By Ruth Aguantia While the world was fighting the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Iran continued its campaign to persecute its Christian citizens for their faith. In consolidated reports gathered from various organizations, Article18 revealed that a number of believers have been imprisoned for practicing their faith, including 15 Christians in Tehran’s Evin Prison, two others who were sent to internal exile and an individual who was locked up for a disputed criminal charge.
Another 115 Iranian Christians were arrested last year but only 52 were reported publicly. Further, two were flogged for drinking the Communion wine, others were denied access to employment or education and a couple was revoked of their custody rights for an adopted daughter only because of their Christian belief.
Though Christian converts from Muslim backgrounds were those who were hugely affected, believers from the government-recognized Armenian and Assyrian communities were also subjected to Iran’s persecution.
An example of this is the Iranian-Assyrian pastor who fled the country out of its persistent oppression of the Christian community.
Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz formerly leads the legally recognized Tehran Pentecostal Assyrian Church but he was removed from the post following his refusal to stop converts from attending their worship services. World Watch Monitor says the government closed the pastor’s church in 2009.
In 2012, Iran started prohibiting Christian converts of Muslim backgrounds from attending worship services in official churches.
Pastor Bet-Tamraz then started a house-church but he was arrested in 2014 and convicted of “conducting evangelism” and “illegal house-church activities.” He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and his wife got a five-year prison term.
While free on bail, the couple tried to appeal their prison sentences but were denied by the government. Thus, he and his wife Shamiram were forced to leave the country in August 2020.
Three of the converts, who attended the Assyrian church formerly led by Pastor Bet-Tamraz and later joined his house-church, were also sentenced to 10 years in prison and have fled Iran too.
Joseph Shahbazian, an Iranian-Armenian pastor also suffered the same challenge. He was arrested when the Revolutionary Guards raided the homes and house-churches in the cities of Tehran, Karaj and Malayer last year.
The Islamic regime continuous to oppress the Christian community even those who belong to the government-recognized churches of the Assyrian and Armenian people. But last month, Iran denied United Nations’ investigation report over the country’s “systematic persecution of Christians.”
The report also mentioned that Iran is a signatory of the United Nations’ International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. The agreement demands freedom of religion for its citizens but the country appeared to have failed providing it. The state’s continued crackdown on house-churches showed that it denies its people with such freedom.
Article18, an organization that promotes freedom of religion in Iran and an advocate for the country’s persecuted Christians, called for the country to release its Christian prisoners who were detained merely of their faith and religious activities. The organization also urged the government to uphold the right of the Iranian people for religious freedom.