Christian prisoners of conscience ask: ‘Where can I worship after I’m released?’

Publication Date: 27/10/2021

Source: Article 18

Three Iranian Christians serving long prison sentences for their membership of a house-church have written a joint letter and recorded video statements, asking where they should worship once they are released.

As the three Christians, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Behnam Akhlaghi, and Saheb Fadaie, point out, the churches of Iran’s recognised Christians of Armenian and Assyrian descent are not permitted to welcome Persian-speaking Christians like them, so their only option is to worship in their homes in what have become known as “house-churches”.

But for this, they and hundreds of other Persian-speaking Christians have been arrested and sentenced to imprisonment in recent years on charges of “acting against national security”.

And so, Behnam asks in his video (below): “If attending a house-church is considered a crime, and churches are closed off – or even if a church is open then it is limited to special individuals who can anyway only participate with restrictions – then as a Christian who is told, ‘We respect you, your faith, and the path you have chosen,’ my question is: in view of this respect, how and where should I perform my religious rites?”

Babak adds in his video (below): “After these five years, when I am released, will you put me back in prison again because I continue to believe in Christ? Will I be separated from my family again? Will I still be threatened with exile?

“The churches in our city have been closed down, the doors are shut, so we can’t worship in a church building.

“The churches that remain open are accessible for only certain people – those born into Christian families – and not to us [converts]. Because of this, and the closure of the other churches, we have no church building in which to worship. So I want you to answer my question: ‘Where am I to worship after these five years?’”

Behnam says that in his more than two years in prison he has written numerous letters to the relevant authorities, asking for an answer to this question, but “unfortunately I haven’t received any answer … so I have come to the conclusion that through this video I can make my voice heard, and demand an answer to my question”.

In their joint letter, the full text of which can be read at the bottom of this page, the two Christians explain how Iran’s constitution, in Article 13, makes no mention of ethnicity or language in recognising Christians as among the religious minorities permitted to “perform their religious rites and ceremonies … within the limits of the law”.

Meanwhile, Iran is a signatory, without reservation, of Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and is therefore obliged to provide all its citizens with full freedom of religion, including the right to change religion and to worship “individually or in community with others, and in public or private”.

However, Babak, Behnam and Saheb say in their letter that there is a “big gap between the written law and the practice of ignoring many Christians [namely Persian-speaking Christians] and their basic rights”, such as “the right to have an official church building”.

They say that it is as a result of the “gross and widespread violation of this right” that “a large number of Christians are currently in prisons throughout Iran, enduring long-term sentences, flogging, and deprivation of social rights”.

The three Christians add that the denial of a place of worship for Persian-speaking Christians is symptomatic of a deeper issue, affecting all religious minorities and in fact all Iranian citizens: the lack of freedom to choose one’s own belief, or to choose not to believe.

Article18 joins with Babak, Behnam and Saheb in demanding an answer to their question: where can they worship? We further demand that Persian-speaking Christians like them are given a #place2worship.


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