Christians in Iran faced intensified persecution in 2023

Iran and surrounding nations as seen in a map
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Christians in Iran faced intensified persecution in 2023, as highlighted in a joint annual report by advocacy groups Article 18, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Open Doors, and Middle East Concern.

The report, released on Monday, revealed a surge in arrests, with 166 documented in 2023 compared to 134 in the previous year. Disturbingly, one-third of those arrested were targeted for possessing multiple copies of the Bible.

The arrests unfolded in waves, increasing over the summer and spiking during Christmas, creating a higher number of "faceless victims" as fewer cases were publicized. By the end of the year, 17 Christians faced prison sentences or punitive measures for "propaganda against the state."

“It became more apparent in 2023 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,’” the report read.

Steve Dew-Jones, News Director for Article 18, noted a deliberate timing of arrests leading up to the anniversary of Mahsa Amini's death in 2023. Amini's improper hijab led to protests, and her subsequent death raised concerns. Conversion from Islam to Christianity is illegal in Iran, and house church members can face severe charges.

The joint 2024 annual report presented at the British Parliament emphasized the systematic persecution of Christians in Iran, violating their rights and restricting religious freedom. It shed light on the difficulties faced by Christians, including denial of employment, retribution and continuous monitoring even after release.

The report concluded with recommendations to Iran, urging amendments to the constitution, dropping charges against individuals imprisoned for their faith, reopening closed churches, and ensuring civil rights for convert communities.

The international community was called upon to hold Iran accountable for these violations and provide refuge to Iranian Christians at risk. The report highlighted Turkiye as a nation where Iranian Christian converts faced the risk of forced return to Iran.

The resilience of the Iranian Christian community is further underscored by the defiant stand of Parham Mohammadpour, a Christian who steadfastly held onto his faith despite confronting severe threats: “During the fourth interrogation … they brought an Islamic cleric to convert me to Islam. But at the end I told the Islamic cleric and interrogators: ‘Even if you cut me into pieces, I won’t abandon my faith in Jesus Christ’… But they forced me to sign a written commitment that I wouldn’t evangelize or attend house-church meetings.”