The fate of Christians in Iran
The Islamic Republic of Iran in the previous year acted more harshly and severely than ever before to limit, through arrests and detentions, the existence and growth of Evangelical Christians.
Farsi Christian News Network ( FCNN) and the Committee of Human Rights Advocates Report
Last year, with the start of the year 2009, we reported that Mr. Carl Muller of the Open Door Ministries had stated that, “based on existing reports we predict that in 2009 the Christians around the world will be persecuted more than ever before”. He added that, “we are not seers and can not see into the future, but we feel that brutality and persecution of Christians, especially in parts of the world like the Middle East, is on the rise.” Moreover, in this report by the Open Door Ministries, the list of countries with the worst human rights records towards Christians is published annually. In 2009 passing the previously second ranked Saudi Arabia and only outpaced by North Korea, was the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The following summary analysis is based on the visible and official incidents of suppression against Christians in Iran that have been reported. The reality is much worse than what has appeared in the International media and based on these facts the international human rights advocacies have declared the Islamic Republic of Iran as one of the worst offenders and persecutors of Christians in 2009. The following summary only reflects those incidents that were committed by the judiciary and the public security organizations in Iran and were thus reported in the international media. A great part of the unreported persecutions continue to be the systematic oppression and discrimination against Christians at the work places, threats and humiliation by people in the community, which are cleverly manipulated and orchestrated against Christian believers. Many of these incidents have not been reported and verified due to the arrests and threats of retaliation against the persons and their families and have prevented them from speaking against their persecutors.
In reviewing the following survey one can see that fortunately in 2009 there were no incidents of mass killings, executions, or long term prison sentences handed to Christians. There were only 2 cases in which the judicial authorities passed verdicts or ordered punishments. But this is only one side of the coin. The other side consists of systematic arrests and detention of Evangelical Christians in order to, more than even before, reduce and limit the scope of their activities in Iran.
Many Evangelical Christians in Iran are mainly new converts who have left their previous religion of Islam and become Christians. In reviewing the following list one can easily notice that this particular group, namely the new Christian converts, is the primary target of the security forces and the judiciary authorities. One can attribute this to the rapid growth of this group in all the segments of the Iranian society that has puzzled the leadership of the Islamic Republic. At the start of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 there were an estimated 500 Farsi speaking Christians, out of a 35 million population, in Iran. Now, after the passage of almost 30 years and a population that has exceeds 70 million, there are estimates that the Farsi speaking Christians are in the tens of thousands who have abandoned their Islamic beliefs and have embraced Christianity as their faith. This shows, even in the worst case scenario, a growth of many thousand percents.
The Violation of the Constitution
Even though in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran religious minorities are fully recognized and protected, these provisions have never been respected by the leadership of the government. It seems that there is an unspoken agreement among these officials to violate these enshrined protections. The following clearly demonstrates the utter disregard the government has had in upholding the constitution when it came to the Christian minorities:
- All activities, gatherings, and church services are being monitored through visible and invisible means by the officers of the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Islamic Guidance.
- The enforcement of the prohibition against Christian evangelism. The government has been enforcing this matter severely and many church leaders have been arrested for such activities. The prohibition against evangelism and water baptism by newly converted members has been a bargaining point used by the government in order to allow the issuance of religious ministry licenses in Iran.
- The pursuit, arrest, and the illegal detention of Christians without due consideration for the local laws and international conventions by the official and “unofficial” agents of the government.
- Limiting the frequency of church gatherings using any and all excuses, the ongoing attempt by the security officers to prevent church gatherings and Bible studies in Farsi, and forcing church leaders to reveal the identities of their members and the submission of church membership lists to the government and security agents.
- Rejection of license application for the construction of church buildings and the closure of the existing facilities of active churches in an humiliating fashion.
- Work related discriminations in all levels of the society and the outright rejection of suitable candidates from military posts. It has been years since any Christian has been able to secure a military post and Christians have been systematically discriminated against jobs in the government ministries, judicial courts, and security agencies.
- Clear and explicit discrimination against Christians in both the civic and religious courts. Even though the inequality between Christians and Muslims with regards to the issue of Bail has been resolved, many other issues such as inheritance, marriage, and apostasy have created an environment of insecurity and unease among Christians.
- The ban on the publishing of Christian books and literature. At the same time and often, the conservative and fundamentalist Islamic publications continue their attacks on the Christians and their accusations that Christians are spies for the Western powers remains relentless. Christians have lost their rights to defend themselves by relying on independent publications and voices in the country.
The above points clearly demonstrate the systematic violation of human rights committed by the Islamic Republic of Iran against religious minorities. It is interesting to note that during all these years since the start of the Islamic Revolution the Muslim people of Iran have not acted in any reactionary ways against the Christians. It is the government of Iran and its official and unofficial agencies that have consistently oppressed and persecuted the Christians.
A Comparative Survey
In order to understand the severity of the current conditions in Iran with respect to Christians, one may need to look at other religious minorities in order to gain a better perspective. According to reports by the international human rights advocacies the Iranian Baha’is are the most recognized and persecuted religious minority in the world. The followers of this religion have been severely persecuted due to the fact that they have never been recognized as an official religious minority in Iran.
Studies have shown that during 2009 Baha’is were attacked and their leaders arrested on 8 separate occasions (reported by the US State Department regarding the religious persecutions- October 2009). During the same period of time, the number of such raids and subsequent arrests and detentions were more than 14 incidents for the Christian community of Iran. The Baha’is reported 2 incidents of destruction of their properties and places of gatherings. Christians reported a similar number as well. Seven leaders of the Baha’i faith were arrested in 2008 and remain in detention and yet, the file on the murder of 3 Christian leaders who were murdered many years ago is still open and unresolved.
The fact that the arrests and detentions of Christians is twice as many as the Baha’is clearly demonstrates the rise in suppression of the Christians in the past year and the ever-increasing sensitivity of the security establishments of the Islamic Republic of Iran against the Christian community.
Considering all aspects and incidents that have been reported one can conclude that the Islamic Republic of Iran, since its inspection, has continued to enforce discrimination and by increasing social pressures on the Christian community has forced many to flee the country as refugees. This is consistent with the fundamentalist view of all regimes in the region that advocate the eventual cleansing of the Middle East of all Christian populations.
However, in the last few years, with the ever increasing interest and conversion of Iranian Muslims to the Christian faith, this issue has spread beyond the ethnic lines, traditionally attributed to the Armenians and Assyrians as being the only two regional and historically Christian peoples. The political and security authorities in the government have been devising plans and strategies that would create fear and uneasiness in the hearts of the people, especially the young generation, from becoming Christians.
The leaders of the Islamic regime, who had the aspirations of total elimination and cleansing of all Iranian Christians from Iran, are forced to re-chart their strategies in order to slow down and ultimately stop the rapid spreading of the Christian faith within the national borders. This is why they may plan to resort to increased levels of brutal and violent suppression. Such pressures and persecutions are contrary to all human rights conventions and are strongly condemned by all.
In conclusion the following list of events, which have been organized chronologically, reflect what happened to Christian Iranians in 2009. We would like to emphasize that the following report is based on reports that we have been able to secure from internal and external sources. There are other reports that have not been mentioned in the following list of persecutions due to the sensitivity of the circumstances from a security point of view and respect for the privacy of people who have been subjected to such persecutions.
Catalogue of reported incidents in 2009
- January 22, 2009 – Three Christians, Mr. Khachikian (51 years old) who was a minister in the Central Assemblies of God Church, Ms. Nadereh Javadi (44 years old) and her husband Mr. Jamal Ghali-Shooran (49 years old) were arrested in Tehran.
- January 29, 2009- Fasi-speaking members of the Assyrian Church in Shahr-Ara district of Tehran were prevented from entering the Church building and the preaching and conducting of any Farsi language services on Fridays and Sundays was banned.
- January 30, 2009- Mr. Hossein Karimi, 27 years old Farsi speaking Christian, was arrested in the city of Karaj.
- February 22, 2009- Mr. Mazaher R., a web-logger and Christian evangelist in Isfahan along with his sister and another Christian friend, Mr. Hamed S., which, through an elaborate scheme, were enticed by the security agents and brought into a vacant house were arrested and subsequently detained.
- March 5, 2009- Two Christian ladies by the names of Marzieh Amiri, 30 years old, and Maryam Rostam-Pour, 27 years old, were arrested on charges of anti-government activities and were detained in the Evin prison.
- March 11, 2009- Three Christians in the city of Shiraz by the names of Ala-Edin Hossein, Homayoun Kashani, and Seyed-Amir Bob-Anari who were arrested in the Shiraz airport a few months before this incident were unjustly condemned by the Revolutionary Court of Shiraz. The court found these 3 guilty of preaching the Gospel and representing the Christian Television networks called Mohabat (“Love”) and Nejat (“Salvation”). They were sentenced to 8 suspended prison terms and 5 years probation.
- March 25, 2009-The Assyrian Evangelical Church of Shahr-Ara was ordered closed by the revolutionary court on charges of proselytizing the Muslims with the Christian doctrines.
- April 4, 2009- The court order issued by the 4th district court of the city of Ouroomieh regarding the termination of pension benefits by the ministry of Education of Western Azerbaijan was enforced and Ms. Fatemeh Pauki, a retired teacher and a new convert to Christianity was prohibited from receiving any pension income.
- April 24, 2009- Mehran Mahmoodi, a 28 years old new Christian, was summoned to the Ouroomieh Islamic Revolutionary Court. In this subpoena Mr. Mahmoodi was accused of conspiracy to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran.
- May 14, 2009- A new Iranian Christian in London, UK. Who had been active in human rights activities disclosed that his father, due to his son’s activities, was arrested in the city of Mah-Shahr and was subjected to torture.
- May 20, 2009- Plain clothes security agents raided a house in the town of Karaj and arrested Mr. Javad Abtahi, the owner of the house, along with 4 other new Christian converts.
- May 29, 2009- A new Christian convert in Turkey who had been active in his Christian faith was identified by the secret agents of the Iranian government and was severely beaten up.
- July 29. 2009- A house-Church in the city of Rasht was raided and subsequently more than 20 new converts were arrested. Others were released on the condition of posting sworn affidavit that they would not engage in any Christian gatherings and activities.
- July 30, 2009- Another house-Church in Rasht was raided and 6 other Christian converts were arrested.
- July 31, 2009- A house in the town of Fasham, near Tehran, was surrounded by a large group of security agents and more than 24 Christian converts were arrested. Seventeen of these individuals were released immediately after being interrogated and the posting of appropriate bonds. Seven others by the names of Shahnam Yar-Mohammad, Shahin, Maryam, Mobina, Mehdi, Ashraf, and Nariman were kept in detention.
- August 2, 2009- The home of a Chrsitian lady by the name of Marzieh Fesaee was raided and she was arrested and taken to the Evin prison.
- August 22and 23, 2009- A group of Christians were summoned to the information office of the Ministry of Information of Kurdistan. More than 8 people in Sanandaj, 2 in Saghez, 1 in Gharveh, and 1 in the town of Kamyaran were rounded up. All of these individuals were somewhat linked with house-Churches on their towns.
- December 2, 2009- Security agents raided the home of new Christian convert, Ms. Hamideh Najafi, in the city of Mashhad and after arresting her searched her home extensively and indentified themselves as agents of the Revolutionary court of Mashhad. Ms. Najafi was taken to court on December 29, 2009, and was not allowed to retain a lawyer and wad unjustly condemned for being associated with an overseas Christian television network and was sentenced to 2 months of house arrest and the loss of custody of her 10 years old daughter. Her husband also lost his custody of their daughter.
- December 16, 2009- Plain clothes security agents raided a gathering of Farsi speaking Christians in the town of Karaj. These converts had gathered to celebrate the arrival of Christmas well before the arrival of the month of Moharam in order to avoid celebrations in the month venerated by the Shiites as a month of mourning. In this attack 70 people were arrested and after interrogations and the posting of bail and other information such as their addresses were released. Two of the leaders of this group by the names of Kambiz Saghayee and Ali Keshvar-Doost were detained and taken to an unknown location.