In recent weeks, a series of abuses against Christians has swept across the Muslim world. There has been a murder in Pakistan, attacks on churches in Ethiopia, an attempted assassination of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Turkey, and repeated pogroms against the Copts in Egypt.
Now, rights groups are reporting new developments in Iran’s anti-Christian crackdown, which has swept up nearly 300 Christian believers since June 2010.
In late January 2011, Elam Ministries released a detailed briefing document announcing a “severe intensification of arrests and imprisonment of Christians in Iran.”
Two days ago, on March 9, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported that five Iranian Christians had been sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for “Crimes against the Islamic Order.”
Pastor Behrouz Sadegh-Khandjani, Mehdi Furutan, Mohammad Beliad, Parviz Khalaj and Nazly Beliad, all members of the Church of Iran, a Jesus-Only Pentecostal denomination, were found guilty by the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz. They have 20 days to appeal the sentence.
CSW also confirms that 282 Christians have been arrested in 34 cities since June 2010: “At least 15 of these Christians remain in prison, while others have been released, generally after posting large amounts of bail.” According to Elam’s report, Yousef Nadarkhani, pastor of a church in Gilan province, has been sentenced to death. He was arrested in October 2009 and is being held in Lakan prison while his case is appealed.
An earlier (August 2010) report from Elam describes Iranian clerics’ hostility to the country’s Christian population. It quotes Ayatollah Seyed Hosseini Bousherhri, who calls house churches the work of the “enemy”: “Today the global aggressors have accurately planned and invested resources for these purposes. This why in our country there is a strong inclination towards Christianity.”
— Lela Gilbert is an adjunct fellow of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.