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The Judiciary: Iran’s blueprint for cracking down on Christians

The recommendations were passed on to the US department of State. The arrest of these Christians is a campaign of harassment against Iranian Christians, as the charges against these three men are basically baseless, under a new clause in the penal code. Firstly the idea of arrests of Christians on the basis of the so called “sectarian activities” is one of the most vague applications of the law as you will ever find anywhere in the world. If it were sectarian violence perhaps the application of the law would hold water.

You can clearly see that the target is to have Christians behind bars for evangelism for instance. And also those that then become Christians as a result of the evangelism are also targeted under this revised penal code that is more draconian. Authoritarian governments are using this situation to clamp down on those with whom they don’t share the same ideologies and Iran is no exception.

Secondly, with high numbers of Christian converts in the country and the gospel gaining momentum in the country, the regime sees these converts erring Muslims. So any punishment is justified. in spite of what the Iranian regime figures like to say about the so called “tolerance” of the Islamic Republic, from the early days of the revolution — as soon as they were firmly in power — the Ayatollahs began a crackdown on civil and religious liberties.

They started with the easiest targets at the time — the Jews and Western missionaries — and then they began to include all Christians. They exercised their intolerance in a number of ways that could only be described as systematic persecution, depriving people of the five rights enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the freedom to choose one’s religion, propagate it, and teach it to one’s children.

So how did they achieve their drive to have Christians in the country to operate underground like most now do?

First, they ensured religious minorities were separated from the rest of the world. They isolated them, and tried to destroy any semblance of unity among different religious groups, or even within a particular faith group or denomination.

the report’s recommendations are quite clear. The negotiations with Iran should include the country human rights offenses and its support of state actors in the region.

The missionaries were kicked out, and the indigenous believers were not free to meet or collaborate with their contemporaries outside the country on religious issues. For those from more institutional churches, like the Anglicans and Catholics, their contacts with the outside world, even if just in the context of church ecumenism, were monitored and viewed as highly suspect, as the Iranian regime still saw the West in general as “Christendom,” and their own country as the land of Islam.

The next tactic they used was to control the church’s expansion by not allowing non-compliant churches to build new churches, or at times even to repair existing ones. Non-registration of properties and worship spaces was used as a threat to create instability and uncertainty. Some churches applied for registration from the Ministry of Interior, providing all the necessary documents, but years later they still did not receive formal recognition and registration, placing them constantly at risk of being labelled “illegal” and shut down, a tactic common in communist China and perhaps copied from there.

The third tactic was to criminalize evangelism, and this went far beyond street outreach. Churches that offered services in Persian, Iran’s national language, paid a heavy cost, as they resisted the call to cease these services. The next tactic was to suffocate the church by undermining leadership development. This was pursued through two means: one, forcing effective and experienced leaders, like Rev. Victor, out of the country, using the threat of long imprisonment or “accidents” to their family members. And, two, by shutting down Christian seminaries and ending opportunities for basic leadership training — from the raids on the

Assemblies of God Central Church in Tehran, where they confiscated all the books available, to the personal archive of the pastors when their houses were raided, include Rev. Robert Assyrian. All their books were confiscated, and never returned. In recent years, many people have been arrested, questioned, charged, and even convicted of attending Christian seminars designed to train or equip Christians for the ministry.

The next step was to remove or obstruct Christians’ access to resources: confiscation of properties and anything related to their Christian activities — from a personal mobile phone, to a car that may have been used by a pastor to drive to meet his congregation, to homes purchased with the lifelong earnings of these families.

The fact that the Iranian authorities have arrested growing numbers of ordinary church members in addition to church leaders, especially over the past two decades, shows how desperate they are to maintain control and halt the growth of the house-church movement. Many of those arrested report an array of tactics used to intimidate, threaten, and manipulate them, ranging from psychological torture to physical and sexual abuse.

Hilary Panashe.

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