Iranian Christians slam bishop for claiming they are not being persecuted by government

The Vank Cathedral in Esfahan, Iran. | Wikimedia Commons/Mike Gadd

A Christian media outlet has denounced a prominent bishop for reportedly claiming that Christians in Iran enjoy complete freedom and are "not being persecuted in any way."

Bishop Sibo Sarkisian, Armenian-Orthodox Bishop of Tehran, had claimed in an interview with Spanish news agency EFE that the Iran government allows Christians to freely practice their faith.

"[W]e have freedom of religion in Iran and the Islamic government grants its Christian citizens every right to practice their faith, including observing their feasts such as Christmas. They're just not allowed to share their faith publicly as it is forbidden under the Islamic government's law," the bishop said.

Sarkisian also noted that he does not approve of the "idea of evangelism," adding that "each individual should adhere to their own religious, national and ethnic identity."

Mohabat News, which describes itself as the news agency of Iranian Christians and a group of "Bible-believing Christians who believe in propagating the word of God," took issue with the bishop's remarks.

The news agency pointed out that evangelism is not just an idea but a commandment of Jesus Christ to all His followers.

It went on to explain that millions of believers, including those in Iran, view evangelism as an essential part of the faith, and that the restrictions against it prove that Christians do not have complete freedom in the Islamic regime.

The agency also accused the bishop of being one-sided for suggesting that Christians should adhere to their own religious identity while failing to speak against the government's public announcements when a non-Muslim converts to Islam.

Mohabat further noted that the Armenian Orthodox Church in Iran has been stripped of its autonomy to make its decisions since the Islamic Revolution. It pointed out that the bishop's remarks were the "perfect example" of the Church's lack of freedom in adhering to biblical teachings in Iran.

Several reports this past year have indicated that Iranian authorities have been targeting Christian converts with arrest and imprisonment.

According to the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), the Revolutionary Court in Tehran has handed down long prison sentences to at least 11 Christian converts since June 2017.

CHRI's executive director Hadi Ghaemi noted that while the Iranian Constitution recognizes Christians as an official religious minority, the state continues to persecute believers of the faith, especially converts.

"The state must respect its own laws and international obligations and allow Christians and all religious minorities full freedom of worship," Ghaemi said.

Due to the government's restrictions on non-Muslims, Open Doors USA has ranked Iran in the 2017 World Watch List as the eighth worst country when it comes to the persecution of Christian.

Iran was also listed by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom among the top five worst-scoring countries on blasphemy laws made to protect Islam.