Giving hope to persecuted Christians since 1995
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By Sandra Elliot

10/28/2016 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Currently, the Islamic Republic of Iran is ninth on Open Door’s World Watch List, a list that ranks the world’s worst persecutors of Christians. Since the 1979 revolution, the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities has grown to a steady, critical plateau. Arbitrary arrests and imprisonments, along with torture and even execution, plague the Christian community in Iran.

The Christian population of Iran is estimated somewhere between 450,000 and one million believers. While the government’s persecution of this population is widespread, the religion has gained traction through underground house churches.

The Ayatollah, the supreme religious leader in Iran, has repeatedly warned against these house church movements, saying they “threaten the Islamic faith and deceive young Muslims.” The government has even dubbed evangelical Christians as a threat to national security because they are perceived to be backed by “enemies” abroad.

While Iran recognizes Christians as “people of the book” and therefore gives certain rights to them, these rights only apply to the traditional, state-recognized ethnic Christians, including the Assyrians and Chaldeans. This means house churches are constitutionally excluded. In fact, police officials often raid homes that are hosting church meetings or Bible studies and arrest multiple members on suspicion of acting against the regime.

In 2016, arrests of Iranian Christians soared. According to World Watch Monitor, at least 40 Christians were arrested in August alone. Included in these arrests were five Christians who were taken from a family picnic on August 26, and another 11 Christians who were arrested during a house raid on August 19.

Another major reason for arrests and charges against Christians is Iran’s view of apostasy. Though apostasy is not codified as a crime in legal terms, many prosecutors and law enforcement officials treat it as a crime.

The demographics of the house church population includes a high percentage of Muslim converts to Christianity. Since Iran does not recognize the conversion of Muslims to Christianity, these converts are treated and tried as Muslims under sharia law. For example, Muslims in Iran are strictly prohibited from consuming alcohol under sharia law; however, Christians are not.

On September 10, three Muslim converts were sentenced to 80 lashes each for drinking communion wine as a part of a communion service at a house church. For two of these men, Saheb Fadai and Mehdi Omidi, this is the second time they have been found guilty of alcohol consumption during a communion service. Both are appealing the sentence which allows execution for third-time offenders.

According to several organizations monitoring the situation, Iran is currently carrying out a new campaign against Christians in the nation.

Rob Duncan of Middle East Concern recently explained to World Watch Monitor, “The Iranian regime is conducting a very active campaign against house churches at the moment and leaders of house churches are harassed and put under pressure.”

Dr. Hormoz Shariat of Iran Alive Ministries recently told International Christian Concern (ICC), “Persecution in Iran is a reaction to the church growth in Iran. The government of Iran has obliterated its political opponents rather successfully. The only threat they feel is the fast growth of Christianity.”

He continued, “They know about its growth and know that they cannot stop it, so they are trying to contain it by a strategy of fear and intimidation. So systematically and in regular intervals, they make arrests and publicize it intentionally to bring fear in the hearts of people. Their message is: do not consider Christianity. You will be in trouble.”

According to Dr. Shariat, persecution in Iran is not so much religiously motivated, but rather politically motivated. While he assured ICC that none of this is new for the Christian community of Iran, he did agree that the rate of persecution is escalating.

“The government is specifically afraid of Christians connecting to each other,” he said. “They have shut down building churches and are trying to annihilate the underground churches.”

As a result of this persecution, there are hundreds of thousands of Christians living in isolation and fear inside Iran. Still, despite this recent crackdown, the Church in Iran continues to grow, which remains an amazing testimony in itself.