In 2010 the State Department documented a range of Iranian government abuses against Christians. Between June 2008 and 2010 “115 Christians were reportedly arrested on charges of apostasy, illegal activities of evangelism, anti-government propaganda, and activities against Islam, among other charges,” and then in the second half of 2010 another 161 were rounded up. By 2012 the State Department was cataloging literally month by month abuses as part of a larger pattern:
In September authorities reportedly raided four house churches in Fars province and arrested forty Christians on suspicion of “having contact with the enemies of the Islamic regime abroad” and “holding Christian services at their homes.” … In October the authorities sentenced… four Christians arrested in December 2011, to one year in prison on charges of “missionary activities and anti-regime propaganda through spreading of Christianity.”… Security forces raided Christmas celebrations, arresting 50 Christian converts in a December 27 raid in Tehran and interrogating them for hours before their release.
The election of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani had raised hopes that Iran would undertake broad-based reforms, and generated calls on the then-president elect to expand religious freedom.
Subsequent moves by Rouhani’s government, however, have deepened skepticism regarding the willingness and ability of the revolutionary-era cleric to undertake reforms. Rouhani’s pick for justice minister, Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, is notorious inside Iran for among other things having helped to oversee the mass murder of thousands of political dissidents in the 1980s. Iran has since his appointment seen a spike of executions and a roundup of what the regime described as a “network of homosexuals and Satanists.”
Meanwhile an American pastor remains jailed in Iran and – per Benjamin Weinthal of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies – four Iranian men have been sentenced to eighty lashes each for partaking of communion wine. Activists pointed out that the sentences essentially criminalizes core Christian practices:
Mervyn Thomas, CEO of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said, “The sentences handed down to these members of the Church of Iran effectively criminalize the Christian sacrament of sharing in the Lord’s Supper, and constitute an unacceptable infringement on the right to practice faith freely and peaceably. We urge the Iranian authorities to ensure that the nation’s legal practices and procedures do not contradict its international obligation under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to guarantee the full enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief by all of its religious communities.”
A U.S. priest who called on Iranian officials to release imprisoned Christians was deported in recent days.
[Photo: CatholicRadioTVNet / YouTube]