|The persecution of Christians in Iran today is not a series of
isolated events or the result of individual prejudices but rather a
state policy implemented at all levels in various forms. It affects both
individuals as well as the church as a whole.
Under the present Islamic regime, Christians and their institutions are intensely regulated, and subjected to intrusive questioning through the management of more than three Ministries and their Departments: the Ministry of Information and Islamic Guidance, The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Endowments, the Ministry of the Interior and its notorious State Secret police.
1. IRANIAN DECREE RESTRICTING CHURCH WORSHIP AND MEMBERSHIP
About two years ago, the late Bishop Haik Hovsepian Mehr and the denomination he represented, the Assemblies of God, were ordered to comply with the following directives:
"No church service must be conducted in Persian language (the language of the people) all members must be issued with membership cards and their admittance to the services would be on production of the appropriate card.
Photocopies of these cards and appropriate membership lists with their addresses to be given to the competent authorities.
Sunday meetings were to be for members only. No meetings to be held on any other day, in particular Friday.
No new members to be admitted without informing the appropriate department of the Ministry of Information and Islamic Guidance."
The late bishop boldly defied them saying, "Never would he or his ministers bow down and comply with such inhumane and unjust demands" and that "our churches are open to all who want to come in."
2. IRANIAN GOVERNMENT CLOSES CHURCHES
The continued existence of the church in
The following churches have been forced to close by the Iranian
regime: 1. A building in
3. IRANIAN OFFICIALS CLOSE BIBLE SOCIETY AND CONFISCATE BIBLES
Despite guarantees of religious freedom for Christians in Article 13
of the Iranian constitution, it remains an offence to sell a copy of the
4. IRANIAN COURTS ENFORCE LAW ON "APOSTASY"
Despite all denials at the official level the Law on Apostasy is practiced and remains in force. It is under this law that converts from Islam to other religions are subject to capital punishment.
Some examples of the application of this law are as follows:
1. In 1989, Rev. Hossein Soodmand was executed for apostasy. Although born a Muslim, by 1989 Hossein had been a Christian for 25 years. He was an evangelist and the pastor of the Assemblies of God (AOG) Church in Mashad. Despite pleas for clemency by fellow pastors to the Dayro-E-Tasalamat (an Ombudsman and Muslim cleric-literally, "he who hears the cries of the oppressed"), Hossein was hanged on 3rd December 1989 at the insistence of the Ombudsman. He left a blind wife and four children.
2. Mehdi Dibaj, a Muslim convert to Christianity, was in prison for nearly 9 years. During that time, he endured 2 years in solitary confinement and was subjected to mock executions. He was imprisoned by the Sharia court in Sari on three charges: 1.That he had "insulted Islam, the prophet Muhammad and Ayatollah Khomeini" in a letter; 2. That he was acting as a spy for the West; and 3. That he was an apostate.
5. ASSASSINATION OF CHRISTIAN LEADERS
The torture and murder of Bishop Haik Hovsepian Mehr, the leading
figure of the Protestant community in
Bishop Haik disappeared on Wednesday 19 January 1994. Eleven days later his family was informed by the Tehran Office of Investigation that his body had been found on 20 January and, in the absence of identification, he had been buried in Beheshte Zahra (Muslim) cemetery. The only explanation to emerge from the authorities is that Bishop Haik was killed by 'unknown assailants'.
Mehdi Dibaj was last seen alive six months later on 24 June. On that
day he left a Christian retreat which was held in
After Bishop Haik's death, Tateos Michaelian, the senior pastor of
Michaelian was last seen alive leaving his home in
Middle East Concern reports that its sources have revealed that Tateos's body had in fact been dismembered and that a copy of a "hit list" of prominent Christians was found with his body. This document is now in the possession of a western government agency. MEC's sources, who have access to high-level government contacts, categorically state that they believe that all 3 murders of the Christian leaders were carried out by a death-squad operating within the Iranian security structures and sanctioned by orders from the highest political levels. They further believe that Anami (if she was the killer) is, in fact, a government agent and not a member of the MKO (Mujahedin Khalq Organization, an armed group attempting to overthrow the Iranian regime) as the authorities allege.
On 21st March 1994, TIME magazine published an investigative report into the deaths of Iranian dissidents living outside the country and states: "According to western intelligence and Iranian dissident sources, decisions to assassinate opponents at home or abroad are made at the highest level of the Iranian government: The Supreme National Security Council. The top political decision-making body is chaired by (President) Rafsanjani and includes among others, (Minister of Intelligence) Fallahian, (Foreign minister) Velayati and (Supreme Guide) Ali Khamenei."
On 2nd March 1994, the British Parliamentary Human Rights Group published its report, "The Tehran Murder Machine", sub-titled, "An account of terrorist assassinations by Iranian agents". In the conclusion to this report, it is written, "The pattern of assassinations described here, in which opponents of the Iranian regime were killed by terrorists, provides the strongest imaginable grounds for believing that these appalling crimes are planned in Tehran, and many well-informed sources directly accuse the regime; yet the international community has yet to present a solid and united front against those who threaten to spread their rule of the gun and the knife across the whole world."
It is therefore not surprising that assassinations would be carried
out by the Iranian regime against perceived threats to their power
The persecution of Christians in
Jubilee Campaign is concerned that such a death squad could strike at the Iranian church again and believes that an important step towards preventing such a recurrence is to take the following action:
1. Individuals and governments making it known to the Iranian authorities that they are aware of the existence and operation of such a death squad, and of the death squad's responsibility for the assassination of the three Iranian Christian leaders.
The Iranian regime's accusation against the MKO appears to be an attempt to both discredit an active opponent of the regime while at the same time disposing of "troublesome Christians".
2. Governments backing their human rights rhetoric with practical
measures such as trade sanctions against
2. "The Tehran Murder Machine, An account of terrorist assassinations by Iranian agents." Published by the British Parliamentary Human Rights Group.
ACTION SHEET ON PERSECUTION OF THE CHURCH IN
WHAT YOU CAN DO
1. Write to your MP at House of Commons,
Urge him/her to write to the Foreign Secretary, urging the British
government to reject any closer trade or political relations with
2. Urge your MP to also write to the Iranian Charge d'Affaires in
3. Write to your MEP, encouraging him/her to take the action mentioned in points 1 and 2. If you do not know who your MEP is, you can call the European Parliament Information Offices on 020 7222 0411
4. Get other people to take similar action, writing to their MPs and
MEPs and to the Iranian Embassy in
5. Ask your local church leader (and bishop/archbishop if you belong to a denomination with such a structure) to write to the Iranian Embassy as well.
PRAYER FOR PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS IN
1. That the production and distribution of Bibles in
2. That churches which have been forcibly closed will be allowed to re-open and that the Iranian authorities will allow churches to be freely constructed and operated throughout the country.
3. That the regime will refrain from punishing those who convert from Islam to Christianity.
4. For the families of all those Christians who have died for the faith, including the families of Hossein Soodmand, Tateos Michaelian, Haik Hovespian Mehr and Mehdi Dibaj.
5. That God will strengthen, encourage and guide the Iranian church at this time of severe persecution and provide for their spiritual and material needs.
6. That despite its many problems, the Iranian church will be able to be a vibrant and active witness for the Gospel.
7. That those responsible for the murders of Haik Hovsepian Mehr, Mehdi Dibaj and Tateos Michaelian will be brought to justice.
8. That the international community will take more effective action to communicate to the Iranian government its concern over religious persecution.
9. That religious freedom, peace and justice will prevail in
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