An Iranian christian fled his country last September after authorities in Tehran lashed him for leaving Islam and evangelizing Muslims. Identified only as Hooman, upon his release he escaped to Turkey with his Muslim wife.

"He had been whipped, and the authorities were going to deal with him in an even more severe manner," says Abe Ghaffari, executive director of Iranian Christians International (ICI). "He was persecuted by vigilantes as well. A motorcycle rider stabbed him and tried to kill him."

Apparently the vigilante was a member of the terrorist group Hezbollah, Ghaffari says, "but in Iran they are like local enforcers."

Since coming into office in 1997, the presumably reform-minded President Mohammad Khatami has shown no ability to rein in conservative clergy's persecution of religious minorities. Islamic leaders in government take their cues from the conservative Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-Khamenei, Iran's "supreme leader."

Religious conservatives on Iran's Expediency Council, which coordinates institutions of the Shi'a Islam state, have vetoed reformist legislation. Furthermore, Ghaffari says, in February's parliamentary elections, Islamic clergy in the government disqualified 2,000 mainly reformist candidates.

"So, although Iranian Christians have been continually persecuted," Ghaffari says, "we expect that it will get worse."

In a country of 67.7 million people, 99 percent are Muslim, though reportedly they are growing more resentful of conservative clerics. There are some 220,000 Christians (more than half Orthodox, and perhaps as many as 15,000 Protestant), according to Operation World.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) notes that discrimination against non-Muslims prevails in education, government, and other areas. It reports that at least eight evangelicals have been killed by Iranian authorities in the past 13 years, and 15 to 23 are missing or "disappeared."

To avoid such dangers, a young mother named Shahin fled to Turkey last December. Authorities had threatened to imprison her for 25 years for placing her faith in Christ—"apostasy," under Iranian law.

ICI's Ghaffari says Shahin left her Muslim husband in Iran. "He also has persecuted her," he says, "and reported her to the Islamic authorities."

Suggested Action

Pray that Christians in Iran would be protected from harm, and that Iranians may hear and receive the gospel. The Iranian government, according to the USCIRF, systematically violates religious freedom, including prolonged detention and executions based on religion.

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"It would be helpful for the Iranian government to know it's being watched," Ghaffari says, "and that the rest of the world has not forgotten those whose rights are being denied."

Write a respectful letter to the Iranian officials below, expressing concern for the well-being of Christians in Iran. Request information about what steps the government is taking to protect citizens' religious freedom according to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Hojjatoleslam Seyed Mohammad Khatami President
Dr. Al Shariati Ave.
c/o Islamic Republican Party
Tehran, Iran

Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-Khamenei
Spiritual Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
c/o Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Thunstr. 68
3006 Berne, Switzerland
(Or write to Shoshtari Mohammad Esmail, Minister of Justice, at the same address.)

Urge the U.S. State Department to keep human rights on the agenda in talks with Iranian officials: Colin Powell, Department of State, 2201 C Street, N.W., Suite 7276, Washington, D.C. 20520.

Additionally, Ghaffari suggests urging U.S., Canadian, and Western European officials to accept refugees from Iran. These nations deny refugee status to the vast majority of Christians from Iran, he says, in essence "throwing these Christian refugees to the devil."

—Jeff M. Sellers

Related Elsewhere:

Other Christianity Today articles on Iran include:

Quake Opens Door to Gospel | How Christians are trying to ease tensions in the Islamic Republic. (Feb. 06, 2004)
On The Run from Police, Iranian Christian Survives Church Attack | Fleeing persecution with no passport, refugee witnesses last week's grenade murders in Pakistan. (March 26, 2002)
Hiding from Religion Police | What you can do to help persecuted Christians in Iran. (March 20, 2002)
Books & Culture Corner: Keeping the Dust on Your Boots | Remembering the Afghan refugees—and the church in Iran. (Jan. 14, 2002)
Church Officials Optimistic that Iran Is Changing Its Views of Christians | Vatican official, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei talk about improving Muslim-Christian relations. (March 08, 2001)

Previous Bearing the Cross articles include:

Vietnam—April 2004
China—January 2004
North Korea—July 2003
Indonesia—April 2003
Nigeria—Feb. 2003
Egypt—Dec. 2002
Cuba—Oct. 2002
Turkmenistan—Aug. 2002
India—June 2002
Saudi Arabia—April 2002
Iran—March 2002
Vietnam—January 2002
Pakistan—Nov 2001
Laos—Oct, 2001
North Korea—Aug. 2001
Sudan—June 2001
Indonesia—April 2001
China—March 2001

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