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Hope for 'Great Revival' of Christianity in Iran
By Bess Twiston Davies
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St Zayya Assyrian Church in Gug Tappeh, north-western Iran. Assyrian and Armenian Christians are the only Iranian Christian communities recognised by the constitution. ( Mar Sharb/Creative Commons)
Six of every 10 Iranians are prepared to become Christians, an exiled Iranian church leader has claimed.

Bishop Edward Hosvepian-Mehr, leader of the non-denominational Iranian Church in Europe, said underground Christian evangelists in Iran had provided the statistics.

"We hope that very soon a great revival will come to Iran," he told The Tablet, comparing the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to "John the Baptist" preparing the way for Christ.

The bishop prayed for Iran's persecuted Christians at the launch on 20 February of a new report on violations of Christians' rights in Iran.

According to "Faceless Victims: Rights Violations against Christians in Iran", 166 Christians were arrested last year in Iran and 103 detained on charges including propaganda against the state. Of these, 21 are now in prison.

Many arrested Christians now choose not to reveal their identities in public, hence the report's title.

Co-authored by the charities Middle East Concern, Article 18, Open Doors and Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the report notes that nine Christians were released from prison in 2023. Many reported being subsequently forced to attend Islamic re-education sessions.

Others freed from prison report telephone harassment from their former interrogators, losing jobs because of their faith, and digital surveillance.

Some were asked to spy on fellow Christians for the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence. One released Christian had previously been flogged for drinking Communion wine.

In 2023, an Iranian delegation told a UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom and Belief the country "respected and protected freedom of religion and belief for all" and "embraced tolerance and diversity", reported Mervyn Thomas, the founder of Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

"If you read this very well-researched report, you'll find that is nonsense," he said at the report's launch in Westminster's Portcullis House, chaired by Fiona Bruce MP, the Prime Minister's Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB).

The report claims Christian converts from Islam are "numerically the largest Christian community in Iran".

According to a 2020 survey conducted by a secular research group based in the Netherlands, there could be as many as 800,000 Christians in Iran. Of these, approximately 50-80,000 are ethnic Assyrian or Armenian Christians, the only Christian communities (save for a small expatriate community) recognised by the Iranian Constitution. The remainder are believed to be converts from Islam.

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