Tehran, Dec 11 : Iranian authorities have reportedly arrested over 100 Christians in the past few days, as they seek to crackdown on conversions. Many of the 114 detained were converts to Christianity from a Muslim background, accused of “proselytising”.
According to Open Doors UK, a charity which speaks out on persecution against Christians said, growing public interest in the minority faith, which makes up less than 1 percent — or around 350,000 — of the population, has worried the Islamic regime, leading to crackdowns on churches and congregants, The Telegraph reported.
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.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.
Jeff King, President of International Christian Concern said, "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.” It has become increasingly common for authorities to arrest worshippers, raid house churches, and confiscate Bibles.
“This spike in arrests is highly concerning,” said Zoe Smith, head of advocacy at Open Doors. “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.”
She warned that some Christians disappear from their communities after serving prison sentences. “Church leaders are put under pressure to leave the country or face an arrest,” she said.
“House churches weaken as their members choose to decrease their meeting hours and minimise their activities; some Christians lose the contact with their churches altogether becoming isolated.”
Rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have criticized Iran for its mistreatment of Christian converts, as well as other religious and ethnic minority groups.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lambasted Iran on several occasions for its treatment of Christians. In July he said Iran was torturing and jailing Christians in a “brutal” persecution campaign.