Christianity has a long history in Iran, dating back to the early years of the faith. It has been practiced in Iran longer than the state religion, Islam. Iran has at least 600 churches and roughly 500,000 Christians. The Armenian Apostolic Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Chaldean Catholic Church of Iran, and the Roman Catholic Church of Iran comprise the nation’s largest Christian denominations. Iran has a number of Protestant churches as well. The majority of Christians, concentrated in Tehran and Isfahan, are ethnic Armenians.
Iran’s Constitution gives the Zoroastrian, Jewish and Christian communities protection to worship freely and to form religious societies, though proselytizing is strictly prohibited. Five parliamentarian seats are reserved for these groups (two for Armenian Christians and one each for Assyrian Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians). Nevertheless, the government discriminates against its citizens on the basis of religion or belief, as all laws and regulations are based on unique Shi’a Islamic criteria.
Since Iran’s 1979 revolution, many members of minority religious communities have fled in fear of persecution. Although Christians are allowed to practice their faith, they face arduous government regulations and harassment, which includes the monitoring of all Christian religious practice. Christians who attend liturgy are required to register with the authorities. These same authorities reportedly forbid Muslim converts to Christianity from entering Armenian or Assyrian churches.
According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Iranian authorities have raided church services and threatened church members on numerous occasions over the past year. Since 2010, authorities have arbitrarily arrested and detained more than 550 Christians throughout the country.1 As of February 2016, approximately 90 Christians were either in prison, detained or awaiting trial because of their religious beliefs and activities. 2
In order to protect and preserve the ancient Christian community in Iran, the U.S. government, at the highest levels, should continue to emphasize the importance of their presence in Iran and in the region.
- Pressure the government of Iran to respect the right to religious freedom of all Christian and minority communities in Iran and to hold any perpetrators of discrimination or injustice against Christians and other minorities accountable.