|Pastor Youcef Nardarkhani|
was handed the death sentence
on November 13, 2010,
for leaving Islam.
Earlier this week, Compass Direct News reported that the crackdown was the result of speeches by Iranian religious and political figures between August and October who acknowledged the existence of home fellowships and condemned them as a threat to the state.
Iranian authorities have detained more than 70 Christians in a wave of arrests that began around Christmas, according to a report last week by Elam Ministries. With the release of seven Christians last week after they spent a month in solitary confinement, at least 26 Christians remain incarcerated. Sources said that with arrests across the country continuing, the number of Christians detained since Christmas could be as high as 120.
Though authorities have released most of the Christians after interrogations, many of them are still in prison, especially house group leaders. Many released in the last month had to sign statements saying they would not attend church again.
On October 19, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Iran’s enemies want to shake the country’s religious and societal values through the spread of Baha’ism and a network of Christian house churches. Khamenei’s speech marked the fifth public statement from an Iranian leader condemning Iranian Christians in the three-month period.
“The public statements show that the government acknowledges the presence of the church and considers it a threat,” a regional analyst who requested anonymity told Compass. “It’s striking they have been talking about it publicly in a way they haven’t previously.”
Sources told Compass that Iranian Christians belonging to house churches knew it was a matter of time before the security forces acted on the supreme leader’s condemnation and tightened their grip on house church members.
While persecution against Christians has intensified, it is believed to be part of a wider government campaign to crack down on any group the government considers threatening. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported on January 16 that since the beginning of the year, the government had executed 47 people in a two-week period. Thousands have been sentenced to death since elections in 2009.
The Elam report confirmed that Iranian authorities have arrested more than 200 Christians in 24 cities since June 2010.
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