Almost everyone in Iran is Muslim – there are believed to be about 1.2 million Christians in a population of almost 87 million.
Conversion from Islam to Christianity is illegal in Iran, and anyone caught as a convert can be arrested and imprisoned. The authorities view conversion as an attempt by the West to undermine Islam and the Islamic government of Iran. This means that anyone who is discovered to be a member of a house church can be charged with a crime against national security, which can lead to long prison sentences. Anyone arrested or detained can be tortured and abused while in jail. Some Christians are released and monitored – and know a second arrest would mean a long prison sentence.
Christian converts who left Islam can also face pressure from their families and communities. Converts can lose their inheritance, unmarried Christians can be forced into marriage to a Muslim, and married believers may be forced to divorce or face losing their children.
If you're part of a traditional Christian community – Armenian or Assyrian Christian, for instance – your faith is likely to be more tolerated. But you will also be treated as a second-class citizen. In addition, you are not allowed to worship or read the Bible in Farsi, Iran's language, or have any contact with Christians who have converted from Islam. If you're caught supporting converts, you may be sent to prison.
“Even though this was a difficult experience, I am very happy and thankful to God for allowing us to have experienced it.”Sara and her husband were imprisoned for their faith
Sara and her husband Homayoun are Christian converts from Islam who were sentenced to two and 11 years in prison, respectively. Their crime? Belonging to a house church.
On appeal, Sara’s prison sentence was reduced to eight years as the court upheld the maximum sentence that she received for one of the charges. Homayoun’s prison sentence was unchanged. Evin Prison has notoriously terrible living conditions, and their family and loved ones were concerned about the impact that it will have on Homayoun’s heath - as he has advanced Parkinson's disease.
After years of persecution and fear, and many months in prison, there was good news for this courageous couple - they were released and acquitted of any crime!
Their first two requests for appeals were rejected - but, finally, an appeal judge said there was 'no evidence' that Sara and Homayoun had acted against national security. He added that it was 'natural' to gather with people of one's faith, and having books related to Christianity was 'an extension of their beliefs'.
Sara shared a message with Open Doors supporters who had faithfully prayed for her and her husband:
"As we were sent to prison, one thing calmed my soul in this stormy and noisy moment and propelled me towards peace and joy. In one moment, the Spirit of God reminded us of everything that He taught us since before our arrest in 2019 until that very moment.
“As soon as I remembered all of this, I wiped my tears from my face and told Homayoun not to worry, that God was with us and that we would be acquitted and released soon. I said we would only have to be there for a while and must do God's will among the people we were sent to be in their midst, and that Jesus was alive and would fulfil His promise to us even in the valley of the shadow of death.
“Even though this was a difficult experience, I am very happy and thankful to God for allowing us to have experienced it. I learned so many lessons that I could not have learned anywhere else. Certainly, it has been very effective in the development of my personal faith in Jesus, and His saving work. It has made me more determined than before in my spiritual life.”
Many Christians still face arrest and imprisonment in Iran, and the news is mixed - with some successful appeals, others rejected, and more believers being seized.
News has been mixed from Iran in the past year. While some Christians were released early from prison sentences for belonging to house churches, there was also another wave of mass arrests in July 2023. Some released prisoners have also been re-arrested. Overall, the situation remains very risky – but God is still working and moving among His people, and continues to grow the church in Iran.
Please keep praying for your brothers and sisters in Iran. Your prayers make an enormous difference to those following Jesus no matter the cost.
Open Doors raises prayer support for the Christians in Iran.
Heavenly Father, we pray for our brothers and sisters in Iran who risk so much to follow You. We think of those in prison for their faith – be with them, right now, showing them Your grace and mercy. We also think of those forced to flee the country; be with them and help them to know they aren't alone. Finally, we pray that You would strengthen the courage of the underground church in Iran. Thank You for their example, and may they couple wisdom with boldness. Amen.