Iranian Christian convert charged with blasphemy and propaganda

Iranian Christian Ebrahim Firouzi, a Christian convert who has captured the attention of human rights groups and Christian persecution movements, has gone on a hunger strike demanding a “complete acquittal” of what he calls the “false allegations” made by the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence against him.

His hunger strike began on 13 February after he was thrown in prison on charges of ‘propaganda against the Islamic Republic’. The charges came just days after the release of a series of videos by Farouzi, in which he said he was being harassed by state security officials. He outlined the confiscation of property, that he was befriended by Iranian spies, and also the harassment of his brother.

According to Barnabas Fund, Iranian authorities have a strategy of monitoring and harassing Christian converts in an attempt to pressure them to emigrate. But after his conversion, Firouzi did not leave Iran. He was arrested in 2013 and later convicted of charges including evangelism, connections with foreign “anti-regime networks” and launching a Christian website. He was sentenced at the time to a year in prison and a further two years in exile. He was later sentenced to a further five years in prison, charged with acting against Iranian national security.

Firouzi was released in October 2019, described by Barnabas Fund as being in weakened health as a result of interrogations and beatings in jail, including a stint in the notorious Evin Prison, where Amnesty International described an “appalling level of brutality.” He was almost immediately sent into “internal exile” in Rask, a remote town in the south-east corner of the country, as part of the country’s effort to reduce his influence in his own area.

In an interview with Joseph Hovsepian of Hovsepian Ministries last year, Firouzi described the unexpected nature of his exile in Rask. “I found these people to be very noble,” Firouzi said, reflecting upon locals’ hospitality after learning he was exiled for his faith.

“The reason people were nice to me wasn’t because of my own character or my goodness. It was all because of God,” Firoozi told Hovsepian.

During multiple court cases, he was pressured to renounce his faith, and ask for forgiveness for his wrongdoing. But it was never an option, he said.

“I could never turn my back on my faith and submit to this, and by God’s grace I encountered a few years in prison in exchange for an eternity with him.”

Iran, a theocratic Islamic republic, is considered one of the most dangerous places for Christians to live. Nonetheless, the church has seen exponential growth in the region in recent years, with close to a million Christians believed to be in the country.

A United Nations investigation group reported the “systematic persecution of Christians” in the country, highlighting more than 24 Christians currently facing imprisonment or exile on account of their faith. Iran denied the findings, arguing the report’s authors were in fact supporting “evangelical Zionism with a view to enmity and confrontation with the Islamic establishment.”