Christian conversion can lead to 10 years in jail

Christian conversion is not for the fainthearted in Iran.

It can be a crime leading to a decade in jail.

The Iranian government uses the Internet to censor and monitor activists and to enforce official religious interpretations.

Surveillance cameras watch Catholic churches.

They’re looking for Muslims going into Christian churches, Iranian-born journalist Sohrab Ahmari says.

Ahmari, who is a US-based Christian convert, says there are limits on what Catholic schools in Iran are allowed to teach.

“In Iran, Catholicism is primarily an ethnic phenomenon. There are Armenian Catholics and Assyrian.

“They have their own churches, but they can’t evangelise and they can’t have Bibles in any languages but their own.”

Ahmari says the Iranian Constitution enshrines Shiite Islam as the state religion. About 99 percent of Iranians are Shiite Muslims.

Jews and Christians have some limited rights, “but they also have all sorts of social handicaps,” Ahmari explains.

“The treatment gets far worse for groups that the regime does not recognise as legitimate,” he says.

This includes evangelical Christianity and the Baha’i religion.

A section of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) 2018 report concerns Iran.

It says religious freedom in Iran has “continued to deteriorate for both recognised and unrecognised religious groups, with the government targeting Baha’is and Christian converts in particular.”

After facing trial as apostates, Christian converts from Islam have been subject to increasingly harsh sentencing.

Many are sentenced “to at least 10 years in prison for their religious activities.”

In May 2017, four evangelical Christians were sentenced to 10 years in prison each for their evangelising efforts.

The Christians include a pastor who was initially sentenced to death.

Three of the Chrisitans have also been sentenced to receive 80 lashes each for drinking wine during a communion service. They have appealed the sentence.

In addition, based on the conviction that their church received money from the British government, two of the Christians could face an additional two-year term of imprisonment.

Religious freedom and human rights were the focus of Pope Francis’s meeting with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani at the Vatican in January 2016.

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