Islamic Regime Initiates Wave of Persecution Against Rasht’s Church of Iran
By Claire Evans
02/28/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – This past month has seen a significant increase of targeted persecution against Iranian Christians living in the city of Rasht, located north of Tehran, near the Caspian Sea. Nine local believers were arrested and detained by the authorities during this period.
Rasht’s Christians have faced heavy persecution before, but the recent wave of arrests sets a new precedent. The past month represents the heaviest wave of publicly known arrests in Rasht within the last three years. Christians from Rasht have received some of the harshest sentences known in Iran.
At least three believers from Rasht have received a sentence of 80 lashes, and one (Pastor Nadarkhani) was sentenced to death for apostasy in 2010. This sentence was later overturned, although Pastor Nadarkhani is currently incarcerated as a result of a separate sentence of 10-years imprisonment.
The recent wave of arrests primarily targeted members of the Church of Iran. Pastor Matias Hagnejad, who came into this position following the arrest of Pastor Nadarkhani, was arrested on February 10 while ministering during a church service. Other Christians from the Church of Iran were later arrested, including Kalil Dehkanpour, Hossein Kadivar, Kamal Naamanian, Mohammed Vafada, Shahrooz Eslamdous, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi, and Behnam Akhlaghi. Pastor Nadarkhani’s wife was reportedly warned that she would also be detained if she attempts to leave Rasht.
“It is the policy of the Islamic government not to put thousands of Christians in jail [even though they easily can]. Their policy is to arrest a few and put maximum sentence on minor offenses [like just gathering in a home]. They then publicize it in order to put fear in the hearts of Christians. Their strategy is causing fear and isolation,” explained Dr. Hormoz Shariat, president and founder of Iran Alive Ministries, to International Christian Concern (ICC).
“When you choose the path (of Christianity), you know what will happen during this journey and what persecutions will be there,” said another Iranian Christian, a former Revolutionary Guard, who faced imprisonment for his faith. “The persecuted Church is thirsty to use all the potentials for the glory of the name of the Lord.”
Another Iranian Christian who has personally faced imprisonment shared with ICC, “Iranian Christians really need prayers… Many of my family members came to believe in Christ, and because of their safety, they are not able to talk to anybody about their faith. It’s hard for them.”
Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “The Christians in Rasht are going through a particularly difficult time of persecution. We know from those who have faced similar experiences that interrogation and detainment by Iran’s intelligence officials is an extremely intense process aimed at disrupting the unity of the Church and destroying believers’ personal faith. We must pray for these nine men, along with every other Christian in Iran, that they may remain steadfast in the face of persecution and that their sufferings may ease.”