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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Atena Daemi, "I will not be silent."

Atena can not keep silent about the human rights atrocities committed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Her story will be featured in my new book, "Dear God, Please bring freedom to Iran."

Atena Daemi is a powerful human rights defender and lives by the motto, “I will not be silent!

            She loves humanity with all of her heart and is outraged by the horrific treatment of innocent people by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Atena especially loves children. She has spoken out against the unjust treatment of children in Kobane and Gaza, advocating for their human rights. Outraged over the frenzy of political executions that happen almost every day in Iran, Atena has been a strong vocal critic of the death penalty. She has met and consoled the families that lost their loved ones in the mass executions of political prisoners in 1988, drawing attention to one of the darkest moments of Iranian history when Khomeini was still the Supreme Leader.

            Atena is a strong voice for humanity, but has always conducted her demonstrations peacefully. Handing out leaflets in 2014, Atena joined thousands of other Iranians in a peaceful protest against the execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari. She has utilized social media to criticize the government on Facebook and as a result of this was arrested in September 2016 for “assembly and collusion against national security” and “insulting the Supreme Leader.”

            A few years earlier in October 2014, Atena was arrested by the Revolutionary Guard and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for propaganda against the regime by holding demonstrations in support of the children of Kobane in Syria and also by listening to Iranian rapper Shahin Najafi’s protest songs.

            Atena’s imprisonment conditions have been horrific in a jail which is overcrowded and unhygienic. After becoming ill from the unsanitary conditions, she was denied access to medical treatment. She was also sexually assaulted by prison guards on numerous occasions. Refusing to surrender to the horrific prison conditions, Atena composed several letters behind bars drawing attention to the inhumane treatment she and other political prisoners endured at both Evin and Shahre-e-Ray prisons. Suffering alongside her best friend Golrokh Iraee, wife of Arash Sadeghi, they both embarked on a long hunger strike in February 2018 to protest against the pathetic prison conditions that had taken the lives of their fellow inmates through “silent executions.” Thousands of supporters became their voices through posts on Facebook and Twitter joining them in the cause to condemn the inhumane treatment by the Iranian regime.

            Suffering in prison in both body and soul, did not stop Atena from being a loud voice of protest against the barbaric tactics of the government. In one of her most powerful prison letters, Atena confronts the Iranian regime with their horrific history of human rights abuses. The most profound way to get inside of the soul of Atena is to read her prison letters of rebuke against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

               Forty-one years ago, protestors took to the streets to struggle against poverty, addiction, class difference, corruption of officials, etc. They held secret meetings, secretly distributed audio tapes and pamphlets in the dark of nights, wrote on the walls, held gatherings and went on strike, shattered windows and set fire to public properties, buses and banks, obtained guns and hand-made bombs, and killed high ranking officials which ultimately led to the (1979) Revolution. I studied all of these again during the 107 days I was in exile in Gharchak (Prison). These were the memoirs of people who had spoken proudly of what they had done, and now, many of them are high-ranking officials of this regime.

       But none of the problems that were supposed to be uprooted by those honorific actions have been eliminated; they have rather become worse than in the past and further supplemented by massacres and mass graves.

        Over the past 40 years, the criticisms and protests of our angry and tired people have been suppressed in the cruelest possible manner; they have been imprisoned, executed, sent to exile and (forcibly) disappeared. As done by ISIS, they were run over by cars. Even their religious convictions were seriously undermined by this Islamic regime. Gharchak Prison and its inhabitants are but a small part of the achievements of the revolution.

       Yes, you must know that the more you resort to violence and repression, there are many who would rather die than to surrender to oppression, like the girls in Koubani who jumped from the top of Koubani Mountains and died to protect them from being outraged by ISIS. Now, instead of torturing, recording forced confessions, and issuing death sentences, you should think why people are turned into critics, protesters, opponents and finally your sworn enemies. To find out why, you must examine your own behavior and actions.

     I personally reject all forms of violence. I condemn issuing death penalties under any pretext for anyone with any belief or creed.

   And Gharchak! This was a great, albeit bitter, experience for me. It was actually a great university! This forced exile opened my eyes even more on a great part of my society which has been forgotten or concealed behind false propaganda.

   I believe the intolerable conditions in Gharchak Prison should be strongly denounced. It is a concentration camp, a rehabilitation camp, and is called the Shahr-e Ray Repentance Center. There is a lot to say about this Repentance Center where one can find everything but repentance. I will soon speak out about the truth.

   I am grateful to those who were kind to us in any way they could despite their own agony and pains in that dark dungeon. I repeat that I am humble before each and every one of those prisoners, even if they were forced to swear at us or beat us!

   I am also grateful to everyone who remembered us while we were absent. In the end, I would like to express my gratitude to my dear family who has not left me alone even for a moment throughout these years, despite being beaten by electric shockers and baton.

        Atena is a tough survivor and a brilliant outspoken young lady. The Iranian Regime cannot silence her. Her voice is being heard loud and clear all across the internet, on Facebook, Twitter, and wherever there is a platform, you will hear Atena speaking out for humanity.


       From young children, to the victims of juvenile executions, to the brave ladies who remove their hijabs on Revolution street, Atena has become their voice. She is not concerned with her own freedom or physical well-being, but rather she is concerned with the injustices committed on a daily basis to the people of Iran that she loves with all of heart.  Atena refuses to be silent!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Nasrin Sotoudeh: Defender of human rights

Nasrin Sotudeh is a compassionate Iranian lawyer who is a voice for the voiceless. She is currently suffering in prison for defending human rights in Iran. Her story will be featured in my new book, Dear God: Please bring freedom to Iran."

            Proverbs 31:8-9  
      “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute,
                 Speak up and judge fairly: defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

                The Bible exhorts us to be a voice for the voiceless, to stand up and defend the helpless and the oppressed. Whenever I am meditating on this scripture, I immediately think of Nasrin Sotoudeh, an Iranian lawyer who is a champion of human rights. She represents the women who remove their veils and cry out for choice, she represents the families of juveniles who are put to death, and she represents the millions of desperate activists who are imprisoned for standing up to a dictatorship government for freedom of speech and religion.

            On June 13, 2018, Nasrin and her husband Reza were arrested together at their home and transferred to Evin Prison. Nasrin is no stranger to prison bars. It is hard to believe that a practicing attorney is put in jail for defending human rights, but in Iran human rights is an oxymoron. The Iranian regime has no respect for individual freedom or human rights. Under Sharia Law, it is either obey or be disciplined!

            Recently Nasrin had publicly criticized the government’s new rule of restricting the rights of activists and dissidents from hiring an independent lawyer. The rule stated that only a government appointed lawyer would be accepted and Nasrin dared to challenge the system. Prior to her arrest, Nasrin had been busy defending “The Girls of Revolution Street” for publicly removing their veils during the December 2017 uprising. The government lashed out on the women charging them with “encouraging immorality and prostitution,” charges that carried 10-year prison sentences! Nasrin objected to the charges, stating that the women had a right to protest, which brought down the wrath of the regime upon her.

            Prior to her current incarceration, Nasrin was arrested in 2011, for defending the protesters of the Green Movement which criticized the government in what they believed was a stuffed ballot box in the fraudulent re-election of Ahmadinejad in 2009. It was during this imprisonment that Nasrin went on a 49-day hunger strike protesting the unjust travel restrictions put on her two children. After a long and difficult battle which nearly took her life, the government relinquished their restrictions and Nasrin emerged, weak and exhausted, but victorious! A year later when Hassan Rouhani became president, he pardoned Nasrin in 2013 and she was finally free to rejoin her family. However, the regime removed her license to practice law and even though she was free from prison bars, Nasrin wasn’t free to resume the passion of her life in defending the voiceless.

            “I was released,” Nasrin proclaimed, “but I was not freed. For me this sort of freedom is meaningless when my friends are still in prison!”

            For Nasrin, freedom is only true freedom when those she has represented can finally go free from the hell they are living in.
            The U.S. State Department, in response to her recent arrest along with her husband Reza, spoke out against her unjust imprisonment.
            We applaud Ms. Sotoudeh’s bravery and her fight for long-suffering victims of the regime. We call on Iranian authorities to release her immediately, along with the hundreds of others who are imprisoned simply for expressing their views and desires for a better life.”

            Proverbs 31 commands us to be a voice for the voiceless. Nasrin has spent her life standing up for the downtrodden and oppressed and now it’s our turn to speak up for her.
            While suffering in prison, Nasrin wrote an intimate and personal letter to her husband Reza, once again demonstrating her love and compassion for the hurting Iranians.

            My dear Reza; Everyone ponders about their freedom while in prison. Although my freedom is also important to me, it is not more important than the justice that has been ignored and denied.”
            Nasrin is a glowing example of compassion for the voiceless. She is more committed to their freedom than her own! She truly is a symbol of hope and healing for the Iranian people.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Mania Masoudi: "Safe in the arms of God."

Living in the oppressed culture of Iran, Mania had no hope and no future as a woman. Then one day, God brought a special person into her life that would take her on an incredible journey to a living hope in Christ. Mania's incredible story will be featured in my book, "Dear God, please bring freedom to Iran."

               Growing up in Tehran, Mania’s childhood memories were not filled with the laughter and innocence of a normal girl as typical of so many, but rather they were filled with the painful memories of a culture that was oppressive to women. Her family was not religious, but Muslim in name only, and from the very beginning Mania had no interest in reading the Quran or practicing Islam. She was offended by the way her culture treated women. Men and women were not equal but segregated. The husband treated his wife as a possession and she had no other alternative but to obey. He had the freedom to marry up to four wives, but she must remain submissive and obedient to his every sexual desire. The wife could not travel alone and had to have the husband’s permission for everything she did. She was forced to wear a hijab when going out publicly and was constantly under the scrutiny and control of her husband.

                When Mania observed on a daily basis how dominating and controlling Islam was, especially to women, she decided that if this is who God really is, then she didn’t want to have anything to do with him. She was saddened by the way women were treated like birds in a cage, with no choice and no freedom. For Mania, Islam was a religion of fear that gave men total control over a woman. She felt trapped in a culture of oppression and discrimination with no way out and no future for her as a woman.

            Hearing the tragic news of her brother suffering a stroke while serving in the Iranian army brought more misery and sadness into Mania’s already troubled world. Now she had the difficult task of helping her mother be a caretaker for Milad who was partially paralyzed. Each day she had to help him shower and dress. Overwhelmed by feelings of worthlessness, Milad tried twice to commit suicide, but fortunately was unsuccessful. Watching her brother emotionally deteriorate everyday caused Mania to sink deeper into her own darkness of depression.

            Learning to play the piano became a serious passion for Mania as she tried to cope with the sadness and depression that dominated her life. Her parents hired a personal piano teacher to give her daily lessons. When Mania was introduced to Rambod, she was immediately impressed by his kind and gentle spirit. Unlike Mania, Rambod was a religious man, and he loved to talk about his faith. He was a Christian that belonged to the Armenian Church, a church that had been shut down by the government. Rambod eagerly shared his faith in Christ with Mania. Even though Mania had completely given up on God and religion, she found herself being drawn to what Rambod said and was curious in learning more.

            Rambod invited Mania to church and she was shocked to discover that instead of meeting in a huge cathedral building, that instead his group met in a small house. Rambod was part of the house church movement in Iran which was constantly under the surveillance of the government. Christianity was not a welcome religion in Iran. It was against the law for Muslims to convert to Christ and if caught they would be arrested, imprisoned, and in some cases put to death.

            While attending one of the house church meetings, Mania confided in Rambod about her brother’s paralysis and together they prayed for him to be healed. Two days later, Mania’s world was transformed forever! Milad had been miraculously healed and could now dress himself and take showers. He was no longer paralyzed! Mania was astonished by what appeared to be a miraculous answer to prayer and this amazing event compelled her to become a Christian.

            Mania’s life had radically changed! She had discovered a God who gave her hope and a future. He was not a God of fear or violence, but rather a God she could talk directly to and feel his love. Most importantly she discovered that the God of Christianity treated women with respect and compassion. However, the good times did not last very long. One evening, government agents burst through the doors and began arresting the Christians during their worship service. Panic-stricken, Mania quickly escaped through a back door and fled down the street toward her home. It would be the last time that she ever saw her dear friend Rambod.
            The very next day at
 her photography studio, Mania received a frantic phone call from her mother. The Police had been at their home looking for her. Her mother instructed her to immediately leave Tehran and go to a friend’s house where she would be safe until the heat died down. After staying at her friend’s home in the countryside, once again her mother called. This time the news was even worse! Her father had been arrested. It was no longer safe for her to remain in Iran. Arrangements had been made by her mother for her to meet a man who would take her to the airport and smuggle her out of Iran.

            Frantic with the fear of being arrested and put in prison, Mania followed her mother’s instructions, and rode with the strange man to the airport. Within a few hours they were airborne and enroute to London. Mania was amazed of how smoothly everything was going. She had not been stopped by the police for questioning, but instead had made a miraculous exit from a country that was looking for her because she was now a Christian!
            After landing at Heathrow Airport in London, the man that had accompanied her mysteriously vanished! She was now all alone, in a strange country, exhausted, and shaking with fear. Unsure of what do next, Mania introduced herself to the airport staff and explained that she had escaped from Iran because the government was going to arrest her. Mania was now a refugee, an illegal alien knocking at the back door of the UK pleading for asylum.

            The Airport staff transported her to at Detention Center Zone temporarily until she could be properly processed. The detention zone was a frightening place filled with strange men and Mania quickly discovered that she was the only woman there! The overnight stay was one of the most frightening experiences of her life. She couldn’t sleep, shaking with fear, that at any second, she would be raped by one of the strange men. It felt almost like being back in Iran!

            Three days later, after being ill from the horrible food and the fear of being raped, Mania was finally transferred to Stockport City in Manchester. Stockport City quickly became like heaven on earth to her. It was a huge hotel with much better sleeping conditions and much better food. During her hotel stay, an extensive background check was done on Mania and she successfully passed. Now she qualified for the next step in the process. She was transferred to Liverpool and applied for a formal application as an asylum seeker.

            Since 2015, Mania has been living in Glasgow, Scotland in a government furnished flat with two rooms and a lovely roommate from Nigeria. In January 2017, she was officially baptized and became a member of the Easter House Baptist Church. Reflecting back on the incredible events that have transformed her life in the past three years, Mania summarizes everything with one word, “Grateful."

            Mania is grateful to God for her new life, because now she has hope. When she lived in Iran, she was bitter, depressed, and without hope. She had no future, but Christ has given her hope and a future. Her heart is filled with gratitude that her life was miraculously spared. Instead of being tortured in a dirty prison in Iran, she is instead studying for the future at a university in the Scotland. Mania was attracted to Christianity by its love. The God of Christianity filled her heart with love instead of fear and gave her hope and forgiveness instead of depression and despair. Mania describes her present situation as, “safe in the arms of God.”

Monday, December 3, 2018

Fatemeh: A fearless warrior for Christ.

Being a Christian in Iran is very dangerous, but Fatemeh is not cowering in fear, instead she fearlessly stands up to the government who is persecuting her. My new blog story will be featured in the new book, "Dear God: Please bring freedom to Iran."

She is only 19 years old, but Fatemeh is a courageous and fearless young Iranian girl who is determined to send a message to the government about her new-found faith. Recently she walked away from Islam and converted to Christianity. In Iran, that is a very dangerous thing to do. Iran is governed by Shiite Mullahs and the Hadith proclaims, “whoever changes his Islamic religion, kill him!”  (Volume 9:57, Al Bukhari)

            Fatemeh understands the danger, but that doesn’t frighten her. She has found hope in Christ and experienced a peace and a joy that she never found in Islam. This makes her bolder and after spending six months in Evin Prison for her faith, she now stands in front of a video camera and publicly protests her treatment after her release.

            Holding up a sign, she looks intently into the camera and declares,
            “I am a Persian speaking Christian in Iran. This message is for all Christians. Please support us and stand with us so that the violence against Christians in Iran will be stopped. The Church is the right of all Christians.”

            The camera zooms in for a close up on the sign that reads, #Not Violence against Christians in Iran and church is the right of Christians. 
             Fatemeh published the video in her Instagram account and invited Christians from all over the world to support her. She has started a campaign for Christians to meet together in a main church in Iran instead of worshiping secretly in house churches for fear of being arrested by the government.

            Thirteen years earlier, in 2005, then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pledged in a speech to an audience of Mullahs, “I will stop Christianity in Iran."
            Ahmadinejad made it his personal crusade to persecute and arrest all former Muslims who had converted to Christianity and put an end to the underground house church movement. However, more than a decade later, thousands of young Iranians have ignored his threat and instead found their hope and freedom in Christ. One of those young Iranians, Fatemeh, was arrested in November 2017, and transferred to Evin Prison for “being a member of a proselytizing group,” and “acting against national security through propaganda against the regime.”

            Translation? Fatemeh left Islam and became a Christian, which is against the law since Iran became an Islamic State Republic in 1979. The government interprets this as an act of treason that can be punishable by a life sentence in prison or death by hanging. During her imprisonment she was tortured both mentally and spiritually to repent and forsake her Christian faith, but Fatemeh refused to deny her new-found love in Christ.

            Her interrogators used psychological and abusive techniques to humiliate her by inferring that she was a prostitute and a sleezy girl that slept around with many men.

            “They attempted to force me to falsely confess to illicit sexual relations with men,” Fatemeh explained. “Their entire objective was to make this accusation stick and force me to make up a story about sexual relations for them to read and enjoy, which had nothing to do with my case!”

            This type of immoral interrogation and abusive techniques is frequently used by interrogators to force political prisoners, under severe duress, to confess to a crime that they never committed. It is also widely known that male guards engage in sexual abuse and rape against female prisoners on a regular basis. In this particular situation, the interrogators decided to instead subject Fatemeh to mental and spiritual torment.

            Once Fatemeh was released six months later on May 14, 2018, the abuse didn’t stop. The interrogators continued their mental assault on Fatemeh by calling her home several times and making the same accusations to her parents. They ended the conversation with a stern warning to the parents declaring, “It is best that you stop your daughter from her activities as the path she is on leads to corruption!”

            Fatemeh fought back by sending a letter to the court judges, complaining about the immoral techniques used against her because she was a woman, revealing they had shouted at her and kicked the legs of the chair that she was sitting on to force her to confess and put into writing that she had sexual relations with other men.

            Determined to get the attention of the proper authorities, Fatemeh staged a “sit-in protest” across from Evin Prison until somebody listened and processed her complaint. When that didn’t produce the desired result, she then made a video holding up a sign calling on Christians around the world to join her in calling on Iran to stop the violence against Christians.
            Instead of cowering in fear to the abuse by the prison interrogators and denying her Christian faith, Fatemeh has instead boldly stood up to her accusers calling on them to be held accountable for their immoral methods of persecution against her. Where does Fatemeh get such boldness to stand up in such a dangerous place to be a Christian? She gets her boldness from the teachings of God’s word which proclaims, “The wicked run away when no one is chasing them, but the godly are as bold as lions.” (Proverbs 28:1)

            Fatemeh can fearlessly confront the evil in Iran because Jesus has given her his boldness and strength, telling her not to be afraid, because he will never leave or forsake her. Two thousand years ago Jesus looked intently into the eyes of Peter who had just declared that he was the Christ and made a powerful promise that based on his confession of faith, “That he would build his church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it!” (Matthew 16:18)

            Jesus has empowered his church with supernatural power and protection against Satan and all of the forces of evil. Ahmadinejad boasted he would rid Iran of Christianity and 13 years later, Iran is instead overflowing with fearless warriors who have believed the promise of Christ that hell itself will never stop the powerful, life changing message of the gospel!