The data contained in the 2022 report of the activist group Article18. At least 134 arrested for their Christian affiliation, 30 were sentenced to jail or exile, 61 served prison terms. Those who promote prayer meetings in house churches are also targeted. Places of worship remain closed after restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Tehran () – In the year of the demonstrations against Mahsa Amini, the Iranian authorities have intensified persecution against Christians, both recognized and “underground”, says the report prepared by Article18 activists, which notes a degrading and discriminatory practice against growing religious minorities. Violations of the right to practice worship and persecutions for confessional reasons have been recorded, which most of the time happens in silence or in the face of the indifference of an international community that has reacted timidly even with the bloody repression of the protests. The popular revolt, with women in the front row and mostly peaceful, was triggered by the murder of the 22-year-old Kurdish girl at the hands of Tehran’s morality police, whose only fault was not wearing the hijab correctly, the obligatory veil that is It has become a symbol of oppression.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Middle East Concern and Open Doors International also participated in the preparation of the 2023 report on “Violations of the rights of Christians in Iran”, together with the Article18 activists. The 25-page document was made public a few days ago, coinciding with the 44th anniversary of the death of the Rev. Arastoo Sayyah, the first Christian to be killed for his faith in the Islamic Republic of Iran, just eight days after the founding of he.
Violent deaths of Christians are now a less common phenomenon than in the past but, contrary to what Tehran’s leaders say, the country is still far from guaranteeing full religious freedom. On the contrary, religious minorities, including Christians -both “recognized” communities of Chaldeans and Armenians, as well as converts, who do not benefit from constitutional rights- are “systematically” deprived of the right to practice worship. It is a repressive policy and in open violation of the obligations assumed as a signatory country of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The protests in the streets related to the murder of the young woman and the perception of the veil as an element of “oppression” highlight the growing “cry for freedom” of Iranians, especially among young people. The freedom, the activists explain, to be able to live “according to one’s own religion and according to one’s own ideals”, especially valid for Christians, who are also persecuted for their faith.
The figures in the report reveal the emergency: 134 Christians were detained last year for issues related to their faith, more than double the 59 in 2021; at least 30 were sentenced to jail or forced into exile; another 61 served time in prison, again a number well above the 34 the previous year.
At the end of 2022, there were 17 Christians in jail with sentences of up to 10 years for “acting against national security” or “propaganda against the regime”, while attacks against those who do not profess Shiite Islam, branding them as as a “threat” to the Republic and its values. Last year two Christians were sentenced to 10 years for promoting a prayer meeting in a private house, one of the so-called “domestic churches.” In 2022, there were also 49 cases of psychological torture and 98 complaints of abuse (although the real number is much higher because most of the time the victims do not report the attacks) and 468 people -including non-Christian relatives of the accused- who ended up in the sight of justice.
The last aspect is related to places of worship: there are only four Persian-speaking churches that are authorized to operate within the territory of the Islamic Republic. However, the authorities have not yet given the green light to reopen them definitively after the closure imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. On the other hand, the communities cannot welcome new faithful and their number progressively decreases, to such an extent that none of them has more than 70 members.