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In march of last year, paramilitary vigilantes in Tehran forced an Iranian convert to Christianity and his friends into a car. Iranian authorities allow these Islamic fundamentalists, known as Basijis, to enforce religious law. They detained the convert for three weeks and tortured him.

To ensure the safety of his Christian friends, a December 2001 report by Iranian Christians International (ICI) identifies the Iranian only as R. B. When he returned home, he was unable to speak, write, or walk. His wife took him to a doctor to treat his injuries, which included internal bleeding. The couple then went into hiding at a friend's house, planning to leave Iran as soon as R. B. became well enough to travel. They have not been heard from since.

The government elected in May 1997 claims it has improved religious rights, but persecution of Christians has worsened, according to ICI. Religion police from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance increasingly threaten, imprison, and torture Christians because of their faith. Other authorities deny them jobs and education, ICI says.

The Colorado Springs-based organization reports that since the 1997 election of President Hojjatoleslam Seyed Mohammad Khatami, religion police have shifted tactics. They no longer arrest only key church leaders. Instead, Khatami's so-called moderate government harasses ordinary Christians and entire house churches, arresting groups of 20 to 40 people at a time.

The number of Christians fleeing Iran under its Shi'a Islam regime has grown since 1997. One Iranian pastor who visited Turkey in 2000 reported that 21 families from a single congregation in Tehran had left the country, according to ICI.

Given Iran's climate of fear, it is hard to obtain solid facts, ...

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March 11, 2002

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