Displaying items by tag: imprisonment
As thousands of protesters around the world took to the streets in a show of solidarity, a year after the killing of hijab protester Mahsa Zhina Amini, there are reports that Christians are coming under pressure from the authorities to boycott the protests. Those who participate have been arrested and face sexual assault in prison, according to a new report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Since the freedom protests began in Iran, the country has detained some 20,000 protesters and killed at least 530, by conservative estimates. It is claimed that seven protesters have been executed after ‘sham trials’ and dozens more have been sentenced to death. The women’s rights protests in Iran have turned into a movement pressing for greater freedom of religion or belief. For more information about the pressure on Christians in Iran, including many being jailed for their involvement with house churches, see 'More'.
A Protestant pastor and human rights defender has been denied medical treatment at Gia Trung prison despite his deteriorating health condition. Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton has long-term Covid-19 and an eye disease causing almost total vision loss. Prison authorities have not allowed him to be examined or treated, have prevented his family sending him medicine, and not allowed them to pay for medical care. Experts have previously voiced concerns regarding his treatment and conditions in prison, including lack of clean water and failure to treat a leg injury sustained from a state agent’s attack. Mr Ton's wife, Nguyen Thi Lanh, is worried for her husband’s life. He has advocated for freedom of religion or belief and spoken out against social injustices. He was jailed for twelve years in 2018 on charges of ‘carrying out activities to overthrow the government’.
Brazilian president Lula wants his Nicaraguan counterpart, Daniel Ortega, to free Bishop Rolando Alvarez, who was sent to prison for over 26 years for refusing to leave Nicaragua after Ortega expelled him with 222 other political prisoners to America. He had been locked up for sermons unflattering to the government. Because he refused to leave, he was sent to a maximum-security cell. President Lula said, ‘There is no reason for the bishop to be prevented from exercising his function in the Church. The only thing the Church wants is for Nicaragua to free him.’ While Brazil and Nicaragua have good relations, ties between the Vatican and the Central American state have been severely strained following a crackdown on anti-government protests in 2018, when the Church acted as a mediator between them. Lula said that Ortega should recognise that a mistake had been made.
In mid-March, 29 evangelical Christians (17 women and twelve men) were arrested at a house church and taken to Mai Serwa prison camp. Such Christian gatherings have been in homes for twenty years after all churches were closed apart from Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran. Every neighbourhood has a government spy living there observing it and reporting unusual activity to the authorities. Churches have found government spies pretending to be Christians, joining and reporting on congregations. Mai Serwa houses more prisoners than it was built for. They are held in shipping containers holding 20+ detainees. Often prisoners take turns to sleep on bare floors because beds or mattresses are not allowed. The conditions were condemned by Amnesty International in 2020. With overcrowding and lack of adequate sanitation, healthcare, and food, conditions are inhumane; Covid-19 is a major concern. Prisoners' conditions have disastrous consequences on their mental and physical health.
At least eight Westerners have been arrested in Afghanistan during different incidents in the last two months, marking a sharp escalation of Taliban actions against Westerners living in the country. No formal charges have been lodged against the six British citizens, one of whom is an American legal resident, and one US citizen. Afghanistan’s former vice-president tweeted that nine Westerners had been ‘kidnapped’ by the Taliban, naming journalists Andrew North, formerly of the BBC who was working for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), and Peter Jouvenal, who has worked with the BBC and CNN. The reason for each of the specific detentions is unclear, and they are not thought to be related. Peter's family believe he is detained in error. He was working openly, having frequent meetings with Taliban officials to discuss investments in Afghanistan's mining industry. Peter suffers from high blood pressure and needs medication.
Eritrea remains one of the worst countries in the world for Christian persecution. Imprisoned Christians are tortured, starved, and forced into hard labour. Conditions are worse for pastors and theological students who are singled out for beatings or have their jail terms extended as a warning to others. Many Christians are held indefinitely, often without trial, not knowing when they will be released. Some are kept in shipping containers, where they are exposed to the searing desert heat by day and cold by night. 69 Christian prisoners were released in September 2020 in Covid-19 control measures. Most had been held for over ten years without trial, some for 16 years. The releases were made on condition that bail securities were lodged, usually in the form of property deeds, with guarantors held liable for the detainees’ future actions. None of the known imprisoned pastors or senior Christian leaders were among those released. Tens of thousands of Christians have fled from Eritrea to Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, and Israel.
A Saudi women’s rights activist, Loujain al-Hathloul (31), was arrested along with about a dozen other female activists in May 2018. She has been on hunger strike for a week, and on 5 November her health was said to be rapidly worsening. UN experts are calling for her immediate release. She was arrested just weeks before Saudi Arabia lifted a decades-old ban on female drivers, yet she is still in prison. Her deteriorating health was ‘deeply alarming’, said the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The committee, made up of 23 independent experts, also voiced serious concern ‘by recent information concerning the conditions of Ms al-Hathloul’s prolonged detention, including reports that she is not allowed regular contact with her family’. Some activists arrested with her were provisionally released. Others remain in detention, subjected to waterboarding, sexual harassment, and court trials for contacting media, diplomats and human rights groups.
The Eritrean government has released 69 Christian prisoners, many of whom have been in long-term detention without trial for their faith. Following the release of more than twenty male and female prisoners on 4 September, the authorities are continuing to make conditional releases from the notorious Mai Serwa prison which is known to put detainees in underground cells and metal shipping containers. The releases, linked to Covid-19 policies, are made on condition that bail securities are lodged, usually in the form of property deeds, with guarantors held liable for the detainees’ future actions. Christian leader Dr Berhane Asmelash hopes for further significant releases from the 300+ Christians, including children, who remain incarcerated.
Xiao, the wife of Qin Defu, an imprisoned pastor, writes, ‘I am begging for prayers for my family and me. Defu has been in jail over six months.’ At first she received short phone calls from him but she has now not heard from him for over 70 days. She said, ‘My reasoning makes me believe he is alive, and God is with him. However, not hearing from him is like an enemy. It hurts me so much that I suffer every day. I just want to receive one three-minute call from him, but this apparently has become an extravagant hope. Dear God, please let me follow behind You, pulling on the hem of Your clothes, I know my weakness, so I am begging for my brothers and sisters to pray for me and Qin Defu. God, please, out of charity, give us mercy. We are so lowly we cannot bear it.’
Three women, charged with 'inciting prostitution' for not wearing veils, have been sentenced to 42 years in prison between them. Now, with Covid-19 cases confirmed in prisons across Iran, they are in more danger than ever. Monireh, Yasaman and Mojgan have done nothing wrong; thousands are calling on the head of the judiciary to release them immediately. As an act of peaceful protest, the unveiled women handed out flowers to female passengers on a Tehran metro train. They were filmed sharing their hopes for Iranian women on International Women’s Day. Days after the video went viral on social media, they were charged with sham offences including ‘inciting prostitution’ for promoting unveiling. Prisoners in Iran are at particular risk because they are unable to take the same social distancing and hygiene measures as those outside prison to protect themselves.