Iranian Christians continued to face harassment, arrests and imprisonment last year for practicing their faith, according to a report issued on Monday.

The 35-page report, issued by four non-profit organizations advocating for persecuted Christians across the world, found that Christians have been deprived of their right to freely practice their faith.

This lack of religious freedom, the report said, affected both “recognized” Christians of Armenian and Assyrian descent and converts.

The report, issued each year, was released on Feb. 19 to coincide with the 45th anniversary of the murder of the Rev. Arastoo Sayyah, the first Christian killed for his faith in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The 2024 joint annual report from Article18, CSW, Open Doors and Middle East Concern focuses on the many victims whose names and faces remain unknown due to fear that publication of their cases may worsen their plight.

“Despite a comparable number of Christians being arrested in 2023 as in previous years – 166 arrests were documented in 2023, compared to 134 in 2022 – fewer names and faces could be publicized,” according to the report.

While it is not common for Iranian Christians to be killed for their faith, the report said that, contrary to the claims of the Islamic Republic, there is still no religious freedom in Iran, which is governed as a theocracy.

The report found that a notable trend detected in 2023 was “how arrests of Christians came in waves, with just a handful of arrests reported prior to June, then over 100 within the next three months, before a further rash of arrests during Christmas.”

The report added, “Very few of those arrested agreed to publicize their cases, leading to an increasing number of faceless victims. A similarly targeted approach was reported by the Baha’i religious minority, and, as with the arrested Christians, in many cases these individuals were not named.”

Here are a few issues highlighted in the report:

— It has become more apparent that the Iranian authorities specifically target those involved in Bible distribution, “with over one-third of arrests targeting individuals in possession of multiple copies of the Christian holy book.” It is not known what became of these confiscated books, but it has been reported on numerous occasions previously that confiscated Bibles were “destroyed.”

— Many of the Christians arrested in 2023 reported being forced to attend Islamic re-education sessions, part of a growing trend. In one case, “two individuals who must remain anonymous reported that they had been threatened with seven-year sentences during these sessions, which appear to involve joint collaborations between the Ministry of Intelligence and Islamic seminaries, with those leading the “re-education” identifying themselves as “researchers” or “students.”

— The monitoring of Christians and other groups inside Iran appears to be becoming increasingly sophisticated, with digital surveillance as well as frequent reports of house-churches being infiltrated by spies.

The report also contains a special analysis section explaining how pressure on individuals and their families continues even after release from arrest or imprisonment.

Increased persecution since 1979

The treatment of Christians in Iran can vary depending on various factors such as their denomination, level of involvement in religious activities and the prevailing political climate. While the Iranian constitution recognizes Christians as a religious minority and grants them some rights, including the freedom to practice their religion, they still face some challenges and discrimination.

Christians in Iran often face restrictions on their religious activities, including limitations on building churches and openly proselytizing. There have been reports of harassment, arrests and imprisonment of Christians, particularly those who are perceived as evangelizing or converting Muslims.

With the Arab conquest of Persia in the seventh century, Islam became the dominant religion, and Christians were relegated to minority status. However, they were generally allowed to practice their faith, albeit with certain restrictions and occasional periods of persecution over the centuries.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Iran experienced significant social and political change, including increased contact with the West. This period saw improvements in the status of Christians, particularly with the establishment of the Qajar dynasty and later during the Pahlavi era.

The situation changed dramatically following the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Iran became an Islamic Republic and religious minorities, including Christians, faced increased scrutiny.

There are currently an estimated 300,000 Christians in Iran, a country with a total population of 87.9 million. Muslims make up 99.4 percent of the population, according to a U.S. State Department report issued in 2022.

Even when they are released, state officials make life difficult for Christians. The report highlights seven different types of post-prison pressures — including continued monitoring and harassment; denial of employment and education and new charges or reopened cases.

“Many flee,” the report added, “only to find a new set of challenges awaiting them as refugees.”

Source » religionunplugged