The Muslim-majority country of Jordan acknowledged Wednesday that it expelled foreign Christians for illegal preaching under what it claims was the guise of charity work.
The announcement is the first official acknowledgment that the government has clamped down on several foreign Christian preachers. Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said Christians had come to Jordan under the "pretext of charitable and voluntary activities, but they had violated the law by undertaking preaching activities and were expelled," according to The Jerusalem Post.
Under Jordanian law, conversion from Islam to Christianity is not allowed in Muslim conservative Jordan and foreign missionary groups are banned from seeking converts, according to Agence France-Presse. But the government must sanction preaching and any religious activity, whether Christian or Muslim
In January, the Christian persecution watchdog group Compass Direct News reported that at least 27 expatriate Christian families and individuals were refused residence permits last year. The foreign Christians include Americans, Europeans, South Koreans, Egyptians, Sudanese and Iraqis.
But Jordan's lower house of parliament countered on Thursday what it called "false reports" that the government was increasing crackdown on expatriate Christians.
In a statement, the lower house said "Christians in Jordan are an integral part of the society," holding positions in parliament, the government and the armed forces and "living in peace and harmony with their Muslim brothers," according to AFP.
Foreign Minister Judeh highlighted that the Council of Churches, the highest Christian body in Jordan, had "made it clear that Christians in Jordan lived in peace and security with their Muslim brethren and that the Jordanian constitution guaranteed the rights of all Jordanians regardless of their religion and sect," according to The Earth Times.
The Council issued a statement last week denouncing some unspecified missionary groups that presented themselves as charitable organizations and refuting allegations that the government was cracking down on foreign Christians in the country.
"It is puzzling that certain small groups with a few hundred members and which are foreign to Christians in Jordan and to the history of Muslim-Christian relations, permit themselves to speak in the name of Christians and act as protectors of Christianity as if it were in danger," the Council said, according to The Earth Times.
Jordan is 92 percent Sunni Muslim, six percent Christian, and two percent other religions.