating Christianity at the university where he taught.
It said that the professor at the Free (Azad) University of Iran in Ahvaz had been openly sharing the Christian faith with students and staff, and once this was discovered, he was immediately dismissed.
The article warned about the dangers and rapid growth of Christianity among university students and academic staff.
Evangelism among Muslims is strictly forbidden in Iran, where the growth of the Church is viewed as a threat by the country’s hard-line Islamic regime.
There has been a severe crackdown on Christians over the last year; the arrests of more than 250 Christians have been confirmed, but the actual number is thought to be much higher.