Iran’s Decades of Christian Persecution


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Evangelical Christians in Iran “have crafted a movement in the name of Christianity” in the same way that members of the Taliban “have inserted themselves into Islam like…parasite[s],” Tehran governor, Morteza Tamaddon recently declared. Tamaddon praised the arrest of over 70 Iranian Christians and vowed to identify and arrest more Christians, whom he labeled “deviant” and “corrupt,” according to a January 7 press statement from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Elam, a ministry to the church in Iran, reported that armed, plain-clothed security forces broke into the homes of sleeping Christians from the evangelical house church and Armenian Christian communities early on the morning of December 26. Eleven of the twenty-five Christians known to be arrested were released after days of intense interrogation. The other fourteen remain in prison and have not been heard from since the arrest, although no official charges have been brought against them. Elam also reported that these Christians are probably being held in Interrogation Block 209 in the basement of Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. This is the common practice for dealing with Christians under arrest, according to Iranian sources. Reports of as many as 60 further arrests have also come from Tehran, Mashhad, Isfahan and Urumieh. These Christian prisoners join others such as Pastor Vahik Abrahamian and his wife Sonia Keshish-Avanesian, and Arash Kermanjani and his wife Arezo Teymouri, who were arrested in September.

Long before the rest of the world began to get insomnia thinking about a “nuclear Iran,” Christians in the Islamic Republic were losing more than just sleep. For decades, Iranian Christians have lost their human rights, their freedom, and their lives. In the late 1970’s and throughout the 1980’s, Christian persecution in Iran was directed at the Anglican Church. In the 1990’s the Islamic regime targeted the broader church, murdering many top Christian leaders in an attempt to destroy Christianity in Iran. The danger continues today. Iranian Christians are persecuted, discriminated against, arrested, and even killed. But the Iranian church continues to grow, and reports surface of spiritual revival going on in Iran’s underground churches.

Soon after the Islamic Revolution, the Anglican Church in Iran was specifically targeted because so many Anglicans were converts from Islam. The Episcopal Church USA of the same era and other western expressions of Anglicanism, such as the Church of England, were enamored by religious pluralism. Evangelism was viewed with embarrassment or even hostility. But Anglicans in Iran welcomed Muslims who wanted to know Jesus. For this the church paid a high price.

The first post-Islamic Revolution martyrs were Anglicans. Islamists cut the throat of the Reverend Arastoo Sayyah, a Muslim convert, in his own office in Shiraz, southwest Iran, on February 19, 1979. In October of that same year, the Rt. Reverend Hassan Dehqani-Tafti, also a Muslim convert, and his wife, Margaret, miraculously survived an assassination attempt in their own bedroom. Dehqani-Tafti, the first Persian Anglican bishop in Iran, was forced into exile for the last ten years of his episcopate after the attack. But in May of 1980, the Dehqani-Taftis’ twenty-four year old son, Bahram, was shot to death on the street in Tehran. Bishop Dehqani-Tafti believed that the Islamic Revolution felt threatened because the Christians were building “a Persian church,” and “a strong and intelligent Christianity” complemented an authentic Persian culture more than Islam. Church property was confiscated, and other clergy, both Persian and British, were arrested and imprisoned. Many more of the Iranian clergy and church members were killed for their faith, and Anglican and other Christian churches in Iran were forced to go underground.

The Iranian regime attempted to intimidate and suppress the church, but persecution produced the opposite effect. Whereas before the Islamic Revolution there were only some 200-300 Iranian converts from Islam, by 1992 Iranian Christians International (ICI) reported that there were 13,300 Iranian converts from Islam around the world, with 6,700 living right in Iran.

As the church grew in the 1990’s, the regime began a concerted effort to eliminate all of the church’s top evangelical Christian leaders. Most were targeted by a death squad, widely believed to be operating on behalf of the official government, even to the level of the President, according to the analysis of testimony received by Middle East Concern, a human rights organization. Time in March 1994 reported that the decisions “to assassinate opponents at home or abroad” were made by “The Supreme National Security Council” chaired by the then President of Iran, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Islamic law (Shari’a) became a weapon to eliminate influential Christians. One of Iran’s key evangelical leaders, Pastor Hossein Soodmand, was killed, not by a death squad, but through execution. In December 1990, Soodmand, 55, was sentenced to death in a Shari’a court in Mashad, northern Iran, charged with apostasy and with operating a Christian bookstore and an illegal church. He had converted from Islam in 1964 and had been an evangelist and Assemblies of God minister for twenty-four years.

Soodmand’s fellow pastors pleaded for clemency with the Dayro-E-Tasalamat (an Ombudsman/Muslim cleric whose title means “he who hears the cries of the oppressed”).

But it became increasingly clear that the Islamists in Iran were more interested in oppressing Christians than in hearing their cries. At the insistence of the Ombudsman, Pastor Soodmand was hanged on December 3, 1990 in Mashad, which in Farsi means “place of martyrdom.” He left behind a wife who going blind, and four children.

In late 1993, another pastor, Mehdi Dibaj, was sentenced to death for apostasy. Dibaj was born to a wealthy, influential Muslim family, but became a Christian as a teenager. An Assemblies of God minister, he was imprisoned for more than nine years for his faith. During those years he was beaten, subjected to “mock executions,” and spent two full years in solitary confinement in a tiny, unlit cell. In addition, his wife had been forced to divorce him and marry a Muslim.

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  • seminole8100

    Revelation 6:9 – 11 seems describes what is happening behind the scenes in heaven. Just like Isaiah 19 comments on G-D's reaction to Egypt.

    9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been killed for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held. 10 They cried with a loud voice, saying, "How long, Master, the holy and true, do you not judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the eretz?" 11 There was given to each one of them a white robe. It was said to them that they should rest yet for a little time, until their fellow servants and their brothers, who would also be killed even as they were, had been fulfilled. From Hebrew Names Bible

  • tanstaafl

    Do good, resist evil.

  • SAM000

    Most of these crimes against our Christian Brothers and Sisters were held during the Clinton Administration where Malelain Albright was very friend with Mullah Khatami and Mullah Rafsanjani.

    Without American Appeasement, the Mullahs will never dare to touch a CHRISTIAN.

    NOW, in IRAQ, the Christians are slaughtered from 2003 and US Army was ordered not to interven!!!

    WHY the different US Administrations are SILENT on these crimes?

  • Uwe

    It grieved me deeply to read this article! These people are true heroes of Faith. Nobody knows about them, nobody talks about them. Their reward is awaiting them in Heaven.

    The Iraniens are great and proud people with a great long history and culture. I have never met an Iranian I did not like; maybe some of the smartest people on Earth with a beautiful poetic language.

    • SAM000

      Thank you so very much;
      I'm from a city where the Christians and Jews had their own districts without the authorities interventions and ENTRANCE;

      The Christian community is the most respected and loved in IRAN;
      We have a proverb in persian, we say, you can pray behind a Christian rather than a Hadji (A Muslim who had gone on Plerinage to MECCA).

      What is going on in IRAN is not Persian, these devils are anti-human and anti-GOD.

      We are fighting to clean our country from this shame of Islamism.
      We have the collective executions every day in the prisons.

      We are not Anti-Christian
      We are not Anti-JEWS
      We are just Anti-Islamist and Anti-Mullahs

      • George

        As far as I know, he situation has not changed for native Christians and Jews. The only problem is that evangelical and misguided Christians coming from other countries are trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. The native Christians never make such attempts. Because of ridiculous Sharia laws everyone should know that giving up Islam is punishable by death. So, these proselytizing Christians are actually trying to kill the converts. Until the Sharia laws on apostasy are abolished, these Christians should just leave the country.

        • Armando

          There you again! Blaming the victim instead of the victimizers! I'm sure it doesn't take much convincing for a moslem to convert to the christian or any other faith seeing the atrocities commited by islamofascists all around the world. Who would want to follow a "religion" that celebrates the death of suicide-murderers!

          • George

            There are no Shia suicide bombers that one can name. All the crazy Islamic radicals have been Sunni. For example, Al Qaeda is a mortal enemy of Iran. So, what you are talking about has nothing to do with Iran.

            To repeat: Apostasy is punishable by death in Iran. Granted it is a ridiculous law. But, as long as the law is in place, anyone trying to convert a Muslim to Christianity is essentially signing that person death sentence. So, first, try to change the law. Otherwise, you are responsible for the death of the converts.

          • SAM000

            George:
            are you converted to the Mullahs religion?!
            You are converting the evidences like Ahmadinejad.

          • George

            I am actually an atheist. However, I believe in telling the truth and to make a statement only if I know that it is the truth, unlike some others who just create phony facts out of thin air.

          • SAM000

            From when a Mullah's lobby do not sell the truth?!

          • George

            Huh? You speak with a forked tongue. Do you have a point to make?

            I am not defending the Mullahs. I am just explaining the facts of life. I would love to see the Mullahs disappear and the Sharia laws dumped into the dustbin of history. But, while these ridiculous laws are in effect these super-Christians are playing a very dangerous game.

      • Uwe

        I have always wanted to see the bedrock of civilisation. Maybe one day I'll be able to see the land of Cyrus the Great and King Darius the Great!

        • SAM000

          To prove to everybody that the Mullahs are not persian; Khamenei and Ahmadinejad had put the PERSPOLIS and TAKHTE-JAMSHID and TAGHE-BOSTAN on SALE.

          • George

            And, where did you get these ridiculous claims? Can you provide some references please?

          • SAM000

            Iranian TV; Ahmadinejad Himself and Rahim Mashaii his Presidential office director.

          • George

            Please provide a URL and explain what the exact plan and context were. I am sure you are mistaken. In fact, Ahmadinejad and Mashaii are much less rabid than many of the Mullahs, although I cannot stand the religious nonsense that Ahmadinejad spouts at the beginning of every speech. Now, they are even are setting up an office to celebrate Nowruz, indicating that they are recognizing Persian traditions rather than just Islamic ones.

  • Jim

    I saw a movie on the Christians in Iran. Yes they were killing converts and the converters.
    Yet they kept on living their pious lives. I have never seen such faith and bravery.
    A song we sang in grade school in NY went " In spite of dungeon fire and sword ….faith of our fathers holy faith we will be true to the till death".

    They are living those words

  • sdsali

    Ken Blackwell is the only columnist who has been saying this but it bears repeating. There will be no freedom in the Middle East until there is religious freedom. And the muslims will not give up their law on capital punishment for apostasy unless they are forced to do it. It ishow they keep people in subjection to their tyranny.

  • Garh

    "It is hard to think that Egypt was once a civilised Christian Country, but of course that was before the cancer of Islam took a hold there." Perhaps that's the problem. Egypt was not a Christian country before Christians arrived in Egypt. Perhaps Islam is there as a result of Christian invasions. Perhaps it's time for the "peacemakers" of the world to pack their bags and leave Middle East alone for good. Don't you think? Perhaps it's time for you to see that Zionists and Jews are two different things. All those Islamophobic posters will have a ball watching their selfish lives and greedy hands twisted by thousands of hungry and suffering people of this world, and you'll finally have to share with people every part of your wealth.
    This is from the Christian bible, read it and prepare for this, and you'll learn to respect your own God to whom you pray, he will punish you:
    Jeremiah 17:3 My mountain in the land and your wealth and all your treasures I will give away as plunder, together with your high places, because of sin throughout your country.

    • MixMChess

      "Perhaps Islam is there as a result of Christian invasions."

      Perhaps you should read a history book. Early Christianity spread through Evangelism into places like Egypt, the broader Middle East, N. Africa and Europe. Recall, Egypt became a hub of Christianity in the 1st Century AD. It didn't become Muslim until nearly 600 years later in the 7th century when Muslim barbarians conquered and raped the region. The Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrians and Pagan Egyptians were killed or humiliated to Dhimmi status. Islam is in Egypt by the way of the bloody sword.

  • M Robs

    The Quranimals are at it again. America wake up let's demand that our government stop giving aid to the middle east and start drilling for our own oil. We have allowed our government to transfer our wealth to these seventh century, camel riding, allah worshiping nut jobs for far to long. They are so far gone that they don't even realize their suicide bombing antics end up killing fellow muslims around 80% of the time – hopeless morons.

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  • noreligion

    those Muslim morons beleive is right and good to die and go to ………and in they moronic concept of live the Christian must be kill because they are infidel and because they are christian but they going to meet the Muslim martyr and be together again….. you can kill them again…..killing is again the conran. you are simply a moron . forget about all different religions and ethnicity there is 2 sorts of people the one who beleive in god and follow the principal of god believer and the life the moron the twisted in the wold . humain stupidity my brother have no limit.