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07/13/2022 Iran (International Christian Concern) – Recently, the Iranian government has begun renovation of a Protestant Church-owned retreat center, which the state confiscated and intends to repurpose. The center, the Garden of Sharon in Karaj, has belonged to the Iranian Assemblies of God since the early 1970s. In 2015, though, the Tehran Revolutionary Court ordered the center’s confiscation, alleging that it was connected to the CIA and used to infiltrate Iran by engaging in evangelical activities. The Iranian state implemented the court order in 2018, and last month, on May 13, security forces seized control of the compound, posted guards outside, and began renovations. The government intends to reopen the center for an unknown purpose after renovations are completed.

Originally purchased with donations from church members, the confiscated 10,000-square-meter plot of land is valued at nearly $3 million dollars and has been used by Christians for children’s camps and family retreats. This property is just one of many that have been confiscated and repurposed by Iran’s government after the Iranian revolution in 1979. Since the revolution, the state has seized hospitals, schools, institutions for the blind, and other buildings to be reused for its own purposes. In one specific example, the Iranian government confiscated the home of the former Anglican bishop of Iran, converting it into a museum earlier this year.

Understandably, this blatant violation of Christian property rights in Iran has drawn criticism from the international community. The advocacy director of Article 18, a UK-based human rights nonprofit, testified in a conversation with the BBC that confiscations of property such as the Christian retreat center are intended to “eliminate Protestant and evangelical Christians from the social scene of Iran.” Tobias Ellwood, a member of the British parliament, also voiced his criticism, saying, “We condemn […] reports of Christian property being seized and reports of theological schools being closed. We call on Iran to cease harassment of all religious minorities and to fulfill its international and domestic obligations to allow freedom of religion to all Iranians.” Unfortunately, as this retreat center repurposing demonstrates, the Iranian government is undeterred from its anti-Christian program. One can only hope that further advocacy can push Iran to change its behavior.

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