|Photo by: Morteza Nikoubazi/Reuters|
Iran cracks down on underground 'illegal' churches
By JOANNA PARASZCZUK
Iranian media reports blame "Zionist propaganda" for targeting vulnerable Muslims, converting them to Christianity.
Iranian security forces in Shiraz dismantled a network of four underground
“house churches” on Sunday night, and arrested their leaders.
Persian-language service Fars News, which is close to the Iranian Revolutionary
Guards Corps, on Monday described the churches as a “network of criminals” that
exploited vulnerable people.
“Most people attracted to these networks
come from weak and vulnerable segments of society, who have psychological,
emotional and economic problems,” the report said, echoing a recent warning by a
prominent Qom cleric.
In June, Qom’s Friday prayer Imam Hojatoleslam
Seyed Mohammed Saeedi told the Organization of Islamic Propaganda that Iran’s
enemies targeted vulnerable families in order to establish underground “house
churches,” according to Iranian Christian news agency Mohabat News, which works
to report violations of Christians’ rights in the country.
News report blamed the growth in underground Christian houses of worship on the
spread of “Zionist propaganda.”
“It is interesting to note that this
illegal network is affiliated to Zionist propaganda deployed from outside the
country,” the report said, although Fars did not specify how the Christian
churches were linked to any Jewish or Israeli groups, or explain why it believed
Jewish organizations would promote Christianity in Iran.
While Fars News
did not report the number of arrests, UK-based group Christian Solidarity
Worldwide said on Sunday that seven Christians had been arrested in the Shiraz
raid, and were being held in the Shiraz Intelligence Office’s notorious No. 100
Sunday’s arrests are the latest in a wave of detentions
in Shiraz. In the past few weeks, Iranian Intelligence Ministry agents in the
city have arrested around 30 Christian converts and transferred them to the No.
100 detention center, according to Belgian-based Persian-language news site
Iran’s constitution grants protection to non-Muslims born into
other religions, including Jews and Christians.
However, under Iranian
law, evangelizing and converting Muslims to other religions is illegal. Apostasy
– converting to another religion from Islam – is technically punishable by
death, unless the convert renounces his religion and returns to
Over the past year, religious minorities have reported increased
crackdowns and persecution by regime officials, causing concern among human
rights activists. Last month, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of
human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, estimated that more than 300 Iranian
Christians had been arrested and detained since June 2010.
also reporting “undue pressure to report membership [to the Intelligence
Ministry] in what appears to be an effort to pressure and sometimes even detain
converts,” Shaheed said.
On Sunday, a Christian artist and convert from
Islam, Vahid Zarday, was released from Vakil-Abad Prison in Mashhad after 136
days of detention.
Zarday was arrested in May, also for attending a
religious service in a “house church,” but the Iranian authorities would not
give details of Zarday’s release, according to Mohabat News.