While President Donald J. Trump is making strides to protect religious freedom in the United States, Christians in other parts of the world are facing increasing persecution.
Recently, Iran’s Islamic regime handed down prison time to a Christian couple and every member of their church. On August 9, 2018, Article 18, an organization that champions Iranian believers, tweeted, “A Christian couple have reported that a court in Boushehr has just sentenced them & 10 other Iranian Christians to one year in prison each for ‘Propagating against the Islamic Republic in favor of Christianity.’”
Article 18 also noted the group of believers was arrested on April 7, 2015. On August 10, 2018, Jeff King, President of International Christian Concern, corroborated Article 18’s tweet in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
“Getting information on the arrests of Christians is incredibly challenging given the heavily censored nature of Iran,” King said. “But based on the cases we have been tracking, this is the first time this year that we’ve seen a jail sentence being given based on the charge of ‘inclination to the land of Christianity.’ This could be interpreted as a reference to Israel, the birthplace of Christianity, and also a country that Iran has adopted a very aggressive stance towards.”
In Iran, Christianity is a legally established religion. The Iran 2017 International Religious Freedom Report created by the United States State Department listed Jews, Christians, except for those converting from Islam, and Zoroastrians as the only religious minorities who can worship and develop religious societies “within the limits of the law.” But, the report also stated, “the penal code specifies the death sentence for proselytizing and attempts by non-Muslims to convert Muslims, as well as for moharebeh (‘enmity against God’) and sabb al-nabi (‘insulting the prophet’).”
The United States State Department noted, “the government continued to harass, interrogate, and arrest Bahais, Christians (particularly converts), Sunni Muslims, and other religious minorities and regulated Christian religious practices closely to enforce a prohibition on proselytizing.”
According to its World Watch List 2018, Open Doors, an organization that serves persecuted Christians all over the world, Iran’s population is more than 80 million. However, only 800,000 people in the Islamic country are Christians. Referring to Iran, Open Doors stated, “Whereas most persecution of Christians in the Arab Gulf region comes from society or radical Islamic groups, the main threat for believers in Iran comes from the government. The Iranian regime declares the country to be a Shia Islamic State and is constantly expanding its influence.”
Though, the anti-Christian government allegedly provides some freedoms to historical Christian congregations. Open Doors noted, “They are allowed to preach to fellow countrymen in their own language but are forbidden from ministering to people from Muslim backgrounds. Members of these historical churches are treated as second-class citizens, and they have reported imprisonment, physical abuse, harassment and discrimination, and jail terms, particularly for reaching out to Muslims.”
According to Benjamin Weinthal, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the already perilous conditions for Christians in Iran is getting worse due to the recent sanctions the United States government has imposed on the nation. Weinthal said the re-instated economic sanctions on Iran have “inadvertently led to a crackdown on its persecuted Christian community.” The president of the Iranian Majority advocacy group, Peter Kohanloo, informed Weinthal, “The new round of sanctions is putting the ruling mullahs under pressure, and they are lashing out by arresting evangelical converts.”
Reiterating Weinthal and Kohanloo’s concerns, King noted, “Poor economic conditions combined with the harshness of their Islamic rule has led to massive unrest that has defined the country for months. There are many reports that this has contributed to the government’s ever-increasing dependence on hardline Islamic ayatollahs, who naturally see Christianity as a threat to their power. For this reason, it’s not surprising that we’re seeing an increase in Christian persecution.”
Pray for the believers in Iran and Christians who are being persecuted around the globe for their faith.
~ 1776 Christian