Iran’s foreign minister encountered an angry response on Sunday when he took to Twitter on Christmas Eve to wish a “happy and peaceful Christmas to all.”
Citing a verse from the Quran, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif – a key architect, with former US Secretary of State John Kerry, of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – declared: “May Christ’s universal message of peace be embraced in the coming year.”
Dozens of responses to Zarif’s message emphasized Iran’s long record of persecuting Christians. Many of them highlighted the arrest of four Iranian converts to Christianity in the city of Karaj on December 12.
Javad Zarif’s Tweet:
"The angels said, Mary, God gives you glad-tidings of a Word from Him whose name is Christ, Jesus, son of Mary; highly honored in this world and the next" Quran 3:45
A very happy and peaceful Christmas to all. May Christ's universal message of peace be embraced in the coming year.
According to Article 18, an organization that advocates on behalf of persecuted Christians in Iran, “Milad Goudarzi, Amin Khaki, Alireza Nour-Mohammadi and Shehabuddin Shahi were all arrested by security forces on Tuesday, December 12, in Karaj.” Six houses used by the converts as a church were also reported to have been raided by the Iranian regime’s security forces.
Iranian Christian news outlet Mohabat News reported in addition that security forces raided two shops belonging to two of the detainees.
The shops were sealed off for “overcharging”, “profiteering” and “breaking guild regulations.” A Bible and a laptop computer were also confiscated.
IRNA, the Iranian regime’s official mouthpiece reported that “elements of a devious Christian cult who were promoting it and attempting to disrupt the market and economic order have been arrested.”
Iranian official figures show that more than 100,000 Christians live in Iran, although some Christian organizations believe the number could be 270,000 or even more. While traditional ethnic churches, such as the Armenian church, are generally tolerated, evangelical Christians and converts are brutally treated by the authorities. Under Iranian law, converting from Islam to another faith is a crime that can carry the death penalty.
At least five church leaders have been murdered and hundreds more have been either interrogated or incarcerated in Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Publishing the Persian version of the Bible in Iran is forbidden, while several churches have been forced to shut down. Yet the persecution does not appear to have deterred the growing community of Christian believers: according to the mission research organization Operation World, Iran’s Christian population has been rising by almost 20 percent annually — more than any other country in the world.
In June 2017, one Iranian and three Azeri converts to Christianity were each sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for engaging in missionary activities and “conducting activities against national security.” The four men were arrested one year earlier, after they traveled to Tehran to visit privately with Christian friends, and incarcerated in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.
Iran was listed as one of the world’s worst violators of religious liberty in the 2017 annual report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
“Since 2010, authorities arbitrarily have arrested and detained more than 600 Christians throughout the country,” the report noted. “Over the past year, there were numerous incidents of Iranian authorities raiding church services, threatening church members, and arresting and imprisoning worshipers and church leaders, particularly Evangelical Christian converts.”