The Islamic Republic sentenced an Iranian couple and every member of their church to one year in jail for practicing Christianity – within days of condemning Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani to 10-plus years of imprisonment for “promoting Christianity.”
In Iran, converting from Islam to Christianity is considered and treated as a crime, which led to the arrest and subsequent incarceration of a dozen Christians from a small church in the Islamic terrorist-harboring and sponsoring Middle Eastern nation.
"A Christian couple have reported that a court in Boushehr has just sentenced them & 10 other Iranian Christians to one year in prison each for 'Propagating against the Islamic Republic in favor of Christianity,'” Article 18 – an organization supporting persecuted Iranian Christians – tweeted last Thursday. “This group of Christian converts was arrested on April 7, 2015."
Punishing those who lean toward Israel?
A peculiar charge was placed on the dozen practicing Christians, indicating that as Iranian-Israeli tensions continue to escalate, so will the persecution of the Church in Iran.
“[The Iranian couple was charged with] orientation toward the land of Christianity,” Mohabat News announced last week.
International Christian Concern President Jeff King addressed the odd allegations against the faithful group of Christian converts while confirming that each will be serving a full year in Iranian prison.
"Getting information on the arrests of Christians is incredibly challenging – given the heavily censored nature of Iran," King maintained, according to the Jerusalem Post. "But based on the cases we have been tracking, this is the first time this year that we've seen a jail sentence being given based on the charge of 'inclination to the land of Christianity.' This could be interpreted as a reference to Israel – the birthplace of Christianity and also a country that Iran has adopted a very aggressive stance towards."
Making converts into convicts
The devoted dozen will be spending the next year behind bars, even though Christianity is one of only a few recognized religions in Iran.
“According to the Iran 2017 International Religious Freedom Report by the U.S. State Department, the Iranian constitution allows Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians – excluding converts from Islam – as the only recognized religious minorities permitted to worship and form religious societies ‘within the limits of the law,’" CBN News reported.
The report expressly indicates that drawing Muslims away from Islam reaps dire consequences.
"[T]he penal code specifies the death sentence for proselytizing and attempts by non-Muslims to convert Muslims – as well as for moharebeh (‘enmity against God’) and sabb al-nabi (‘insulting the prophet [Mohammad]’),’” the Iran 2017 International Religious Freedom Report states. "[T]he government continued to harass, interrogate and arrest Bahais, Christians (particularly converts), Sunni Muslims and other religious minorities – and regulated Christian religious practices closely to enforce a prohibition on proselytizing."
It was pointed out that a significant portion of Iran’s 80 million inhabitants is recognized as believers in Christ.
“[T]here are 800,000 Christians currently living in the Islamic Republic, [but] the Iranian government claims a smaller number of both churches and believers – 600 churches and 300,000 to 370,000 Christians,” CBN News’ Steve Warren noted from an Open Doors USA report. “The Islamic Republic is listed as number 10 on Open Doors USA's list of the ‘Top 50 Countries of Where It’s Most Dangerous to Follow Jesus.’”
The head of press for the Iranian Mission to the United Nations, Alireza Miryousefi, claimed that the Islamic regime is not in the practice of singling out Christians for persecution.
"Iran does not discriminate against or persecute any recognized religious minority – including the large Christian community inside Iran, who are free to worship in the many churches that can be found across Iran," Miryousefi told the Jerusalem Post. "In fact – as is the case with Iranian Jews – Iranian Christians are constitutionally guaranteed parliamentary representation. Major cities such as Tehran and Isfahan are home to large Christian communities with centuries-old churches."
Around the same time the dozen Christians were condemned to prisoned for one year, one pastor in Iran was sentenced for the amount of time that the whole church received – combined – as Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani received 10 years in prison and two years of “internal exile” for “promoting Christianity” in Iran.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has acted on behalf of Youcef in his case and rallyied support for his release by the Iranian government – ever since officials of the regime recently besieged his home.
“After a brutal home raid where he was attacked and arrested, Pastor Youcef has been imprisoned again, far away from his family,” ACLJ reported. “Iranian authorities in plain clothes violently beat Pastor Youcef in his home while his horrified family watched. It was reported the agents even tasered his teenage son with an electric baton.”
Youcef will be serving a decade in Iran’s Evin Prison, which has been dubbed a “torture factory” – a detainment center where the Christian legal group says believers in Christ and opponents of the nation’s corrupt regime are locked up.
He will also be punished for the “crime” of “promoting Zionist Christianity” for an additional couple of years in “internal exile,” and reports indicate that his current conditions are nothing less than deplorable.
“The innocent pastor is now incarcerated in the prison’s windowless quarantine ward – notorious for overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, oppressive heat and even insect infestations,” ACLJ informed. “The inhospitable ward is normally reserved as an additional punishment. This forbidding modern-day dungeon will be Pastor Youcef’s home because he dared to live his Christian faith – unless we once again take action for him.”
Can’t get off Iran’s radar …
Youcef was sentenced to death six years ago for converting from Islam to Christianity, and ACLJ attorneys represented him and drew international support, which eventually saved him from his imminent execution.
But just a few years later, the Iranian government was back at Youcef’s door.
“Two years ago, sources reported Iran’s Intelligence Ministry’s forces raided 10 house churches – including one where Pastor Youcef and others were attending a Christian church service,” ACLJ recounted. “They were all later freed on bail.”
After Youcef’s latest violent arrest, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) demanded his release, condemning his treatment and imprisonment as a heinous violation of his religious freedom.
“We at USCIRF express our strong concern about the reports of Pastor Nadarkhani and his congregants’ arrest,” USCIRF Chair Tenzin Dorjee declared in a news release. “Pastor Nadarkhani and his fellow church members should be immediately and unconditionally released and be permitted by the Iranian government to peacefully exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief. We condemn both their lengthy prison sentences and this new miscarriage of justice.”
Just as Iran was called out by the Trump administration for breaking its promises in the failed Obama administration-brokered so-called “Iran Nuclear Deal,” Iran has broken all the rules when it comes to the basic religious and human rights of everyone who is not a Muslim within the nation.
“Iran’s actions violate multiple international human rights treaties they have agreed to in the past – as well as demonstrate a direct violation of its own constitution, which claims to guarantee religious liberty for its citizens,” ACLJ attorneys pointed out. “Pastor Youcef is an innocent man suffering in an abhorrent prison facility for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, [and] this atrocious religious persecution cannot be ignored. Iran has demonstrated time and time again that it is a threat – not only to Israel and to the United States, but to its own people.”