Over the past week, Iranian authorities have arrested more than 100 Christians as part of the government’s fresh crackdown on those who have left the Islamic faith and embraced Jesus. Reports indicate that many of the 114 detained were converts from Islam to Christianity, and were thus accused of “proselytising.”
Under Iranian law, conversion to Christianity is illegal, and can result in prosecution and a sentence of more than 10 years behind bars. Many leading campaigners for persecuted Christians across the globe have noted the marked rise in measures taken against the Iranian Christian population since the US reintroduced sanctions last month. President Trump’s “strong” and “biting” sanctions on the oil-rich nation sparked a flare up on anti-American sentiment in the Islamic Republic.
“There are many reports that [the sanctions] have contributed to the government’s ever-increasing dependence on hardline Islamic ayatollahs, who naturally see Christianity as a threat to their power,” said Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern, as reported by the Telegraph.
“For this reason, it’s not surprising that we’re seeing an increase in Christian persecution.”
Christian persecution watchdog Open Doors USA noted that the government’s actions serve as something of a warning to believers against sharing their faith over Christmas.
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Dr. Mike Ansari from Heart4Iran told International Christian Concern most of those arrested were coerced to divulge information about their house-church activities and those of their friends, under threat of criminal prosecution or arrest of family members.
“Therefore, the case of every arrested Iranian believer is of utmost importance,” Ansari said.
“This spike in arrests is highly concerning,” noted Zoe Smith, head of advocacy at Open Doors UK. “It follows an established trend of the Iranian government – as the number of converts to Christianity increase, so the authorities place greater restrictions on churches.”
“The restrictions are worse for churches seen to be attended by Christians who have converted from Islam. Not only that, but the government is asking unreasonably high bail amounts and seeing longer prison terms for Christians.”
Those arrested and questioned were told that they could expect a phone call from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence in the coming weeks.
Last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mocked the Iranian foreign minister for sending out Christmas greetings on social media. “Saying ‘Merry Christmas’ while jailing Christians in your own country is the height of hypocrisy,” he said in a video address.
“Imagine praying quietly in your home, surrounded by your family, and all of a sudden armed thugs burst in and drag you away to prison,” Netanyahu said in reference to last year’s increase in arrests. “They torture you merely for practicing your Christian faith.”
“Welcome to Iran,” he added.
Incredibly, however, despite the staggering levels of oppression, Christianity continues to grow across the Iranian state.
“As Christianity grows rapidly in Iran, the Islamic government and the clergy in power are alarmed,” said Dr. Hormoz Shariat, president and founder of Iran Alive Ministries, according to Open Doors USA. “Their only strategy to slow down this growth is through a campaign of fear, violence and intimidation … We expect the persecution in Iran will increase as the Islamic government feels threatened by the spread of Christianity among Muslims in Iran.”
Iran is now widely recognized as being home to one of the fastest-growing evangelical churches in the world.
Do pray for all of those who continue to suffer for their faith in this oppressive nation.