Source: Center for Human Rights in Iran
Sharon Gardens, a valuable property near Tehran confiscated from Iran's largest Christian Protestant organization by a group under the control of the country's supreme leader, was hit with an eviction order on March 7, 2018.
"This action is part of the pressure put on individuals with different beliefs and religious minorities in Iran," Kiarash Alipour, a spokesman for the London-based Article 18 Christian organization, told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on March 26, 2018.
"In essence, they are trying to eliminate Protestant Christians from Iranian society," he said.
Alipour added that representatives of Sharon Garden's new owners had visited the property and ordered the live-in caretaker to evacuate even though he has nowhere else to go.
Sharon Gardens is located on 2.5 acres of land in the Valadabad district of Karaj, 32 miles west of the Iranian capital. It had belonged to the Jama'at-e Rabbani Church Council, also known as the Iran Assemblies of God, since the early 1970s.
Alipour told CHRI that many Iranian Christians have fond memories of the garden property, which was used as a camp for youths and their families before it was confiscated.
In August 2016, an Appeals Court upheld the confiscation order in favor of an organization under the control of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei known as the Headquarters for Implementation of the Imam's Decree, which accused Jama'at-e Rabbani of having ties to the CIA.
"Besides the financial damages resulting from the confiscation of this garden, our members are living under the shadow of espionage allegations," Alipour told CHRI, adding that the charges have never been substantiated.
"The church has been accused of being a branch of an American church in Philadelphia that was operated by the CIA to infiltrate Muslim countries, which is a complete and baseless lie," he added.
"The Jama'at-e Rabbani Church Council was very popular in Iran and had many branches in different cities," said Alipour. "But, unfortunately, the church was shut down between 2011 and 2012 during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency. Not just this church, but all the churches performing prayers in Persian [Farsi language] were closed."
"One reason was a speech by Khamenei in Qom [city] around that time [October 2010] accusing these churches of being a gateway for enemies to infiltrate the country," he added.
Despite assertions by government officials that Christians enjoy full rights as citizens of Iran, the Christian community-particularly Evangelicals and Protestant communities, which are seen as encouraging conversion to Christianity-suffers severe and widespread discrimination and persecution in Iran, as documented in CHRI's report, "The Cost of Faith: Persecution of Christian Protestants and Converts in Iran."
Article 18 advocates for the rights of Christians in Iran based on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which states, "No one shall be subject to coercion that would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice."
Iran's Constitution recognizes the rights of Christians to "perform their religious rites and ceremonies" (Article 13), but the state has only tolerated non-Farsi speaking churches.
"Although Article 13 of the Constitution recognizes Christians as a religious minority, in reality we see that the state has divided them into two groups; one is officially recognized, the other is not," Alipour told CHRI.
"Persian speakers are not recognized at all," he said. "In other words, only Assyrian and Armenian Iranians born to Christian families are accepted, but those from Muslim backgrounds are not."
He added: "In 1991, the Islamic Republic, which felt threatened when many former Muslims joined the growing number of Persian churches, shut down the Bible Society, the only publisher of Christian books in the country and since then you can only buy Christian books on the black market because our Holy Book is no longer allowed to be published in Iran."
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