In a recent interview with the Spanish news agency EFE, Bishop Sibo Sarkisian, the Armenian-Orthodox Bishop of Tehran, Iran, claimed that Christians in Iran have freedom of religion and are “not being persecuted in any way.”
During the interview, Bishop Sarkisian claimed that Iran’s Islamic government gives its Christians citizens every right to practice their faith. This freedom includes the observation of feasts such as Christmas. However, Bishop Sarkisian confided that Iranian Christians aren’t allowed to publicly share their faith.
Surprisingly, Bishop Sarkisian doesn’t seem to have a problem with this restriction. During the interview, he admitted that he doesn’t support the “idea of evangelism.”
To reiterate this belief, Bishop Sarkisian said, “Each individual should adhere to their own religious, national, and ethnic identity.”
Mohabat News, a news agency for Iranian Christians, vigorously disagreed with the prominent Bishop’s assertions. This group of Christians, who strongly believe in spreading the Gospel, responded that evangelism isn’t merely an idea. These Christians feel sharing their deeply held faith is part of the biblical mandate given to believers all over the world despite the denomination they may belong to.
The group shared their belief that millions of Christians in Iran see evangelism as a crucial component of their faith. Therefore, the limitations against it refute Bishop Sarkisian’s claim that they have “complete freedom” in their country. Mohabat News revealed that the Islamic government in Iran publicly celebrates non-Muslim conversions to Islam. The bombastic regime announces each person’s conversion, and depicts the event as a victory of Islam over infidelity.
During the past year, widespread reports of Iranian authorities threatening Christian converts with arrest and imprisonment have spread. The Center for Human Rights in Iran, CHRI, located in New York, reported that a minimum of 11 Christian converts and the previous head of the Assyrian Pentecostal Church in Iran were given lengthy prison sentences in the span of a few weeks during the summer of 2017.
Judge Mashallah Ahmadzadeh, who presides over Branch 26 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, handed down the harsh prison sentences. At the time, Hadi Ghaemi, Executive Director for CHRI, said, “Christians are recognized as an official religious minority in Iran’s Constitution, but the state continues to persecute members of the faith, especially converts.”
“The state must respect its own laws and international obligations and allow Christians and all religious minorities full freedom of worship,” he added.
On July 6, 2017, Judge Ahmadzadeh issued 10-year prison sentences to four Protestant Christian converts, Yusif Farhadov, Eldar Gurbanov, Bahram Nasibov, and Nasser Navard Goltapeh. The men were apprehended in June of 2017 at a reception hosted by their Christian friends. Mansour Borji, advocacy director of Article 18, proclaimed the men were convicted in a trial that completely lacked due process.
Article 18 is a London-based group that defends Christians in Iran. Borji revealed the prosecutors in the case failed to show any evidence that the converts acted against the national security of Iran. However, they were convicted of being Zionist Christians who committed acts against national security in attempts to overthrow the state.
Two weeks before ruling against the four Protestant Christian converts, Judge Ahmadzadeh also handed down 10-year prison sentences to Christian converts Yousef Nadarkhani, Mohammadreza Omidi, Yasser Mossayebzadeh, and Saheb Fadaie. They were charged with sponsoring Zionist Christianity and promulgating house churches. Omidi, Mossayebzadeh, and Fadaie were also given a sentence of 80 lashes each for consuming wine at a communion service.
Numerous persecution watchdog groups list Iran as one of the worst countries for religious freedom for Christians and some other religious minorities. On its 2017 World Watch List, Open Doors USA listed Iran as the eighth worst country for persecuting Christians. In August of 2017, the U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom ranked Iran among the top five most egregious countries regarding blasphemy laws created to protect Islam.
Despite Bishop Sarkisian’s claims, Christians in Iran are reportedly facing extreme persecution for their beliefs. House churches are not allowed. If they dare to gather for worship, Christian converts face being beaten and arrested.
Continuing prayers are needed for these brave Christians who are boldly living and proclaiming the faith they hold dear to their hearts.
~ 1776 Christian