Christians in Iran have been warned against participating in protests in Iran, following a recent report.
Last week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its report on the state of religious freedom in Iran in 2023.
Civil unrest and protests against the government began on 16th September 2022, following the death in police custody of Mahsa Zhina Amini – a young woman arrested for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly. According to eyewitness reports, Amini was severely beaten by Guidance Patrol officers, a claim the Iranian authorities deny.
Amini’s death resulted in a series of protests, with some female protestors publicly removing their hijab and cutting their hair. The protests have grown into a movement calling for freedom of religion and belief there.
Iranian authorities have reportedly killed at least 537 people since the protests began.
In May 2023, President Ibrahim Raisi’s administration presented a bill to parliament defining the improper wearing of a hijab as “nudity”. The proposed legislation would also give officials the right to arrest, fine, and imprison women for not wearing the hijab. The bill would prohibit commissioning work from individuals or entities that promote non-compliance with mandatory hijab laws, including on social media. According to the USCIF’s report, a parliamentary committee has been instated to review and debate the proposed bill, but the discussions are taking place behind closed doors.
USCIF’s research found that senior Iranian leaders called on security forces to “deal decisively” with the protestors “without leniency”, during the early months of the protests.
A leaked government order on September 21, 2022, by Iran’s General Headquarters of Armed Forces to commanders in all provinces directed security forces to “severely confront troublemakers".
Police patrols to enforce mandatory hijab laws were launched in July 2023.
USCIRF says that in addition to this, “Iran has issued charges that carry death sentences against protestors asserting freedom of religion or belief and has carried out multiple executions of protestors.”
Tens of thousands of Iranians have been arrested in relation to the protests, including a large numbers of religious minorities “targeted deliberately by Iran’s government” according to USCIRF.
There are thought to be some 800,000 Christians in the Islamic majority country.
USCIRF Commissioner Susie Gelman told CBN: ‘Christians report that they're getting pressure from the government not to participate in the protests. If they do and they're arrested." There are also reports of women from religious minorities being sexually assaulted in prison, by officers.
Church services in the native Farsi language have been outlawed in Iran, while teaching from the Bible and speaking about the Christian faith is also illegal. Christians who break these laws risk arrest and punishments such as whippings.
In November 2021, the Supreme Court ruled that Christians who attended house churches could not be considered a threat to national security or enemies of the state but arrests continue to take place.
Religious freedom charity Release International is calling on the Iranian authorities to ensure religious freedom for all of its citizens.
CEO Pail Robinson says: “We are heartened that the Supreme Court has begun to recognise that Christians cannot be considered enemies of the state and should not be criminalised. This message has yet to reach to the heights of government in Iran and filter down to those who continue to persecute and arrest Christians.’
The USCIRF has recommended that the U.S. Department of State redesignate Iran as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedoms.