Aside from the ruthless crackdown on protests over the death of Kurdish girl Mahsa Amini in police custody, 2022 was another year in which Iranian Christians continued to face harassment, arrests and imprisonment only for practicing their faith, a new report of four non-profit organizations advocating for persecuted Christians in the world says.

Christians along with other religious minorities in the Islamic Republic continued to be systematically deprived of their right to freely practice their religion, according to the 2023 Report on “Violations to the rights of Christians in Iran” released by Article18, a London-based ONG, dedicated to the protection and promotion of religious freedom in Iran, with its partners Open Doors International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and Middle East Concern.

The 25-page study, in its fifth edition, was issued in recent days to coincide with the 44th anniversary of the murder of Anglican pastor Arastoo Sayyah, the first Christian killed for his faith in the Islamic Republic, just eight days after Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution in February 1979.
134 Christians arrested in 2022 for faith related issues

While it is no longer common for Iranian Christians to be killed for their faith, the report confirms that there is still no religious freedom in Iran to this day.

According to its findings, 134 Christians were arrested in 2022 for faith related issues, more than double the 59 recorded in 2021 and at least 30 received prison sentences or were forced into exile. There was also a significant increase in the number of Christians detained – 61 in 2022, compared to 34 in 2021.

At the end of 2022, at least 17 Christians remained in prison, serving sentences of up to 10 years on charges such as “acting against national security” and “propaganda against the regime”. As highlighted by the report, to practice a belief other than Shia Islam is “considered a threat to the Islamic Republic and its values”.

This is why, for example, two Iranian Armenian Christians were sentenced in 2022 to 10 years in prison for holding church services in a private home.
Claims of abuse by authorities

Furthermore, 2022 recorded 49 cases of psychological torture and 98 claims of abuse (though the real figure is far greater because often the victims do not report the violence) and 468 individuals – also including non-Christian relatives of the defendants – were caught up in the Iranian justice system.

These are only some examples of the many detailed in the report which can be downloaded from “Article 18” website.
Only four public churches allowed to operate

Another aspect examined by the report concerns places of worship: only four Farsi-speaking churches are still allowed to operate within the territory of the Islamic Republic. However, authorities have not yet granted permission for their definitive reopening after in-person religious services were suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Christian community in Iran

Iran’s officially recognized Christian community includes Armenian and Syriac communities, thought to number approximately 300,000 out of a population of over 87 million – though some recent estimates suggest this number has dropped very significantly in recent years due to emigration.

The Islamic Republic recognizes the Armenian Apostolic, Russian Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Armenian, Chaldean and Roman Catholic, and Anglican, Presbyterian Churches.

The other main category of Christians include converts from Muslim backgrounds who don’t have official status. According to Article 18 their numbers are conservatively estimated to be between 500,000 and 800,000.

Although the Penal Code does not stipulate the death penalty for apostasy (a proposed amendment to the Code to criminalize apostasy was not adopted in the 2013 amendments), Article 167 of the Constitution makes provision for judges to rely on authoritative Islamic sources in matters not covered by the codified law – effectively providing scope for Islamic law sanctions to be applied for apostasy.

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