Remembering the Iranian Christians killed since the revolution

Remembering the Iranian Christians killed since the revolution

Eight Christians killed for their faith in Iran in the 40 years since the revolution were remembered at a memorial service in London last month.

Anglican pastor Arastoo Sayyah was murdered just eight days after the revolution, while 2019 also marks 25 years since the martyrdoms of Bishop Haik Hovsepian-Mehr, Rev Tateos Michaelian and Rev Mehdi Dibaj.

The four others remembered at the service on 19 October were Rev Hossein Soodmand, whose death by hanging for “apostasy” was the only one officially claimed by the regime, Bahram Dehqani-Tafti, and pastors Mohammad-Bagher Yusefi and Ghorban Tourani.

Tributes were paid to each of the eight Christians, including a song by Gilbert Hovsepian, one of Bishop Haik’s sons, about learning to forgive those who killed his father.

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali led prayers for the families of the victims and spoke about the significance of martyrdom in the Christian tradition.

Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, then provided an update of the challenges still faced by Christians in Iran today.

“It may look different,” Mr Borji said. “Christians aren’t routinely killed today for their faith, nor are many charged with apostasy – though it does still happen. But it is still the case that any convert to Christianity, or anyone found to have shared the Gospel with them, faces systematic persecution from the Iranian authorities.

“Most Iranian churches that once offered services in the Persian language have now been closed down, and a lot of their leaders were either imprisoned or forced to leave the country, with the threat of long imprisonment.

“The relentless pressure on the Church in Iran today means that most Christians worship in secret underground house-churches, for which they face the constant threat of arbitrary arrest and imprisonment on charges of ‘acting against national security’.”

Mr Borji highlighted the cases of two Christian converts who recently began prison sentences: Rokhsareh Ghanbari, who presented herself at the prison in Karaj just two weeks ago, and Fatemeh Bakhtari, who has been in Tehran’s Evin Prison for two months today.

Article18’s advocacy director ended his speech by calling on:

  • the Iranian government “to abide by its obligations as a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, both of which provide for full religious freedom – including the freedom to change one’s religion and to share that faith with others”; 
  • the international community to “continue to call Iran to account for its failure to provide religious freedom, and for there to be clarity and transparency on what steps are being taken in this regard, beyond the usual rhetoric and PR statements”; 
  • and the worldwide Church to “continue to pray and advocate for our brothers and sisters in Iran, many of whom are new to our faith, and not to forget those who continue to make sacrifices today”.

The service ended with a message from Bishop Haik Hovsepian’s brother Edward, and an appeal to the Iranian government by Rev Dr Mehrdad Fatehi on behalf of the Council of United Iranian Churches (Hamgaam).

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