Iranian Christians are delighted to report that the cross has been restored on Tabriz Evangelical Church.
On 14 June, MEC issued a prayer request about violations of church property in Iran, including the confiscation of the Evangelical Christian Church of Tabriz. On 9 May, agents from the Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) and EIKO (an organisation under the direct control of the Supreme Leader) had raided the church, a national heritage site. They changed the locks, tore down the cross from the church tower, installed monitoring equipment and ordered the church warden to leave.
The church, which belongs to the Assyrian Presbytery, was confiscated by order of the Revolutionary Court in 2011, but the ethnic Assyrian congregation was allowed to continue meeting, provided the service was conducted in Aramaic, the Assyrian language.
Nearly all the Farsi-language churches in Iran were closed between 2009 and 2012, with church leaders threatened if they continued to allow ethnic Persians (Farsi speakers and Christian converts) to participate in services. Since then, churches have been allowed to minister to Assyrian and Armenian congregations in their respective languages, but the Iranian regime has continued oppressive measures against indigenous churches. However, Christian converts remain the most frequently targeted Christian community in Iran.
The confiscation and desecration of Tabriz Evangelical Church was questioned and protested both nationally and internationally.
On 25 May, Yonathan Betkolia, the Assyrian member of the Iranian parliament, wrote an open letter to President Rouhani asking for Tabriz Evangelical Church to be reopened, “Mr. Rouhani, is this action befitting the dignity of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to treat the sacred places of Christians in such a way?” He further urged the President “to urgently take the necessary steps to reopen the church and to repatriate and reinstall the Holy Cross, in order to console the [Christian] and other religious authorities of the country, as well as their followers”.
In June, a senior legal adviser to the Iranian president, Aliakbar Gorji Azandaryani, questioned the legality of the church closure according to Articles 9, 19, 20, 26, 36 and particularly 13 of Iran’s constitution, which states that religious minorities are recognised and free to perform their religious ceremonies. He asked the governor of West Azerbaijan Province to look into the forced church closure and removal of the cross from the church tower.
Local Christians were encouraged on 9 July to see workmen replacing the cross on the church tower. An Iranian church leader commented that this is a great event, but the congregation still needs to receive back the keys and have permission to worship freely.
Iranian Christians are thankful for widespread support and that the cross has been restored to the church tower, but request prayer that:
- The evangelical community in Tabriz will receive back the keys to the building and be able to worship freely in the church
- Christians in every city in Iran, of all ethnicities, creeds and language groups, including converts from Islam, will have the freedom to practice their religion
- The Iranian regime will be increasingly responsive to national and international calls for the protection of religious minorities and their property