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20 May 2021

Three Iranian Christians could face prison under amended legislation

Your prayers are needed for three Iranian Christians who face the prospect of up to five years in prison under an amended piece of legislation that further restricts the expression of Christianity in Iran.

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Many Christians in Iran are forced to live as secret believers (illustrative photograph)

In a stark reminder of the challenges facing Christians in Iran, Amin Khaki, Milad Goodarzi and Alireza Nourmohammadi have been charged with ‘propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam’, a provision recently added to Article 500 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code that further chokes freedom of religious expression in the country. If found guilty, Middle East Concern reports, the three men could face between two and five years in prison and/or a fine. 

The three men – who were summoned on 5 May before being released on bail – must report to the intelligence branch of Iran’s police force every week for the next six months.

Amendments further choke religious freedom

Iran’s President Rouhani signed legislation ratifying amendments to Articles 499 and 500 on 18 February. They came into force on 3 March. 

Following the changes to Article 500 – under which the three men have been charged – any teaching around the Bible or telling others about their Christian faith, which contradicts the teaching of Islam, could result in prosecution, as could the claim that Christians can communicate with Jesus, whom Islamic teaching regards as a prophet. 

"[The laws] will disproportionately impact individuals belonging to religious and faith-based minorities and ethnic group" Article 19

Meanwhile, changes have been made to Article 499 making it a punishable offence for ‘anyone who insults Iranian ethnicities or divine religions or Islamic schools of thought recognised under the Constitutions with the intent to cause violence or tensions in the society or with the knowledge that such [consequences] will follow’. There is concern that the wording of the law is open to interpretation, making Christians more vulnerable to unjust accusations, with it unclear what is meant by ‘insults’ and to what extent this has caused ‘violence or tensions’. 

Article 19, an organisation promoting freedom of expression and freedom of information, have warned:  “While the new provisions impose a threat to anyone who refuses to subscribe to state-sanctioned beliefs and ideologies, they will disproportionately impact individuals belonging to religious and faith-based minorities and ethnic groups.”

Recent raids highlight risks in being a secret believer

These recent changes threaten to further tighten the repression of Christianity in Iran, which is number eight on the World Watch List. The government seeks to enforce Islamic rule in the country, meaning Christian activities are often deemed a ‘national security’ issue, with house churches frequently raided and leaders imprisoned.

In November 2020, several homes belonging to converts were raided by intelligence agents. Mobile phones, computers and Bibles were confiscated, but no arrests were made. The believers were threatened with long prison sentences earlier this year and told it would be better for them to flee the country. They all refused to comply when asked to make commitments to refrain from further Christian activities.  

Such are the risks that come with being a Christian in Iran that many live as secret believers. Being discovered as a Christian can result in persecution not only from the government, but families and communities who adhere to a strict form of Islam. Whilst Christians do meet, this is often done in secret in believers’ homes and carries enormous risk. 

Sources: Middle East Concern and Article 19

Please pray
  • That God will strengthen and encourage the three men and their families
  • That the believers will be well represented in court and not found guilty
  • That the Iranian authorities will stop seeing Christians as a threat to their country.
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