DOZENS of Iranians are currently incarcerated by Hassan Rouhani’s theocratic regime because of their belief in the Christian faith, with the situation deteriorating in 2019, a charity has claimed.
Open Doors supports the Church in the Middle East through Bible distribution, discipleship and trauma training in the region. The organisation claims the Iranian government is “committed to expanding the influence of Shia Islam”. Hardliners within the leadership are very anti-Christian, creating severe problems for all groups of believers, the charity says.
Open Doors UK spokeswoman Tamsin Taylor explained the situation in Iran was worsening, with the nation previously ranking tenth in the list of most concerning nations by the charity in 2018 – but rising to ninth in 2019.
Ms Taylor told Express.co.uk: “There seems to be a very hardline attitude from the authorities who seem to be having a crackdown against Christians and that seems to be an attempt to control the spread of Christianity by fear.”
She added: “In 2019, Iran is number nine on our World Watch List.
“In last year’s World Watch List, Iran was number ten – so the situation has got a lot worse.”
The World Watch List is Open Doors’ annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution.
In Iran, house churches for Christians from Muslim backgrounds have been raided and leaders given long prison sentences.
Consequently, many converts have fled abroad or practise their faith in isolation.
Christians from the government-approved historical Armenian and Assyrian churches who reach out to Muslims have reported discrimination, harassment, physical abuse and imprisonment.
Those arrested and detained are often charged with being a “threat to national security”, when in reality all they are doing is running house churches, and sharing their faith with Muslims from their communities, Open Doors reports.
More than a hundred Christians were arrested in one week in December 2018 just before Christmas, following roughly 150 arrests the previous month in different cities across the country, Ms Taylor explained.
The mobile phones of all those arrested were confiscated and those detained were forced to disclose the full history of their Christian activities and ordered to have no more contact with Christian groups.
Those who suffer “even harsher treatment” are Muslim converts, Ms Taylor revealed.
She said: “It is most difficult for people who have converted from Islam to Christianity because they face even harsher treatment.
“The authorities are tracking people who might be meeting in small groups to worship at home.
“And they are looking at whether people’s mobile phones might have Christian material on them or if their Facebook pages might have anything on them that gives away the fact they are a Christian.
“It is very frightening for the Christians in Iran.
“And for Christians in the UK, it is really hard for us to even imagine that you can have your mobile phone thieved and your friends interrogated because of your faith.”
Zoe Smith, head of advocacy at Open Doors UK, reports high prison sentences have been given to Christians who refused to leave Iran after their previous arrests.
She said: “This spike in arrests is highly concerning.
“It follows an established trend of the Iranian government – as the number of converts to Christianity increase, so the authorities place greater restrictions on churches.
“The restrictions are worse for churches seen to be attended by Christians who have converted from Islam.
“Not only that, but the government is asking unreasonably high bail amounts and seeing longer prison terms for Christians.”
Iranian Christian of Muslim background, Ebrahim Firouzi, made an appeal to visit his dying mother after he was arrested for his faith.
Mr Firouzi’s plea to visit his terminally ill mother was rejected by the authorities.
The Iranian convert had been charged with “promoting Christian Zionism” upon his arrest and also with “attempting to launch a Christian website, contact with suspicious foreigners and running online church services” during his trial at the Revolutionary Court.
He rejected all the charges levelled against him.
His mother, Kobra Karmani, who died from cancer on December 3 2018, also appealed to the authorities to allow her son to visit her but her request was also denied.