THE first signs of a thaw in relations between Iran and the West
have raised the hopes of Iranian Christians that the restrictions
that they have faced for decades could eventually be eased.
The long break in high-level contacts between Iran and the
United States was ended during President Hassan Rouhani's visit to
the UN Headquarters in New York last week. Not only did he meet the
Secretary of State, John Kerry, he also held a 15-minute telephone
conversation with President Obama.
To the delight of Iranian Christians - in Iran and elsewhere -
President Obama used the telephone encounter to express concern
about an American minister and two other US citizens imprisoned in
Iran. Pastor Saeed Abedini, from Idaho, was arrested while visiting
his family in Iran a year ago. His wife, Naghmeh, said that
President Obama's decision to raise the issue during his talks with
President Rouhani was an "answer to prayer. This is the most
encouraging news I have heard since Saeed was imprisoned one year
Mrs Abedini also succeeded in handing over to a member of
President Rouhani's entourage a letter that her husband had written
to the new Iranian leader.
Over past months, the Obama administration has been criticised
for failing to take sufficient action to secure the release of
Pastor Abedini and the other Americans held in Iranian prisons.
During the summer, the White House responded to this pressure by
issuing a statement denouncing their imprisonment.
While the change of leadership in Tehran might lead, in time, to
easier conditions for Iranian Christians, at present the
discrimination and re-strictions continue. The UN Human Rights
Council in Geneva last month heard a report that spoke of many
Christians' having been "arrested and detained over the past six
"Charges vary, and include, but are not limited to, holding
Christian belief, setting up Christian ceremonies at home and
evangelising, membership of an illegal group, acting against public
security, activities against Islam, and co-operating with
During the summer it was reported that Bishop Ignazio Bedini, of
St Abraham's Latin Catholic Church, in Tehran, had been ordered by
the Iranian security authorities to prohibit attendance at services
by Farsi-speaking Christians, and those who had not been baptised.
The Bishop was told that failure to heed the order would result in
the withdrawal of his work visa.