There are believed to be just 800,000 Christians in Iran, making them a tiny minority in the Muslim-majority country.
Converts from Islam to Christianity are most at risk of persecution, especially from the government and to a lesser extent from society and their own families.
The government sees the growth of the church in Iran as an attempt by Western countries to undermine Islam and the Islamic regime of Iran. House groups made up of converts from Muslim backgrounds are often raided, and both their leaders and members have been arrested, prosecuted and given long prison sentences for ‘crimes against national security’.
Despite most house church members being women, more men are arrested, prosecuted, sentenced by the government, and often imprisoned for many years. This especially affects male pastors. This not only impacts churches, but also families. Sometimes the strain and emotional pain caused by separation leads to divorce and child trauma. The child of one pastor could not address him as 'Dad' upon his release, instead calling him 'Sir'.
In Iran, women have little individual legal protection, making the situation particularly precarious for Christian women detained for their faith. They are at risk of sexual harassment by the authorities during interrogation and imprisonment. Since Iranian women are not free to travel on their own, fleeing a dangerous situation and finding sheltered accommodation is difficult.
“I thank God for considering me worthy of enduring this persecution because of Him.”Hamed, whose house was raided
Being a Christian in Iran continues to carry huge risk, including imprisonment. Hamed (31) was arrested in February 2019 for ‘propaganda against the Islamic republic’. The authorities seized Christian items, including Bibles and other Christian literature, as well as computer hard drives, when they raided his home.
During interrogations, Hamed refused to inform on other Christians in return for financial reward. He was consequently beaten. Before beginning his sentence, he released a short video explaining that he had been arrested for Christian activities.
After just under a month in prison, Hamed was released to spend the remaining nine months of his sentence with an electronic tag.
Although the severity of persecution facing Christians in Iran remains largely unchanged, things may get worse following changes to the country's penal code.
Under the amendments, teaching the Bible or telling others about the Christian faith could result in prosecution, as could the claim that Christians can communicate with Jesus, whom Islamic teaching regards as a prophet. Christians could also be accused of 'insults... with the intent to cause violence or tensions'. This vague wording is open to interpretation or abuse, making Christians more vulnerable to unjust accusations.
Further challenges may ensue following the swearing in of Ebrahim Raisi as the country's new president in August 2021, succeeding Hassan Rouhani. He’s seen as a hardliner with ultra-conservative Islamic views.
More encouragingly, Iran’s Supreme Court recently ruled that nine Christians imprisoned for attending house churches should not have been charged for ‘acting against national security’. This is a significant development and raises hopes that Christians will have more freedom moving forward.
Please keep praying for your brothers and sisters in Iran. Your gifts and prayers make an enormous difference to those following Jesus no matter the cost.
Open Doors partners support the church in Iran with online ministry presence, Christian multimedia initiatives and advocacy.
Father God, we are astonished that, despite the extreme persecution facing our family in Iran, the church continues to see strong growth. May Christians continue to grow in number and maturity. Please help believers who are suffering for You to stand strong in Your love and power – and may this love and power extend to those who oppose them. Protect Christians from harm, and keep prying eyes from house churches. May these gatherings be places where believers are transformed into Your likeness and equipped for everyday service to You.
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.