By Erin Rodewald // April 24, 2018
(This article was originally written for and posted to 21Wilberforce)
In recent days, reports have surfaced that Aziz Majidzadeh, a newly converted Iranian Christian, has been detained at the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran. Aziz had gone missing for several weeks after Iranian security forces raided a Christian workshop he was attending on the outskirts of the Iranian capital. Though he has not been charged, Aziz has been arrested before for “activities related to his faith.” He is not alone.
Since 2010, more than 600 Iranian Christians have been arrested and detained by Iranian authorities. As of late 2016, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom reports approximately 90 Christians remain imprisoned due to their religious beliefs and activities.
“Technically, it’s not illegal to be a Christian in Iran. However, in practical terms, policemen, Revolutionary Guards, judges, and every other authority in the country interpret the law for themselves and aren’t accountable to anyone,” writes Marziyeh Amirizadeh, who was herself imprisoned for 10 months in 2009 before receiving asylum in the U.S. “Though being a Christian [is] not a crime, converting from Islam to another faith and evangelizing on behalf of that faith [are] considered crimes of apostasy and punishable by death.”
Iran’s ongoing domestic repression and chronic human rights abuses are not confined to the Christian community. Other religious minorities, including Baha’is, Sunni Muslims, Jews, Zoroastrians, and dissenting Shi’a Muslims also face harassment, arrests, and imprisonment simply because of their beliefs.
In response to Tehran’s hardline on religious minorities and other groups, the European Union voted this month to extend its existing human rights sanctions by one year. The sanctions extend a travel ban and asset freeze against several dozen Iranian officials affiliated with the country’s judiciary and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The sanctions also include a ban on the export of equipment and technology that the Iranian regime can use for monitoring communications of its citizens.
Tehran uses sophisticated technologies to surveil and repress its people…but technology may prove to be the regime’s Achilles heel
The U.S. has maintained similar human rights sanctions since 2009, but more can be done. In particular, the EU and U.S. could aim additional sanctions at the Telecommunications Company of Iran (TCI), Iran’s largest telecommunications enterprise. The IRGC and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei effectively own TCI, which gives the regime access to sensitive monitoring technology that facilitates surveillance of Iranian citizens — like Aziz Majidzadeh.
Even as Tehran uses sophisticated technologies to surveil and repress its people, technology may ultimately prove to be the regime’s Achilles heel. Just last week, Iran banned government bodies from using a popular instant messaging app, for example, citing national security concerns. In recent years, tens of thousands of Iranian Christians have tapped into the power of satellite technology to receive programming otherwise banned or censored by the state.
In fact, contraband satellite service has played a vital role in the growth of the underground house church movement in Iran. Thousands are suffering in Iran, yet many are coming to Christ because of satellite technology. 21Wilberforce has partnered with IranAlive Ministries to develop and broadcast new programming materials to help train and lift up new believers in Iran.
Technology is transforming lives in Iran — for evil and for good. Carefully aimed sanctions can help address the evil, while satellite technology may be a force for good. In a country of 80 million people, where an estimated 55 million have access to satellite channels, the conditions are ripe for spiritual renewal.
- Learn more about how satellite programming is building up the church body in Iran and how you can support this important ministry.
- Read how two Iranian Christian women survived Evin Prison and expanded the faith.
- Study how sanctions can be applied to help Iran’s religious minorities, here and here.