Recent reports highlight growing concerns over religious freedom in Iran, with Christians being warned against participating in protests.
Last week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 2023 report on religious freedom in Iran.
The turmoil began in September 2022 following the tragic death of Mahsa Zhina Amini in police custody. Amini was arrested for alleged improper hijab wearing and reportedly subjected to severe beatings by Guidance Patrol officers. The ensuing protests have evolved into a movement advocating for religious freedom in Iran.
Tragically, Iranian authorities are said to have killed over 537 people since the protests began. President Ibrahim Raisi’s administration added to the tension by proposing legislation equating improper hijab wearing with “nudity,” allowing for arrests, fines, and imprisonment of women. The bill also targets those promoting non-compliance with hijab laws, even on social media.
Behind closed doors, a parliamentary committee is reviewing this controversial bill. USCIRF’s research revealed that senior Iranian leaders urged security forces to deal harshly with protesters, and a leaked government order from September 2022 instructed security forces to confront troublemakers vigorously.
To enforce mandatory hijab laws, police patrols were launched in July 2023. Shockingly, Iran has imposed death sentences on protesters championing freedom of religion, and several executions have taken place. Many Iranians, particularly religious minorities, have been arrested, causing alarm among the Christian community, estimated at around 800,000 in this Islamic-majority nation.
USCIRF Commissioner Susie Gelman revealed that Christians have faced government pressure not to participate in the protests. There are also reports of sexual assault against women from religious minorities in prisons.
In Iran, church services in Farsi and teaching about the Christian faith are illegal, carrying the risk of arrest and harsh punishments. Despite a Supreme Court ruling in 2021 that Christians attending house churches aren’t threats to national security, arrests persist.
Religious freedom charity Release International calls upon Iranian authorities to safeguard religious freedom for all citizens. CEO Pail Robinson acknowledges the Supreme Court’s recognition but stresses the need for this message to reach the highest levels of Iranian government.
USCIRF has recommended the U.S. Department of State to designate Iran as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) due to ongoing and severe religious freedom violations.