Iran: As churches are forced to close, tourism minister claims government is restoring them

June 3, 2023

The U.S. State Department has classified Iran as a “country of particular concern” for “having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”

For previous coverage of Iran, see here.

“‘We use money that could feed hungry Muslims to restore Christian churches’ – tourism minister,” Article 18, May 26, 2023:

In the week of the 10th anniversary of the forced closure of the largest Persian-speaking church in Iran, the Islamic Republic’s Minister of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism has had the temerity to claim that “the people of the world should know” that despite economic problems, the Iranian government still takes money that could be used to feed its hungry Muslim citizens to pay for the restoration of Christian churches.

“Despite the economic problems of the country, we use the chicken and eggs of the Muslim people – some of whom are in need of their nightly bread – to finance the restoration of Christian churches,” said Ezzatollah Zarghami, in comments widely publicised on Iranian state media this week.

The comments come in the wake not only of the anniversary of the closure of the Central Assemblies of God Church in Tehran, but also while dozens of other churches have been forced to close in recent years, and some later confiscated after years of slow decay, leaving Persian-speaking Christians with no place to worship.

“The churches the minister refers to are possibly those like Vank and Khare Kelisa, which are National Heritage sites that every year generate huge revenues for the government from the tourists who visit them, but these comments will cause outrage and disbelief among the many Iranian Christians who are denied the right to have a place to worship,” explained Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji.

The Iranian regime regularly uses its recognised religious-minority groups, including ethnic Armenian and Assyrian Christians, for its propaganda.

The majority of churches in Iran today belong to the historic Armenian and Assyrian communities, and they are afforded some freedom to worship, but strictly monitored to ensure they preach only in their ethnic-minority languages – not the national language of Persian – and do not evangelise or speak out against the government.

Those churches that fail to adhere to this mandate are closed, and their pastors arrested, as happened 10 years ago in the case of the Central Assemblies of God Church in Tehran….

And yet representatives of the Islamic Republic continue to claim on the international stage that religious minorities including Christians are afforded equal rights, and full religious freedom – not to mention, apparently, money for the restoration of their churches.

Truly, as the minister suggests, the people of the world should take note.