Filmmakers jailed as oppression of Christians worsens in Iran

by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 10/16/14, 11:24 am

Iranian security officials arrested three Christian converts, including a filmmaker, in the province of Isfahan on Sept. 27.

Shahram Ghaedi, an actor who was previously in an Iranian movie about the life of Christ and played Jesus on stage, Heshmat Shafiei, and Emad Haghi were taken into custody after a raid on Ghaedi’s house, Mohabat News reported. Authorities also confiscated Ghaedi’s computer and many books in the raid.

Ghaedi is a member of St. Paul Church in Isfahan and part of Iran’s Young Artists Association of Fooladshahr. He wanted to make another movie about Jesus and had directed several plays, including “The Last Supper,” BosNewsLife reported.

Todd Daniels, regional manager for the Middle East of International Christian Concern (ICC), said he hadn’t heard of formal charges for the men yet, but it was typical for prisoners to be held for a few days up to a couple weeks without much information on why they are being detained.

Sources told Mohabat News that the three men were probably arrested because of their involvement Christian films.

When asked why they might risk making a film about Jesus, Daniels said, “There is a very growing church that is very starved for resources. It’s very difficult to get resources from outside. …  So, in many ways, it is born out of a church that is attempting to be faithful to their beliefs in the country where they live.”

Security officers in the Iran previously arrested Ghaedi in February 2012. At that time, they detained him 70 days before releasing him on bail. An Islamic court later sentenced Ghaedi to three months in prison, Mohabat News said.

“The potential for religion-based charges in this case seems quite high, which is very concerning,” said Daniels.

According to ICC, at least 49 Christians are in prison in Iran, including American Pastor Saeed Abedini, who was detained two years ago. Most of those Christians were charged with actions against national security.

“They describe meeting together in a house church as committing ‘soft war’ against their state. Those are charges that typically carry prison time from five to eight years, sometimes 10,” Daniels said.

Daniels expressed concern that Iran’s regime has begun charging people, including Christians, with religious crimes that can carry the death penalty. Charges include “spreading corruption on the earth” and “enmity against God.”

In September, Daniels said, the Iranian government added explicitly religious charges in three cases.

Iran’s government is heavily Shiite Muslim. The constitution includes protections for several religious minority groups including Christians, but, in practice, those typically apply to Christian ethnic minorities rather than Iranian converts from Islam. Daniels said most arrests and imprisonments happen to people who converted.

Although Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, campaigned as a reformer, Daniels noted that “we’re not over a year into office and by nearly every measure, from executions to arrests of religious minorities, they’re actually worse.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom agreed. Its 2014 annual report said more Baha’is and Christians were imprisoned in the past year and that “physical attacks, harassment, detention, arrests” all intensified. Even protected ethnic religious minorities experienced greater persecution.

Julia A. Seymour

Julia has worked as a writer in the Washington, D.C., area since 2005 and was a fall 2012 participant in a World Journalism Institute mid-career class conducted by WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky in Asheville, N.C. Follow Julia on Twitter @SteakandaBible.

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