Qom, arguably the most Islamic city in Iran, is a socially and religiously conflicted city where house churches are hunted down and conversion to Christianity is viewed as an action against national security.
Mohabat News – Christianity has been growing at an exponential rate in the last couple of decades in Iran, causing the Islamic government a great deal of concern. In a most recent expression of their distress, one of the high profile Islamic seminary officials, Ayatollah Alavi Boroujerdi, stated “accurate reports indicate that the youth are becoming Christians in Qom and attending house churches”. However, this is not a new development. Earlier reports had also shown a surprising rise in the number of Iranians turning away from Islam and converting to Christianity.
One of the most senior Islamic Shi’ite clerics who has repeatedly expressed his concern over the spread of Christianity among the youth in the country is Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi. He, as well as most of his colleagues blame the foreign influence for the conversion of young Iranians to Christianity. The question that comes up however, is that what could be the real cause for Iranian youths’ rejection of Islam and its principles, despite the serious risks involved with conversion to Christianity in an Islamic country such as Iran?
This high rate of conversion of Iranian youth to Christianity is in spite of rigorous Islamic indoctrination of the youth in their families and educational system. The Islamic government of Iran dedicates massive budgets to the support of Islamic organizations that promote Islam among the youth within and without Iran’s borders. Such efforts to attract Iranian youth is much more noticeable in Islamic cities such as Mashhad and Qom. Regardless of such efforts, Iranian youth seem to become increasingly distant from Islam, which is a cause of great concern for the Iranian Islamic government.
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Last year, after Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi expressed his deepest concern over the popularity of Christianity in the suburbs of Mashhad, the city’s religious and political officials immediately sent a vast number of Islamic teachers and preachers to Mashhad’s suburbs in order to turn the youth away from Christianity. The next phase in dealing with this matter was to crack down on the youth who refused to turn back following the efforts of Islamic teachers and preachers. The Iranian law enforcement and intelligence ministry got involved and began waves of arrests and harassment of Christian converts, facing them with long term prison sentences and heavy bails for their temporary release.
Another Iranian Ayatollah, Wahid Khorasani expressed concerns over the spread of Christianity in the country. He said he had received reports about the exponential increase in popularity of Christianity amongst the youth in the Islamic city of Qom. He criticized government authorities “for their negligence in preparing counteracting strategies to stop the spread of Christianity. In his remarks eight years ago, he had encouraged the government authorities to develop a coherent strategy to eradicate Christianity in Iran.
Another Ayatollah, based in Tabriz, stated he had received reports that at one time, 600 residents of one of the cities in Khorasan province had converted to Christianity.
These harsh remarks years ago, led to a rigorous crackdown campaign against the Iranian Christian community, resulting in arrests, imprisonments and disbanding of a number of house church gatherings.
— Failure of Islamic Authorities’ Efforts to Stop the Spread of Christianity
The Iranian Islamic government implemented a two fold plan to stop the spread of Christianity in the country, and it has failed on both fronts.
The first front was the allocation of millions of dollars for Islamic propaganda across the country, which over the years has proven to be ineffective as Iranian youth seem to be distancing themselves from the Islamic lifestyle the Iranian government wishes to spread.
The second front, in which the Iranian government’s Islamic agenda has failed is their crackdown campaign on newly converted Christians in order to plant fear in those who are interested in learning more about Christianity and possibly becoming Christians themselves. This failure is obvious as Iranian Islamic authorities continue to express their concern over the rapid growth of Christianity in the country.
In recent years many Iranian Christian converts have been arrested. However, the rate of growth of house churches in the country has been exponential, despite a mass exodus of Iranian Christians.
In this regard, Ayatollah Jafar Sobhani, one of the high profile Iranian Islamic figures, wrote in a paper a few years ago, “There was a time when Islamic institutions in Qom were sufficient to counter the spread of Christianity in our city. However, today we do not have any Islamic institution in Qom that can stop Christian evangelism effectively”. In his remarks he also referred to the son of one of the Islamic clerics as having become a Christian.
In a report released seven years ago, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards identified 200 house churches in the Islamic city of Mashhad. Other reports indicate this number has grown significantly ever since. Mashhad is known as the Islamic capital of Iran and the Shi’ite Muslim world. Other cities having a record number of house churches in Iran include Rasht, Tehran and Karaj.
In Tehran there are many house churches that meet on a regular basis. One of Tehran’s Imams said in an interview, “today Christians present their gospel to our youth in the most appealing way. They gather in many neighbourhoods across the city, including Bani Hashem neighbourhood (in Tehran) where tens of homes have been turned into house churches which evangelize their neighbours”.
One of the visible effects of the Iranian government’s crackdown on Christians has been the closure of numerous churches, including the Central Assemblies of God (AOG) church and Janat Abad church in Tehran and the AOG church in Ahwaz. Additionally, Christian converts were banned from entering official churches and Farsi services were forced to cancel permanently across the country in all churches. Publication of anything related to Christianity or any material referring to Christianity was also restricted and books about Christianity already in the market were confiscated./ Farsi
As reported by “Mohabat News” Maryam (Nasim) NaghashZargaran, the converted Christian was released from Evin prison on August 1, 2017, after four years.
This prisoner was released after her long prison term concluded coupled with the extra days of incarceration due to her unwanted absenteeism. She was supposed to have been released on June 28, 2017 while her family waited for her at the entrance to the prison, but the prison authorities, claiming that her release paper were not ready, kept her incarcerated for three extra days.
Maryam NaghashZargaran was born in 1978 and she was interrogated in December 2009 being accused of hosting house churches and promoting Christianity. Eventually, she was arrested and exiled to an unknown area by Sepah Forces in 2012. Despite her temporary release on bail, she was sentenced to 4 years prison in absentia and her appeal court approved the district court’s decision.
Maryam was working in Turkey at that time and she had to come back to face these charges and she was subsequently arrested and sent to the jail on July 19, 2013.
In an objection to the uncertainty in her case and the resultant charges against her, Maryam went on a hunger strike on May 26, 2016. She broke her hunger strike having the promises of prison authorities to reconsider her charges on June 6, 2016. However, she was sent to jail on June 27, 2016. To show her objections she started her hunger strike on July 15, 2016 once again and received the same promises by prison authorities on July 21, 2016, when she got the permission to leave prison for few days.
These hunger strikes weakened her health day by day. This converted Christian suffers from “ASD”, joint pain and trembling, and went on an open heart surgery a few years back. Her health condition worsened due to these repetitive hunger strikes. Her health status was so bad that her mother recorded a video addressing the public and the government authorities to announce her dangerous physical and mental status.
She also mentioned that she might do something terrible anytime. Maryam NaghashZargaran has tried many times to write different letters and convey her rights and objections, apart from these hunger strikes, hoping to get a parole while she never got any responses. Pressures were even more on her when she was given few months leave until her charges were confirmed and while they allowed her to post bail they ultimately punished her with even more days in prison for the days she was absent from prison.
Saeed Abedini the Iranian- American pastor, and Maryam NaghashZargaran were arrested and sent to Evin Prison at the same time. This was perhaps a reason for excreting even more pressure on her in the court and during the interrogations and that is why the Sepah forces pressured her so much, including beating her in the ladies’ ward at Evin so badly that her leg was broken. This incident remained suspicious and never followed up again.
Now she has been released from prison and she has come back to her family after four years but her physical condition on one hand and her mental pressures on the other hand would follow her for even more months and she needs a long time to recover and get back to a more normal life.
(World Watch Monitor) Activists and representatives of the Croatian Baptist Church are urging the state not to deport Christian asylum-seekers to Iran, saying they could face serious consequences because of their faith, reports Balkan Insight.
Iran is known to be a country where living as a Christian is difficult, especially for those who have converted from Islam. It is ranked eighth on Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Late last year, Iranian and European human-rights and religious-rights organisations urged the international community to hold the Iranian government to account over its treatment of Christian converts. In their letter, they detailed what they described as “a pattern” of treatment by the Iranian authorities that included arrests, interrogations, detention, raids on churches and harassment by security agents. They also mentioned the ongoing trial of four converts – including Youcef Nadarkhani, a church leader previously sentenced to death for apostasy.
Croatia is one of the nations that saw thousands of refugees and migrants cross its borders in 2015/2016 and remains a transit country, according to Amnesty International. Most refugees and migrants have set their eyes on going further West. And it is in the migrant camps of Europe, like the so-called former “Jungle” camp near Calais, where the Christian presence hidden in Iran is becoming visible.
Mohabat News – A while ago, a UNESCO representative praised the Islamic Republic of Iran for including a few Armenian Historical church buildings on the list of national heritage sites. The St. Mary Church in Tehran was among the newly registered churches.
Some reports quoted Robert Biglarian, the Armenian member of the Iranian parliament, as saying “Recently, a group of extremist Muslims destroyed an Armenian church in Sava near Marivan County. Armenians have voiced their concern over this issue and officials are investigating to find those responsible.”
This is not an isolated incident. On May 12, 2016, another church called St. Mary in Salmas County in Urumia province was destroyed as well.
Some Iranian news services reported that a mal-intended group entered the church property stealthily, breaking into the church building through its roof and began destroying the cross inside the building using sledgehammers and axes. They also broke the statues of Mary and tore the pictures on the wall.
Destroying church buildings has a long record in the history of the Islamic regime of Iran.
In the spring of 2012, reports indicated that another church near Salmas County is on the verge of destruction.
A year before that in the summer of 2011, judicial authorities in Kerman issued a ruling for a historical church building in their city to be brought down, even though a few years earlier this church had been registered as a national heritage site.
On April 5, 2012, a historic Christian cemetery, more than 200 years old, was destroyed by a group of extremists. No one has been arrested so far in connection with the incident.
A historical evangelical church building in Mashhad that had been registered as a national heritage site in 2005, was destroyed a few years ago.
Currently, there are around five hundred registered church buildings in Iran, with many of them abandoned or on the verge of destruction.
An Iranian Christian convert who recently started a hunger strike is in a critical health condition. He went on a hunger strike to protest the unfair handling of his case, as Iranian authorities have been keeping him in prison in uncertainty.
Mohabat News – Reports coming from Iran indicate that Iranian Christian prisoner, Amin Afshar Naderi is in critical condition in Evin prison. He began his hunger strike more than a week ago.
He had been arrested together with five other Christians in Firouz-kouh county. While three of those arrested were released, Mr. Naderi and another Christian believer were held in prison.
Mr. Naderi together with another Christian prisoner Hadi Asgari, have been on a hunger strike since February 5, 2017. The latest reports by sources close to Mr. Naderi state that the hunger strike has resulted in significant weight loss and a drop in his blood pressure.
These two Christian prisoners have been on a hunger strike to protest the unfair handling of their case and being held in uncertainty in prison before even being convicted of charges laid against them.
This is not the first time Mr. Naderi has been in prison for his faith. He had been arrested in 2014 as he attended a house church. On that occasion, he was detained for 40 days and spent some of that time in solitary confinement in ward 209 of the notorious Evin prison. He was later released on heavy bail.
Other Christian prisoners who have recently been on a hunger strike are Ebrahim Firouzi and Maryam ( Nasim) Naghash Zargaran. Their hunger strike was also to protest the unfair handling of their cases and the fabricated charges against them.
In a report published in September 2016, individuals close to these prisoners told Mohabat News, “the greatest concern of the families of these Christian men is that the authorities may fabricate charges against them, as they found three Bibles in their gathering. They are also concerned that authorities would put their loved ones under pressure, forcing them to confess to crimes they have not committed.”
Mohabat News – Iranian Christian prisoner, Maryam Naghash Zargaran, who is imprisoned in the notorious Evin prison for her Christian faith, was sentenced to an additional 45 days in prison upon her return to prison on Tuesday, December 6, 2016 from a medical leave.
Prison authorities say she received 45 extra days in prison as punishment for her delay in returning to prison from her leave. She was originally granted a five day leave, which was later extended by a court ruling.
Her family confirmed that while she was on leave, court officials told her to remain out of prison until they reviewed her plea for conditional release. Her plea was eventually rejected and when she returned to prison, prison authorities sentenced her to an extra 45 days in prison for not returning to prison on time from her leave.
Ms. Maryam Zargaran has been in prison for almost three years and four months in the women’s ward of the notorious Evin prison. During her time in prison she has gone on a number of hunger strikes, mainly to demand a conditional release from prison.
Since her imprisonment on July 19, 2013, her family has exhausted all of their options for her release with no success.
Maryam Naghash Zargaran suffers from a number of health problems, including a heart condition known as atrial septal defect (ASD), for which she underwent surgery years ago.
Conditions in prison have further deteriorated Ms. Zargaran’s health. Mental, as well as physical pressure in prison has caused chronic joint pain in her hands, feet and spinal cord. Medical doctors in prison have diagnosed her with osteoporosis, arthritis and lumbar disc disease.
Three Christians from Azerbaijan who spent months in Iran’s Evin prison, one of the worst prisons in the world, are now free.