Intelligence agents in Iran's Khuzestan Province have instructed 10 Christian converts who had been cleared of all charges to participate in "re-education" classes led by Islamic clerics, according to a watchdog report.
Agents of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps told the 10 Christians, including eight who were cleared last November of any crime in a court in Dezful, on Jan. 29 that they will have to attend 10 sessions with Islamic clerics to "guide them back onto the right path," Article 18, a nonprofit that promotes religious freedom and tolerance for Christians in Iran, reported.
The IRGC had summoned more converts, but they didn't appear. However, those who didn't appear were called and asked why they hadn't appeared.
The IRGC arrested four converts in the southwestern city of Dezful last April and charged them with "propaganda against the Islamic Republic" because they participated in a house church, according to an earlier report from Article 18.
The IRGC also summoned other Christian converts for interrogation at the time. The four arrested had personal property confiscated for nearly six months, including necessary items for their children's schoolwork, laptops and mobile phones.
The US-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern states that the "mandatory Islamic re-education classes directly conflict with the rulings of the Civil and Revolutionary Court of Dezful that said the group 'merely converted to a different religion.'"
"The court noted that this apostasy could be punished under Islamic Sharia law but was 'not criminalized in the laws of Iran,'" ICC noted in a statement.
In reference to other charges that Iranian Christians often face, the courts also ruled they "didn't carry out any propaganda against other groups," ICC added.
In 2021, Revolutionary Guards were responsible for 12 of the 38 documented incidents of Christians being arrested or their homes and churches being raided, Article 18 noted.
"So-called 're-education' sessions have become much more common in recent years, even appearing in the list of 'corrective punishments' on official court papers," Article 18 detailed.
Converts from Islam to Christianity are most at risk of persecution in Iran, especially by the government and to a lesser extent by society and their families, Open Doors USA states in a fact sheet on Iran.
"The government sees the growth of the church in Iran as an attempt by Western countries to undermine Islam and the Islamic regime of Iran, the fact sheet states.
"House groups made up of converts from Muslim backgrounds are often raided, and both their leaders and members have been arrested, prosecuted and given long prison sentences for 'crimes against national security.'"
Iran is an Islamic republic, and Shia Islam is the official religion of the country. It is illegal for Muslim citizens to convert or renounce their religious beliefs. Conversion from Islam is considered a crime punishable by death. It is also unlawful for Christians to share the Gospel with Muslims. Proselytizing is also a criminal offense.
Those who convert to Christianity usually practice their faith in secret. However, in 2020, a survey of about 50,000 Iranians over the age of 20 found that 1.5% of respondents identify as Christian.
Applied across Iran's population of more than 80 million, the number of Christians in Iran is "without doubt in the order of magnitude of several hundreds of thousands and growing beyond a million," the Netherlands-based secular research group GAMAAN, stated after the study.
Iran ranks as the 9th worst country globally when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA's 2021 World Watch List. Iran is listed by the U.S. State Department as a "country of particular concern" for engaging in severe violations of religious freedom.
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