By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - Two jailed Iranian Christians have asked Iran’s Islamic authorities to allow them to worship Christ in freedom.
Behnam Akhlaghi and Babak Hosseinzadeh made their request in video footage, according to transcripts shared with Worthy News.
Both men, who abandoned Islam and converted to Christianity, are serving five-year sentences in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison on charges linked to their involvement in house churches.
Authorities say the men detained in 2019 were “acting against national security through promoting Christian Zionism.”
The Christians, who are from the northern city of Rasht, recorded their video appeal while on a brief leave from prison, Christians confirmed.
In the video, Akhlaghi wondered “if attending a house-church is considered a crime.” He added that “even if a church is open, it is limited to special individuals who can anyway only participate with restrictions.”
He noted that as “a Christian who is told, ‘We respect you, your faith, and the path you have chosen, my question is this: ‘How and where should I perform my religious rites’?”
Hosseinzadeh said he was thinking about life after the end of his prison sentence and future release: “Where am I to worship after these five years [in prison]?”
Their video footage prompted Iranian Christians to appeal for prayers, Worthy News learned.
Advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC) which maintains close contacts with Iranian Christians facing hardship, told Worthy News that former Muslims face difficulties. The two men are among a larger group of Christian converts behind bars in Iran.
“In Iran, churches for ethnic Armenians and Assyrians are closed to Persian-speaking Christian converts. The only way for converts to gather for worship is in small home groups known as house churches,” MEC said.
However, MEC noted that “in violation of their rights, these informal gatherings are targeted by Iranian authorities.”
Those responsible for organizing house churches and “propagation” can receive prison sentences of up to 10 years, according to MEC investigators.
Despite the difficulties, Iran’s Christian communities continue to grow. “In 1979, there were less than 500 known Christians from a Muslim background in Iran,” recalled Elam Ministries, a mission group founded by Iranian church leaders. “Today, many estimate that there are closer to one million Christians from a Muslim background inside Iran.”
But “given the underground nature of church growth, this number could actually be much higher,” the group added.
Church leaders believe that millions of the roughly 86 million mainly Muslim population can be added to the church in the next few years. “Such such is the spiritual hunger that exists and the disillusionment with the Islamic regime,” Elam Ministries added.