Iran authorities have reportedly arrested over 100 Christians in the last week, as they seek to crackdown on conversions.
Many of the 114 detained were converts to Christianity from a Muslim background, accused of “proselytising”.
They had to report the history of their Christian activities and were told to cut contact with any Christian groups, according to Open Doors UK, a charity that monitors persecution of Christians around the world which speaks out on persecution against Christians.
“This spike in arrests is highly concerning. It follows an established trend of the Iranian government: as the number of converts to Christianity increase, so the authorities place greater restrictions on churches. The restrictions are worse for churches seen to be attended by Christians who have converted from Islam. Not only that, but the government is asking unreasonably high bail amounts and seeing longer prison terms for Christians. Church leaders are being put under pressure to leave the country or face an arrest,” said Zoe Smith, head of advocacy at Open Doors.
According to Open Doors UK, growing public interest in the minority faith, that makes up less than 1% of the population, has worried the Islamic regime, leading to crackdowns on churches and congregants, The Telegraph reported.
Christianity has existed in Persia since Christ’s death, many believers fled after the Shah was deposed in a coup and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was installed in the Islamic revolution of 1979. While worship is permitted under the Islamic Republic’s constitution, conversion to Christianity can be a crime meriting a sentence of more than 10 years imprisonment.
Christian advocacy groups report a growing underground evangelical movement in Iran, where they say increasing numbers of people who have become curious about the minority religion. Iran’s powerful mullahs are committed to expanding the influence of Shia Islam and blame “foreign influence” for the conversions.
“There are many reports that this has contributed to the government’s ever-increasing dependence on hardline Islamic ayatollahs, who naturally see Christianity as a threat to their power. For this reason, it’s not surprising that we’re seeing an increase in Christian persecution,” said Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern.
A report released earlier this year by the Commission for International Religious Freedom observed that, “in the past year, religious freedom in Iran continued to deteriorate for both recognised and unrecognised religious groups, with the government targeting Baha’is and Christian converts in particular.”
Rights groups such as Human Rights and Amnesty International have criticized Iran for its mistreatment of Christian converts, as well as other religious and ethnic minority groups.