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Situation of Christians in Iran: Is the Spread of Evangelical Christianity a National Security Threat to Iran?

In Islam, politics and religion are inseparably intertwined. For this reason, apostasy in Islam is equal to treason. A notable expression in Islam says it all, “Islam is a religion and a state.” The Penal Code of The Islamic Republic of Iran Mandates Death for Converts. Article 225-1 of this code reads, “Any Muslim who clearly announces that he/she has left Islam and declares blasphemy is an Apostate.” Bukhari (52:260) reiterates the above very clearly, “The Prophet said, ‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.’” According to Ayatollah Khorasani, a prominent Shiite leader in Iran, “The promotion of Christianity in Iran must be stopped.” [1] The Ayatollah’s views are directly in mind with statements found in the Quran.

Surat An-Nisa’ (4:89) states:

“They wish that you should disbelieve as they disbelieve, and then you would be equal; therefore take not to yourselves friends of them, until they emigrate in the way of God; then, if they turn their backs, take them, and slay them wherever you find them; take not to yourselves any one of them as friend or helper.”

Other verses supporting death for apostates in the Qur’an are: 2:217, 9:73-74, 88:21, 5:54, and 9:66. [2]

The Islamic regime of Iran will use any means to impose this idea on Iranian society—that evangelical Christianity and the “house-church” movement is a deviant form of Christianity and thus is far from true Christian beliefs.  Spreading misconceptions about and encouraging a distorted view of this movement is a tactic being used to aid the Iranian regime in the repression of Christianity as a whole.

In a report presented to the UN Human Rights Council on March 17, 2014, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur, warns that Iran’s human rights record remains poor, that Christians are still in danger across the country, and that the human rights situation there is a “serious concern.” [3]

The crackdown against Christian converts and house churches, parallels a general increase in repression against many, including journalists, religious and cultural minorities and others since Iran’s June 2013 Presidential elections. According to Kiri Kankhwende, the spokesperson for Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a United Kingdom-based human rights organization, “Religious minorities are viewed with suspicion and treated as a threat to a theocratic system bent on imposing a strict interpretation of Shia Islam,” [4] Kankhwende says. “Christians, Baha’is, Sufi Dervishes and Sunni Muslims have been killed judicially and extra-judicially, tortured, imprisoned or generally harassed on account of their faith.” [5] He stated that, “There has been a noticeable increase in the harassment, arrests, trials and imprisonments of converts to Christianity, particularly since the beginning of 2009. [6] “Any movement that differs from or offers an alternative to orthodox Shia Islam, and any persons who chooses to follow an alternative belief system, are interpreted as a challenge to the very state itself.” [7]

Underground church networks have been rapidly growing in Iran as a place where converts from Islam to Christianity can meet as they are forbidden to attend services at formal churches. Alongside the growing network of home churches has been the increase in violent crackdowns and raids on these communities and arrests made on Christian converts. [8] Among them, the international case of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, held for almost three years on charges of apostasy, and more recently American Pastor Saeed Abedini who is currently serving an eight-year sentence for evangelizing and threatening national security.

“House churches are growing because the converts have nowhere else to go,” [9] said Tiffany Barrans, international legal director at the American Center for Law and Justice, “When you’re a convert to Christianity in Iran, you can’t go worship at the church on the corner, because conversion is not acceptable. If they were allowed to go to an official place of worship, there wouldn’t be a house church movement.” [10]

“Essentially they have created the house church problem and now use it to persecute its own people.” [11] Under Shariah, or Islamic law, a Muslim who converts to Christianity is on a par with someone waging war against Islam. Death sentences for such individuals are prescribed by fatwas, or legal decrees, and reinforced by Iran’s Constitution. This allows judges to rely on the fatwas for determining charges and sentencing on crimes not addressed in the Iranian penal code. All religious minorities in Iran, including Baha’is, Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians, have faced various forms of persecution and political and social marginalization throughout the regime’s 30-year reign. But the government saves its harshest retribution for those who have abandoned Islam.

UN reports on Christians in Iran:

“Authorities arrested seven other active members of the same house church net work as Behnam Irani on 12 October 2012, following a raid by members of the security services on a house in the city of Shiraz. The detained Chritians included Mohammad (Vahid) Roghangir, Suroush Saraie, Roxana Forughi, Eskandar Rezaie, Bijan Haghighi, Mehdi Ameruni, and Shahin Lahooti.” [12]

On 18 October 2012, Afsar Bahmani, a middle-aged woman in need of specialist medication due to heart and kidney complications, was detained at around 1 p.m. along with a man named Massoud Rezaie, after responding to the summons.

Afsar Bahmani was released after 24 hours. Bijan Haghighi was released on bail of 100 million rials on 25 October 2012. Roxana Forughi was reportedly released on 1 November 2012.” [13]

Bahman Irani was forcibly removed from his cell at 6:30 a.m. on June 7, 2014. He was told that he was being taken for court proceedings and that he would be returned shortly. He was never taken to court or returned to his cell; his family and cellmates fear for his safety. His whereabouts are unknown and all information about him being with held from his family. [14] A source close to the case, reported that Iranian authorities have detained Mr. Saeed Abedini, a Protestant Christian minister. Abedini had reportedly been arrested several times before 2009 for his house church activities but has claimed while still a Christian has stopped working with house churches in Iran to avoid government scrutiny. Abedini had his passport seized while entering Iran from Georgia in late June 2012. [15] The authorities reportedly told Abedini that he would be summoned to court on September 26th. On that date, Abedini’s home was raided by security agents, who confiscated documents, computers, and other personal items and brought Abedini to Evin Prison. Abedini spent four weeks in solitary confinement in Evin before being transferred to Section 3, Ward 209 of the prison.

While in solitary confinement, Abedini’s interrogators allegedly disoriented him with tactics such as sleep deprivation. During his time in Ward 209, Abedini’s interrogators reportedly beat him and he was initially denied access to medical treatment for his injuries but later was allegedly taken for treatment. His family was able to hire a lawyer for his defense in December 2012 and he has since been charged with “acting against national security.” Without family present, Judge Pir-Abassi of Branch 26 of the Iranian Revolutionary Court—known as the ‘hanging judge’—verbally convicted and sentenced Pastor Saeed to eight years in prison for threatening the national security of Iran through his leadership in Christian house churches.  The evidence provided was of Pastor Saeed’s Christian activities primarily during the early 2000s, when under President Khatami house churches were not perceived as a threat to Iran. Despite Iranian law requiring a written verdict, none was given. [16]

A family associate reports that Christian Ali Golchin was arrested by plainclothes police in late April 2010 in connection with his possession and distribution of a substantial number of Farsi-language Bibles. Authorities reportedly beat and blindfolded Golchin during his arrest. The Revolutionary Court of Varamin, Branch 1, charged Golchin with “propagation against the state,” “acting against national security by promoting Christianity,” “solicitation of members for a house church,” and “organizing a house church.”  In the report, Golchin was allegedly detained in Evin Prison for 87 days, all of which he spent in solitary confinement. [17] In detention, Golchin’s interrogators subjected him to psychological torture in the form of threats of physical violence and of execution. He was released on 25 July 2010 on 200,000,000 tuman bail. On 19 April 2011 Branch 28 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced Golchin to one year in prison. His lawyer was reportedly not allowed to speak during the court session. Golchin appealed this sentence and was acquitted of all charges six months later, but received no documentation to this effect. Golchin continued to experience harassment after his acquittal including multiple summonses and being followed by government agents. He eventually fled the country under this pressure. [18]

I cannot express enough how much we as Christians have to be always aware that we are in a warfare with the adversary. We must never forget what Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

In a time of war, even those we consider to be our friends may not be. There is so much going on in the world today; so much suffering and sadness. Humanity has a responsibility to sow ‘seeds of love and truth’ and we should not allow ourselves to become so wrapped up in this life that we forget what our true purpose in this world is.

The word needs to reach the ears and hearts of the world, for knowledge is the vessel of constructive change. If we change the way we think, we will change the way they think; and so, the change in their thought will affect the way they behave. Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world.”

Included below is a list of Martyred & Imprisoned Christian Leaders in Iran over the last 10 years. [19]

 

A comprehensive list for the last 35 years is available on farsinet.com.

Year Person(s) Details
2010 Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani Gilan, Iran – Sentenced to be executed on 10/24/2010 for Apostasy. He was then released on Sept. 8, 2012 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/08/pastor-youcef-nadarkhani-iranian-pastor-freed-reportedly-released_n_1867334.html
2010October A young believer has died in Iran after he had been severely beaten by a relative who objected to his strong faith in Christ. He leaves behind a wife and two young children. (Reported by Elam)
2010September 23 Nine followers of Jesus were detained in Hamedan, the capital of Hamadan province, on charges of evangelism, which potentially carriesthe death penalty under strict laws in Iran.
2010July 249:00 p.m. Neshan Saeedi 27-year-old Neshan Saeedi was spending a quiet evening at home with his wife and young daughter when plain-clothes security forces entered his house and arrested him. The security officers searched the home and seized personal belongings such as a computer, CDs containing films of Christian seminars and teachings, Christian books and Bibles, and family photo albums. As of September 09, 2010 – there is no information about the condition of Neshan.
2010July 18 15 Christians 15 Christians detained in Mashhad,Iran’s second largest city, remain detained and are “under pressure to recant their faith but are refusing to do so.” – (Reported by The Voice of the Martyrs)
2010April 29 Ali Golchin (29) Ali Golchin (29), has been held in solitary confinement in Tehran’s Evin prison since he was arrested in his home town of Varamin on April 29. After weeks of appealing to the authorities, Ali’s father was finally allowed access to him on June 17 — though they were allowed only 10 minutes together. Ali was released on bail on July 25.
2009October Pastor Behrouz Sadegh-Khandjani Held in prison in Shiraz, Iran – has been given limited contact with his family and his attorney.
2008July Abbas Amiri & Sakineh Rahnama An Iranian Christian Couple in their 60s () died from injuries sustained when secret police raided a house church service hosted at their house and severly beat them.
2007April 18 Three members of Malatya Church in Turkey were murdered; Pastor Necati Aydin, Tilmann Geske & Ugur Yuksel. The first martyrs of the modern Turkish Church.
2007June A number of Iranian Christians have been arrested and are held in unknown places, including Mr. fard from Tehran.
2007May Mr. Patrick An Iranian Christian and a member of Church of Kermanshah was arrested.
2007February Several Iranian Christians from Church of Mashhad were arrested
2006December 14 Iranian Christians From Church of Rasht were arrested in December.
2006December Iranian secret police began to raid and arrest leaders of the Islamic republic’s indigenous “Jesus Only” movement Sunday December 10, arriving unannounced in the early morning hours to search their homes in Tehran, Karaj, Rasht and Bandar-i Anzali
2005November 22 PastorGhorbandordi Tourani – Iranian House Church Leader murdered near his house in Gonbad-e Kavous –
2004 Pastor Hamid Pourmand Arrested … sentenced to 3 years in prison … charged with apostasy … acquitted of apostasy …
2004September 80 people 80 Iranian Christians Arrested
2004May 23 Pastor Khosroo Yusefi and his family Arrested by Iranian Police on