US Continues to Condemn China’s ‘War on Faith’

A new State Department report notes some “good news,” like improving conditions in Uzbekistan, though the list of worst religious persecutors remains largely unchanged.
PAUL JACKSON JUNE 24, 2019

US Continues to Condemn China’s ‘War on Faith’

The US State Department is taking new steps to call out China as one of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom. Last week, both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback rebuked the world’s most-populous country for ramping up what Brownback called its “war on faith.”

The latest Report on International Religious Freedom from the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF), released last Friday, details the status of religious liberty in every country in the world other than the United States, elaborating on abuses in 10 countries of particular concern (CPC)—Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

This year’s report describes religious freedom issues in the country’s mainland, Tibet, Macau, and Hong Kong, where longsuffering Christians have played a central role in recent pro-democracy protests.

It also includes a special section dedicated to China’s malfeasance in Xinjiang, the autonomous northwestern province where between 800,000 and 2 million Uighur Muslims have been detainedand, according to the report, subjected to “forced disappearance, torture, physical abuse, and prolonged detention without trial because of their religion and ethnicity.”

“We’ve seen increasing Chinese government abuse of believers of nearly all faiths and from all parts of the mainland,” said Brownback, who cited concerns over organ harvesting among Chinese prisoners of conscience, interference in Tibetan Buddhist and cultural practices, and Christian persecution.

“They’ve increased their repression of Christians, shutting down churches and arresting adherents for their peaceful religious practices,” Brownback said. “And to this we say to China: Do not be mistaken, you will not win your war on faith. This will have consequences on your standing at home and around the world.”

The IRF report largely aligned with the recent report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a separate, bipartisan commission that also assesses the world’s worst violators of religious liberty. USCIRF says its reports “are different from, and complementary to,” the IRF reports, with the commission saying its scope and bent toward policy recommendations is unique, and that “Whereas the State Department must account for overall bilateral relationships in its reporting, USCIRF has the independence and objectivity to call out violations wherever and whenever they may occur.”

USCIRF named 28 countries that stand out as religious freedom offenders, including 16 countries the commission identified as Tier 1 CPCs. All 10 of the IRF’s CPCs are included in USCIRF’s list of top-tier offenders, while USCIRF recommends adding the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Russia, Syria, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam to the list of leading abusers of the freedom of religion and conscience.

Both reports echo the 2019 World Watch List rankings of countries where it is hardest to be a Christian, which bumped China from No. 43 of the globe’s worst Christian persecutors in 2018 to No. 27 this year.

Announcing the release of the IRF report, Pompeo described his personal faith as an Evangelical Presbyterian—“I was a Sunday school teacher and a deacon at my church”—and decried the governments and groups around the world that deny others the “unalienable right” to practice their beliefs.

He highlighted a few instances of “good news,” praising improvements in Uzbekistan, which for the first time in more than a decade is no longer designated by the State Department as a country of particular concern (CPC). The Uzbek government recently passed a religious freedom roadmap, freed 1,500 religious prisoners, and loosened travel restrictions on 16,000 who had been blacklisted for their religious affiliations.

Pakistan—where Asia Bibi, a Christian charged with blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad and threatened with execution, was acquitted by the country’s supreme court—was cited as a win for religious freedom, along with Turkey, where pastor Andrew Brunson was released last year after a two-year imprisonment on terrorism and espionage charges.

But even in these “good news” countries, there is still a long way to go. In Pakistan, more than 40 currently face life sentences or execution for the same charge leveled against Bibi. Another Christian woman condemned to death for blasphemy is currently imprisoned in Bibi’s old prison cell.

All three countries lauded by Pompeo were listed among the worst offenders in both the IRF and USCIRF reports. And according to the World Watch List, Pakistan is ranked No. 5 in the world for Christian persecution, Uzbekistan comes in at No. 17, and Turkey is No. 27.

And though Pompeo said Uzbekistan no longer qualifies as a CPC, it is a still a USCIRF Tier 1 offender and was named to the IRF’s Special Watch List, along with Comoros and Russia, for “governments that engaged in or tolerated severe violations but were deemed to not meet all the criteria of the CPC test.”

Pompeo and Brownback had more to say about countries the report exposes as featuring “a chilling array of abuses.” They specifically highlighted Iran, Eritrea, Russia, Nicaragua, and Burma for various abuses. China was again singled out as a leading actor in religious freedom violations.

“People are persecuted—handcuffed, thrown in jail, even killed—for their decision to believe, or not to believe,” Pompeo said. “For worshipping according to their conscience. For teaching their children about their faith. For speaking about their beliefs in public. For gathering in private, as so many of us have done, to study the Bible, the Torah, or the Qu’ran.”

To better assess and respond to religious oppression, Pompeo announced that the Office of International Religious Freedom, along with the State Department’s office dedicated to monitoring and fighting anti-Semitism, are getting a boost. Both offices are now elevated at the State Department, reporting directly to the undersecretary for civilian security, democracy, and human rights.

“This reorganization will provide these offices with additional staff and resources, and enhance partnerships both within our agency and without,” Pompeo said. “It will empower them to better carry out their important mandates.”

“For all those that run roughshod over religious freedom,” said Pompeo, “I’ll say this: The United States is watching and you will be held to account.”

 

 

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Iran: Crowd cheers as woman beaten for not wearing hijab

‘The real oppression is elsewhere’

 

An Iranian woman is confronted by a jeering mob (video screenshot)

An Iranian woman is confronted by a jeering mob for dancing and not wearing a an Islamic hijab (video screenshot)

A video by an Iranian activist shows a crowd in the Islamic Republic cheering as a women was dragged across a road and beaten.

Her crime, according to the activist, Masih Alinejad, was dancing and not wearing the Islamic hijab required by law for any female older than 13, DailyMail.com reported.

Robert Spencer, director of the website Jihad Watch, commented the woman is among the “real feminists, who are taking actual risks to stand up for women’s rights.”

“Meanwhile, Leftist feminists in the West are donning the hijab, the symbol of oppression against which these Iranian women are rebelling, in order to show solidarity with women who they claim are oppressed in the West for wearing the hijab. The real oppression is elsewhere,” he wrote.

The video shows the woman in the city of Rasht, on Iran’s Caspian Sea coast, standing by a busy road as she is jeered by men. A few of the men approached her, and one grabbed her around the head and forced her to the ground. The man then took hold of her ankles and dragged her over the asphalt, prompting a cheer from the crowd of men.

When she stood up, the man hit her in the face, knocking her down. The woman shrieked throughout the attack as men laughed.

The video cut to her walking away, visibly traumatized by the ordeal.

DailyMail.com explained that Iran’s Islamic dress code, implemented after Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 revolution, requires women to be covered from head to toe. Violations can result in fines and up to two months in prison.

President Hassan Rouhani previously has said it’s not the job of Iranian police to enforce Islamic rules. But DailyMail.com noted that in April 2016, officials said there were 7,000 undercover morality police reporting infractions such as “bad hijab,” meaning dress that does not conform to Islamic law, or Shariah.

Meanwhile, tensions between Iran and the United States remain high amid accusations by President Trump that the Islamic Republic carried out bomb attacks on tankers near the Persian Gulf.

Bloomberg reported a U.S. Navy investigator on Wednesday presented what he described as evidence that Iran was behind an attack on the Japanese-operated ship Kokuka Courageous.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explained to reporters Tuesday after a closed meeting commanders at CENTCOM headquarters in Tampa, Florida, why the U.S. is engaged in a pressure campaign against Iran.

“This isn’t just two and a half years or five years. This is 40 years of Iranian activity that has led to this point,” he said.

“We are there to deter aggression. President Trump does not want war.”

https://www.wnd.com/2019/06/iran-crowd-cheers-as-woman-beaten-for-not-wearing-hijab/

Worth a Thousand Years of Waiting

THE STAGGERING RISE OF THE CHURCH IN IRAN

May 11, 2019 by Afshin Ziafat
Pastor, Frisco, Texas

Robert Bruce, a Scottish missionary to Iranian Muslims in the late nineteenth century, wrote home to his supporters, “I am not reaping the harvest; I scarcely claim to be sowing the seed; I am hardly ploughing the soil; but I am gathering out the stones. That, too, is missionary work; let it be supported by loving sympathy and fervent prayer.”

For many years, Iran was one of the most difficult regions of the world to reach with the gospel. A significant development occurred in 1979, however, with the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The ruling monarch, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown, and in his place an Islamic Republic was birthed, led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Sharia law became the law of the land, and Muslim clerics became the heads of state.

Many in those days believed the revolution would lead to a time of flourishing in Iranian society. The new regime made great promises about rights and economic progress, as Iran was finally free from the influence of the West. The laws of man would be replaced by the laws of God, they claimed. Under the Republic, conversion to any other religion was considered apostasy and could be punished with death.

Door Opens

As we near the fortieth anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, however, we see that the prayers of many Christians over the years have been answered, and the climate in Iran is vastly different. The gospel has spread throughout the land in unprecedented fashion despite increased persecution of Christian believers. To use the words of the apostle Paul, “A wide door for effective work has opened . . . and there are many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:9).

As of 1979, there were about five hundred known Christians from a Muslim background in Iran. In 2005, it was estimated that there were 40,000 ethnic Iranian Christians (not including ethnic minority Christians who live in Iran). That number grew to about 175,000 Christians in 2010, according to the Joshua Project. Today, the average estimates of Christians within Iran range from 300,000 to upwards of one million, according to some missions experts. Operation World, a missions research organization, continues to list Iran as having the fastest-growing evangelical church in the world. In fact, more Iranians have become Christians in the last twenty years than in the previous 1,300 years, since Islam came to Iran.

Four Reasons for Growth

Several factors have contributed to the rapid growth of the church in Iran. Here are four of the most important.

1. DISILLUSIONMENT WITH ISLAM

Since the time of the revolution, the Islamic regime, which promised much in the way of economic development and freedom, has not delivered. Rather than prosperity and growth, the economy stagnated. The people also have been oppressed — women punished for not covering their hair, and others punished for speaking out freely in protest. As a result, the country has isolated itself further from the rest of the world.

Ironically, because the Islamic Republic in Iran has tied religion and state so closely together, the people’s disappointment with the government has led to great skepticism of Islam. Consequently, Iranians have become increasingly open to hearing the Christian message.

2. PERSECUTION

The rise of persecution against Christians in Iran has served both as a sign of the rapid growth of Christianity within the country and as fuel for further growth. In the 1990s, several key leaders of the church in Iran were killed. One of the most famous martyrs, Mehdi Dibaj, gave a defense before the Islamic courts prior to his death that has become a rallying cry for many Christians in Iran. Dibaj declared,

I would rather have the whole world against me, but know that the Almighty God is with me; be called an apostate, but know that I have the approval of the God of glory. . . .

Life for me is an opportunity to serve him, and death is a better opportunity to be with Christ. Therefore I am not only satisfied to be in prison for the honor of his Holy Name, but am ready to give my life for the sake of Jesus my Lord and enter his kingdom sooner, the place where the elect of God enter to everlasting life.

Examples like this have emboldened the church as the faithful remember the words of Jesus, “Because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). In 2010, many church planters and leaders were arrested. I had the privilege of visiting with one of these faithful brothers after he served five years in prison. He recounted the moment when he received news that many of his colleagues were being arrested.

Briefly, he considered fleeing. But then he remembered the words of Jesus from John 10, that he is not the hired hand who sees the wolves coming and flees, but he is rather the good shepherd, who lays his life down for his sheep (John 10:11–12). He told me he went home knowing it would lead to his arrest, but he saw prison as an assignment by God to be a ministry post for him to reach many within prison.

This persecution has served to motivate further evangelistic zeal among Iranian Christians. These faithful servants are modern-day examples of Paul, who once wrote, “Most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:14).

3. THE DIASPORA AND USE OF MEDIA

A countless number of Iranian Christians have been scattered around the world. Many of these saints sense a unique calling to continue supporting the work of gospel advancement within Iran from the outside.

The advancement of technology through the Internet and satellite TV has made the Christian message more accessible to Iranians who may have never even met a Christian. The diaspora Christians have been active in broadcasting the gospel and Bible teaching into Iran. In the last decade, social media also has been a powerful tool to reach Iranians and teach them the truths of Scripture.

4. BIBLE DISTRIBUTION

Although persecution has not produced the results that the Iranian authorities wanted, they have continued to work hard to stamp out the message of Christianity. The Bible (especially the New Testament) is banned literature in Iran.

But the people have been hungry for the word of God. There have been over two million New Testaments printed in recent years for dissemination in Iran, and about 180,000 entire Bibles have been distributed within the country. As Paul told Timothy, “The word of God is not bound!” (2 Timothy 2:9).

Three Ways to Pray

These are some factors that have contributed to the rapid growth of the church in Iran. But ultimately, the kingdom of Christ is spreading within Iran because God’s Spirit is moving powerfully. Though there has been great progress, the need for prayer and support continues to be great. Would you join me in praying for Iran — its people and leaders? Here are three ways you can pray for the church.

1. COURAGE

Although the number of house churches and believers is growing every day, the opposition continues. Iranian Christians continue to be arrested and charged with acting against national security. House churches continue to meet secretly while shifting their meeting times and locations to stay undetected. Christians continue to evangelize, knowing they are putting their lives at risk.

2. UNITY

Since most of the activity of the church is done secretly, the Christians are isolated from each other. Iranian leaders are forced to work covertly and therefore apart from each other. Security concerns make collaborative efforts difficult, even among ministries outside of Iran that work within the country. All of this creates obstacles for unity.

3. TRAINED LEADERS

The nature of the underground church is such that, many times, house-church leaders are unqualified and untrained, and sometimes, there is no pastor in the group and the gathered believers are being fed solely through satellite TV. Some of the teaching that the church absorbs is not sound theology. Iranians don’t have the same access to Christian literature and training as many believers do throughout the rest of the world. There are ministries who are already working hard to meet this need by making quality training available for leaders, and we need to pray for this work.

These words of Jesus may sum up the situation best in Iran: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37–38). Let’s pray the Lord of the harvest continues to send his laborers throughout Iran, so that millions more Iranians find forgiveness, peace, and the hope of glory through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 (@afshinziafat) is lead pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas. His passion is to teach the word of God as the authority and guide for life, to preach Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Redeemer of mankind, and to proclaim the love of Christ as the greatest treasure and hope in life. He and his wife, Meredith, currently reside in Frisco with their three children.

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