Iran’s Islamic regime has sentenced an Iranian couple to prison for practicing Christianity and also sentenced every member of their church to one year in prison.
The Jerusalem Post reports Article 18, an organization that supports Iranian Christians tweeted on Thursday that “A Christian couple have reported that a court in Boushehr has just sentenced them & 10 other Iranian Christians to one year in prison each for ‘Propagating against the Islamic Republic in favor of Christianity.’ This group of Christian converts was arrested on April 7, 2015.”
The Christian website Mohabat News reported last week that the Iranian couple was charged with “orientation toward the land of Christianity.”
Jeff King, the president of International Christian Concern, confirmed to the newspaper on Friday that each member of the congregation was also sentenced to a year in prison.
“Getting information on the arrests of Christians is incredibly challenging given the heavily censored nature of Iran,” King said. “But based on the cases we have been tracking, this is the first time this year that we’ve seen a jail sentence being given based on the charge of ‘inclination to the land of Christianity.’ This could be interpreted as a reference to Israel, the birthplace of Christianity and also a country that Iran has adopted a very aggressive stance towards.”
Christianity is a legally recognized religion in the Islamic Republic of Iran. According to the Iran 2017 International Religious Freedom Report prepared by the US State Department, the Iranian constitution allows Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians (excluding converts from Islam) as the only recognized religious minorities permitted to worship and form religious societies “within the limits of the law.”
However, the report also notes “the penal code specifies the death sentence for proselytizing and attempts by non-Muslims to convert Muslims, as well as for moharebeh (“enmity against God”) and sabb al-nabi (“insulting the prophet”).”
The state department report also adds “the government continued to harass, interrogate, and arrest Bahais, Christians (particularly converts), Sunni Muslims, and other religious minorities and regulated Christian religious practices closely to enforce a prohibition on proselytizing.”
According to Open Doors USA, there are 800,000 Christians currently living in the Islamic Republic. The Iranian government claims a smaller number of both churches and believers — 600 churches and 300,000 to 370,000 Christians. Iran’s total population is more than 80 million people.
The Islamic Republic is listed as number 10 on Open Doors USA’s list of the Top 50 Countries of Where It’s Most Dangerous to Follow Jesus.
“Iran does not discriminate against or persecute any recognized religious minority,” Alireza Miryousefi, head of press for the Iranian Mission to the UN told the Post. “Including the large Christian community inside Iran, who are free to worship in the many churches that can be found across Iran.”
“In fact, as is the case with Iranian Jews, Iranian Christians are constitutionally guaranteed parliamentary representation,” he continued. “Major cities such as Tehran and Isfahan are home to large Christian communities with centuries-old churches.”