One of the American prisoners recently released by Iran was an evangelical pastor who had been imprisoned for starting home churches. While Pastor Saeed Abedini's freedom is something to rejoice, JNS' Shalle' McDonald reports that Iran's persecution of Christians continues:
“While Iranian officials allowed Pastor Abedini to board the plane and put this horrible ordeal behind him, they continue to hold dozens of Iranian Christians on vague and overly broad national security charges like ‘propaganda against the system.’ These detentions clearly violate not only Iran’s obligations under international law, but their own constitution,” Heiner Bielefeldt, the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said in a statement.
Christians in Iran have been persecuted on various fronts since the 1979 rise of the country’s theocratic Shi’a Muslim government, whose primary goal is to root out all Western influences that threaten Islamic identity. When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005, the threat of death, lashing, and torture intensified for Christians. Under Rouhani’s leadership, the U.N. has reported that religious oppression is even greater than it was under Ahmadinejad. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in 2010 that Iran’s underground house churches “threaten the Islamic faith and deceive young Muslims..."
The Iranian regime will sometimes levy criminal charges against Christians relating to the very factors that have aided the church’s growth, such as the use of “religious propaganda” and forming house churches that exceed the maximum allowance of 12 people. But usually, a typical conviction in Iran will imprison Christians on crimes against national security, espionage, or trying to overthrow the government. It is widely known that these charges are euphemisms for committing the apostasy of leaving Islam to become a Christian.
“Iran has been escalating its internal persecution of Christians in recent months. The growing numbers of Iranians rejecting Islam and turning to Christianity is considered a serious political threat by the state. This is a symptom of the widespread disillusionment and sense of hopelessness felt by many Iranians after 37 years of the Iranian Revolution,” Rev. Mark Durie, a human rights activist and research fellow with the Middle East Forum think tank, told JNS.org.
The “political threat” Durie mentioned is motivated by the Iranian regime’s apocalyptic belief that it must kill all infidels, a belief embodied by Iranian leaders’ promotion of slogans such as “Death to Israel” and “Death to America.” For Iran, this will usher in the appearance of their Mahdi (Messiah) on Earth, and the Mahdi will establish a global Islamic caliphate.