The Islamic Republic of Iran is unleashing a sweeping crackdown on Christians, particularly those who have dared to convert from Islam to Christianity. (Image source: iStock)
The Islamic Republic of Iran is unleashing a sweeping crackdown on Christians, particularly those who have dared to convert from Islam to Christianity.
Most recently, nine Christians in Iran, possibly converts, have been convicted by the Islamic court, and each sentenced to five years in prison. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arrested them for attending church services at a private house. According to a report by Article 18, an Iranian NGO which promotes religious freedom:
"The arresting officers introduced themselves as agents from the Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS).
"They stormed the Christians' homes in a coordinated operation at around 9am, confiscating Bibles, Christian literature, wooden crosses and pictures carrying Christian symbols, along with laptops, phones, all forms of identity cards, bank cards and other personal belongings.
"Arresting agents also searched the work offices of at least two Christians and confiscated computer hard drives and security-camera recordings."
Christian families are generally dehumanized and humiliated in the community during the agent's raids. As the Article 18 report explained, "The officers are reported to have treated the Christians harshly, even though small children were present during the arrests."
Across Iran, Christians are being arrested and jailed on trumped-up charges, such as "promoting Zionism", "spreading corrupt Christians beliefs", "propagating against the Islamic Republic in favor of Christianity", "orientation toward the land of Christianity," or "endangering national security". Open Doors USA stated that one particular charge -- "acting against national security" -- is often used by the Iranian authorities "to prosecute Christians for their house church activities."
The claim of Iranian leaders that the peaceful religious practices of a minority group pose a grave a threat to national security is totally unacceptable. Iran's total population is roughly 80 million, with anywhere between 117,000 and 3 million being Christian, according to various estimates. Even though Christians make up an extremely small part of the population, however, they have always been viewed, under the Islamic law of Iran, as a threat to "national security".
The activities of Christians in the Islamic Republic are closely monitored by the Iranian intelligence service (MOIS) and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG). They are not permitted to share their faith with others or to conduct church services in Farsi, Iran's national language.
It is important to hold accountable those Iranian individuals and institutions who are responsible for persecuting Christians.
Three of the Islamist judges known to preside over the trials of Christians are Mashallah Ahmadzadeh, Mohammed Moghiseh, and Ahmad Zargar. The international community needs to consider imposing sanctions on them
The NGO International Christian Concern (ICC) submitted the names of these judges to the US Treasury for consideration of sanctions. ICC stated:
"These three Revolutionary Court judges, and Evin Prison, have a long record of human rights abuses toward Iranian Christians. The judges are responsible for convicting Christians on trumped up charges. They wield Iran's legal system as a systemic tool of repression against religious minorities. Often, when Christians stand firm in their faith, Iran's judges send them to the notorious Evin Prison, located on the outskirts of Tehran. Stories of those who survived Evin Prison are heartbreaking; the wide variety of abuse faced by inmates is chilling."
Converts to Christianity from Islam, according the Iran's Islamic law, can face the death penalty. The Iranian Islamist judges generally resort to verses from the Quran and Hadith (Muhammad's sayings and acts) to justify their verdicts. One particular verse in Qur'an states:
"They wish you would disbelieve as they disbelieved so you would be alike. So do not take from among them allies until they emigrate for the cause of Allah. But if they turn away, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them and take not from among them any ally or helper." (Qur'an 4:89)
A hadith attributed to Muhammad says: "Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him".
Even though the international community labels the government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a moderate administration, and even though Rouhani claims that the Islamic Republic treats all religions justly and fairly, Iran is one of the worst places in the world for Christians. According to the World Watch List compiled by Open Doors USA, Iran is currently ranked as the ninth-worst country for faith-based persecution. Iran systematically violates the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act and this is why, since 1999, the U.S. has designated the Islamic Republic as a "Country of Concern."
Under international law, the Iranian government has an obligation to respect freedom of religion. Yet, while Christians are being increasingly persecuted and their rights are violated in Iran at an unprecedented level, the international community still remains silent.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a business strategist and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US foreign policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu