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Monday, June 2, 2008

Iran cracking down on growing number of converts to Christianity

LONDON — Christian activists said Iranian police have launched a crackdown on Muslims believed to have converted to Christianity over the last year.

"We've got confirmed reports of groups of Muslim convert believers doubling in size in the last six months," Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors USA, said.

Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, agreed. Marshall said Iran has been experiencing a youth backlash against Islam, Middle East Newsline reported.

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"There are indications that with the deep unpopularity of the regime that people are turning away from Islam," Marshall said in an interview with the U.S. television network Fox.

The activists said the crackdown was launched in May in the southern city of Shiraz.

On May 11, Moeller said, at least eight people were arrested in Shiraz on charges of abandoning the Islamic faith. Such a crime was punishable by up to life in prison.

One suspected organizer of Christian activity in Shiraz was identified as Mojtaba Hussein. The 21-year-old Hussein, believed to have organized house churches, remained in prison after his colleagues were released.

"He [Hussein] may not be willing to give up the names of other Muslim converts," Moeller said. "He may not be willing to recant his faith himself."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has proposed a law that would impose capital punishment on any Muslim who leaves his faith. Christian activists said many young Muslims, dismayed by the abuses of the Islamic regime, have been interested in Christianity and other religions.

"Seeing Muslims converting to Christianity is directly threatening to an Islamic regime," Moeller said.

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