Mass arrests of Christians in days after Christmas

Mass arrests of Christians in days after Christmas

Some of the Christians currently detained in Iran.

Scores of Christians in Tehran and other cities have been arrested at their homes in recent days as part of a mass operation by agents of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence.

The governor of Tehran, Morteza Tamadon, yesterday confirmed to state-run media that “a number of evangelical Christian leaders” had been arrested in the city, referring to them as belonging to a “corrupt and deviant” movement, and warning that “others will be arrested in the near future”.

The governor did not specify how many arrests had been made, but Article18 understands that more than 70 Christians may have been arrested and that the number of arrests is likely to further increase in the coming days.

Some of those arrested have been temporarily released after being interrogated and forced to sign “commitments” to refrain from further Christian activities.

Arrests of Christians at Christmas time has become a common occurrence in Iran in recent years.

Meanwhile, there had been increased fears this year following Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s speech in October, in which he warned against the spread of house-churches in Iran, saying:

“[Iran’s enemies] want to diminish the people’s faith in Islam and Islam’s sanctities. Inside the country, using various means they [want to] shake the foundations of the faith of the people, especially the young generation. From the spread of loose and shameless lifestyles, to the promotion of false mysticism – the fake variety of real [Islamic] mysticism – to the spread [of] Baha’ism, to the spread of a network of house-churches; these are the actions that are being undertaken today – with tact and calculation and careful study – by enemies of Islam. And their goal is to weaken the religion within the society.”

The Tehran governor, in his own recent comments, compared evangelical Christians with extremist Muslims. 

He said: “Just like the Taliban, who have inserted themselves into Islam like a parasite, they have crafted a movement, with Britain’s backing, in the name of Christianity.” 

Since its inception the Islamic Republic has imposed severe restrictions on churches to prevent evangelical activities.

Many churches have been pressured to conduct their services in the ethnic-minority languages of Armenian and Assyrian, instead of the national language of Persian. The same is true of their Bibles and other religious books.

But in spite of the increased pressure, arrests and even killing of several Christian leaders in the past two decades, many Iranians continue to convert to Christianity.

The restrictions imposed on churches and the baseless arrests of Christians are violations of Iran’s own constitution, which states in Article 23 that: “The investigation of individuals’ beliefs is forbidden, and no-one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.”

Meanwhile, evangelism is not a criminal offence in Iran.

The recent arrests also violate the Islamic Republic’s international obligations and are a clear violation of the treaties to which Iran is a signatory, including Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

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