Two Iranian Christians are pleading with the world to hear the cries of the Iranian people as they recounted their own ordeal of being imprisoned for their faith., Christian Post reports. In remarks before hundreds gathered at a Wednesday afternoon plenary session at the State Department for the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh explained how Jesus Christ sustained them and miraculously intervened when they were jailed. The women were born into Muslim families who became Christians as young adults; the two friends met in Turkey while studying theology in 2005.
The two women were arrested in 2009 by the Iranian regime because of their Christian faith and spent 259 days in one of the nations most notorious prisons. They were subjected to daily interrogations and mental torture, were said to have committed various offenses — apostasy, blasphemy, promoting Christianity in Iran — and were sentenced to execution by hanging. During their ordeal, Iranian officials also routinely threatened their lives and the lives of their families in order to pressure them to recant their faith, but they refused.
“Since Islam is the only official religion in Iran, government authorities forbid other religious minorities from practicing their faith,” Amirizadeh said, noting that persecution against Christians has been rising in recent years.
Men and women who leave Islam for the Christian faith are deemed “infidels” and “dirty,” she continued, and such individuals often face the death penalty and various kinds of torture. She and Rostampour were mistreated in the prison in which they were jailed, not allowed to use certain facilities within the prison and doctors did not treat them with medication. They were coerced into participating in Islamic prayers and had no access to Bibles. While in prison they also saw prison guards physically abusing and beating others, a source of agony for them.
“The only thing that helped us stand on our faith was our personal relationship with Jesus and the love of God that we have experienced in our lives. We told them many times that Jesus is our Lord and you cannot take Him away from us,” Amirizadeh said.
Rostampour added: “We believe we are alive today because of Jesus’ power and His miracles.”
The Iranian government had to release the friends after significant international pressure from other governments, Christian ministries and advocacy groups. Yet just before they were released the intelligence officers threatened them that they would be watched daily, and told them they could not guarantee their safety, giving them names of pastors who were killed secretly after they were released from prison.
“Some of the threats were that ‘you will die in an accident’ or ‘your house may catch on fire.'”
Rostampour and Amirizadeh were forced to leave Iran in 2010. They recount their harrowing experiences and the numerous other injustices occurring in Iran in a book they co-authored called Captive in Iran: A Remarkable True Story of Hope and Triumph amid the Horror of Tehran’s Brutal Evin Prison.
“Hundreds of Christians have been arrested by Iranian authorities and charged with disrupting national security for being a Christian and participating in home churches, receiving prison sentences of 2 to 10 years,” Rostampour explained Wednesday.
Despite these pressures, Christianity is spreading in Iran, she continued, and the majority of Iranians are tired of their current government as they regard it as corrupt and oppressive.
“Our hope and prayer for our country is that one day Iran will be a free country,” she said to applause, “ruled by a democratic government. “We hope for a day when all religious minorities can meet together in peace without having the fear of getting harassed, arrested, tortured or killed by the government.”
She urged the international community to listen to the voices crying out for freedom in Iran.
Following their remarks, Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, who presided over the ministerial, and USAID Administrator Mark Green reiterated the importance of furthering religious freedom around the globe. The first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, hosted last week by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, was attended by delegates from over 80 countries, including some where there are religious freedom concerns.
Iran Blocks Nearly All Internet Access
Iran imposed an almost complete nationwide internet blackout on Sunday one of its most draconian attempts to cut off Iranians from each other and the rest of the world as widespread anti-government unrest roiled the streets of Tehran and other cities for a third day, The New York Times reported.
The death toll for the three days of protests rose to at least 12; hundreds were injured; and more than 1,000 people have been arrested, according to semiofficial news agencies like Fars News.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word on all state matters, called the demonstrators “thugs” and endorsed the government’s decision to raise prices it sets for rationed gasoline by 50 percent as of Friday and by 300 percent for gasoline that exceeds ration limits. Even after the price hike, gasoline in Iran is still cheaper than in most of the rest of the world – now the equivalent of about 50 cents a gallon.
In a speech on Sunday, Khamenei said he would support rationing and increasing gas prices because heads of three branches of government had made the decision.
Khamenei also acknowledged that Iranians had taken to the streets to protest and that some had died – however, he blamed the protests on monarchists and opposition groups trying to destabilize Iran, the Times added.
The widespread discontent on display across the country marked yet another crisis for the country. Iran has been struggling with an economic crisis after the United States exited a nuclear deal and reimposed harsh sanctions that ban Iran’s oil sales.
HASC Chairman Claims Legislation to Create a Space Force in 2020 ‘Still Possible’
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith said last week that negotiations on the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act are “proceeding reasonably well” but he expressed doubt that the NDAA will include language to authorize a Space Force as a separate military branch, SpaceNews reported.
“It’s still possible but by no means guaranteed,” Smith told reporters on Capitol Hill last week. When asked for specifics, Smith said, “I don’t think it would be helpful for me to make predictions.”
The biggest sticking point in the NDAA negotiations is language in the House version of the bill that restricts the use of military funds to pay for the wall that President Trump wants to build along the U.S.-Mexico border, SpaceNews adds.
There are other dealbreaker issues. The authorization of a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces is one of them, Smith said. Other contentious matters include extending the “war powers” legislation that authorizes the president to use military force, and allowing transgender people to serve in the military.
Smith said the House and Senate NDAA conference in recent weeks worked on compromise language on hundreds of provisions and “reduced the stack significantly, and we’re down to a few really contentious issues.”
Smith characterized the Space Force as a “higher echelon” issue that is proving divisive. Both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate continue to have reservations about the administration’s Space Force proposal, said Smith. “There is bipartisan concern on the proposal and bicameral concern about the specifics of that proposal.”
The House version of the NDAA creates a Space Corps and is closer aligned with what the administration proposed. The Senate bill would rename the Air Force Space Command the U.S. Space Force and does not specifically authorize a sixth branch of the armed forces.
Smith noted that the House has been a proponent of a military space branch since 2017 while the Senate had adamantly opposed it. “In their bill they didn’t have the same language that we did. But the president has persuaded them to look at it differently.”
Gunman Kills Four at California Backyard Party
Police in the California city of Fresno were investigating a mass shooting at a football game party on Sunday in which at least 10 people were shot, killing four, with five others left in critical condition and another wounded, Reuters informs.
Three men died at the scene and another died at a hospital, Fresno Deputy Police Chief Michael Reed said in a late night news conference. Six more were hospitalized, he said.
“Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this thing,” Reed said. “This was senseless violence. We’re going to do everything we can to find out who the perpetrators were and bring them to justice.”
A gunman walked into a backyard and started shooting at a south Fresno home, where a gathering of about 35 family and friends was watching a football game before 8 p.m., said Reed. Neighbors soon flooded 911 dispatchers with calls for help, Reuters adds.
The suspect fled the scene and police were combing the neighborhood for witnesses and possible security camera footage, police said. Police did not release further information about the shooting in the city about 200 miles (320 km) north of Los Angeles, except that the dead were men between the ages of 25 and 35.