By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN/LONDON (BosNewsLife)-- British Christian legislators expressed concern Monday, November 19, about the "serious and growing persecution and discrimination" of Iranian Christians and said at least dozens of believers remain detained amid a crackdown on Christian converts in Iran.
In their new report, obtained by BosNewsLife, Britain's 'All-Party Parliamentary Group' (APPG) said the British government should pressure Iran "to uphold the fundamental right of religious freedom for all Iranian people".
They also urged the release of Christians, including Pastor Farshid Fathi, who has held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison since December 2010.
The British parliamentarians said Pastor Fathi is among those targeted because of his "Christian ministry".
Fathi, who is to serve another four years in jail, is among "dozens [of Christians] currently imprisoned and one of hundreds...arrested over the past two years," the APPG-report said. "This state-led religious persecution is contrary to not only international law, but also to Iran’s own constitution."
British legislators began collecting evidence in April 2012 from eyewitnesses supported by Elam Ministries, a major mission group founded by Iranian church leaders to evangelize and help Iranian Christians.
The politicians also traveled to neighboring Turkey where several Iranian Christian refugees live in exile. It wasn't easy listening, a key legislator acknowledged.
"During the course of this inquiry we have cataloged evidence of widespread persecution of the most severe kind," explained parliamentarian David Burrowes, the chairman of the inquiry.
"We heard extremely harrowing stories of people who have lost their jobs, their freedom, their children and even their lives, through the Iranian Government’s campaign of repression against Christians," he added in a statement to BosNewsLife.
"In recent years hundreds of Christians have been arrested, and many are held without charge in appalling conditions, all because of their faith,” Burrowes said.
He officially presented the 35-page Iran report to Alistair Burt, Britain's minister of State for the Middle East, at a London gathering attended by the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, and other politicians and Christian leaders.
Burt, a Christian, said he prayed for Christian prisoners in Iran and had the picture of Farshid Fathi on his desk.
After he spoke, "the packed room heard from an Iranian Christian woman who had suffered arbitrary arrest and imprisonment for over a month," organizers told BosNewsLife.
The unidentified Christian woman was quoted as saying that she endured 25-days in solitary confinement, when she was sometimes interrogated and threatened for over ten hours a day.
Reverend Sam Yeghnazar, the founder and director of Elam Ministries, said many Christians suffer a similar fate. "Over the past two years we have seen an intensification of the persecution of Christians, and more than 40 of the people we have trained [in theology and church leadership] have gone to prison," he explained.
He read out a letter from a prisoner "to show the courage and faith of Christians who are enduring persecution".
HUMILIATED FOR CHRIST
Often, "I have been insulted, humiliated and accused, but I have never doubted my identity in Christ," the Christian detainee was quoted as saying.
"We rejoice in the Lord and take joy in the God of our salvation. Because neither the walls nor the barbed wires, nor the prison, nor suffering, nor loneliness, nor enemies, nor pain, nor even death separates us from the Lord and each other.”
David Burrowes said the publication of the Iran report would be followed up by debates in parliament on Tehran's treatment of Iranian Christians.
Elam Ministries and public affairs group Eighteen07 also plan to present the document to other governments, the European Union and the Vatican.
"This report, and Dr. Ahmed Shaheed’s recent report to the UN General Assembly, shows there is a determination in the international community that the Iranian government must be held to account for its persecution of Christians," the APPG said.
Yeghnazar said the report also "sends a clear signal to the regime that the world is watching" and that "these injustices" cannot continue with impunity.
Many of Iran's estimated 100,000 or more evangelical Christians gather in what are known as underground 'house churches' as they have no permission to gather publicly in the strict Islamic nation.
Iranian leaders have defended the reported crackdown, saying the growing number of house churches in the Middle East nation is the work of the “enemy”.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said that "Iran’s enemies" want to shake the country’s religious and societal values "through the spread of Baha’ism and a network of Christian house churches."