The persecution of Iranian Christians has worsened in 2016. In the last year there has been a steep rise in organised, government-sponsored anti-Christian campaigns on radio and television, combined with a vicious crackdown on Farsi-speaking (Muslim-background) congregations; dozens of such house churches have been closed and members harassed, imprisoned and interrogated. The published figures record 92 Christian converts from Islam currently detained awaiting trial, although the real number held in Iran’s notorious prisons is likely to be far higher.
A series of anti-Christian programmes were broadcast on state-controlled media in 2016, which apparently aimed to discredit Christianity by providing false information and one-sided analysis by Islamic clergy. Iranian Christian news agency, Mohabat News, also recorded cases of deliberate defamation of well-known Iranian Christians, seemingly intended to portray them as morally and financially corrupt.
Authorities have continued efforts to restrict publication of Bibles and other Christian literature, whilst subsidising the publication of works which give a false and negative image of Christianity. Anti-Christian literature has also been distributed by government bodies, including the Iranian customs and border services. Whilst stepping up efforts to harass and arrest Iranian Christians, the government organised a series of stage-managed inter-faith meetings with high-profile Christian leaders from other countries, including Russia, Belarus, Croatia, Lebanon, Venezuela and Bulgaria.
Security services have also detained Iranian Christians with dual citizenship who have visited Iran, with some of those arrested then used as leverage in international talks or reportedly exchanged for significant ransom payments.
As Christians around the world celebrate the birth Christ, Iranian believers do so with trepidation as well as joy; in previous years, Iranian authorities have targeted Christians gathering to celebrate Christmas. Last year, when plain clothes officers came to arrest Soroush Hojati at his house in Isfahan they tore down the family’s Christmas tree.