At the end of May 2012, Iranian authorities forced the Assembly of God church in the western Tehran neighborhood of Jannat Abad to close its doors and discontinue services, a local source with knowledge of the Iranian Protestant community told the Campaign.
The Jannat Abad church held its last services on 28 May 2012, after having operated in the same building for over 15 years; the church gained ownership of the building five years ago. The church, which provided two services per week for 80 to 100 attendees, as well as prayer sessions and bible studies, is part of an international Protestant evangelical network called Assemblies of God. The Jannat Abad church operated with the full knowledge of Iranian authorities as a branch of the officially recognized Central Assembly of God Church in Tehran but was an independent ministry, sources told the Campaign.
In the past six months, authorities have reportedly shut down several other established Persian-language churches in Iran, arresting many of their members. Another Assembly church in the southern city of Ahvaz was shut down on 23 December 2011, just before Christmas. Authorities allegedly detained the church’s reverend, Farhad Sabok Rooh, along with his wife and two other church members, eventually releasing them on bail. On 22 February 2012, authorities arrested at least ten members of St. Peter’s Anglican church in Esfahan, including its pastor Hekmat Salimi, according to Iranian Christian news agencies. One detainee, a 78-year-old woman, was quickly released; the rest were held for nearly two months before being freed on bail.
“The church’s work was a hundred percent spiritual. They had no attachment to any agencies, organizations, or political groups. And all their activities and budget came from the donations of their congregation,” the source added.
While some existing churches are facing closure in Iran, no new churches have been able to obtain licenses from the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance since the 1979 revolution. The Jannat Abad Assembly of God church conducted its services in the Persian language.
The Campaign’s research for an upcoming report on the persecution of Protestant Christians in Iran indicates that the Iranian government has targeted churches which operate in Persian and evangelize, largely to prevent Muslims from learning about or converting to Christianity. Several Iranian church leaders told the Campaign that around 2005, coinciding roughly with the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the government ramped up its repression of Protestant groups, and since 2009 the arrests of church members and limitations on churches have increased markedly.
Read the Campaign's report in full.
PS For those who may cynically believe such reports are a precursor to an attack on Iran, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran opposes such military intervention.