More than 50 Christian converts have been arrested over the past week in a series of raids by Iranian state security services. This wave of arrests and arbitrary detentions within the Christian community in northern Iran have resulted in at least 51 people being detained in Tehran, Karaj, Rasht, Orumiyeh and Aligoudarz.
“Police are entering family homes and seizing parents in front of their children,” said Kiaa Aalipour, spokesperson for Open Doors’ partner group Article18, which advocates for Iran’s Christian minority. “Christian converts are usually charged with propaganda against the state or membership of illegal groups which are considered ‘anti-state’. These charges can carry a ten-year prison term.”
The latest arrests follow a period of relative calm on the streets of Iran after months of mass protests, which were often violently suppressed by police. It is believed that these arrests mark a deliberate shift in strategy by the Iranian authorities. “The return to a more forceful approach may be to send a message – both nationally and internationally – that the state will not be deterred,” said Aalipour.
Everyone who has been arrested so far are converts from Shia Islam. Converting is considered a threat to national security, and converts are referred to by state authorities as ‘Unrecognized Christians.’ Estimates suggest up to one million people are categorized this way in Iran.
“It’s not clear what the motive is for this sudden surge in arrests of Christians,” said Gary Stagg, Executive Director of Open Doors Canada. “This seems to be part of a wider crackdown on civil liberties.”
Iran is number eight on Open Doors’ annual World Watch List, which ranks nations where it is most dangerous to be a Christian. The regime sees Iranian Christians as an attempt by Western nations to undermine Islam and the Islamic regime of Iran. Leaders of Christian convert groups have received lengthy prison sentences.
The news comes as former Iranian Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi becomes president with observes saying the church in Iran is likely to suffer increased persecution. Ebrahim Raisi’s election with a hardline agenda will likely cause increased persecution of Christians and the Church who are viewed as enemies of the state and a threat to national security.
–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice