By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Many Iranian Christians have been forced to usher in the New Year without a church service in their native language amid a government crackdown on Farsi-speaking Christians and congregations, local believers told BosNewsLife.
The evangelical St. Peter Church in Tehran, the capital, was added to an "expanding list of churches" where Farsi-speaking Christians "are now allowed", said Mohabat News, an agency of local Christians and activists.
Its pastor, Sargis Benyamin, reportedly announced that "from now on the entire service, including sermons, will be held in a language other than Farsi", Iran's main language.
After the Christmas season announcement, several Farsi-members, ranging from Sunday school teachers to church elders, were prevented from entering the church building "even for purposes other than attending the service," Mohabat News said.
The church leadership was reportedly pressured by the government-backed Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a complex combination of army forces and intelligence services, according to Christians with close knowledge about the situation.
HANDOVER IDENTITY CARDS
Farsi-speaking Christians, who attended the devoted Christian church for more than 20 years, were already asked to handover identity cards to the feared Ministry of Intelligence which wanted to "intimidate them" and "keep them from attending church services," Mohamat News claimed.
The restrictions are part of a wider government campaign against the spread of Christianity in this strict Islamic nation, local Christians said.
"Since 2011, pressure and restrictions on Iranian churches have increased dramatically. Many Christians, especially newly converted Christians, have faced imprisonment, pressure and harassment in the past few years," Mohamat News added.
Among larger closed churches are the Assemblies of God Church in Ahwaz, a Farsi-speaking church of Janat-Abad, and the Central Assemblies of God Church (AOG) in Tehran, the capital's largest Farsi-language denomination.
CATHOLIC CHURCH TARGETED
Even a Latin Catholic Church in Tehran was forced to ban Farsi-speakers from attending, although only small parts of their services were held in Farsi, Iranian Christians explained.
Government officials allegedly threatened church leaders and warned them not to allow Farsi-speaking Christians in their services.
Several other churches across Iran have also been ordered to prohibit Farsi-speaker attendance and are banned from registering new members, Christians said.
Farsi, as the native Persian language is known in Iran, is spoken by 53 percent of the population, according to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Despite the reported crackdown, mission groups and churches say there may be at least 100,000 evangelical Christians in Iran.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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