Christianity after the Islamic Revolution in Iran

2022 Feb 11

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According to Iranian censuses from 1957 to 2017, the largest group of religious minorities in Iran were Christians. The population of this group in 1957 was about 113,000 people, which was equivalent to %0.6 of the total population of the country.

Statistics show that after the revolution, the population of Christians in Iranian society, which witnessed a population explosion, has decreased, and despite more than quadrupling the Muslim population in this period (from 18 million to 79 million), the Christian population has not grown significantly. It has reached about 130,000 people, which can be a sign of the high migration rate of the followers of this religion.

Christians, including Armenians and Assyrians, live in all provinces of Iran, but the largest number of followers of this religion live in Tehran, Isfahan and Alborz, East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan.

After the 1979 revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran, non-Muslims were subjected to official pressure and discrimination. 

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1978, Ex-Muslim christian have been the target of repressive and discriminatory policies and actions by the Iranian government. They are deprived of the right to perform the religious rites of their religion openly, freely and without fear of persecution. Churches that worship in Persian were either closed or barred from accepting Christian converts. Christian property was often confiscated without compensation. Inviting non-Christians to Christianity and publishing the Bible in Persian was forbidden. In addition, a number of church leaders, including several Christian converts, were killed in suspicious circumstances.

Christians in Iran include indigenous Armenian, Assyrian, and Chaldean communities, as well as a growing population of converts from Islam to Christianity. Most ethnic Christians follow the orthodox or Catholic, hold their religious services in their own languages, and do not preach among Muslims. 

Those who have converted from Islam to Christianity usually follow Protestants, including the Anglican, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches. The new Iranians Christianity preach among Muslims and their church services are held in Persian. Although there are no exact statistics on the number of new believers, their population is thought to be growing rapidly. Despite this situation, the Iranian government does not grant these individuals any social status as Christians. A number of these individuals have been charged with offenses such as acting against national security or apostasy and have been convicted in highly unfair trials.

Christian Life in Iran
New believers began gathering in house churches to escape the government's disgusting actions; However, they were targeted by the government. Many were arbitrarily arrested and sent to prison on trumped-up charges or forced to renounce Christian activities. In recent years, more ex-muslim christians, including church ministers, have been accused of acting against national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic instead of religious crimes such as apostasy.

Citizenship rights have been revoked from Christian who, according to Article 13 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, are one of the four official and accepted religious minorities in Iran. But the government of the Islamic Republic considers Christianity to include only ethnic Christians (Armenians, Assyrians, and Chaldeans) and those individuals who can prove that they or their families were Christians before the 1979 revolution.

The Islamic Republic is bound by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The Iranian government also has a duty to protect the right to life of its citizens and to treat them humanely, including the administration of justice and equality before the law.

But government see them as a potential threat to its ideological foundations and discriminate against them structurally and in a variety of ways.

The Iranian government considers Ex-Muslim christian, especially evangelical Christians, to be part of the West's efforts against its security stability, and pursues different and sometimes contradictory policies towards them.We have categorized these policies as follows:

A- Islamic judicial decree(Fatwa)
Despite some disagreements, most conservative Shiite jurists, including Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder and first leader of the Islamic Republic, have stated that converting from Islam to another religion or atheism is apostasy.

In response to a religious question (Istifta '), the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ali Khamenei, stated that if a person is born a Muslim but later decides to follow another Abrahamic religion, that person is an apostate.

Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi, a Shiite conservative cleric, has also said that anyone who is already a Muslim and has adopted a new religion and adheres to his new religion is doomed to apostasy.

 Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi Golpayegani, another high-ranking Shiite cleric, has ruled that a person cannot be considered an apostate unless there is evidence that he denied the Prophet Muhammad's mission. Does not have a judge's verdict. He or she should scentnce to death.

Similarly, Ayatollah Mohammad Sadegh Rouhani, an extremist Shiite jurist, has issued a Fatwa stating that the extrajudicial killing of a person who has converted to another religion is legal and does not require judicial action.

B- Charges and sentences for christian new believers in the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran

a: Apostasy
 Without having the same definition of apostasy and its criminal elements, the legal framework in which apostasy cases are handled is unclear. For this reason, the punishments applied in these cases vary from prison sentences to death, without specific instructions specifying when to impose more severe punishments.

Under Islamic law, the extrajudicial killing of a person suspected of being an apostate will not be prosecuted like a regular murder, if the victim was an apostate.

b: Insulting Muhammad
The crime of insulting the Prophet is codified in Articles 262 and 263 of the Islamic Penal Code. According to Article 262, a person who insults the Prophet of Islam or other prophets can be sentenced to death. Insulting the Shiite Imams and Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet of Islam, also carries the death penalty.

c: Blasphemy
A large numbers of Ex-Muslim christian have been sentenced to prison on vague charges of insulting the sacred values of Islam. Their involvement in church activities has often been cited as the basis for this charge.

According to Article 513 of the Islamic Penal Code, anyone who insults the sacred values of Islam, the Prophet of Islam, or the holy figures of the Shiites, will be executed if his actions are any example of blasphemy. Otherwise, this person will be sentenced to one to five years in prison. 

d: Acting against national security:
According to Article 498 of the fifth book of the Islamic Penal Code, anyone with "any intention" to form or manage a group of more than two people, "whose purpose is to disrupt the security of the country" and not be recognized as an enemy, shall be imprisoned for two years. Sentenced to ten years.
In 2018, at least a dozen Christian converts in Bushehr were sentenced to one year in prison on charges of propaganda against the Islamic Republic. Interpreted as action against national security.

e: Prohibition of preaching and worship in the mother language
In recent years, Persian-language evangelical churches have either been shut down by the authorities or forced to limit their activities significantly. The leaders of these churches have been under pressure for years to provide the names and information of their church members to the security authorities. They were told to either leave the country or take office or face threats.

Consequences, from long-term imprisonment to harm to their loved ones, await them.

f: Demolition of churches
Due to the government's policy against the presence of Christians in Iran, a number of churches in various cities have been abandoned or destroyed in recent years. The Islamic Republic has not allowed the construction of new churches or the reconstruction of existing churches, and has also weakened the leadership of churches in Iran. According to some reports, the IRGC has recently taken over the oversight of Christian churches, previously run by the Ministry of Intelligence and the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Churches recognized by the government are always monitored. Revolutionary Guards intelligence agents usually attend church services and regularly review the names of church members so that no new Christian can attend.

g: Extrajudicial killing
The following is a list of names of bishops who have been martyred during a series of assassinations since the beginning of the regime, just because they spread the message of God and are not in line with the principles of the Islamic system.
1-Arastoo Sayyah, February 20, 1979, Shiraz
2-Bahram Dehghani , May 6, 1980, Tehran
3-Manouchehr Afghani, 1988, Isfahan
4-Hossein Soodmand, 1990, Mashhad
5- Haik Hovespian Mehr, 1994, Tehran
5-Mehdi Dibaj, 1995, Tehran
6-Mohammad Baqer Yousefi (Rawanbakhsh), 1996

There are no exact statistics on Christian in Iranian prisons. Also, in many cases, the restrictions and harassment of Christians are not announced in the media.

"Open Doors" the Christian organization announced in its annual report in 2021 that the Islamic Republic of Iran is the eighth "anti-Christian" country in the world.

It is noteworthy that all these events have taken place since the Islamic Revolution of Iran. Despite all the pressures and problems, Christianity is still growing in Iran, and God's plan for this oppressed country is in progress. We pray that God the Father bless all believers and servants who work in Iran, despite the pressures and problems, and keep them away from persecution. In the glorious name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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