Saturday, January 8, 2011

Iran arrests dozens of Christians

Iranian official complains evangelical
Christians are like "parasites."
Iran has reportedly arrested dozens of Christians, many of them converts from Islam, in a crackdown that began around Christmas. An Iranian official is accusing Protestant evangelical groups of causing a cultural invasion, reports the Assyrian International News Agency.

Iranian opposition groups are reporting the arrests of dozens of evangelical Christians, many of whom are converts from Islam. Christian groups inside Iran say that the country's Ministry of Islamic Guidance has also grilled dozens of Christians it accuses of proselytizing.

Armed security officers forcibly entered the homes of Christians, verbally and physically abused them, before handcuffing them and taking them for interrogation," reports the Cyprus-based group Middle East Concern. It adds that some were released after intense questioning and forcibly coerced statements that they would no longer participate in Christian activities.

Seeking to convert Muslims to Christianity or other religions is considered a crime in Iran and many other Islamic countries. Christian missionaries are routinely expelled and sometimes jailed for distributing Bibles and other religious material.

The governor of Tehran province, Morteza Tamadon, confirmed the arrests several days ago, complaining that Protestant evangelicals were conducting an "enemy cultural invasion." He likened Protestants to the Taliban, whom he referred to as "parasites."

Hadi Ghaemi of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran says that the evangelical Christian movement has gained popularity in recent years, along with other non-Islamic religions, due to disaffection with Iran's state-sponsored Shi'ism.

Mohammed Javad Larijani, the Secretary General of Iran's High Council for Human Rights, complained recently that the West was "unfairly targeting Iran for human rights abuses. He claims that Iran tolerates other religions, so long as they are "not cults.”

Converts to Christianity from Islam, however, are often harassed and persecuted. Two evangelical Christian pastors, whom the government says converted from Islam, were arrested last June. One, Youcef Nardarkhani has been sentenced to death for apostasy and the other's case is still pending.

You can read the full report here.

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