Iran Targets Christians With a Wave of Arrests
“Iranian authorities have arrested dozens of Christians in the two weeks since Christmas,” reports The Wall Street Journal. The arrests follow a bomb attack on Christians in Egypt, targeted murders against Christians in Iraq, and the imprisonments of two Christians in Afghanistan for apostasy, as Christian persecution continues to accelerate throughout the Middle East.
By Farnaz Fassihi and Matt Bradley
1/7/2011 Iran (The Wall Street Journal) – Iranian authorities have arrested dozens of Christians in the two weeks since Christmas, the latest challenge to the Mideast’s small but vibrant Christian communities.
The arrests around the country appear focused on individuals who have converted from Islam or sought to convert others from Islam—actions considered sins under Islamic law and punishable by death in Iran.
Tehran’s governor, Morteza Tamadon, confirmed there have been detentions and said more arrests were on the way, state media reported.
Mr. Tamadon suggested the roundup hadn’t targeted the mainstream Armenian Christians or Catholics, which make up most of the small Christian population in Iran. Instead, he suggested the arrests targeted Protestant evangelicals, who have run into trouble elsewhere in the Mideast.
Mr. Tamadon said missionary evangelicals had stepped up their activity in Iran, calling it a “cultural invasion of the enemy.”
“Just like the Taliban, who have inserted themselves into Islam like a parasite, [evangelicals] have crafted a movement in the name of Christianity,” he said, according to state media outlet IRNA. He didn’t give further details about the arrests.
The Iranian Christian News Agency, a Toronto evangelical Christian organization dedicated to news about Christians in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, said the recent roundups targeted individuals who have converted to Christianity from Islam, as well as some who have been trying to win over converts.
ICNA director Saman Kamvar, a 40-year-old convert to Christianity, said Thursday that curiosity and interest in Christianity is growing among Iranian Muslims.
However, Iran prohibits Bibles and sermons in Persian, the country’s official language, and Christian churches don’t allow Muslims to attend services. While Armenian Christians, for example, can attend services conducted in Armenian at sanctioned churches, Persian speakers must resort to underground organizations that serve Iranian converts.
In June, evangelical priest Yousef Nadrkhani and his wife, both converts, were arrested in the northern city of Rasht. Mr. Nadrkhani was convicted of Islamic apostasy, organizing meetings and inviting others to Christianity, establishing a house church, baptizing people and openly expressing his distaste for Islam, according to the court documents.
Mr. Nadrkhani was sentenced to death, while his wife was given a life sentence, according to a copy of his court papers. In September, a court of appeals upheld the death sentence—the first in decades for apostasy in Iran, according to Iranian rights groups.
A second priest, Behrouz Sadegh Khanjani, arrested in June 2010 with his wife and eight members of his congregation in the southern city of Shiraz, has been indicted for apostasy and crimes against national security, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, an organization based in New York. Those arrested with him were released.