Editor’s Note: The Baha’i case is an outstanding example of the moral and intellectual corruption of the Iranian Islamic government. Readers should, however, be made aware that other groups such as women, Kurds, and Christians endure similar persecutions in the same country.
by Wahied Wahdat-Hagh
Christians are unlikely to be doing missionary work in Iran. Following a court ruling, even churches are closed down if they preach in Farsi. And bloggers who put biblical quotations on the internet are detained.
On 25 March 2009, the Farsi Christian News Network FCNN reported that the Assyrian church in the town of Shahrara was to be closed down following a ruling by an Iranian revolutionary court. On 19 March, Jonathan Betkolia had informed the Assyrian community in the Iranian capital Tehran of this decision.The reason for the ruling was given as “Farsi-speaking Iranians newly converted to Christianity taking part in church masses”.
Court ruling on church closure
Jonathan Betkolia, who represents Iran’s 35,000-strong Assyrian community in the Islamic “Parliament”, has come into conflict with Iranian priests in the Assyrian community.As a politician, in the past few months he has often criticised the activities of the priests, who had allegedly enabled Farsi-speaking Christians to gain access to the Assyrian church. After warnings from the Assyrian politician, Father Viktor admittedly announced that only Assyrians could take part in church masses, otherwise the church would be closed down. A court ruling to close down the church has nonetheless been issued. The Christian committee of the organisation Human Rights Activists in Iran reported that this ruling had taken place in the context of growing pressure on Iranian Christians.
Sermons only allowed in the Armenian or Assyrian languages
The alleged aim is to “cleanse Iranian Christians”,thereby preventing the Christian faith from spreading among Iranians who are not members of the ethnic groups of Assyrians and Armenians. The Armenian and Assyrian churches are regarded as ethnic churches.Preaching in Farsi is not allowed there, with sermons only allowed in Armenian or Assyrian. Human Rights Activists in Iran write that the Iranian state is depriving Iranians of their human rights to change religion and faith. Nor is there any right to speak about one’s own faith collectively and publicly, in Farsi, in the context of churches’ religious instruction and in church masses. In the past eight years the Assyrian church in Shahrara has held additional events and masses on Fridays and Sundays for Farsi-speaking, non-Assyrian people.
Two Christians detained in Isfahan
The FCNN further reported on 24 March that two Iranian Christians had been detained in Isfahan.One of them, called Mazaher R, is 30 years old and a “Christian internet activist”. According to the FCNN, he had proclaimed the Bible’s message in his blog.One of his readers, who contacted him by email as “Father Reza”, arranged a meeting with him to discuss “the message of Jesus Christ“. On 22 February, Mazaher went to the meeting together with his sister and another fellow Christian called Hamed C.The supposed “Father Reza” was present with a woman who introduced herself as Maria.”Father Reza”, who later turned out to be a police informer, invited the three Iranian Christians to a residence where a new Christian was allegedly to be baptised.Together they went into the building indicated as a house church,where they were arrested by civil servants and security forces.With their eyes covered, they were led away to an unknown place.
No information on detention of Iranian Christians
On 23 February the Iranian police raided the house of the father of the Christian blogger Mazaher R, seizing computers, printers and Christian books, among other things. The sister of Mazaher R was released after a week in detention.She said that under interrogation she was berated and placed under so much pressure that she distanced herself from her own brother’s Christian activities. For a month now, Iranian police and secret services have refused to give any information about the detention of the two Iranian Christians. Members of the detained Christians’ families have in the meantime found out about the house, described by the police informer “Father Reza” as a house church. On finding it empty, they quizzed the occupants of the neighbouring house, who told them that the house had been empty and unoccupied for months. Nobody in the street knew of any “Father Reza”. As written by Human Rights Activists in Iran, the detention of the two Christians must be seen in connection with the Revolutionary Guards’ new repressive measures against bloggers. The Islamic government, they said, regarded any “non-Islamic activity as anti-Islamic and directed against the religion”.This meant that the government could paint any religious movement as a measure of “gentle subversive revolution”.
Wahied is a Senior Fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels.