Iran spending millions to target Christian converts in crackdown

Iran is spending millions on Islamic propaganda and a religious crackdown targeting the growing population of Christian converts, but a mission group has revealed that these measures have done nothing to stop people from embracing Christianity.

(REUTERS / Morteza Nikoubazl)An Iranian flag flutters in front of the head office of the Export Development Bank of Iran (EDBI) in Tehran November 9, 2008.

The state-sponsored crackdown has seen a lot of Farsi churches closed and Christian converts imprisoned for praying and worshipping in their own homes. However, Elam Ministries said the targeted persecution has not stopped the growth of the Christian population from around 500 in 1979 to 360,000 at present, Mohabat News relayed.

Church leaders in Iran believe that their number will reach millions in the next few years because of the spiritual hunger among the people. Another reason that they see for this trend is the people's disillusionment with the Islamic country.

Elam team member Behrang Masoumi embraced the Christian faith after he attended a Christmas gathering he was invited to at a house church. He was shocked when he learned there that one of his relatives had been secretly practicing the faith for five years.

"I was shocked. I was even more shocked to discover that she had been secretly following Jesus for five years," said Masoumi. "And she had been praying for me all that time."

Other Christians who attend Christmas gatherings have met unfortunate circumstances, like five men who were arrested when plainclothes security forces raided a house church last Christmas Eve. As of this reporting, no one knows their location and situation.

Meanwhile, four United Nations human rights experts have recently pushed for Iran to ensure that three Christians who were sentenced to jail for practicing their faith are given a "fair and transparent final hearing." Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, Hadi Asgari, and Amin Afshar Naderi were charged with "conducting evangelism" and involvement in "illegal house church activities," Radio Free Europe – Radio Liberty reported.

According to the U.N. human rights experts, the charges against the Christians violated the Islamic regime's obligations under international law. They also raised concerns that the incident was not unique and that there were other Christian converts who were being subjected to severe discrimination and persecution in the country.