Iranian security services raided the homes of eight Iranian converts to Christianity on July 1 in the southern city of Bushehr, hustling them off to solitary confinement, Benjamin Weinthal reported in The Jerusalem Post.
The arrest was first reported on Friday by Article 18, an organization that promotes religious freedom and supports Iran’s repressed and persecuted Christian community.
Intelligence agents “stormed the Christians’ homes in a coordinated operation at around 9 a.m.,” confiscating Bibles, Christian literature, wooden crosses, and pictures carrying Christian symbols. Authorities also seized laptops, phones, all forms of identity cards, bank cards, and other personal belongings, Article 18 reported.
Non-Muslims in Iran are prohibited from publicly expressing their religious affiliation, and any attempt to convert a Muslim to another religion is punishable by death. The right to choose, change, or leave one’s religion is considered apostasy and also carries the death penalty.
Following the release of the 2019 annual report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in late June, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “In Iran, the regime’s crackdown on Bahá’ís, Christians and others continues to shock the conscience.”
Last November, Pompeo re-designated the Islamic Republic as a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
“Reporting suggests that Christianity is on the rise in Iran, along with other non-Islamic religions,” Alireza Nader, the CEO of New Iran, a research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., told The Jerusalem Post.
“This is a threat to the Islamic republic, a regime based on a narrow and totalitarian view of Islam. As the regime faces more internal unrest, the more it’ll crack down on religious minorities it views as threatening its stranglehold on religion,” he explained.
Despite Christians being protected by the Iranian constitution as a recognized minority, Iranian security services regularly raid church services, arrest worshippers, and confiscate religious symbols and literature.
Since 2010, approximately 550 Christians have been arbitrarily arrested because of their religious beliefs and activities. Over 90 are currently lingering in prison on trumped-up charges. Human rights organizations have stated that Christian prisoners are subjected to severe beatings, sexual assault, and torture.