By David Burrowes - 29th October 2012
Christians are finding they are not welcome in Iran, David Burrowes writes.
Have you heard the one about the American and the Iranian Christian? The American asked him when his family converted to Christianity, expecting the response to speak of a recent transition from Islam. The Iranianreplied, 'about two thousand years ago'. This conversation could have taken place throughout the Middle East - Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq and Iran where manyfamily lineslead back to the earliest Christian Church - as well as many from other religious backgrounds who have come to faith in Jesus Christ.
The Iranian could also havepointedout that Christianity was embedded in Persian society - along with Zoroastrianism and Judaism - long before the arrival of Islam. Hecould express pride that Iran provided the backdrop for five books of the Bible and recall the time when missionaries from the early Iranian Church brought the Christian message to China, India, Central Asia and even England.
However,the Iranian Christian is not welcome in the Islamic Republic of Iran. In spite of the prominence of Christianity in Iranian history and its protection under their own constitution, the Islamic Regime in Iran is determined to destroy the faith and its adherents.
It has been my privilege to chair an inquiry by the CiP APPG into the persecution of Christians in Iran, although our findings have been deeply disturbing. We have heard evidence of widespread, state-perpetrated attacks on a Church which has been driven underground through fear. Our report, which will be launched later today, catalogues abuses including the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of more than 300 Christians in the past two years — including Church leaders such as Farshid Fathi, who was arrested in December 2010 and sentenced to six years in prison. My colleagues and I heard heart-breaking evidence of physical and psychological torture, and the murder by government agents of Christian pastors. The testimonies of Iranian witnesses included evidence of education and employment discrimination driven by the state and other direct and indirect persecution.
Whilst our report focuses on the circumstances of the Christian community in Iran, we should be clear that many religious, civic and political groups are suffering. It is evident that the Islamic Regime is determined to maintain a tyrannical iron grip on the people of Iran, which means that any individual or group that promotes freedom of thought, action and self-determination can expect a swift and violent response. Authors, journalists, film-makers and political activists are treated in much the same way as the Christians, Baha'is and Sufis.
In spite of the persecution, Christianity has grown extraordinarilyin Iran, probably numbering now well over a million— most of whom are converts from Islam. Although these Christians are peaceable, this growth engenders fear in the Islamic Regime and has prompted the escalation in their attacks. The Iranian Government would like to continue its nefarious activities in the shadows. We cannot allow that. Christians in Parliament are calling on the Government,Parliament,and the international community to shine the spotlight on Iranand demand that its citizens are no longer denied their liberty, their dignity, their humanity. We must be a loud and determined voice for those in Iran and elsewhere who are not afforded their own.This is the first time Christian Parliamentarians have come together to prepare a report about Christian persecution in other countries. Given the increase in Christian persecution it will not be the last.