MEK Iran: NGO-Open Doors Reports Intensified Persecution of Iranian Christians
Open Doors, a non-governmental organization dedicated to preserving Christian communities around the world, publishes an annual rating of nations based on the risk they pose to Christians living in or visiting such countries. Iran, which is run by a clerical state, consistently ranks among the most hazardous countries, ranking ninth in the most recent ranking. Now, Open Doors has teamed with three additional organizations concerned with the rights and freedoms of Christian communities, Article 18, Middle East Concern, and Christian Solidarity Worldwide, to produce an account of the circumstances Iranian Christians faced in 2021.
Iran is run by a clerical state, ranks among the most hazardous countries for Christian
1. Persecution and interference with Christian worship maintained, if not intensified, during that year, according to the report, especially after the June election of well-known human rights offender Ebrahim Raisi as the country’s president. Raisi was a key figure in the execution of thousands of political prisoners throughout the 1980s, per the report, and “few international observers anticipated improvements” under his leadership, “and rights breaches continue to be frequently recorded.”
Raids on private, home-based churches are common examples of these abuses, with many of them leading to arrest and punishment. Property seizures have also become increasingly common in mainstream churches, according to the report, which continued in 2021. Although it is forbidden to convert to any religion other than Islam under Iran’s official theocracy, Christian communities and some expatriate groups have historically been allowed to follow their faith. However, the clerical regime’s authorities have long interfered with that practice as well, and traditional worship possibilities are steadily dwindling.
Mullahs deni arresting Christians because of their faith
The report notes that while the Iranian judiciary denies arresting people solely because of their faith, it also notes that authorities use home churches as a pretext for carrying out those arrests by labeling them as “enemy groups” or a “Zionist Christian cult” whose goal is to undermine national security. Furthermore, the legislation explicitly criminalizes such gatherings as proselytization to Muslims if they are done in Persian or if they admit non-Muslim converts.
The regime’s Penal Code was changed in February 2021 to strengthen the penalty for proselytization, which is defined as “participating in propaganda that educates in a deviant fashion opposed to the holy religion of Islam.” That “crime” now carries a five-year prison sentence, and several people have been charged as a result. More than a dozen people were convicted in 2021 to prison terms ranging from three months to five years because of their Christian faith, according to a recent joint report.
Christians were persecuted in 2021 as a much bigger repressed movement
Nonetheless, Open Doors, Article 18, MEC, and CSW concluded their report by urging “members of the international community to assist in holding Iran accountable for upholding its obligation to ensure and facilitate freedom of religion or belief for all of its citizens by highlighting this principle during political and or economic discussions with, or concerning Iran by highlighting this principle during political and/or economic discussions with, or concerning, Iran.”
Christians were persecuted in 2021 as part of a much bigger repressive movement. Other elements include a faster rate of executions and increased abuse of political detainees, much of which is directed against MEK affiliates, who are seen as dangers to the regime’s existing clerical dictatorship.
Former Bishop of Oxford, John Pritchard, has sent a message of solidarity to Iran. He described the regime ruling Iran as “despotic.”