Iran: Evangelical Christians are 'corrupt and deviant, like the Taliban'
In the early hours of 26th December, armed, plain-clothed, ‘special’ security officers forcefully entered the homes of Christians while they slept, and proceeded to abuse them verbally and physically. They were handcuffed and taken for interrogation. Among those arrested were five married couples.
One couple was separated from their two-year old child. Another couple was forced to leave their baby still at the breast. A number of single young women were also among those taken.
Another sixteen Christians would have been arrested, but they were not at home.
The security forces broke into at least five houses, ransacking them, filching personal possessions, changing the locks and then placing a government seal on the front door. Family members of these Christians have been called by the authorities and threatened and harassed. They were instructed to tell the Christians to surrender to the authorities.
None of them have been granted any legal representation. No charges have been made, though it is clear that their ‘crime’ is simply that they are Christian. There has been no due process, no regard for rights, and no natural justice. The government authorities have provided neither reason for the arrests nor any record of the items confiscated. Family members are not allowed to visit the detained.
It is almost certain they are in interrogation Block 209 in the basement of Evin Prison, Tehran. This is where Christians are initially taken, according to other believers who have endured imprisonment.
While being interrogated, the arrested are blindfolded and questioned by different officers for hours on end. After the questioning, the prisoners are returned to their cells until called again to the interrogation room.
Whenever they leave their cells, they do so without sight. Intense psychological pressure is applied in order to induce a renunciation of Christ. There are many reports that prisoners held in this block have been tortured. During the time of interrogation, which can go on for over a month, there is no contact with the outside world.
The Governor-General of Tehran, Morteza Tamadon, made spurious allegations against Christians when he announced these arrests on 4th January. He accused Christians of being ‘corrupt’, ‘deviant’ and ‘like the Taliban’. There was also intense concern when he vowed to hunt down more. Senior Iranian church leader, Rev. Sam Yeghnazar, said, “Mr. Tamadon’s comments show without doubt that the arrest of these Christians is due to their faith. The global church is outraged both by the arrests, which are a clear violation of international human rights, and the insulting way Mr Tamadon talked about Christians.”
Rev. Yeghnazar said, “These Christians who have been arrested are hard working people of integrity. They love Iran. They have no political agenda, but are simply followers of Christ. Like all other Christians, they believe the Bible and the teachings of the historic church. They are innocent and should be released.”
Since President Ahmadinejad took office in 2005 there have been over 100 publicised cases of Christians being subject to arbitrary arrest, detention, and interrogation. There have been hundreds of others, but for security reasons not all church leaders speak out.
Why is the Iranian Government so concerned about these Christians? Surely in the great Islamic Republic a small, subdued religious minority is of little concern to the might of Islam? Even moreso as it is illegal to possess or distribute bibles, and illegal to tell others the Good News, and illegal to convert from Islam to Christianity. The truth is that in spite of the total lack of religious freedom and the constant threat of government-sanctioned violence, there has been and continues to be a massive turning to Christ in Iran, and the authorities are deeply concerned by the apostasy. At the time of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, there were 500 known Christians in Iran; now some estimates suggest that there are as many as a million.
By ordering these arrests the Iranian government, a signatory to the United
Nations Charter of Human Rights, is in clear breach of at least three of its articles. The aim of the arrests is to forcibly convert to Islam. Article 18 states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
The arrests on 26th December were arbitrary. Article 9 states:
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.Christians have been subjected to solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, and physical beatings. Article 5 states:
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.Dr. George Wood, Chairman of the Pentecostal World Fellowship, has called on his 63 million members to pray for those arrested. He said, “For the past year or two we have seen efforts by the Iranian government specifically to stamp out these Christians.” He also expressed his concern that other major attacks against Christians are occurring in places like Iraq, Pakistan, and Egypt.
Church leaders around the world are calling on Iran to act according to its commitment to the United Nations Charter, release all Christians arrested solely for practising their faith, and to recognise Christianity as a legitimate and legal faith.
The British Government must also speak out against these arrests.
Iranian church leaders are calling for an international day of prayer and fasting for Christian prisoners in Iran this Sunday, 16th January 2011. Please join them in praying for the suffering church in Iran.