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Christian retreat centre forced to close down

by Tola Mbakwe

According to religious freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the Sharon Retreat Centre was served with the evacuation notice on 7th March and its caretakers were given only three days remove all of their belongings and hand the centre over to the government.   

The centre is located in Karaj and sits on 10,000 square metres of land and is worth $2,200,000.

The Council of AoG Churches in Iran acquired it in the early 1970s for use as a retreat for church ministers, for youth camps, and for other church functions.

This is not the first time retreat centre has been the subject of much scrutiny.

CSW said in 2005, the centre was raided by security agents during a Council Synod meeting, and all the clergy on the Council were arrested.

The church leaders were interrogated overnight in a detention centre near Karaj and forced to sign an agreement stating they would comply with the government's demands to limit church activities.

The charity added that one article of this agreement stated that they would use the retreat centre only for Armenian and Assyrian church members with the prior permission of security officials.

Also in 2015, a Revolutionary Court issued a confiscation order for the property and Iran's government has accused the centre of being funded by the CIA to "infiltrate and undermine the country through evangelistic activities".

However, in reality, the AoG Church in Iran is not organisationally affiliated with the AoG denomination in the United States (US).

It was registered as a church and religious institution in 1973, and after the Islamic Revolution, its status as a registered religious institution was reinstated.

 CSW said in a statement: "By attributing the AoG's funding to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Iranian authorities sought to facilitate both the seizure of property... and the possible prosecution of church leaders on national security-related charges."

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said he is deeply alarmed at the planned seizure of property from a religious community that is recognised under the Iranian constitution.

He added: "We urge the government of Iran, as a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenants on Human Rights, to fulfil its obligations and ensure freedom of religion or belief in its fullest sense for all of Iran's religious minorities.

"We also call for interventions from key members of the international community to prevent this injustice from occurring, and to remind the Iranian government of its obligations under international law and its own constitution."

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