(Forum 18 News Service) Raids and fines against Baptists in Belarus who meet for worship without state permission have re-started, Forum 18 News Service notes. After separate raids on Sunday worship services at both congregations of the Council of Churches Baptists in the south-eastern town of Gomel, three local leaders have been fined. Pastor Nikolai Varushin was fined about one month’s average local wages, and Pastor Pyotr Yashchenko and Valentin Shchedrenok were fined much smaller amounts. These are the first such raids and fines in almost a year.
Select stories of religious rights violations
(Forum 18 News Service) Sharofat Allamova, a Protestant from Urgench in north-western Uzbekistan, has been given one and half years of corrective labour, after being convicted under criminal charges brought for the “illegal production, storage, import or distribution of religious literature”. The judge in the case, Makhmud Makhmudov, refused to talk to Forum 18 News Service. Allamova will be placed in a low-paid state job, her salary being further reduced by having to pay 20 per cent of it to the state during her sentence. She will only be permitted to travel within Uzbekistan with written state permission, and is banned from leaving the country. It has been stated that the NSS secret police compelled witnesses to make false statements against Allamova. Separately, fines have been imposed on people in the capital Tashkent for meeting in a private home and having Christian literature, and for carrying a personal Bible and New Testament. Baptists have noted that the latter conviction is illegal in Uzbek law.
BEIRUT (The Daily Star): A Saudi court convicted a Lebanese man for “evangelism” for encouraging a Saudi woman to convert to Christianity and helping her leave the country, local press reported over the weekend. A court in Khobar sentenced the man to six years in prison and 300 lashes, while another man convicted in the same case, a Saudi, was given two years in prison and 200 lashes. Both are planning to appeal. Under Saudi law, any form of proselytization is illegal, and Muslims who convert to another religion must be sentenced to death.
CAIRO (AP in Huffington Post) — An Egyptian Foreign Ministry official says a man suspected of trying to spread Christianity in Libya has died in prison there. The diplomat says Ezzat Atallah, who suffered from diabetes and heart ailments, likely died of natural causes. He spoke anonymously Sunday in line with regulations. Atallah was among five Evangelical Christian Egyptians detained in Libya for allegedly proselytizing in the predominantly Muslim nation.
Washington Post (blog by Jordan Sekulow and Matthew Clark) — It is unclear how long the sham trial against Pastor Saeed Abedini continued. What is clear, however, is that Iran and Judge Pir-Abassi, one of Iran’s infamous “hanging judges” who conducted the trial, have engaged in an attempt to spread lies and disinformation about the case, while conducting the trial in secret. Iranian officials repeatedly issued contradictory statements – promising that Pastor Saeed would be released on bail – only to repeatedly reject those bail requests. Pastor Saeed’s wife Naghmeh, whom we at the ACLJ represent, explained: “This has been a repeated promise by the Iranian regime since Saeed was first thrown in prison. We have presented bail. After the Judge told Saeed’s lawyer that bail was back on the table, the family in Tehran ran around in circles today to make sure Saeed was let out on bail. But again the bail officer rejected bail. This is a game to silence the international media.”
(Fox News) Supporters of an Egyptian woman sentenced with her seven children to 15 years in prison for converting to Christianity say the U.S. government must do more to stick up for her and other religious minorities in the Middle East. Nadia Mohamed Ali and her children drew the shocking sentence this month from a judge in Beni Suef, a city of 200,000 located about 75 miles south of Cairo. Ali, who was raised a Christian and converted to marry her Muslim husband, sought to return to her spiritual roots when he died. But the Egyptian government zeroed in on her effort to have her and her children’s national ID cards altered to mark the conversion.
(Fox News) As her husband’s trial and possible death sentence looms, the wife of an American Christian pastor imprisoned in Iran for evangelizing clings to hope and prays for a miracle. Naghmeh Abedini has been told by attorneys for her husband, Saeed, to expect the worst at Monday’s trial, where the 32-year-old husband and father faces the capital charge of compromising national security. Supporters believe the charges are directly related to Abedini’s work nearly a decade ago starting a house church movement in Iran, and the judge he’ll face, Abbas Pir-Abassi, is infamous for sending defendants to the gallows. “There is a lot going through my mind. I can never clear my head. I only sleep two hours a night,” Naghmeh Abedini told Foxnews.com by phone from her family’s home near Boise. “Unfortunately, he has been set up for failure and a harsh sentence because of his beliefs. His attorney says that the court has gathered a large amount of evidence against him.”
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has been freed -- yet again -- from an Iranian prison.
(FoxNews.com) Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian Christian pastor who had been re-arrested on Christmas Day after serving nearly three years in prison for renouncing Islam, was released today, according to individuals close to the pastor and his family. Nadarkhani, 35, had been held since Christmas Day at Lakan Prison in Rasht, the facility where he was imprisoned from 2010 to 2012 in a case that made international headlines. Although he initially faced possible execution, he had been freed in November, with just 45 days left on a downgraded sentence issued after Fox News and other media outlets drew attention to his plight.
(PressTV): At least two Egyptians have lost their lives and two others wounded in a bomb attack on an Egyptian Orthodox Church near the Western Libyan city of Misrata, officials say. “Two Egyptians were killed and two were wounded,” said an unnamed diplomat at the Egyptian Embassy in Libyan capital, Tripoli, on Sunday. Those wounded were rushed to a nearby hospital for medical treatment, he added. The attack took place on Saturday in Dafniya, a Mediterranean village situated some 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) west of Misrata, after two unknown assailants threw a homemade explosive at the church.
(Fox News) A 32-year-old Iranian who is a U.S. citizen and a Christian convert has been imprisoned without notice of any formal charges while visiting his family in Iran, according to his wife and attorneys in the U.S., who are now hoping that a media campaign will help set him free. The Rev. Saeed Abedini, who lives in the U.S. with his wife and two young children, was making one of his frequent visits to see his parents and the rest of his family in Iran, his country of origin and where he spent many years as a Christian leader and community organizer developing Iran’s underground home church communities for Christian converts.