Intelligence Minister admits collaborative effort to combat conversions to Christianity

Intelligence Minister admits collaborative effort to combat conversions to Christianity

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Iran’s Minister of Intelligence has for the first time publicly admitted that his agency is collaborating with Shia religious seminaries in seeking to combat the perceived threat of mass conversions to Christianity across the country.

Mahmoud Alavi, addressing a gathering of Shia clerics in Qom on Saturday, admitted to summoning converts to Christianity for questioning – a clear breach of Article 23 of Iran’s constitution, which states that “no-one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief”, and a contradiction of the claims of other Iranian officials, such as the Foreign Minister, that members of religious minorities are not targeted in Iran.

Alavi said he had “summoned [converts] to ask them why they were converting”, as it was “happening right before our eyes”.

“Some [of the converts] said they were looking for a religion that gives them peace,” Alavi said. “We told them that ‘Islam is the religion of brotherhood and peace’. They responded by saying that: ‘We see Muslim clerics and those who preach from the pulpit talk against each other all the time. If Islam is the religion of peace, then before anything else, there must be cordiality and peace among the clerics themselves.”

Article18’s Advocacy Director, Mansour Borji, says Alavi’s comments are a clear indication that “it is not Western propaganda, or even Christian evangelism, that is the primary driving force leading Iranians to distance themselves from the rigid version of Shia Islam propagated by the Iranian regime; rather it is the irresponsible behaviour of Iranian clergy and the mass corruption that is visible for all to see within all elements of the regime”.

In his speech, Alavi also admitted that “these converts are ordinary people, whose jobs are selling sandwiches or similar things”.

Borji says this admission again represents a “huge shift away from Iran’s usual rhetoric that converts are agents of the West who have undergone significant training to undermine national security. 

“Indeed, such proclamations have often formed the basis of official court rulings against converts – that their actions have represented collusion with the ‘Zionist’ enemies of Iran. The minister’s statement completely undermines the basis for such claims.”

It is also especially alarming for the Iranian regime to acknowledge that “ordinary Iranians” are converting, Borji says, as it is “these ordinary Iranians who have formed the regime’s hardcore support for the past 40 years – support the regime is now losing in huge numbers”.

It is also interesting to see the intelligence minister admit to “whole families” converting, Borji says, as this is “an admission that such conversions are far from a rare event; rather they are happening en masse, and across the country. 

“Perhaps this is why the minister chose to make these comments to a gathering of Shia clergy about to be commissioned and sent off to various parts of the country to propagate the Shia Islam of the regime.”

‘Alarming’ situation for Christians in Iran, UK government review finds

‘Alarming’ situation for Christians in Iran, UK government review finds

The situation for Christians and other minorities in Iran “has reached an alarming stage”, according to a new report conducted on behalf of the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The report, which comes after the UK’s Foreign Secretary called for a global review into the persecution of Christians worldwide, notes that the state is the “main actor” in Iran, and that “though most cases involve converts, indigenous Christians such as Pastor Victor [Bet-Tamraz], an Assyrian Christian, with his wife Shamiram Issavi and their son, [Ramiel], have also been targeted and imprisoned”.

The case of Christian convert Ebrahim Firouzi is used to highlight how “unjust trials are commonplace” in Iran. The report notes that although Ebrahim was “originally arrested in March 2013 on allegations of ‘promoting Christian Zionism’ … since 2015 been serving a further five-year prison sentence on charges of acting against national security”.

Ebrahim is serving that second sentence alongside Sevada Aghasar, an ethnic Armenian Christian – another example of how the Iranian authorities target indigenous Christians as well as converts.

“Arrest, detention and imprisonment are common [for Christians] in Iran,” the report notes, referencing the 114 Christians arrested over just six days before Christmas, “with court cases left pending as a form of intimidation”. 

The analysis by Article18’s Advocacy Director, Mansour Borji, ’40 years of religious apartheid: Christianity in post-revolutionary Iran’, is cited as the source of that information; Mansour was one of the expert witnesses called to give evidence to the review team on the situation of Christians in Iran.

The report also notes the “rise of hate speech against Christians in state media and by religious leaders” in Iran, which it says has “comprised the safety of Christians and created social intolerance”; and highlights the confiscation of church properties in Iran, such as the retreat centre in Karaj taken over last year by EIKO (the Executive Headquarters of Imam’s Directive) for “being funded by the CIA”.

The focus of the report is global, with the report’s author, Bishop Philip Mounstephen, citing research from the International Society for Human Rights in claiming that as much as 80% of religious persecution around the world today targets Christians.

“Persecution on grounds of religious faith is a global phenomenon that is growing in scale and intensity,” he writes, and “it is to our shame … [that] we have abjectly failed to implement the best system that women and men have yet devised to protect universal freedoms” – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 of which guarantees freedom of religion or belief.

The bishop concludes by challenging the UK government to turn his recommendations into “workable solutions that can be implemented”.