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Iran : Screws Tighten on Christians in Government Crackdown

ICC Note

“The government is aware that the house church movement has grown dramatically, especially among younger people. And this disturbs them,”

By Robert Wayne

04/14/2009 Iran ( threatening environment facing Christians in Iran continues to worsen. That’s saying something, considering Christians there have faced incredibly hostile responses for a long time.

In 1994, Joseph Hovsepian was living with his family in Iran when his father, the Rev. Haik Hovsepian, was executed by the government for what was described as anti-government operations.

In reality, Haik Hovsepian was martyred for his Christian views in a country where Christianity continues to grow at a rate that alarms Islamic officials.

Joseph Hovsepian left Iran soon after his father’s death, finally settling in California . But while he has not actually set foot in his native country in almost 15 years, he remains in close contact with members of the Assemblies of God church he once attended, and with house church worshipers from across Iran.

“There is worry and spiritual warfare for every Christian living in Iran ,” Joseph said. “It is part of the package and you can’t ignore that. Once you become a follower of Jesus that is one of the first boxes you have to make sure you pick … or you’re going to be living a heathen Christian life.”

The good news is that churches continue to unite against forces that apply a constant pressure not to share Christ outside the church/home walls.

At the same time, the Iranian Parliament is considering a bill that would require the death penalty for apostates, those who leave the Islamic faith.

“The government is aware that the house church movement has grown dramatically, especially among younger people. And this disturbs them,” Estabrooks said. “I’ve been to Iran twice and have found many people frustrated and ready to give up on Islam because they’ve become disillusioned. But they don’t know of a viable alternative, because of the mosque.”

Open Doors tracks the hatred and distrust of Christianity internationally, assigning rankings to the most dangerous spots for Christians to practice their faith. For the past seven years Iran ranked third behind No. 2 Saudi Arabia and No. 1 North Korea. In January, Iran moved into a tie for second with Saudi Arabia .

“[It’s] simply because of the crackdowns happening there,” Estabrooks said.

First-hand information on the situation in Iran is difficult to come by, but Open Doors says the arrests of at least 50 Christians were documented in 2008.

“And they’re treated very severely,” Estabrooks said. “One couple who were in their 60s and who were leaders of a house church were treated so badly that they died from their injuries while being interrogated in prison.

Last month, three Iranian Christians were found guilty of cooperating with “anti-government movements” and were ordered to discontinue Christian activities and to stop propagating their faith, according to Compass Direct News. The trio received an eight-month suspended sentence, with a five-year probation, and were banned from having contact with one another.

“All the things I’ve shared may sound like too much to cope with,” he said. “But from my personal experience once you’re in that society and that situation the Lord is with you in a special way. He comforts and empowers you. So while we get shocking reactions from Westerners when we share our story or persecution there also is the truth that the Lord is faithful in these times. He shows his love and peace all the way.”

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