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Cross put back on top of Tabriz church after outcry

Cross put back on top of Tabriz church after outcry

The cross has been replaced on top of the forcibly closed Assyrian church in Tabriz following a global outcry.

In the 9 July photo Article18 has been able to obtain, some men can be seen placing the cross back on the tower.

It was torn down on 9 May as agents from the Ministry of Intelligence and EIKO, an organisation under the direct control of the Supreme Leader, stormed the church, changed all the locks and ordered the church warden to leave.

Ten days after the closure and just two days after Article18 broke the news, the Assyrian representative to the Iranian Parliament, Yonathan Betkolia, openly criticised the move in an open letter to the president, Hassan Rouhani, and called for the cross to be restored.

Then last month a senior legal adviser to the president publicly questioned the legality of the closure and also the recent banning of religious-minority teachers from nursery schools.

Aliakbar Gorji Azandaryani asked the governor of East Azerbaijan Province to look into why the church had been closed, saying he had “serious doubts about the legality”, referring to Articles 9, 19, 20, 26, 36 and particularly 13 of Iran’s constitution, which states that religious minorities are recognised and free to perform their religious ceremonies.

He added that the move also went against several of the provisions of Iran’s Charter of Citizens’ Rights, which President Rouhani launched in 2016, and called upon the governor of East Azerbaijan Province to “do all he can to find out about the details of this case, including the background reasons for the seizure of the church and the authority that issued the order” – in this case EIKO.

Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, welcomed the news that the cross has been restored to the top of the Tabriz church and called for a retraction of the court order and clarification that the church has also now been restored to its rightful owners – the Assyrian Evangelical Christian community.

“We welcome this move and believe it to be a good first step after elements within both the Iranian parliament and government recognised the illegality of the church’s seizure and confiscation,” he said. “We hope the confiscation order, which was first issued in 2011 and finally enacted two months ago yesterday, will now be officially revoked.

“We will continue our advocacy efforts until we see the rights of the Christians in Tabriz to use this property fully restored, and hope that no such illegal and repressive actions are repeated in the future – for this or any other church.”

A former church leader with the Assyrian Evangelical Church thanked Article 18 and the other organisations that have led advocacy efforts, including the World Council of Churches, World Council of Reformed Churches, and World Evangelical Alliance.

US Secretary of State laments ‘intense’ persecution of Christians in Iran

US Secretary of State laments ‘intense’ persecution of Christians in Iran

The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, yesterday lamented the “intense” persecution of Christians in Iran, during a speech in Washington, DC.

“Persecution of the faithful is especially intense inside the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he told the audience at a CUFl event. “The regime’s militant adherence to the noxious tenets of the Islamic Revolution dictates all elements of life – and especially the suppression of other faiths.

“In Iran, if Muslims try to convert [to become] non-Muslims, the penal code calls for the death sentence. The government does not recognise converts to Christianity. It levies beatings and solitary confident on Christians caught worshipping in volition of government dictates.”

Mr Pompeo highlighted the case of Yousef Nadarkhani and his three fellow “Church of Iran” members, who he noted are currently serving ten-year prison sentences for “promoting Zionist Christianity and running house churches”.

“Instead of following the normal summons procedure, the authorities raided the Christians’ homes, beat them, and used electroshock weapons on them, then threw them into Evin Prison, a regime dungeon inside of Tehran,” Mr Pompeo said.

“The Iranian ayatollahs have grievously deprived the Iranian people of their most basic, simple, fundamental human right – their right to worship,” he added.

In May, Iran’s Intelligence Minister, Mahmoud Alavi, openly admitted to summoning Christian converts for questioning, saying mass conversions were “happening right before our eyes”.

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, last week called the treatment of converts in Iran “very disturbing”, and pledged to “look into the issue very seriously”.

At least 37 converts have been arrested in Iran so far this year, including eight in Bushehr last week.

Meanwhile on Sunday five “Church of Iran” members from Karaj submitted themselves to the city’s central detention centre to begin their jail sentences for “propaganda against the state”.

Karaj converts begin jail sentences

Karaj converts begin jail sentences

Left to right: Yaghoob Nateghi, Milad Goodarzi, Amin Khaki, Alireza Nourmohammadi and Shahebedin Shahi.

Five Iranian converts to Christianity submitted themselves to the central detention centre in Karaj on Saturday to begin their jail sentences for “propaganda against the state”.

Manoto News broadcast footage of the Christians, four of whom have young children, waving goodbye to their loved ones.

Amin Khaki, Milad Goodarzi, Yaghoob Nateghi, Shahebedin Shahi and Alireza Nourmohammadi – all members of the non-Trinitarian “Church of Iran” – were arrested during raids on their homes and workplaces in December 2017.

They were released in early 2018 after each posting bail of 30 million tomans (around $7,000). 

In March 2019, Milad, Yaghoob, Shahebedin and Alireza were sentenced to four months in prison; Amin, who has already spent a year in prison for his religious activities, was given 14 months.

Their appeals were rejected last month.

Converts to Christianity continue to be targeted in Iran. Just last week, eight converts were arrested in the south-western city of Bushehr. Article18 reported that this took the number of arrests to 34 so far this year. Article18 is now aware of three further arrests – two in Tehran and another in Bushehr – taking the total to at least 37.

In May, Iran’s Intelligence Minister, Mahmoud Alavi, openly admitted to summoning Christian converts for questioning, saying mass conversions were “happening right before our eyes”.

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, last week called the treatment of converts in Iran “very disturbing”, and pledged to “look into the issue very seriously”.

A scan of part one of the court verdict against the five Christians.
Part two of the court verdict.
Independent Review of UK Support for Persecuted Christians

Independent Review of UK Support for Persecuted Christians

Although Christians in the Armenian and Assyrian churches may practise their faith within strict confines, persecution in Iran is on the rise for others and most of it is targeted at Christians from a Muslim background and Protestant Christians. 

Just before Christmas 2018, 114 Christians were arrested, several house churches were raided in nine different cities, and the arrests continued into 2019.

On his return to Iran in February 1979, Khomeini promised religious freedom to Christians and other religious minority groups. Just eight days after the revolution, Arastoo Sayah, an Anglican pastor, was beheaded in his church office in Shiraz. 

The brutality of the early revolution has given way to systematic pressure and intense persecution against Christians during the past 40 years. As more disillusioned Iranians turn to Christianity, the regime intensifies their intimidation against Christians. 

Almost all Farsi speaking Christian churches were closed down or forced to change their language to Armenian or Assyrian. (The only Farsi churches open are the Anglican/Episcopal churches in Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz. However, the churches have been controlled and monitored by the state and converts are not allowed to attend those churches.) House churches have been regularly targeted, their members and leaders have been arrested and imprisoned.

Since October 2010, the state has started a new campaign against Christians by propagating hate speech and incitement of hatred against Christians on state sponsored media. The vast majority of hate propaganda is against Protestant Christians and converts to Christianity accusing them of treason, “plotting against the regime and Islam,” “being part of the West’s soft war against the regime,” and “being spies of the West and Israel.”

In its 2019 Annual Report, USCIRF, once again, listed Iran as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for severe violation of human rights and religious freedom. Open Doors World Watch List has also listed Iran number 9 in its 2019 annual report.

Five family members among eight Christians arrested in Bushehr

Five family members among eight Christians arrested in Bushehr

Left to right: Pooriya Peyma, Fatemeh Talebi, Maryam Falahi, Sam Khosravi, Khatoon Fatolahzadeh, Sasan Khosravi, Marjan Falahi, and Habib Heydari

Eight converts to Christianity, including five members of one family, were arrested in the southwestern city of Bushehr on Monday, 1 July.

The arresting officers introduced themselves as agents from the Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS). 

They stormed the Christians’ homes in a coordinated operation at around 9am, confiscating Bibles, Christian literature, wooden crosses and pictures carrying Christian symbols, along with laptops, phones, all forms of identity cards, bank cards and other personal belongings.

Arresting agents also searched the work offices of at least two Christians and confiscated computer hard drives and security-camera recordings. 

The officers are reported to have treated the Christians harshly, even though small children were present during the arrests.

Article18’s sources confirmed the names of the arrested Christians as Sam Khosravi, 36, and his wife Maryam Falahi, 35; Sam’s brother Sasan, 35, and his wife Marjan Falahi, 33; Sam and Sasan’s mother, Khatoon Fatolahzadeh, 61; Pooriya Peyma, 27, and his wife Fatemeh Talebi, 27; and Habib Heydari, 38.

Khatoon Fatolahzadeh, whose arrest came after six cars carrying security officials turned up outside her home, was released the same day due to her age. 

Article18 understands that the rest of the Christians remain detained, with no access to lawyers, and are being held in solitary confinement in the MOIS office in Bushehr.

These latest arrests bring the number of Christians arrested in Iran this year to at least 34: eight in Bushehr, nine in Rasht, 12 in Amol, two in Ahvaz, and one each in Hamedan, Shiraz and Isfahan. For security reasons, it has not yet been possible for Article18 to report fully on each incident.

In May, Iran’s Intelligence Minister, Mahmoud Alavi, openly admitted to summoning Christian converts for questioning, saying mass conversions were “happening right before our eyes”.

Speaking in London yesterday, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, branded the treatment of Christian converts in Iran as “very disturbing”, saying it was something he was “personally concerned about”, and pledging that in the coming years he will “look into the issue very seriously”.

This isn’t the first incident to have affected Christians in Bushehr. In April, Article18 reported that 16 other converts from Bushehr lost their appeals against prison sentences for “propaganda activities against the regime through the formation of house churches”.

UN Special Rapporteur ‘very concerned’ by Iran’s mass arrests of Christian converts

UN Special Rapporteur ‘very concerned’ by Iran’s mass arrests of Christian converts

Left to right: Simin Fahandej, Javaid Rehman, Hamid Gharagozloo, Bob Blackman MP, Mattie Heaven, and Richard Ratcliffe.

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran spoke yesterday of his “serious concern” over the “disturbing” mistreatment of converts to Christianity in Iran.

Javaid Rehman, who was speaking at the UK’s Houses of Parliament at an event hosted by the International Organisation to Preserve Human Rights (IOPHR), said he was “personally very concerned” about converts being arrested for praying together and charged with acting against national security. 

The rapporteur also pledged that he would look into the issue “very seriously” in the coming years.

Mr Rehman noted that although the Iranian constitution recognises Christians as a minority group, only those who belong to the historically Christian ethnic Armenian and Assyrian communities are permitted to practise their faith. Converts are not recognised.

He added that even those religious minorities that are recognised – also Jews and Zoroastrians – face discrimination, sanctioned by the constitution. He used the example of Iran’s inheritance law, whereby a Muslim relative is given all property rights at the expense of non-Muslim next of kin. Mr Rehman said it “undermines religious freedom”.

Another speaker at the event was UK Member of Parliament Bob Blackman, who highlighted the case of Yousef Nadarkhani, a Christian convert whom he noted was “arrested and beaten and is now serving ten years in prison just for praying with other Christians at a house church”.

Other speakers highlighted the plight of other minority groups, such as the Gonabadi dervishes and Baha’is. 

IOPHR representative Hamid Gharagozloo noted that the dervishes have seen their homes and places of worship destroyed, while the group’s spiritual leader remains under house arrest.  

Meanwhile Simin Fahandej from the Baha’i International Community said that Bahai’s, as an unrecognised minority group, face “state-sponsored persecution … just for being Baha’i”.

Richard Ratcliffe, husband of the jailed British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, urged the UK government to ensure that human rights were more than just a “nice to have” and “secondary issue” in future dealings with Iran.