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Iran: ‘We can’t accept Muslims becoming Christians through church propaganda’

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.”

For previous coverage of Iran, see here.

“‘We can’t accept Muslims becoming Christians through church propaganda,’” Article 18, September 16, 2022:

Rev Farhad Sabokrooh was 15 years old when he became a Christian in 1979, the same year religious fervour among Iran’s Muslims brought the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini back as the head of a new Islamic Republic.

From the very beginning, then, the young Christian was swimming against the prevailing tide. 

And so it continued, as the young man moved into church leadership, running a church in his home in Ahvaz, southwest Iran, for 25 years, before his eventual imprisonment for “propaganda against the regime”. 

And with Rev Farhad and his wife Shahnaz’s arrest at Christmas 2011 also came the forced closure of their church, and all their years of hard work. 

Rev Farhad called it “the worst feeling I have ever had”, to think of all they had built over the years suddenly crumbling.

But, in truth, and as Rev Farhad knew only too well, the writing had been on the wall for many years, the pastor having been summoned regularly for interrogation at the Ministry of Intelligence ever since his first summons in 1994.

As he once complained to an interrogator: “For 17 years, you have been summoning me to the Ministry of Intelligence, bringing me here and interrogating me repeatedly. What do you want from us? If I had committed manslaughter, I would have been imprisoned for 15 years, and then it would be over. But for 17 years, you have been constantly interrogating me, and you aren’t stopping!”…

“They told us: ‘According to the 10-year plan that we are working on, all Evangelical churches, including all branches of the Assemblies of God, must stop their activities. From now on, your churches don’t have the right to evangelise and advertise your beliefs, especially among Muslims; you don’t have the right to accept new members; you should inform the Ministry of Intelligence before doing any activity; you mustn’t baptise anyone; even if it is an Armenian or Assyrian [recognised as Christians] who is going to be baptised, you must inform the Ministry of Intelligence.’”

The nine senior leaders among the group, including Rev Farhad, were told they would be detained until they had reached an “agreement”, though Rev Farhad said “really they only intended to impose on us what they had already predetermined”.

“Whether you like it or not, we are the leaders and rulers of this country and so we must know what is happening in the churches, and this is our most natural right,” the interrogators said. “We must know what decisions the churches make, what thoughts they have. This is an Islamic country, and we cannot accept that through the propaganda of churches Muslims become Christians and convert to Christianity. One of the ideals of our revolution is that the rest of the nations become Muslims, not that Muslims become Christians, which goes against the interests of the Islamic government.”…

Rev Farhad, his wife Shahnaz, and two other church members who had helped lead the church were later sentenced to a year in prison….

After serving their sentences, he and his wife were given two months to leave the country, and told they would face years more in prison if they failed to leave, and even threatened with a fate like Haik’s. 

And so they left, and, in Rev Farhad’s words, “lost everything we had accumulated in 30 years of living together”, fleeing to Turkey, where they spent nearly three years, before being resettled in the United States in 2016, where they continue to serve the Persian-speaking church. 

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