The Islamic Republic of Iran's Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi has expressed concern over Iranian Muslims converting into Christianity in various parts of Iran.
Speaking on Saturday May 4, Alavi said that the Intelligence Ministry and the Qom Seminary have dispatched individuals and institutions active in "countering the advocates of Christianity" to areas where there is a potential among the people for being influenced by Good News missionary campaigns.
The Iranian Intelligence Minister, however, did not give any further details about what the ministry has been doing to address the concern of the clerically dominated elite.
According to Alavi, in one of the cities of Hamadan Province in Northwestern Iran a number of people running ordinary businesses such as sandwich parlors have shown interest in Christianity, but the Ministry has "summoned" them.
Alavi quoted some of these individuals as saying, "We are looking for a religion that could give us peace of mind, " adding that "We told them Islam is the religion of brotherhood and friendship, but they said Muslim scholars are constantly speaking against each other. If Islam is the religion of friendship, you should first create peace and friendship among your own religious scholars."
The converts speaking to the Intelligence Ministery must have been referring to ongoing disputes between the clerics ruling Iran over political gains and financial interests. Hardliner clerics have at times even questioned President Hassan Rouhani's Islamic credentials although he is a Muslim scholar who has studied at both the Qom Seminary and the University of Tehran.
During the past years, Iranians who converted into Christianity have been sentenced to long-term jail terms and often accused of "acting against national security by operating or taking part in congregations at churches set up in people's homes."
At least 6 Iranian Christian leaders have been killed and hundreds of Christians have been interrogated and imprisoned for their beliefs since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The Islamic Republic regularly persecutes people who convert from Islam to Christianity and most converts try to worship secretly at home-churches.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has banned the publication of Persian (Farsi) versions of the New and Old Testaments in Iran, some churches have been shut down and holding congregations and preaching in Persian are prohibited.
The Iranian Constitutional Law recognizes Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism, nevertheless, converting into any religion other than Islam entails death sentence for the converts. Even conversion from Shiism into Sunni Islam is frowned at and is rarely made public as hardliner clerics' reaction is not hard to predict.
United Nations organs and committees, as well as international human rights organizations have repeatedly urged the Islamic Republic to respect the right to choose one’s religion and beliefs, which are supposed to be protected by Iran’s international obligations.