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Op-Ed: Where is the outrage over the plight of persecuted Christians?

Op-Ed: Where is the outrage over the plight of persecuted Christians?


If one watches CNN, the Trump impeachment hearings and the British elections dominate headlines.  Next down on the list is the earthquake that recently struck Albania and global warming.  It as if with the collapse of the ISIS Caliphate, the world believes that Christians are no longer being persecuted and it is time to move onto other issues.  However, this portrayal given by CNN and other major American media outlets does not reflect the reality presently.   From Syria and Iran to Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Korean Peninsula, Christians are still being persecuted for their faith.

In a recent interview, Pastor Saeed Abedini, who recently won $47 million dollars in a lawsuit against the Iranian regime, stated that the Iranian regime intensely persecutes Evangelical Christians for it is illegal to evangelize in the Islamic Republic.  He related that legal churches such as the Assembly of God Church Central Tehran, where he worked, were told that if they evangelized, the authorities would shut down their church.  For this reason, Pastor Abedini decided to set up an unground church movement, which became the largest church in Iran within three years: “We had hundreds of churches in 30 cities.” 

When he led the House Church Movement, Pastor Abedini also helped foreign Christians who came to Iran: “I helped 300 South Korean missionaries in Iran.  The South Koreans sent 300 missionaries to Iran in order to start churches but they could not start anything after two years.  Most of the Muslims lied to them in order to take their money.  They were used and abused.  Then I helped them to evangelize the Muslims.  I invited them to come and to teach in my churches.  I had 300 underground churches in Iran.    We helped them a lot until one night, those 300 missionaries got arrested and deported back to South Korea.  Their security was terrible.  The Iranian government easily found them.”

For the crime of spreading Christ’s gospel, Pastor Abedini was sentenced to eight years in prison (of which he served three and a half) and spent several months under house arrest.  Prior to that, he was arrested 12 times.  However, the last imprisonment was the worst for him: “I saw a real hell with my own eyes.  They tortured me every day, every minute, every second.  So many of my friends were tortured and they destroyed so many families.  I slept in the cold underground.  I slept with an open window in the winter.  They made the cell wet in the winter and forced me to sleep on the wet floor.  They wanted me to die.  They told people to kill and rape me.  They said I deserved death.  They encouraged and even forced other prisoners to attack me physically but since I was into martial arts, I defended myself.  The guards also attacked me.  I was beaten. My interrogator who beat me asked me to write I raped and beat my female church members.  They wanted to show the news agencies that this is the American pastor lifestyle.  When I resisted, they started to beat me.  People die after getting a bleeding stomach like I had.  For two months, I could not go to the restroom.  I had a stomach like a pregnant woman.  It was a miracle I did not die.  They threatened to execute me a thousand times.”

Pastor Abedini also noted that the Iranian regime employs sexual violence against Evangelical Christians like him: “They had a plan to kidnap my sister in the bible school and to confine her next to me and to rape her and to let me watch her getting raped.  Fortunately, she was saved and went to the US.  England refused to protect her. So many of my female church members, they raped them and got them pregnant and then forced them to do an abortion.  And then they were in prison for years where they were tortured and had half of their face destroyed.”     

Pastor Abedini was even denied basic human rights like the right to sleep and to eat properly: “Every time I fell asleep, they did not let me sleep.  They forced me to eat when I was sleepy.   I was going to die.  I was so sleepy I did not want to eat.  It made me crazy.  Every night at 6pm, they brought other prisoners, tens of them and beat them and broke their bones right behind the door of my cell in order to let me see and hear.  I could hear people yelling for help.  They let me hear and watch.  They did this in order to make me weak so that I can deny Christ and to give away church members IDs.  I was in solitary confinement.  No other prisoner was my friend for if they befriended me, they would be tortured and be unable to see their family.  Every day five days per day, they blasted a loudspeaker in my cell.  It drove me crazy.”

While Pastor Abedini is now a free man, many other Christians remain imprisoned and persecuted in the Islamic Republic of Iran merely for following their faith.  Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz was sentenced to 10 years in prison and is presently jailed in Iran for holding prayer services in the Farsi language.  9 other Christians are facing 5 years in prison for attending a church service in someone’s home.  UK Ambassador Miriam Shearman told the Christian Institute recently, “We remain deeply concerned by Iran’s failure to uphold international legal obligations and its arbitrary detention of citizens and duel nationals on unclear charges, denied due process and subject to mistreatment.”  Iran is one of the worst countries for Christians on earth.  Open Doors ranks Iran as the ninth worst country for Christians on the planet.

In the areas controlled by Turkey in Syria, Sherkoh Abbas, President of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria, noted that as we speak, Christians, Kurds and Yezidis are being ethnically cleansed from the region.  He told US President Donald Trump that if he thinks the region is peaceful now, he should speak to the Kurds, Yezidis and Christians who were forced out of their homes by Erdogan’s government: “The jihadists supported by Turkey view the Christians, Yezidis and Kurds as pro-Assad because they refused to join the Syrian Revolution.  They are punishing the Christians, Yezidis and Kurds right now.  They want to change the demographics according to what Turkey wants.  They are doing atrocities, wiping out churches, homes, cities and taking over, house by house.  They view Christians, Kurds and Yezidis as non-believers that must be eliminated and are a threat to the Khalifa of Turkey.  An Armenian religious leader was killed by groups belonging to Turkey.   A 14-year-old girl from Afrin was kidnapped and taken away.  They bomb homes.  They kidnap, rape and kill in order to force people to leave.”  

Further east, Pakistan Today reported that 1,000 Christians and Hindus are abducted and forcefully converted to Islam every year in the predominately Muslim country.  A report from Church in Need UK reported that many Christian parents in Pakistan are compelled to give their children Muslim names so they won’t be abused.  As Bishop Shukardin proclaimed, “Most of the minorities and especially the Christians are afraid of attacks and fear persecution.  If the West strikes against Muslims anywhere in the world, enraged Muslims in Pakistan often attack churches.  The minorities are considered infidels and they are depicted negatively in the textbooks, which promote prejudice against minorities.  The fundamentalists believe that Islam is the only complete religion and that salvation can only be found in the Quran.”

This month alone, International Christian Concern reported that a mob of 50 Muslims murdered Sonia Sarwar, a Pakistani Christian teenager.  International Christian Concern reported that the attack was aimed at displacing 10 Christian families from Lahore.  In a separate instance this month, a Pakistani Christian home was burned to the ground because its owners refused to sell it to Muslims.   Manzoor Masih told International Christian Concern: “I never thought we would face so much hatred for not selling our home.  It is really heart-breaking.”   And Gonilla Gill, a Pakistani Christian journalist, was forced to resign because she could no longer handle the pressure from co-workers to leave her faith: “People are vile.  They talk rubbish about my faith.  However, I will not lose hope and will remain steadfast in my religion.”

Sadly, the situation is not much better in Bangladesh.  Shipan Kumer Basu, President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, stated in a recent interview: “One event that illustrates the vulnerability of Christians occurred in July 2018.  A young woman named Shirpa was attacked by three young radical Muslim men.  They forced their way into her home, where they tried to rape her.  They also verbally attacked her and threatened to kill her and another person in their home if she did not take off her clothes.  The assailants took a video of her naked and then threatened they would post it on Facebook if she ever told anyone about the incident.   In the end, tragically, Shirpa killed herself, leaving behind a husband and two children.  This is not an isolated example. In 2018, there were six attacks on churches in Bangladesh.   Several Christians were injured in an attack upon a church in Chittagong Hill Tracts.”    

Further east in the Korean Peninsula, Open Doors USA reported that Christians in North Korea are viewed as a hostile element that have to be eradicated: “If Christians are discovered, not only are they deported to labor camps as political criminals or even killed on the spot.  Their families will share their fate as well.   Christians do not even have the slightest space in society.  On the contrary, they are publicly warned against.   Meeting other Christians in order to worship is almost impossible and if some believers dare to do so, it has to be done in utmost secrecy.”  While Open Doors USA reported that there was hope in 2018 that diplomatic efforts would lead to an improvement in the plight of Christians in North Korea, this hope has now faded.  Like following the Iranian nuclear deal, renewed diplomatic efforts with the North Korean regime have done nothing in order to improve human rights and minority rights in the Korean peninsula.  

While many acknowledge that Christians are persecuted in the Muslim world and in communist dictatorships like North Korea, a recent UN General Assembly resolution highlighted that religious persecution can also take place in democratic countries like South Korea.  According to this recent resolution, members of the Shincheonji Church, a newly rising denomination in South Korea that have recently graduated 100,000 theologians in a special ceremony, have fallen victim to deprogramming.  Deprogramming occurs where members of the church are abducted, imprisoned and tortured until they renounce their faith at the instigation of another rival church, in this case the Christian Council of Korea: “Deprogramming involves several instances of serious violence including forced use of drugs and rape.  Deprogramming is considered a crime in the US, Europe and in Japan.  In fact, one of the few countries where deprogramming is still going on is the Republic of Korea, not coincidentally a country where many new religious movements and new churches flourish.” 

According to Human Rights Without Frontiers, over 1,200 South Koreans suffered from deaths, family breakdown and mental trauma due to forced conversions committed by the Christian Council of Korea.   In a letter signed by 15 international NGOs to South Korean President Moon Jae, they proclaimed: “South Korea may be the last democratic country in the world where deprogramming is still tolerated.”  They asked the South Korean President to “investigate in-depth accusations of forceful deprogramming, to put a stop to this obnoxious practice and to hold those fully accountable.”   Even though deprogramming has taken the lives of victims since 2007, the South Korean government has not yet responded to the issue.  In the United States and around the world, there is very little public awareness on the subject. 

The time has come for the United States, the EU, the UN and the international community to start paying attention to the persecution of Christians worldwide.  The time has come for the American media to stop neglecting what happens in Asia and to start to pay attention to what happens outside of the America’s and Europe.   A faith is presently being persecuted for their beliefs and the world has turned a blind eye to it.  It is time for this to change.  




Rachel Avraham

Rachel Avraham is the CEO of the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy and the editor of the Economic Peace Center, which was established by Ayoob Kara, who served as Israel's Communication, Cyber and Satellite Minister. For close to a decade, she has been an Israel-based journalist, specializing in radical Islam, abuses of human rights and minority rights, counter-terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Azerbaijan, Syria, Iran, and other issues of importance. Avraham is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media," a ground-breaking book endorsed by Former Israel Consul General Yitzchak Ben Gad and Israeli Communications Minister Ayoob Kara that discusses how the media exploits the life stories of Palestinian female terrorists in order to justify wanton acts of violence. Avraham has an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Ben-Gurion University. She received her BA in Government and Politics with minors in Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Maryland at College Park.