Beliefnet News

Eleven Iranian Christians who fled their homeland for fear of the government have received threatening emails calling on them to renounce Christianity and return to Shi’ite Islam — or be killed.

The emails were from “the unknown soldiers of the Hidden Imam,” but are believed to have come from the Iranian security services. The “Hidden Imam” is the Shi’ite Messiah. Shi’ites in the “Twelver” sect, believe that Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Mahdi, born July 29, 869, will return to earth as the ultimate savior of humankind. They teach that he did not die at age five, but rather has been hidden by Allah and at the end of time will emerge to set up a worldwide califate in which the entire globe converts to Shi’a Islam or else dies by the sword.

The emails warned the recipients that although they may have managed to flee Iran, they are not hidden from the “acute eyes of the unknown soldiers.” The letter accuses them of advancing the cause of Zionism — although all eleven are evangelical Christians.

The email concludes by offering the eleven Christians “the opportunity to repent and ask forgiveness from the presence of the Hidden Imam and the Great Allah. Otherwise, according to the Fatwa given by Mehdi the Hidden Imam, they must be killed.”

Samuel Yeghnazar of Elam Ministries, who fled Iran after years of being closely involved in the house church movement there, said that he and his network of churches are taking the threat very seriously.

The threats come as the world awaits word of the fate of evangelical Christian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani — condemned to death for refusing to denounce Jesus Christ as his savior and return to Islam. Following a demonstration in London in support of Pastor Nadarkhani, the Iranian Embassy in London released a statement claiming that fears of a death sentence were “unsubstantiated.” Meanwhile, the Iranian news agency reported a variety of wild charges against the pastor, including that he had a history of violent crime, that he ran a brothel, that he had been convicted of rape and that he was an Israeli spy. Iranian Christians said the most worrying disinformation being spread is that he is a Zionist “working against the Islamic Order.”

Yeghnazar pointed to the continuing threat of execution of Pastor Nadarkhani as well as the death threats, calling them indicative of the “utter hypocrisy of a government that claims Christians live in freedom.” In the last eleven months at least 137 Christians have suffered arrests and interrogations because of their faith. Nearly forty were imprisoned.

Christian leader Fashid Fathi-Malayeri has been imprisoned for nine months — much of which was spent in solitary confinement. He has had no access to a lawyer and still has not been informed of the charges against him. His wife and two small children have fled Iran for their own safety.

“The threat against the eleven Iranian citizens is an appalling and vicious move,” said Christian Solidarity Worldwide Chief Executive Officer Mervyn Thomas. “It is vital that countries hosting Iranian refugees and asylum seekers ensure these vulnerable people receive adequate protection, and make it clear to the Iranian authorities that cross-border assassinations are wholly unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

Thomas noted that court documents over the last year clearly state that the charges against Nadarkhani is apostasy and that the death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court when he would not repent of that charge. Iran’s efforts to fabricate a variety of preposterous charges against Pastor Nadarkhani “this late in the day reflect badly on the ruling regime and will only serve to bring the Iranian legal system into disrepute and occasion further questions regarding the independence of the judiciary.”