The largest Persian-speaking church in Iran has been stripped of its land after being accused of links to the US Central Intelligence Agency.
Jama’at-e Rabbani, a large Protestant community linked to Assemblies of God in the Shia-Muslim dominated state, announced it had been charged with espionage and had its ownership of Sharon Gardens, a large and valuable area in Karaj city, removed.
Charges over the church’s alleged links to the CIA meant the two-and-a-half acre property was confiscated by the Headquarters for Implementation of the Imam’s Decree, according to an order by the Tehran Revolutionary Court, on July 21, 2015. The church only went public with the news last week.
“They have simply charged the community with espionage and convicted them without any evidence,” said Borji, a spokesman for human rights group Article 18, according to Iran Human Rights.
“Christians out of fear kept quiet about a lot of church property confiscations in the past,” he added.
“But confiscating Sharon Gardens is not a simple matter. They can accuse all the other Christian groups of espionage and working for the CIA and take away their properties, too.
“They want to undermine the legitimacy of Protestant churches established before the  revolution, such as Jama’at-e Rabbani, and destroy the foundations of Persian-speaking Christian Protestants in the country.”
A statement issued by the chairman of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship, George O Wood, said: “The 68 million worldwide adherents of the Assemblies of God wish to express dismay at the recent confiscation of campground and garden property from the Iran Assemblies of God. We hereby request the return of the property to its legal owner.”
“As far as I know, none of the leaders of the church were present during the trial and they did not have lawyers,” Vartan Avanesian, a Jama’at-e Rabbani official based in Turkey, told Iran Human Rights. “Iranian Christians were told that if they publicise this case it would be very costly for them. But we can’t stay quiet about this.”
He continued: “I was accused of working for the CIA and earning dollars. But all our church officials are Iranian. They even arrested my wife one day and told her I was a spy. They put us under so much pressure that we were forced to leave Iran in August 2013.”
The Headquarters for Implementation of the Imam’s Decree was established in 1989 by the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, to confiscate properties abandoned after the revolution.
The ruling issued by the Revolutionary Court states: “The Jama’at-e Rabbani Church Council is a branch of the Philadelphia Church in the US that was established by the Central Intelligence Agency for the purpose of penetrating the Islamic world and conducting missionary activities, especially in Iran….Therefore, the property described in this ruling is confiscated in favour of the [Headquarters for Implementation of the Imam’s Decree] based on articles 10 and 20 of the regulations for tackling cases subject to Article 49 of the Constitution.”