11 July 2024

Iran’s new president unlikely to help Christian converts

Iran’s new president, Masoud Pezeshkian, is relatively moderate – but an Open Doors expert doesn’t think this will easily lead to religious freedom for Iranian Christians.

Iran’s new president is unlikely to bring greater freedoms to the country’s Christian minority, says an Open Doors analyst. That includes eight Christian converts who were recently sent to prison, facing a total sentence of up to 45 years.

A moderate president might not help religious freedom

Two rounds of voting resulted in a majority for the Reformist Masoud Pezeshkian, who beat the ultraconservative Saeed Jalili last week. The turnout for voting was below 50%.

“His election won’t bring any radical change, simply because the power is in unelected hands, not the elected ones.”

Michael Bosch, Open Doors

“The fact that Pezeshkian, a rather unknown Reformist lawmaker, was able to beat the hardline candidates shows how low the support is for the hardliners among the Iranian population,” says Michael Bosch, persecution analyst with Open Doors’ World Watch Research unit. “However, his election won’t bring any radical change, simply because the power is in unelected hands, not the elected ones.”

During the leadership of a previous moderate president, Hassan Rouhani (2013-2021), religious freedoms for Christians and other religious minorities did not improve. “Protests were still bloodily suppressed, and Christians kept receiving high prison sentences during Rouhani’s term,” says Bosch. “So, we will see a continuation of the arrests and heavy prison sentences, especially since the regime knows it doesn’t have much support and therefore has to crack down hard on all dissent. This affects Christians as well as other minority groups.”

Prison, fines and floggings

In recent months, Iranian authorities have intensified their crackdown on Christian converts and those active in sharing the gospel, with many receiving harsh prison sentences.

In June, the Ahvaz Revolutionary Court found eight Christians guilty after they had been arrested over the Christmas period in the western city of Izeh, reports Article 18.

While not all members of the group can be identified, it was Yasin Mousavi who reportedly received the highest sentence of 15 years in prison for ‘membership in a group intent on disrupting national security’ and ‘propaganda against the regime’.

“The worry about staying anonymous is a sign of the rising pressure on Christians, as part of the general increase in oppression in Iran.”

Michael Bosch, Open Doors

Other converts who received prison sentences include Hamid Afzali, who received 10 years, while Nasrullah Mousavi, Bijan Qolizadeh and Iman Salehi were each given five years. Another two people, whose names are not yet known, were given two years each, while Zahrab Shahbazi was sentenced to nine months in prison. A few weeks earlier, another member of the group who was arrested at the same time, Esmaeil Narimanpour, was sentenced to five years.

This is on top of many other believers who were arrested last year, who have chosen not to reveal their identities. “It is worrying that almost all Christians detained during the two main waves of arrests in 2023 want to remain anonymous, out of fear of being exposed to reprisals from the Iranian authorities,” Bosch says. “Several were sentenced to months or years in prison, while others had to pay fines or were flogged, but the worry about staying anonymous is a sign of the rising pressure on Christians, as part of the general increase in oppression in Iran.”

No sign of improvement in Iran

Despite being a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which enshrines religious freedoms, Iran is ranked number 9 on the Open Doors World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution for their faith.

While the constitution guarantees religious freedom for the ethnic Christian minorities such as Armenians, Iranian converts to Christianity face high levels of pressure involving social and legal discrimination, including prison sentences.

Despite these concerns, Christians in Iran know that all things are possible with God. Please join them in praying for religious freedom in the country, and for the men and women who are currently in prison for loving Jesus.

  • For God to minister to His children in prison with love, mercy and comfort
  • For religious freedom to improve during the new presidential term
  • That the gospel should spread in Iran, and more Iranians hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
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