Persecution Continues Unabated for Iranian Christians

In late January 2021, multiple human rights and religious freedom organizations, including Open Doors, Article 18, Middle East Concern, and Christian Solidarity Worldwide published their 2020 Annual Report regarding the violations of Iranian Christians’ right to freedom of religion or belief. Unsurprisingly, especially considering the US State Department’s designation of Iran as a Country of Particular Concern and Open Doors’ ranking of Iran as the 8th most dangerous nation in the world for Christians, it is revealed that throughout 2020 and the concurrent global COVID-19 pandemic, persecution neither stopped nor slowed down for Iranian Christians, who were “exposed to harassment, arrest, interrogation, and pressure to recant or commit to refrain from meeting other Christians or engaging in Christian activity.”

It is important to note that, while there were a few notable incidents in which Iranian Christian prisoners of conscience were released early from their prison sentences due to the COVID-19 pandemic and growing concerns of heightened disease-spreading in detention centers, many with sentences upwards of 7 to 10 years were denied temporary release.

The persecution of and discrimination against Iranian Christians is codified in national legislation such as the Penal Code, which in Articles 498-513 pose criminal sentences for actions such as establishing or joining a religious organization that “aims to perturb the security of the country”, disseminating “propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran”, and “insult[ing] the sacred values of Islam”. These laws have been used to imprison pastors and Iranian Christians for simply organizing and attending Christian worship. According to the report, “Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) actively tries to infiltrate these house-churches through government agents or informants.” As a result of these coordinated ambushes and raids, in 2020 tens of Christians were reported to have been arrested for their faith and faith-related actions; however, it is reasonable to assume that many more arbitrary arrests of Christians have occurred in the past year but have gone unreported.

Some of the most telling 2020 statistics offered by the report include the following:

  • 115 Christians were arrested in Iran
  • 38 Christians were formally detained
  • 237 individuals, including Christians and their families, friends, and peers, have been affected
  • 44 individuals were sentenced a cumulative total of 1760 months in prison
  • Only 3 Iranian Christians were acquitted, 6 conditionally released early, and 29 temporarily released due to pandemic-related concerns

In addition to arrest- and detention-related violations of religious freedom against Iranian Christians, numerous additional persecution trends were reported, including governmental and societal pressure towards Christian converts; expulsions of Christians from educational institutions; imposition of employment restrictions, forced internal exile, police intimidation, as well as church closures and demolitions.

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