Iran is 9th hardest place to be a Christian – report

Iran is 9th hardest place to be a Christian – report

Iran remains the ninth hardest country in which to be a Christian, according to the latest annual report of religious-freedom charity Open Doors International.

Christians in Iran continue to be subjected to “extreme” levels of persecution, according to Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List.

As in the 2019 list, Iran ranks in ninth place, behind only North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Eritrea, Sudan and Yemen. And in fact Iran shares the same overall “persecution score”, of 85/100, as the countries in seventh and eighth place: Sudan and Yemen.

Open Doors’ researchers explain that government officials are the primary “drivers” of persecution in Iran, and that converts from Islam “bear the brunt” of the persecution.

“The government sees them [converts] as an attempt by Western countries to undermine Islam and the Islamic regime of Iran,” the researchers write.

“Leaders of Christian convert groups have been arrested, prosecuted and have received long prison sentences for ‘crimes against the national security’.”

The researchers further note that although the historical communities of Armenian and Assyrian Christians are “recognised and protected by the state”, they are “treated as second-class citizens and are not allowed contact with Muslim-background Christians (speaking Persian) or to have them attend church services”.

Even the church services of these recognised Christians are monitored, they add, and any contact with converts comes with a high risk of arrest and imprisonment.

During the reporting period for the 2020 World Watch List (1 November 2018 – 31 October 2019), Open Doors reports that at least 194 Christians were arrested – 114 of them in just one week – while an even greater number (at least 282) were “attacked” through sexual harassment or physical or mental abuse (including beatings or death threats) during raids on their house-churches and/or interrogation.

Open Doors adds that “since many incidents go unreported, the numbers must be understood as being minimum figures.” 

Furthermore, religious and political leaders in Iran continued to “speak out against Christianity”, while “legalised discrimination” against non-Muslims continued in a variety of arenas, including education, adoption, employment and inheritance. 

Open Doors notes that the situation for women, who “according to some estimates … [comprise] the majority of house-church members”, is “particularly precarious” given that they have “little legal protection”.

At the same time, the researchers report that more men are arrested than women, and that “in contrast to women, men are not seen as ‘misguided’ [and therefore treated leniently] but as wilfully making wrong choices. Thus their punishment is harsher and they are more likely to suffer physical abuse and torture”.

The increased pressure on men, with many facing long-term imprisonment, means many are “forced to migrate to the West, which weakens the Church, depriving it of experienced and mature male leaders”, Open Doors reports.

The researchers also highlight how “disproportionately high levels of bail” are used to “financially ruin” arrested Christians, who have to give this money up if they flee the country, as many are even actively encouraged to do.

“The government uses the bail-system in such a way that it is purposely impoverishing prosecuted Christians and encouraging them to leave the country… It is likely that the Iranian authorities are using persecution to enrich themselves,” they write.

The researchers conclude: “As long as the right-wing sees Iran as an Islamic country for Shiite Muslims threatened by Western (Christian) countries and culture, Christians, especially converts, will be persecuted.

“… In the view of the government, and to a lesser in the view of society in general, ethnic Persians are by definition Muslim, and therefore ethnic Persian Christians are considered apostates. This makes almost all Christian activity illegal, especially when it occurs in the Persian language – be it evangelism, Bible training, publishing Christian books or preaching in Persian.

“…Only the historical communities of Armenians and Assyrians are accepted as Christian by the regime, although they are treated as second-class citizens as well. Any other form of Christianity is treated as a dangerous Western influence, which explains why many Christians, especially converts from Islam to Christianity, are convicted for crimes against national security.”

You can download Open Doors’ full report on Iran here: