Shayan, an IranWire citizen journalist, reports from Tabriz, capital of East Azerbaijan, that on May 9 security forces removed the cross from atop an evangelical Assyrian church and announced that the church is closed until Assyrian Christians get a permit.
The news was reported by the London-based organization Article 18 which advocates for the rights of Christians in Iran. “They [the security forces] made it clear that the Assyrian people are no longer allowed to hold any worship service there,” the site said, quoting an informed source.
“A large number of agents entered our church compound and changed all the locks on the doors, removed the cross from the church’s high tower, installed some monitoring instruments and started to threaten and force our custodian to leave his place inside the compound immediately,” said the source.
The church was built approximately a century ago and has been registered as an Iranian National Heritage site — number 2513.
The church, which belongs to the Assyrian Presbytery, was confiscated by order of Revolutionary Court Judge Hasan Babaei in 2011, but until now church members had been able to continue using the building for services in the Assyrian language. Holding services in the church in any language other than Assyrian was banned for more than 30 years.
The Assyrian church belongs to the Society of Assyrian-speaking Evangelical Churches. Christians from Iran’s historic Assyrian and Armenian communities are a recognized minority and are usually able to freely practice their faith, provided they do not open their doors to converts from Islam and the services are not held in Persian.
“Many churches owned by Protestants have been confiscated in Iran,” says Article18’s Advocacy Director, Mansour Borji. “In most cases the government has been unable to repurpose them, especially if they were listed [as National Heritage sites]. So they typically remain as empty buildings, often neglected, and turn into ruins before being demolished.