Iran feeling the tension between faith and religious freedoms

By January 28, 2009

Iran (MNN) — The wave of persecution toward Christians may
be intensifying in Iran. Arrest reports came in almost every month during
2008. 

Paul Estabrooks with
Open Doors notes that the harassment isn't
following the "normal" pattern. "The pressure against the church growth
has cycled: there's a period of pressure, then a period of
relaxation. Most recently, three
different Christians have been arrested from two different families, and we're
very concerned for them."

According to Compass Direct reports, on January 21 authorities took Jamal Ghalishorani, 49, and
his wife Nadereh Jamali from their home in Tehran between 7 and 8 a.m., about a
half hour after arresting Hamik Khachikian, an Armenian Christian also living
in Tehran.

Christian sources told Compass that Ghalishorani converted to
Christianity 30 years ago, and his wife received Christ about 15 years ago.
They have one child, a 13-year-old daughter, while Khachikian has two children,
a 16-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter.

Authorities have not told the
families of the charges against those arrested or their whereabouts. Police also took
books and computers from the families' homes.

The three arrested Christians belong to house churches, sources
said. They hold jobs and are not supported as clergy. 

Estabrooks says the recent change in the penal code is cause for great
concern. Leaving Islam, which is considered
apostasy, carries a deadly penalty. "It means that these men could
actually be executed for having been converts from Islam to
Christianity." 

The new code is before Iran's Guardian Council, which will rule on
it. The council is made up of six conservative theologians appointed by Iran's
Supreme Leader and six jurists nominated by the judiciary and approved by
parliament. This body has the power to veto any bill it deems inconsistent with
the constitution and Islamic law.

Law aside, the problem with these arrests may be more than
over-enthusastic and premature attempts to enforce the law.

A source quoted by Compass believes the arrests are part of
a concerted, nationwide government plan. Estabrooks urges prayer for the believers in Iran. "As we've seen in church history, whenever the church has been
under pressure, the church seems to deal with that pressure in unique ways, and
in ways that actually helps it to grow."

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