Christians in Iran Continue to Suffer from Repression

Many Iranians find the religious-political situation in Iran today stifling, repressive and depressing, according to the religious liberty commission of a global network representing some 150 million Christians in 115 countries.

“There is no freedom of speech or of religion. Violence against women, suicide, drug use and prostitution are endemic and AIDS is increasing,” the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) reported Wednesday.

“Many Iranians long for openness and liberty, but under Islamic law Christian witness to Muslims is banned and renouncing Islam is a capital offence,” the RLC added.

Today’s statement by the RLC comes a day ahead of the 26th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, which deposed the Iranian monarchy and set up an Islamic republic. Exactly 26 years ago, on Feb. 10, the secular state was replaced with “a quasi-theocracy where the government is subservient to, and hamstrung by, the Council of Guardians, comprised of fundamentalist Shia clerics and judges,” according to the RLC. Now, despite its ancient history in the region, Christianity is treated as a foreign religion and a threat to national security.

Most recently, Hamid Pourmand, the Iranian Assemblies of God lay-pastor arrested on Sept. 9 2004, was tried for military espionage under the charge of deceiving the Iranian armed forces about his religion. Although the charges were dropped, the military court in Tehran heard that Pourmand served in an 'underground church' and that 'many Muslims' have converted to Christianity through his ministry, and so now he will face a court with charges of apostasy and proselytizing.

“He will doubtlessly be ordered to return to Islam or suffer the consequences,” the RLC reported. Because apostasy is a capital crime under Islamic law, Pourmand’s conversion 25 years ago—which a friend said he never kept secret—is alone ground for the death penalty.

According to AsiaNews, government officials last year on several occasions denounced “foreign religions”, which they accuse of threatening national security. Several former Muslims who converted to Christianity had reportedly been executed by court order on “espionage” charges.

Compass Direct reported that since the government-ordered execution of convert pastor Hussein Soodmand in Mashhad in December 1990, the Islamic Republic of Iran has enacted a harsh crackdown against the country’s evangelical churches and various house-church movements accused of evangelizing Muslims.

Under Iran’s constitution, Islam is declared the official religion of the nation, and the doctrine followed is that of Ja'fari (Twelver) Shi'ism.