World Evangelical Alliance decries wave of Christian arrests in Iran
A Christian commission issued a statement recently condemning a wave of arrests of Christians in Iran that started on Christmas Day.
The Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance called for an immediate halt to the arrest of Christians which totaled 70 during the Christmas season, Continental News said.
Christians and other minority religious have been arrested in Iran in the past, Canadian Press said, but the recent wave of arrests is considered the largest and most closely coordinated.
The RLC-WEA statement said, “The ongoing raiding of homes and arrests of Christians in predominantly Shi’ite Iran, which began deplorably during the Christmas season, needs to stop immediately,” according to Continental News.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported that 25 of the total are evangelicals who were arrested on Christmas Day, including pastors from home churches, according to Asia News. Eleven of the 25 have since been released.
CSW expressed “serious concerns” for the remaining 14, as house church members have been brutally interrogated and placed in solitary confinement to force them to reveal the names other Christians, Asia News said.
Asia News added that Iran’s media, religious and political leaders have of late spewed strong and plentiful anti-Christian rhetoric. The Canadian Press said that officials are indicating that more arrests may follow.
Many Christians in Iran avoid sanctioned churches, which of late have been more closely monitored by Islamic authorities since the unrest that followed the 2009 disputed election of hardliner President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Canadian Press said.
Saman Kamvar, of the Iranian Christian News Agency, told Canadian Press that the raids were a sign of the government’s insecurity. He added that it is likely that the stepped up arrests occurred because Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, denounced home churches which gave a green light for the crackdown.
Godfrey Yogarajah, executive director of WEA-RLC told Continental News, “The growing authoritarianism in Iran only shows that the regime’s popularity is falling drastically which is making the government highly insecure and unnerved.”
Yogarajah’s views were echoed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate and writer Shirin Ebadi who said the recent arrests “are all clear signs of the fear developing within the government.” Ebadi’s own lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, was arrested and sentenced to 11 years imprisonment for “acting against national security,” Asia News reported.
Possible political charges
It is still not clear what the remaining 14 jailed Christians will be charged with, Canadian Press said. If they are convicted for trying to convert Muslims, the penalty is death.
Iran may file political instead of religious charges to avoid international disapproval, Canadian Press said, as it is already faces international outcry over its stoning of an Iranian woman charged with adultery, and its nuclear program.
Prior to the Christmas season arrests, Iran was also beset with concerns from the international community over the arrest of Pastor Behrouz Sadegh-Khanjani and the conviction of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani of the Full Gospel Church, who is charged with apostasy meriting the death penalty, Continental News reported.
The government may be intentionally calling the arrested Christians missionaries rather than evangelicals, as the latter is a faith group, whereas missionaries could be viewed as enemies of the state who corrupt the people, Canadian Press said.
Yogarajah told Continental News, “It is highly condemnable and incongruous that while Shi’ites themselves face persecution in Sunni-majority countries like Pakistan where they are minorities, in Iran some of their leaders emulate the same intolerant Sunni extremists by persecuting the Christian and other minorities.”
Yogarajah added, “Regular campaigns against minorities by the Iranian regime cost the people of Iran dearly as they divert the country’s limited resources, that could be used for citizens’ welfare, to fund activities that only create tensions and isolate the country even further,” Continental News reported.
The WEA-RLC in its statement urged “the human rights and religious freedom fraternity and international policy analysts to treat and highlight the escalating persecution of minorities in Iran as an extremely serious issue,” Continental News reported.