Publication date: July 2022
Published by: USCIRF
Number of Pages: 12

Religious Propaganda in Iran

Iran’s “misinformation campaign” against religious minorities, including Christian converts, is the focus of a new report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The report, written by Shahin Milani of the US-based Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC), says religious minority adherents are arrested and prosecuted on “baseless national security charges”, while propaganda is used “to justify the measures taken”.

These measures are “distinct” depending on the group targeted, the report states, but a “common thread” is “their alleged ties to foreign states and nefarious activities aimed at sowing discord and division within Iranian society”.

The report provides specific examples of the types of propaganda used against the different groups, with separate sections devoted to Jews, Sunni and Sufi Muslims, Christian converts, and Baha’is. 

In the section on Christians, the report notes how the detention of converts has continued despite the Supreme Court ruling in November recognising that “promoting Christianity and establishing home churches are not crimes and do not amount to national security crimes”. 

“Under Iran’s legal system, a ruling by a Supreme Court branch is not necessarily binding on lower courts,” the report notes, adding that even the Supreme Court ruling “used the phrase ‘Evangelical Zionist cult’ to refer to the Christian converts whose case it was addressing”.

“Propaganda against Christian converts is often disguised as anti-Zionism, and Christian converts are regularly referred to as members of a ‘Zionist’ network,” the report explains. 

It also notes how “Iran’s misinformation campaign has persistently used vague national security accusations to differentiate Christian converts from Armenians and Assyrians as recognized religious minority groups”, referencing an interviewwith a senior cleric who “claimed that the political aims of evangelical Christianity have resulted in their alienation from other Christians, and that Iranian Armenians are opposed to evangelical Christians”.

In its conclusion, the report states that while the right to promote one’s religion is protected under international law, “the Iranian government has consistently harassed and prosecuted Christian converts and Bahá’ís for proselytizing”. 

“While the Iranian judiciary uses national security charges to suppress Christian converts and Bahá’ís, the propaganda campaign against the two groups implicitly admits that they are targeted for promoting their faiths rather than nefarious activities against the Iranian state,” it adds.