Open Doors USA has ranked Iran number 9 on its list of 50 countries where persecution of Christians for religious reasons is most severe.
The Institute on Religion and Democracy recently spoke with officials of the ministry who say despite intense persecution, many more Muslims are coming to Christ at an increasing rate.
“Rafin and Nader, young coverts from Muslim backgrounds are proof of that,” Jerry Dykstra, media relations director with Open Doors told the IRD. “They are not alone. “Many Persians are coming to Christ, he added. “Many are young college students, and even some of their teachers are asking for Bibles!
Dykstra tells the IRD the Iranian regime considers anyone converting to Christ apostates- a crime which is punishable by death. Dykstra says almost all Christian activity is illegal.
According to Open Doors the harsh treatment of Christians by the regime is only fueling the flames of church growth.
Open Doors tells the IRD the house church movement has increased rapidly since 2010. Christians working inside Iran have told Open Doors the regime tries to destroy those who reach out to converts and seekers by monitoring worship services, arresting converts, banning Farsi language services and closing some churches. Open Doors has gathered information indicating attacks against Christian communities have increased and the prohibition of house church activities is enforced very closely
Vahid Hakkani is a Christian prisoner in Iran. In March of last year he developed a severe digestive problem that developed into severe internal bleeding. He underwent surgery.
Morning Star News now reports Hakkani is now on a hunger strike. He says he’ll continue the strike indefinitely in order to protest the rejection of his appeal for conditional release.
Mohabat News reports if prisoners serve half of their sentence, Iranian law allows for their conditional release. Iranian authorities continue to hold Hakkani and three other Christians.
All of them were arrested in a raid on a house church in February 2012. They received sentences of three months and eight years in jail for their Christian activities.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports four Iranian Christians were arrested in October of last year and sentenced to 80 lashes on charges of drinking wine during a communion service. They were also charged with being in possession of a receiver and satellite antenna.
CSW officials say the sentences were carried out in November, and one of the Christians was whipped with “extreme violence.”
Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini is a former Muslim who converted to Christianity in 2000. He has been detained in Iran since the summer of 2012. He was sentenced to eight years in prison for planting house churches in Iran. The sentence was upheld on appeal in August.
The IRD previously reported that Abedini had been in Iran at the invitation of the government to help build orphanages.
In November of 2013, he was transferred to a very tough prison, where inmate deaths occur frequently.
President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have both called for Iranian officials to release Abedini.
Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of Pastor Saeed Abedini recently spoke to International Christian Concern about her husband’s ordeal.
“The Lord has counted our family worthy enough to send Saeed to a dark place that he would be able to share with people who are in complete despair.’
She has told ICC that while in prison, her husband has seen so many give their hearts to Christ.
The New York Times reports Iranian officials are continuing their attempts to harass the Alborz Province house-church movement. On March 5, officials of the Central Prison in Karaj searched the cell of a leader of the house-church movement, seizing his Bible, Christian books and other literature in his cell.
Open Doors estimates Iran has 370,000 “new Christians from a Muslim background.” The organization says many Iranians have become Christians because of Christian television programming from other nations.
Refugees from Iran say that Christians have boldly begun discussing their faith with Muslim neighbors.
Mohabat News reports, as a result of this boldness, the fear of the spread of Christianity among the younger generation has caused the regime to use every possible strategy to crack down on Christians and to prevent its growth among the youth and Iranian families.