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As one expert on Iran has said, “The reality is most of the house churches are so hidden that the government can’t do anything, and they know it.” For a regime whose survival necessitates total control over its citizenry, that poses a particularly difficult problem for Iran’s Islamic authorities. Moreover, that threat has only grown stronger since the internal unrest that began in 2009 after the disputed election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
So, it comes as little surprise then that the Iranian government has initiated a clampdown on the house church movement, one that began in earnest in the fall of 2010 when Iran’s Islamic leaders began publicly attacking the house churches. That verbal assault culminated in a speech in October 2010 by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in which he denounced the growth of private house churches that “threaten Islamic faith and deceive young Muslims.”
For many, Khamenei’s comments served as the official go ahead to terminally squelch the house churches and its Christian participants. From December 2010 through January 2011, it has been estimated that Iranian authorities arrested over 120 Iranian Christians, most of whom were converts from Islam. Since January 2011 an additional 285 Christians in 35 Iranian cities have reportedly been arrested.
One of these detainees is Farshid Fathi who — according to the Iranian Christian news agency Mohabat — was jailed without charge in December 2010, kept in solitary confinement, and subjected to psychological torture in an effort to “extract information on Christian networks in Iran.”
However, the whereabouts of people like Fathi are at least known. Others aren’t so lucky. According to Iranian Pastor Hormoz Shariat of the International Antioch Ministries, “Most often the Revolutionary Guards arrest and don’t even tell their family. They can’t have a lawyer, not even a formal charge. Sometimes they get killed without even a formal charge.”
So, tragically, the Islamist state’s diligent efforts to extinguish its Christian presence continue on unabated. As Iranian Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi declared only last week, “We must end the Christian movement.”
Still, that task may prove harder in the end to complete as Iranian church leaders have estimated that there may be at least as many as 100,000 Christians in Iran, up from the few thousand known believers from 1979 when the Islamists took power.
For Yosef Nadarkhani, that fact may provide some comfort, but it will unlikely spare him a date with the hangman’s noose.
Frank Crimi is a writer living in San Diego, California. You can read more of Frank’s work at his blog, www.politicallyunbalanced.com.
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