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07/24/2023 Iran (International Christian Concern) – Escalating civil unrest in Iran has led to intensifying governmental pressure on Christians. Increasingly stricter laws concerning the hijab, which could land those “encouraging lax hijab” up to 10 years in prison for “moral corruption,” have sparked furious protests, leading to brutal repression through deadly force by the government.   

The Iranian government refuses to take responsibility for the protests, blaming them instead on propaganda. Observing the marked rise in police violence, sham trials, and public executions, Shannon Kleinbaum, a Commissioner from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), describes them as a bid by the government to “maintain power through force.”  

She later notes that “there is a sense that Iran is increasingly desperate. And when we know authoritarian theocracies are desperate, they often turn to very, very extreme acts.”   

Paranoia and Persecution  

Unfortunately, Iranian Christians have had to bear the brunt of this extremism. Protestants are regarded as “enemies of the Iranian State.” 

One religious freedom advocate notes, “If you are an Evangelical, a Protestant, you are considered a Zionist, a terrorist; you have no right to practice your belief, to assemble within a church.” While Armenian and Assyrian Christians have some political protection, they still risk charges of “propaganda against the state through proselytizing Christianity” and “acting against national security by conducting evangelistic activities.”  

The increased government attention has resulted in growing societal pressure on Christians, particularly those who have converted to the faith. They are an “unrecognized” class, which leads to devastating consequences, especially for their children: “The child for the rest of his/her life will be deprived of the most fundamental human and civil rights because he/she comes from a family belonging to an unrecognized religious minority. In the future, he/she may be called Najis, or unclean; he/she may be sent to prison and even forced to leave his/her homeland or deprived of work and education,” Iranian journalist Fred Petrossian. 

The Blood of the Martyrs  

This persecution has forced many Christians to go underground and form house churches. The government regularly targets these churches on claims of blasphemy or national security threats. Christians deemed national security threats face the horrors of the notorious Evin prison, dubbed the “torture factory.”  

In addition to physical torture, they endure white torture, complete sensory deprivation, and isolation. Interrogators attempt to erase these prisoners’ Christian identity, threatening them not to reveal that they are a prisoner of conscience and forcing them to weekly Islamic classes to reconvert them to Islam.   

Christians can also face exorbitant fines or even the death penalty if charged with proselytizing, moharebeh (“enmity against God”), and sabb al-nabi (“insulting the Prophet”). Converts, which make up the majority of Christians in Iran, also can face the death penalty for apostasy.   

In 2023, under USCIRF’s advisement, the State Department reinstated Iran as a Country of Particular Concern. USCIRF also suggested that Iran’s continuous human rights violations should be reported to the International Criminal Court.  

International Christian Concern and other human rights groups have also noted, with growing concern, the development of friendly relations between Iran and other countries, such as China, with a history of human rights violations. Earlier this year, China helped restore diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudia Arabia. China has also become Iran’s largest trade partner, which analysts regard as part of its campaign to increase its influence in developing nations. Advocates are concerned that this partnership will further degrade the rights of minority Iranian citizens.  

The Seed of the Church  

However, despite the intense pressure, Iranian Christians are finding ways to resist oppression and spread the gospel. Iran has one of the fastest-growing churches in the world. Many Christians have supported the ongoing protests against the Iranian government.   

Believers have taken to social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp to connect with other Christians and gain access to biblical teaching. The Instagram campaign #Place2worship was created to advocate for believers not permitted to gather in churches to worship. Christian prisoners have participated in hunger strikes to protest violations of their rights.  

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