Iran: Despite persecution underground church movement gains momentum

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Iran’s underground church movement gains momentum despite the fact that the Iranian regime has carried out serious efforts to curb the spread of Christianity in the country. A massive underground church movement is sweeping across the country which has caused an obvious development of Christianity.

Christianity growing in Iran

Recent reports emerged that hundreds of Iranian citizens are converting to Christianity; many Christian groups have been confirming these reports saying that masses are being baptized in ceremonies held in the underground churches. In this regard, ELAM a Christian ministry reported that in November more than 200 Iranian and Afghans secretly got baptized.

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“The youth have become restless and have looked toward an alternative to the regime and Islam,” he said. “The youth find Western culture and the Christian church very appealing. ”It’s become a counter-culture,” he added. “A counter-revolution to the [1979 Iranian] Revolution.”

Mani Erfan adds that the apparent evangelical movement began following 9/11 yet this movement has been gaining momentum steadily in last three to four years. Religious experts are of the opinion that by 2020, the Christian population in Iran will reach to more than 7 million, which will make about ten percent of the total population in the country. “That’s a paradigm shift,” Mani Erfan said. “It would change the dynamic of the country and the region.”

United States Commission for International Religious Freedom in its annual report on Iran stated: “Religious freedom conditions continued to deteriorate over the past year, particularly for religious minorities, especially Baha’is, Christian converts, and Sunni Muslims. Sufi Muslims and dissenting Shi’a Muslims also faced harassment, arrests, and imprisonment. Since President Hassan Rouhani was elected president in 2013, the number of individuals from religious minority communities who are in prison because of their beliefs has increased, despite the government releasing some prisoners during the reporting period, including Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini.”

“Over the past year, there were numerous incidents of Iranian authorities raiding church services, threatening church members, and arresting and imprisoning worshipers and church leaders, particularly Evangelical Christian converts. Since 2010, authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained more than 550 Christians throughout the country. As of February 2016, approximately 90 Christians were either in prison, detained, or awaiting trial because of their religious beliefs and activities.

Some Christians were released from jail during the year, including two long-serving prisoners of conscience, Saeed Abedini (released in January 2016) and Farshid Fathi (released in December 2015). Abedini’s early release was part of a prisoner swap between the United States and Iran. He had been serving an eight year prison sentence for “threatening the national security of Iran” for his activity in the Christian house church movement. Fathi had been serving an extended prison term on trumped-up security charges related to his religious activities.”

The report further pointed out that: “During the reporting period, human rights groups inside Iran reported a significant increase in the number of physical assaults and beatings of Christians in prison. Some activists believe the assaults, which have been directed against converts who are leaders of underground house churches, are meant to intimidate others who may wish to convert to Christianity. In December 2015, authorities raided a number of private Christmas services and arrested nearly a dozen church members in Tehran. In April 2015, a revolutionary court upheld a one-year prison sentence and two-year travel bans on 13 Christian converts arrested in 2013.”