Like many Americans, I followed the story of Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer with interest over the past couple of weeks. They spent the last two years experiencing something few of us ever will.
The two American hikers spent more than two years imprisoned in the Islamic Republic of Iran after being accused of espionage. They insist they are innocent and were held hostage simply because of their nationality. They arrived in New York on Sunday, greeted by family members and the press.
I praise God that they are released. No one should be treated as these two men were.
When they were first arrested, Fattal and Bauer spent three months in solitary confinement before being locked in an 8-by-13-foot cell together. Just last month, they were given a trial behind closed doors. The two hikers told Reuters that the case against them was a “total sham.” They said that even though no evidence was presented against them, they were still sentenced to eight years in prison.
As soon as I thank God for Fattal’s and Bauer’s safety and release, the Holy Spirit triggers something deep within me. Something I read in a Reuters news article increased my distress.
“Many times, too many times, we heard the screams of other prisoners being beaten and there was nothing we could do to help them,” Fattal said. “Solitary confinement was the worst experience of our lives.”
I have no idea whose faces are behind the screams that now haunt these men. I don’t know the specifics of the situation, but I do know that Iranian Christians are imprisoned throughout the country.
Those screams could have come from Youcef Nadarkhani, the 34-year-old pastor who has been in prison since October 2009 (http://www.prisoneralert.com/pprofiles/vp_prisoner_214_profile.html?_nc=48700ebfb6bdacb8240bbfa865cf6017).
Those screams could have come from your Christian family members, dear brothers and sisters.
Despite their horrific treatment, Fattal and Bauer were at an advantage. Entire nations and media industries monitored their case. After they were placed in a cell together, Fattal and Bauer spent time reading and testing each other on various topics. They were allowed a short time in an outside room for daily exercise. During their 781 days in jail, they talked with their families on the phone for 15 minutes, and their mothers were allowed to visit them once.
The Iranian government wanted to keep them healthy. When Fattal and Bauer staged repeated hunger strikes because they couldn’t receive letters from their families, they were successful. These two men were taken care of because world media and multiple governments carefully monitored their case.
It still took two years for them to be released, at the cost of $1 million bail.
Unlike Fattal and Bauer, few monitor the cases of imprisoned Christians in Iran. If two American hikers experienced this kind of treatment, what do Iranian Christians experience? They are at the mercy of their captors.
Many Christians probably remain in solitary confinement, never given the opportunity to exercise, and they would likely be mocked if they tried a hunger strike. After reading about Fattal and Bauer, everything inside me cries at the thought of what is happening to imprisoned Christians right now. They probably never see their families, and I highly doubt that they are given a Bible to read.
They are screaming. They are hurting. And I sit here, writing a blog.
“It is the Iranian people who bear the brunt of this government’s cruelty and disregard for human rights,” Bauer said.
Bauer told Reuters that he could not forgive the Iranian government when it continues to imprison other innocent people. In contrast, our Iranian brothers and sisters in Christ are routinely imprisoned and denied basic human rights. They are taken away from their families, and yet they continue to forgive their persecutors. Christ often gives Christians a power to do something they never thought they could do — forgive.
Reports indicate that persecution of Christians in Iran is increasing. Please pray for the Christians still imprisoned in Iran and for their Iranian captors. Our hearts should go out to those who show no love to our family or us. We must pray that God’s love breaks down these incredible walls of violence and injustice. Also pray for Bauer and Fattal, that they would experience the peace that Christ offers us through forgiveness.