Iran’s Christians fear heightened persecution in their homeland this Christmas season as they prepare to mark the one-year anniversary of a government raid on church houses that resulted in the arrest dozens of believers.
The Dec. 26, 2010, raid involved Iranian authorities storming house churches and private homes in the early morning hours. The international community entered the New Year to find that 70 Christians had been arrested during the holiday season.
The Islamic Republic News Agency then quoted Tehran Gov. Morteza Tamadon as saying Christians had "inserted themselves into Iran like a parasite."
Fear of a repeat raid this season was recently heightened by Iran Intelligence Minister Mullah Heydar Moslehi's comments regarding Christian youth.
"The house churches are a threat to the youth and the Ministry of Intelligence has already started a serious effort to oppose this movement," Moslehi said in November, according to Iranian Christian News Agency Mohabat News.
The recent announcement that Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani will be held in prison until after Christmas shows that Iran is not planning on lightening its treatment of Christians during the holidays.
Nadarkhani was originally arrested in 2009 and found guilty of apostasy and attempting to evangelize Muslims. After a lengthy court process, the case was passed into the hands of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for review. The Court of Gilan Section 11 previously announced that either the courts or Khamenei would decide Nadarkhani’s fate by mid-December.
Last week, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani postponed the verdict, saying that a decision will not be made until after the New Year.
This may be an attempt by the Iranian government to further force Nadarkhani’s case from international attention, or to convert Nadarkhani to Islam, which reports indicate that authorities have been attempting.
"As the Christmas holiday approaches, we at the ACLJ remain deeply concerned, however, about tactics that may be used to force Pastor Youcef to convert to Islam," wrote the American Center for Law and Justice.
Many other Christians remain in detainment in Iran. In late November, pastors Parviz Khalaj, Mohammed "William" Belyad and Behrouz Sadegh Khandjani were called to report to prison in Shiraz. They will all be serving different sentences for "crimes against national security."
"If the Iranian regime wants to tout religious freedom, it should respect its citizens' right to decide one of life's most personal choices: their spiritual path," said Roxana Saberi in a CNN op-ed.