Published: 11:00 GMT Daylight Time - Monday 11 June 2012
Farsi-speaking church closed in Iran; further shutdowns feared
Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Iran
The closure of a Farsi-speaking church in Tehran has sparked fears of a pending wave of church shutdowns across Iran.
A map showing the location of Iran
The pastor of the Assemblies of God (AoG) church in the Janat-Abad area of west Tehran was ordered by the intelligence branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard on 29 May to stop all activities and close the building.
He was told:
You must close the church, and if you don’t do this and we have to formally close the church then there is no hope of you even keeping the building afterwards, to sell.
The church has around 100 members and conducts all of its activities in Farsi, the Iranian national language. It was previously located in Karaj, where it came under pressure from the security authorities, forcing it to move to Tehran over 15 years ago.
It is a branch of the central AoG church in Tehran, which has also been coming under sustained pressure of late. The authorities last month ordered church leaders to submit a list of the names and National ID numbers of their members; they had previously closed down discipleship classes for new Christians that the church had been running on Saturdays for decades.
The Iranian authorities have been focusing their efforts on Farsi-speaking and government-sanctioned churches in recent months. The closure of the Janat-Abad church marks an escalation in this campaign, and Iranian Christian rights activists fear other Persian-language churches are now under threat.
A number of churches have already been ordered to stop their Farsi-language services in what appears to be an attempt by the Iranian authorities to stop Muslims from hearing the Gospel in their own language.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) said:
This drive to close churches is an assault on free religious practice, in violation of Iran’s international commitments, and a sign of growing religious intolerance within the Iranian government.
Another worrying development is the transfer of church oversight in Iran to the intelligence branch of the Revolutionary Guard from the Ministry of Intelligence and the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The Revolutionary Guard is a much more aggressive body that usually deals with matters that are deemed to be a threat to national security.
The ICHRI added:
The Revolutionary Guard’s new role demonstrates that the government is likely intensifying its efforts to exert control over Persian-language churches. We fear that if the international community does not speak up, we will see more church closures and more limits of religious choice in the future.