Iran


One of the most frequent questions I’m faced with in advocacy and awareness raising work is: “Why?”

It can be very difficult to come up with an answer or to begin to attempt to explain how a repressive regime or a dictator “thinks”.

There is a great quote today in the Washington Post (which has been doing some fantastic coverage of Cuba recently) by Yoani Sánchez, the internationally recognized blogger responsible for Generacion Y (and long time friend of Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso and Yoaxis Marcheco, who have featured frequently on this blog). She’s talking specifically about Cuba, but her comment applies to pretty much every repressive regime I’ve come across:

Ms. Sánchez reminded us that such arbitrariness is characteristic of authoritarianism. “It is hard to think like a repressor, if you have never been one,” she said. “They have their own logic. One of the most paralyzing elements of the Cuban repression is its illogical nature.”

Click here for the full article.

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He made my words of judgment as sharp as a sword.
He has hidden me in the shadow of his hand.
I am like a sharp arrow in his quiver.

Isaiah 49:2

I read this verse before going to work one day at the start of the week. As I read it, it seemed like little more than an interesting metaphor for the work my colleagues and I do. Over the course of the week however, I found myself a witness to the phenomenal power of words, like a sharp sword when directed by God. I also saw the destruction caused by careless and malicious words.

For some time now, my organization has been working on the case of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani. Nadarkhani is an Iranian who became a Christian fifteen years ago at the age of nineteen. He is married with two young boys. Two years ago, he complained about the fact that his Christian sons were being forced to receive an Islamic education. He probably knew this would cause some trouble, but I don’t think he or anyone else could have predicted how much. He was arrested, imprisoned and found himself at the beginning of a long and torturous journey through the Iranian court system, which continues today.

His crime in the eyes of the Iranian state was his teenage conversion to Christianity. Iranian law does not explicitly call for converts to be put to death (although there have been attempts to pass legislation that would do just that) but the words, statements and judgments of Islamic clerics can also be taken into consideration. Hardliners call for all apostates, or those who leave Islam for another religion, to be killed. My colleagues who have been working directly on this case believe that powerful individuals want to make an example of Nadarkhani by executing him for this “crime,” in the hopes that it will make other would be converts think twice.

In Mexico a few weeks ago, I was amazed at the reaction the case received when I mentioned it to Mexican officials at both the Federal and State levels. Information is a powerful thing; as these officials in Mexico and other Latin American countries including Peru and Uruguay, received these words about Nadarkhani via my mouth but also through the briefings written by colleagues and translated by incredible volunteers, there was a strong and immediate reaction which I know has been communicated directly to the Iranian embassies in those countries.

This past week, Nadarkhani was given what appeared to be his final chance to live. Over the course of three days he was asked each day by the judge to recant. Each day his mouth emitted the simple but powerful words, “I cannot.” After the third day, his last chance and his third refusal, Nadarkhani became vulnerable to execution at any time.

His lawyer, a courageous human rights lawyer who has also been persecuted by the Iranian government, used his words to argue that demanding Nadarkhani renounce his faith is in fact illegal under Iranian law. It remains to be seen how much these words penetrated the heart of the judge as we still await the written verdict.

New forms of media (well, not so new anymore) like Twitter and Facebook provide a way of getting out words on a massive scale. My colleagues have worked tirelessly all week and weekend, often late into the night, publishing short, powerful messages that have been passed on tens of thousands of times. They’ve also used more traditional forms of communication – working with the mainstream media to get the word out about Nadarkhani’s situation.

It’s been hugely encouraging to see celebrities and famous writers, both Christian and non-Christian, retweet our words and campaign messages. But in some ways it’s been even more deeply inspiring to see how the rank and file has reacted. Individuals literally all over the world have prayed without ceasing, have told their friends and churches, have organized marches and public protests, have on their own initiative found out the details of the Iranian embassy in their country and telephoned them, and have taken my words and the words of my colleagues and without being asked have translated them into other languages, increasing the impact of our words on a grand scale.

I’ve also seen the darker side of words. I’ve seen other organisations behave carelessly with the names and personal details of sources, putting them and their loved ones in danger and jeopardizing their work. I’ve been disgusted as a few individuals and organisations have used Nadarkhani’s plight and their words to promote themselves. The reaction from Iran has been truly despicable – as they too tried to use the power of words to slander and defame Nadarkhani, in the apparent hope that this would cause his supporters to fall away.

But this did not happen. When we allow God to use our words they become that sharp sword. We, His people hidden all over the world in the shadow of His hand, are those arrows in His quiver. As I write this, almost 40,000 people all over the world have used their words to send a letter of protest to the Iranian government. The EU, US, Canadian, British, French and German governments have used their words to express strong public condemnation of what has happened to Nadarkhani. Later today Brazilian Christians will march down Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro in a public demonstration of their support for Nadarkhani.

Only God knows what will happen to Nadarkhani and we pray and know that He will sustain him and his family. All day every day, my colleagues and I wait for more news from Iran – sharing it with his thousands of supporters as soon as we are able. We’ll continue to do this, using our words, the freedom we enjoy to speak those words and the technology with which we’ve been blessed to spread them to strengthen and build the unity of the Body behind Nadarkhani.

If you want to use your words please go to http://bit.ly/nadarkhani to send a letter of protest to the Iranian government. Tell your friends and your churches to do the same and to use their words to pray.