The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), on June 30, conducted a coordinated operation in Tehran and two other Iranian cities, aimed at disrupting the country’s “house church” movement and sweeping up members of the Iranian Christian community.
Intelligence agents raided the home of one recent convert and arrested several of the other Christians who had gathered there. The rest were ordered to forfeit their mobile phones and leave identifying information with the agents, meaning that the threat of arbitrary arrest will likely haunt them for the foreseeable future.
That threat was underscored by the fact that persons not present at the gathering were issued a summons and arrested at their homes in another leg of the operation, bringing the total number of arrests up to 12. This crackdown was by no means unique in the recent history of the Iranian regime’s treatment of religious minorities. It was, however, the largest mass arrest of Christians to be publicly reported in recent months. And it may be a warning sign of things to come.
It may not be possible to say with certainty until the charges against the arrestees have been revealed, but the June 30 arrests may prove to be an early example of Tehran’s implementation of new laws that have been highlighted by advocates for Iranian Christians and other persecuted religious groups. Passed in mid-May, amendments to Articles 449 and 500 of the Islamic Penal Code broaden the judiciary’s conception of what may be deemed a criminal “sect.”
Anyone who is convicted of “deviant psychological manipulation” or “propaganda contrary to Islam” can be deemed a member of such a sect. This in turn can lead to additional charges that the sect as a whole is working to undermine national security or is committed to “enmity against God.” Conviction on either of these charges can result in lengthy prison sentences or even capital punishment. The same is true of several other religious or political charges that are vaguely defined and are routinely used to justify punishment for anyone who seems to challenge the status quo or the hardline ideology behind Iran’s theocratic system, according to Christian Post.
Iran ranks 9th on Christian support organization Open Doors 2020 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Iranian society is governed by Islamic law and churches are banned from holding services in the nation’s most common language, Farsi. People caught attending underground house churches face arrest and many are arrested every year.