A young Christian convert woman was arrested in Iran for not wearing her headscarf “properly” earlier this month.
Iranian Christian Fatemeh Mohammadi, 20, was assaulted while travelling on a bus by another passenger who accused her of not wearing her headscarf properly. Iranian police arrested Fatemeh when she went to the police station to file a complaint against the woman.
According to an eyewitness, the woman insulted Fatemeh and ordered her to wear her headscarf properly. She then attacked her by pushing her chest and hitting her in the face.
At the police station, the attacker claimed that she was “enjoying good and forbidding wrong” – a statement that the authorities interpreted as helping others to refrain from disgraceful acts. As the police considered this claim to be a sufficient basis for the woman to assault Fatemeh, they let her assailant go free.
Fatemeh was eventually released on bail in the early hours of the following morning.
Henrietta Blyth, CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland, said, “This persecution of a young Christian woman is an example of the bias and discrimination against Christians which has become an established trend of the Iranian authorities. As the number of converts to Christianity increases, the authorities tighten the measures against Christians.”
Fatemeh had already served a six-month sentence in 2018, after being arrested at a house-church meeting. She was sentenced on charges of “Christian activity”, “membership in proselytising groups” and “acting against national security through propaganda against the regime”.
A brave activist among Iranian Christians, Fatemeh has run a campaign for all Christians, including converts, to be given the right to worship in a church.
Earlier this year, she addressed an open letter to the Minister of Intelligence, accusing him of infringing Article 23 of the constitution by targeting Christians. The article states that “no-one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief”.
Fatemeh also called on human rights groups to highlight the “oppression” of Persian-speaking Christians in Iran more vigorously. She described them as an overlooked minority who are recognised only by international community.
The situation of the Iranian Christians has been highlighted in the Bishop of Truro Philip Mounstephen’s Independent Review for the Foreign Secretary of FCO Support for Persecuted Christians.
The report stated that in Iran, along with Algeria, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia, the situation of Christians and other minorities has reached an alarming stage.
The Review findings highlighted that the rise of hate speech against Christians in state media and by religious leaders has created social intolerance.
The report concluded that “Christians with a Muslim background are most vulnerable and face tougher persecution from all actors and especially from their families and communities”. Arrests, detention, imprisonment, confiscation of church properties, attacks on churches and properties owned by Christians are common.
Last year, in November and December alone, over 250 Iranian Christians were arrested in different cities across the country.
Although most of those arrested were allowed to go home after a few hours or several days, they were told to expect a call from the Ministry of Intelligence. People who were suspected to be the leaders of Christian groups were held in detention.
The mobile phones of all of those arrested were confiscated and they had to detail the history of their Christian activities and were told to have no contact with any Christian groups.
Iran is number 9 on the Open Doors World Watch List ranking the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
The government of Iran is committed to expanding the influence of Shia Islam. Hardliners within the leadership are very anti-Christian, creating severe problems for all groups of believers.
House churches for Christians from Muslim backgrounds have been raided and leaders given long prison sentences. Consequently, many converts have fled abroad or practise their faith in isolation. Christians from Armenian and Assyrian churches are allowed to practise their faith openly, but they still face discrimination, and it is illegal for them to share the gospel with Muslims.
Open Doors advocates for those who are imprisoned for their Christian faith in Iran and organises trauma care conferences for former prisoners who now live in another country in the region.