What does persecution look like in Iran?
Iran is ruled by an increasingly strict Islamic regime, which views the existence of Iranian house churches as an attempt by Western countries to undermine Islam and their authority.
When people from Muslim backgrounds become Christians, they can only meet in secret house churches. They are at great risk of being monitored, harassed, arrested and prosecuted for 'crimes against national security' – an accusation that is notoriously poorly defined, and can be abused. Iranian house church leaders and members have received long prison sentences involving physical and mental abuse.
Iranian Christians may be banned from education, lose their jobs and find it very difficult to get back into employment. For women, the situation is even more precarious because Iranian law grants women few rights. For trusting in Jesus, they are likely to be violently punished or divorced by their husbands and have their children taken away from them, if their faith is discovered.
There is an ancient history of Armenian and Assyrian Christians in Iran; these are protected by the state, but treated as second-class citizens. They are not allowed to let Christians from Muslim backgrounds attend their services, nor are they allowed to worship in Persian, the national language.
It's no surprise that many Iranian believers feel forced to leave Iran and try to start a new life elsewhere.
Converts from Islam are at very high risk in Iran. Christians meeting in urban areas are more likely to be monitored and arrested by the authorities. In rural areas, Christians face more social pressure and control, which makes meeting at all very difficult.
“When we were in solitary confinement, the only thing that strengthened us was prayer. Only God can go to those dark places and dungeons and be strength for His children.”Ali and his family had to flee to Turkey after becoming Christians, due to constant persecution and discrimination.
What has changed this year?
The outlook for Iranian Christians, in particular converts from Islam to Christianity, is by no means improving. Pressure remains extreme against Christians in all spheres of life. There has been an increase in reports of violent incidents, including an abduction. The country's political institutions, including the presidency, are all dominated by hardliners who do not tolerate Christianity, particularly conversion to Christianity. The amendment and tightening of the penal code in 2021, which is also used to prosecute Christians, is all part of a wider development towards Iran becoming a totalitarian state. State surveillance is on the rise and the authorities are exerting an increasing grip on daily life and activities, an attitude reflected in the harsh responses to the protests that followed the death of Mahsa Amini on 16 September 2022.
How can you pray for Iran?
- Please pray that Jesus will set many more hearts free in Iran
- Pray that Christianity will no longer be portrayed as a foreign idea
- Pray for strong faith and courage for the Iranian Christians meeting in secret.
Dear Father, thank You that Your church keeps growing in Iran despite extreme attempts to suppress it. Continue setting hearts free through the gospel. Please protect our brothers and sisters and their rights, so that they do not have to flee the country, but can stay and build a strong, mature Iranian church. We ask that communities and families will come to see Iranian Christians as genuine, not a product of the Western world, and be moved by their faith, courage and love. Amen.