What little religious freedom Christians in Iran have is quickly coming to an end—especially for believers who are not from a minority ethnic group. Farsi-speaking Christians, many of whom are likely converts from Islam, have been told they are no longer allowed to worship at one of the few remaining churches.
Via CNS News:
The announcement at St. Peter Church in Tehran, reported by the independent Iranian Christian news agency Mohabat News, is the latest in a stepped-up campaign by the regime aimed at curbing the growth of Christianity in Iran, especially among former Muslims.
Mohabat News said churches in Iran are coming under pressure to stop all activities in Farsi, including sermons.
Critics say that despite the election of a president last year viewed as reform-minded, the situation has, if anything, gotten worse. […]
The Christian minority has traditionally comprised mostly ethnic minorities which have their own language, Armenians and Assyrians, who attend various Catholic and Protestant denominations.
But the growth in the number of non ethnic-minority Christians, converts from Islam, is viewed by authorities as a worrying phenomenon, hence the attempt to prevent churches from using Farsi. (Most Iranians do not understand the minority languages.)
“Since 2011, pressure and restrictions on Iranian churches have increased dramatically,” Mohabat News reported, according to CNS News. “Many Christians, especially newly converted Christians, have faced imprisonment, pressure and harassment in the past few years. Iranian intelligence and security forces have recently focused their efforts to close down more churches around the country.”
Iran ranks No. 8 on Open Doors USA’s 2013 World Watch List. The persecution watchdog group explains:
Fearful of the increasing numbers of Christians, particularly in house churches, the authorities closely monitor Christian activities, particularly churches that reach out to Muslims. Evangelism, Bible training and publishing Scriptures in Farsi are illegal. Detentions of Christians are common. Several Christians were forced to leave their homes or flee the country. Muslim-background believers face most pressure - any Muslim who leaves Islam faces the death penalty. In September 2012 Pastor Nadarkhani was released after three years in prison on charges of apostasy.
While campaigning, Rouhani made a pledge to improve human rights within Iran. So far, however, efforts to follow through on that pledge have been seriously lacking on the religious freedom front.