Latest News

Catching Our Eye

Iranian pastor released after six years in prison

An Iranian pastor has been released from prison after serving six years for “acting against national security”.

Behnam Irani, from the self-styled “Church of Iran”, was originally given a five-year suspended sentence in 2008. He was re-arrested in 2010 during a service at a “house church” and in 2011 he was told he must serve his five-year sentence, plus an additional one year.

He suffered serious health issues during his time in prison, much of which was a result of the physical abuse he received at the hands of fellow prisoners, according to Middle East Concern. In February 2014, he reportedly underwent an operation for bleeding from his stomach and colon.

Later that year, he was sentenced to a further six years in prison, solitary confinement and exile to a remote outpost near the Afghanistan border for “spreading corruption on Earth”. However, the additional charges were dropped on appeal.

He was finally released last night (17 October).

Maldives leaves Commonwealth over rights progress

The Republic of Maldives has withdrawn from the Commonwealth after the Indian Ocean nation was accused of failing to show progress on democracy, says the BBC.

Describing its move as “difficult but inevitable”, the nation says the Commonwealth did “not recognise its achievements in strengthening its democratic institutions and a raft of measures promoting human rights”.

The Commonwealth had issued a warning of suspension if changes were not made, but its Secretary-General, Baroness Scotland, said that although she is saddened by the Maldives’ decision to leave, she hopes it will be a “temporary separation”.

Islam is the only recognised religion. Life as a non-Muslim in the Maldives is difficult, according to the charity Open Doors, which ranks it 13th in its World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian. It says: “the promotion of any other religion is illegal and punishable by 2-5 years in prison. Although the state recognises expatriate Christians, they are not allowed to hold any religious activities, including Christian weddings, funerals or baptisms”.

The constitution denies citizenship to non-Muslims and the country introduced a strict defamation law in August, with stiff punishments for comments or actions considered insulting to Islam. Thomas Muller, analyst at Open Doors’ World Watch Research, commented at the time: “It is surprising that this new law restricts freedom of religion even further... What this law adds is that the religious unity of the country should receive protection too. As a consequence, all expressions of Islam that the government does not approve of will be in trouble too. One observer concludes that, given the close ties the Maldives has formed with Saudi Arabia, religious practice is increasingly likely to orientate towards Wahhabism [conservative Islam]. For Christians, this law will not bring much change, but it remains to be seen if Christian migrant workers [in the tourism sector] will be affected by it”.

The pressure group, The Ethical Maldives Alliance, said last year that “the Maldives has a long and sad history of political oppression and human rights abuses… Most tourists to the islands remain blissfully unaware of the realities of life for the local population”.

ISIS defeated at ‘apocalyptic’ battleground, Dabiq

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels have reportedly recaptured the symbolically important Syrian town of Dabiq from the Islamic State (IS).

A commander from the Hamza Brigade rebel group told the Associated Press resistance from IS was “minimal”.

Dabiq holds major significance for IS as the location of a prophesied battle it believes will lead to the end of the world. It’s about 40km (25 miles) north-east of Aleppo and 10km (6.2km) south of Syria’s border with Turkey.

In one hadith, Muhammad is believed to have prophesied that “the last hour will not come” until the “Romans” have been defeated by an Islamic army in Dabiq. (IS takes the “crusader” armies of America and its allies to be the modern-day “Romans”.)

Every issue of IS's propaganda magazine, which is named after the town, contains this quote, attributed to Al-Qaeda’s former Emir, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi: “The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify – by Allah’s permission – until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq”.

The Monitor in Your Inbox

Subscribe to news by email and RSS. Choose the countries of your interest.