Intelligence agents in Iran have forced an Assyrian Christian church to close its doors.
According to the Assyrian International News Agency, agents “stormed” the 100-year-old Presbyterian church on May 9, changed the locks and removed the cross from the church tower.
“They made it clear that the Assyrian people are no longer allowed to hold any worship service there,” a source told Article18.
The source also said that the government agents installed a monitoring system around the church and threatened the custodian at the Tabriz church.
In 2011, the church was “confiscated” by a Revolutionary Court order, but church members have been allowed to use the building for services in the Assyrian language.
“Many churches owned by Protestants have been confiscated in Iran,” said Article18’s Advocacy Director, Mansour Borji, “In most cases the government has been unable to repurpose them, especially if they were listed. So they typically remain as empty buildings, often neglected, and turn into ruins before being demolished, as was the case with the church in Kerman.”
Under the constitution of the Islamic Republic, Assyrian Christians and Armenian Christians are allowed freedom of worship, but the groups are forbidden from holding services in the Persian language. Officials have said that services in Persian are proselytizing and converts to the churches could face prison sentences from between 10 to 15 years.
Before Christmas 2018, Iranian authorities arrested more than 100 Christians, including many converts.
A 2018 report from the Commission for International Religious Freedom said that “religious freedom in Iran (has) continued to deteriorate for both recognized and unrecognized religious groups.”
“This spike in arrests is highly concerning,” said Zoe Smith, head of advocacy at Open Doors. “It follows an established trend of the Iranian government – as the number of converts to Christianity increase, so the authorities place greater restrictions on churches.”