That’s the case surrounding the erroneous story of the execution of Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. There were fears that the Iranian pastor had been killed after Facebook messages surfaced last week.
Jason Demars of Present Truth Ministries who was very involved in the Pastor Youcef case explains: “The Anglican vicar in Baghdad is a reliable person. I’m not sure where he got the information from, but they were basically reporting…the status he put on his Facebook page.”
When Demars heard that story, “I began to reach out to some of my contacts to see if they could get in touch with the family to verify whether that was the case or not.” Demars and Present Truth Ministries were very involved in the Pastor Youcef case. Soon, he heard back from his contacts. “They did reach the family and were able to confirm that he’s alive and doing fine.”
Last September, an Iranian court acquitted him on apostasy charges, a charge which carries the death-sentence. Instead, the court sentenced him to three years for “evangelizing Muslims.” Since he had already spent nearly three years in Lakan Prison, he posted bail and was released on January 7.
Misinformation is common in stories from closed or creative access nations, so sometimes it’s hard to know what’s really happening. Demars says credibility is really important when communicating security -sensitive information. It’s important “when we’re asked about situations, to follow through and get direct confirmation of the news.”
Even though this story was proven false, there are other Iranian Christians who are serving long prison terms. Iranian-born American Pastor Saeed Abedini is serving an eight-year prison term in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison on charges linked to his Christian faith.
Both the Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors have noted the uptick in harassment against Christians. Iranian authorities seem to be targeting the growing number of Muslim-background believers who often worship in underground house churches.
Iran ranks 8th on the Open Doors World Watch list, a compilation of the top 50 countries around the world known for their persecution of Christians. Evangelism, Bible training, and publishing Scriptures in Farsi are illegal.
However, Open Doors notes that many disillusioned Iranian Muslims are becoming curious about Christianity. Demars says for those who can provide answers from the Gospel, “Pray for their safety, pray that they have wisdom in their dealings from day to day and that they would continue doing what God has called them to do with strength and faith.”
The problem is: rumors like this one sometimes take a while to die down. They can be distracting. Be part of the solution. Demars says, “As these things come up, learn more about them and be an advocate for the persecuted, as well.”