October 2016, three Iranian Christians were sentenced to 80 lashes each for taking communion. Because they are Muslim background believers, their conversion to Christianity is not recognised by the Iranian authorities and they were charged with drinking alcohol, which is illegal for Muslims in Iran, just as it is in sharia law.
Iran, whose population are mainly Shia Muslims, became an Islamic republic following a revolution in 1979 which overthrew the shah. The government is led by an Islamic cleric as Supreme Leader, who appoints the heads of the judiciary and military. Although the Iranian authorities permit historic Assyrian and Armenian Christian minorities to meet together for worship, converts from Islam, who worship in the national language Farsi, are fiercely persecuted. Because Iran is ruled by sharia law, apostates from Islam can be executed by the state; this last happened in 1990. Christians are often arrested, especially former Muslims and anyone active in evangelism. Security forces confiscate Bibles and Christian literature, including hymn books; the government forcibly closed the Bible Society in 1990. In August 2016 alone, 43 Christians were detained across Iran. Believers who have been imprisoned may be tortured and held for long periods without charge.
The election of the “moderate” Hassan Rouhani as president in 2013 has not led to a decline in persecution. On the contrary, there are now more individuals from religious minority communities in prison in Iran than there were in 2013, but despite strong persecution the Church continues to grow rapidly as many Muslims decide to follow Christ.