For Immediate Release

5 January 2011

70 Christians arrested and detained over Christmas in Iran

In the early hours of Christmas day the Iranian government arrested 25 Christians and sought to detain 16 others.  50 other Christians have also been detained but it is unclear as yet what the full details are surrounding their cases.

This was the second year running that security services in Iran had targeted Christians over the Christmas period.

Of the 25 detained, 11 have been released. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has serious concerns for the remaining 14 individuals still in prison.

The individuals are all evangelical believers.  They include pastors and leaders from within the house church networks of Iran. The government puts severe pressure on such individuals interrogating them brutally and holding them in solitary confinement in order to obtain the names of other church members, to deter them from continuing to practice their faith and to threaten them with further ramifications for Christian activities.

One of the most troubling developments in the latest arrests has been the anti-Christian rhetoric used in public media by religious leaders and members of the Iranian government. Morteza Tamadon, the Governor of Tehran, announced the arrest of several evangelical leaders in a speech in Tehran on 4 January 2010. "Just like the Taliban... who have inserted themselves into Islam like a parasite, they have crafted a movement with Britain's backing in the name of Christianity," he told state-run news agency, IRNA. Mr. Tamadon described the Christians as “tabshiri” or ‘missionaries’ and threatened more arrests in the near future.

Andrew Johnston, Advocacy Director of CSW, said: “We condemn this brutal attack on evangelical Christians in Iran. The arrest of 70 members of one group reveals the clear targeting of individuals along religious lines. Iran is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and is therefore legally obligated to uphold international standards of religious freedom for all its citizens.”

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Matthew Jones, Public Affairs Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 7826 938 360, email matthewjones@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

CSW is a human rights organisation which specialises in religious freedom, works on behalf of those persecuted for their Christian beliefs and promotes religious liberty for all.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

  1. Evangelical Christians are a particularly vulnerable group in Iran because they are perceived as converts from Islam who do not form part of an ethnic or ancient church. Their proselytizing activities and conversions have lead to frequent detentions and interrogations. The evangelicals typically face charges of apostasy and crimes against the state. Their conversions are viewed as betrayals of the nation and synonymous with Western sympathies.
  1. The total absence of due legal process in Iran makes human rights violations rife. In a recent interview with one Iranian lawyer acting on behalf of Christians, he spoke of his fears that those detained would not receive formal charges of apostasy because these draw attention to their cases in international media. Instead, those arrested may be framed as outlaws or receive no official charges at all. Such was the treatment of seven Bahá’í leaders held without charge in Evin prison for 20 months from March 2008.
  1. 98 per cent of the population in Iran is thought to be Muslim; the remaining two per cent is comprised of Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Sabean-Mandaeans and Bahá’ís. The Bahá’ís are thought to number the largest non-Muslim religious minority in the country with approximately 300,000 – 350,000 adherents. Christians are the second largest group with around 200,000 members. The largest Christian group is made up of ethnic Armenians. The number of Protestants is virtually impossible to determine as many are converts who practice in secret.