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Iran: At least 115 Christians were arrested last year for practicing their faith

The Iranian government particularly targets converts to Christianity, as it considers them “to be apostates, a form of religious abandonment which is a criminal offense under Iran’s law.” That is why Mary Mohammadi was charged with “actions against national security” and “propaganda against the system,” solely for practicing her Christian faith. There are laws in Iran that grant some limited freedoms to the Christians, but they are generally not considered applicable to converts from Islam to Christianity, who are all too often considered enemies of the state, as we see in this case. The U.S. State Department has classified Iran as a “country of particular concern” for “having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”

The Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, requests that the government of Iran grant full religious freedom to all of its citizens, not interfering with their freedom of worship in any way.

For previous coverage of Iran, see here.

“Christians in Iran Are Arrested for Practicing Faith, Charity Says,” by Natasha Phillips, Kayhan Life, February 18, 2021:

At least 115 Christians were arrested last year for practicing their faith in Iran, according to a report by Article 18, a London-based nonprofit that promotes freedom of religion in the country.

There are approximately 800,000 Christians in Iran, of which 130,000 are ethnic Armenian and Assyrian Christians, and the remaining 670,000 converts from Islam. The Iranian government considers Christians who have converted from Islam to be apostates, a form of religious abandonment which is a criminal offense under Iran’s law.

The annual report published on Feb. 1 by Article 18, “Rights Violations Against Christians In Iran,” held that the majority of Christians arrested were converts from Islam. Accounts of Christians and Christian converts being threatened with detention for practicing their religion in group settings are also outlined in the report.

The report details the ongoing persecution of Christians by Iran’s government, including the confiscation of Bibles, damage to Christian cemeteries and the demolition of churches.

Mansour Borji, a spokesperson for Article 18, told Kayhan Life that Christians in Iran were increasingly being detained.

“Arrests against Christians are going up every year because of the growth of the church, but also because the Iranian government is developing new methods of surveillance, particularly online, which we think explains why so many more people in Iran are now being arrested,” Borji said.

A February 2020 briefing by the UK Home Office on Iran’s Christians and Christian converts said that while the number of arrests of Christians was still relatively low in Iran, the Iranian government appeared to be focusing on senior members of its Christian communities to constrain worship.

The policy note said: “The evidence suggests that the Iranian authorities appear to target the leaders and organizers of house churches [Christian congregations who gather in private homes to worship] rather than ‘ordinary’ converts (i.e., those who are not active evangelizers). This suggests that the Iranian authorities are primarily concerned with stopping the spread of Christianity and do not have the resources to monitor all Christian converts.”

Speaking to Kayhan Life, Mary Mohammadi, who converted to Christianity as a teenager in Iran, said she was arrested by security officials on Jan. 12, 2020 in Tehran’s Azadi Square while taking part in a peaceful protest after the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752.

The Jan. 8 plane crash, caused by a missile fired by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards hitting the passenger jet and killing all passengers on board, led to widespread anti-government demonstrations in Iran.

“It was around 10 p.m., and the riot police had scattered people, but they were still present in small groups. I was standing alone and doing nothing when I was attacked from behind without warning. I was then badly beaten by the officers while they made sexual threats,” Mary said. “I was then brought in for questioning, but the police were unable to find any evidence with which to press charges, until an officer was made aware of my conversion to Christianity. Then they contacted the prosecutor’s office and shared this information. After that, the prosecutor’s office decided to open a case.”

Mary was transferred to Qarchak prison, Iran’s largest jail for women. The prison has been highlighted by human rights organizations for its hostile environment, and they have cited regular assaults on female inmates, lack of sanitation and the use of torture.

While in Qarchak’s Vozara detention center, Mary said she was given no food or water for 24 hours, despite being injured from the physical assaults she had sustained during her arrest and from the exposure to tear and pepper gas. She was also forced to take off her clothes and perform sit-ups naked while prison officers watched.

“The guards threatened to rip all my clothes off and do other things with my body if I refused to undress myself. I was also forced to sit outside in the detention yard for a long time, in extremely cold weather. They kept harassing me late into the night until I could not stand on my feet or keep my eyes open anymore,” Mary said.

Mary was sentenced to three months and one day in prison, and 10 lashes. Her sentence was suspended for one year, but could be reinstated pending a review of her conduct.

The 22-year-old has already served a six-month jail sentence for her participation in house churches, for which she was charged with “actions against national security” and “propaganda against the system.” She was also arrested for ‘improper’ wearing of her hijab in July after going to the police to report an assault, though the charges were later dropped.

On Jan. 18, Mary said, she was arrested again by security officials who said her trousers were too tight, her coat was unbuttoned and her hijab improperly adjusted. She was released with a caution….

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