A leading Iranian dissident has revealed the bizarre policies exclusively to Daily Star Online in the run-up to the festive period.

Babak Taghvaee, an aviation expert who was jailed by the government in Iran and forced to flee to Malta, made the claims after more than 150 Christians were arrested in the country since the start of December.

Speaking to Daily Star Online, Taghvaee said: “Violation of human rights is now on the rise in Iran.”

He explained the two main reasons why Christmas sees the biggest government clampdown on Christians: fear of converters from Islam and fear of worshippers organising in private.

Many Iranians are attracted to Christianity around Christmas time, and the government tries to deter conversions through intimidation.

Taghvaee went on: “Iran’s Islamic regime — as its name shows — is trying to be the best example of an Islamic ruler in the world.

“Under their rule of Sharia, no Muslim should convert to another religion because it is forbidden in their book.”

There are estimated to be 300-370,000 Christians in the majority Shia Muslim country of Iran, out of a population of more than 81 million.

Many are from Christian minorities, such as the Armenians and Assyrians, but there are also many converts.

Iran’s constitution recognises Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity as official religious minorities, but states all laws and regulations must be based on “Islamic criteria” and official interpretation of Islamic law.

Christian converts are often not allowed to go to Armenian or Assyrian churches, said Taghvaee, as agents from the Ministry of Intelligence are watching these institutions.

Taghvaee explained that instead, “converts gather in their houses every Sunday, we call these house churches”.

“Iran’s regime is very scared of these house churches, so they do their best to detect them and arrest the organisers,” he added.

In 1979, the Islamic Revolution saw the overthrow of the Western-backed Shah and his replacement by the hardline theological rule of Ayatollah Khomeini and his successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But Taghvaee insists that rather than make the country more devout, “four decades of Islamic dictatorship has driven the majority of Iranians to be secular,” or even convert to other religions.

Taghvaee was locked up in Iran in September 2012, when the Ministry of Information arrested him on suspicion of plotting the assassination of Ayatollah Khamenei, although this was later changed to cooperation with enemy states.

While imprisoned for 45 days, Taghvaee said he met many Christian converts who were locked up with him.

“I remember their prayers, how they asked Jesus for help,” he said.

Taghvaee says some priests are being jailed in Iran for up to 15 years.

“You might ask why the Iranian regime is mass arresting Christian converts always in December,” Taghvaee went on.

“My answer is that they are scared of Christmas. They know the converts are going to celebrate Christmas in their private and home churches. So they try to scare them.”

Miles Windsor from Middle East Concern recently told Morning Star News: “The current situation has been described by some as unprecedented.

“There are a huge number of arrests and detentions.”

He went on: “Recently it seems there is definitely a coordinated and determined campaign to decimate the Christian community and to spread fear and intimidation.”

Some analysts also say that local security branches, fearful of funding cuts, are trying to show their effectiveness by clamping down on Christianity.

Donald Trump has issued more sanctions on the country in recent months, leading to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani accusing the US of “economic terrorism” against his nation.

Source » dailystar