SHAFAQNA – A new Persian translation of the Bible will be smuggled into Iran to feed a growing Christian community in the Islamic republic, defying a campaign of persecution by Tehran. Publishers of the new edition, unveiled at a ceremony in London today, plan to ship 300,000 copies into Iran over the next three years. Iranian clerics have denounced the text, but missionary groups claim Iran’s Christian community is the world’s fastest growing, rising by 20 per cent a year. More than 60 Christians are being held in Iranian jails, and police continue to target the “house churches” where small groups gather for prayer and Bible study. “President Rouhani has given the regime a more pleasant face, but among the security forces power is held by the same old people and persecution is actually increasing,” said Sam Yeghnazar, of Elam Ministries, the missionary group that published the new edition. Forced underground, the size of Iran’s Christian community is estimated at about 400,000 people and is swelling rapidly. “We are seeing growth in every corner of Iran. The Iranian clergy ruined the country and people are turning away from Islam. Some of them come to us,” Mr Yeghnazar said. After two years of preparation, the new Bible took a further 18 years to translate. Elam Ministries claims it is the most accurate rendering of the scripture to date and can be used in church and as a base text for translation into Iran’s many minority languages and dialects. Anyone smuggling the Bibles into Iran will do so at considerable risk. Being caught with several copies can result in a jail sentence. The books of Psalms and Proverbs from the new translation have been circulating in Iran for a decade. When they emerged in 2003, Iranian clerics denounced them and seized copies were burnt. Christianity is recognised under Iran’s constitution, but that has not prevented sporadic waves of persecution. Iran’s Bible Society was shut in 1990 and three senior church leaders were murdered in the crackdown that followed. They included Tateos Michaelian, the foremost translator of Christian texts into Persian at the time. His widow and granddaughter will be presented with their Bibles at today’s ceremony, which will be attended by 600 Christian leaders. In 2010, the crackdown that followed Iran’s disputed presidential election the previous year widened to include perceived dissent of any kind. More than 100 Christians were rounded up and several churches closed or demolished. Church leaders were accused of working for western intelligence agencies. The new edition arrives 200 years after the first translation of the New Testament into Farsi. The first translation of the entire Bible arrived in the late 19th century, with three further editions since.
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