Iranian regime trying to ‘suffocate’ growth of Christianity – Mansour Borji

Iranian regime trying to ‘suffocate’ growth of Christianity – Mansour Borji

Article18’s Mansour Borji yesterday explained during a live webinar how the Iranian regime is trying to “suffocate” the rapid growth of Christianity.

As one of three guest speakers for a webinar hosted by the National Union for Democracy in Iran, Mr Borji highlighted the recent “acceleration” of arrests of Christians and “heavy” prison sentences of up to 15 years given to both converts and members of Iran’s “recognised” Christian minority.

He cited the recent example of Victor Bet-Tamraz, an Iranian-Assyrian Christian pastor who just this past week was forced to flee Iran after he and his wife lost their appeals against a combined 15 years in prison.

After a “brief pause” in arrests at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Borji said Iran has returned to “business as usual” and even accelerated its arrests, noting at least 85 arrests so far this year compared to 65 for the whole of 2019.

“Christians are being sentenced to very heavy prison sentences – five, six, sometimes 10 or 15 years in prison,” Mr Borji explained. “We have exile sentences; we have harassment of family members; we have denial of education; we have people who have been denied employment. So all kinds of penalties to subdue this Christian community and stop their activities.”

Added to this, Mr Borji said that through surveillance and harassment of Christians the Iranian regime has tried to “suffocate” the growth of Christianity by “eliminating effective leaders” and heavily restricting freedom of assembly as well as the publication of Christian literature and other forms of Christian education.

Mr Borji also highlighted the regime’s hate-speech against Christians, by repeatedly labelling them as “Zionists”, which he called “incredibly inflammatory”.

He concluded by noting how the regime’s crackdown targets anyone who doesn’t agree with the total authority of the Supreme Leader.

“Since the beginning of the Islamic Revolution, anybody who does not acknowledge this pillar of the Islamic regime is eliminated – whether it’s a political entity or it’s a religious group,” he said.

‘A whole nation is a prisoner of conscience’

Marjan Keypour, from the Alliance for the Rights of All Minorities (ARAM), explained that the reason behind the crackdown on house-churches and other places where likeminded minority groups meet is the regime’s “notion that your alternative views are threatening our beliefs; that if you have alternative views, you should either change them or just not talk about them”.

“This is why [the regime] tries to keep their religious minority groups separate from one another,” she said. “And that is also a reason why they don’t want any kind of house-churches, private gatherings, any public forums or underground educational forum, etc, because they don’t want these ideas to go out, because it threatens their principles and their beliefs.”

Hamid Gharagozloo, from the International Organisation to Preserve Human Rights (IOPHR), called for members of the Iranian diaspora – of all sides – to join together, saying the regime’s atrocities are “not just [against] a specific group … It’s not just Gonabadi Sufis or Christians. It’s the whole nation that has been oppressed… The whole nation is a prisoner of conscience in their own country.”

Mr Gharagozloo said he believed that even the regime’s categorisation of people into different “minorities” was an oppressive tactic.

“I really, really do not like this term, ‘minority’,” he said. “That’s the tactic: they divide and conquer. And every minority has been labelled as an ‘agent of foreign powers, with the aim overthrowing the regime’.”

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