Iran passes bill that threatens further repression of Christian converts

February 25, 2021

Persecution of Christians in Iran: these new amendments to Iran’s penal code once again indicate how deeply threatened the Iranian government, and many other governments as well, are by converts to Christianity. In their persecution of Christian converts they manifest a deep insecurity about their own beliefs and tacitly admit that they know how God can transform men’s souls. Authoritarian governments in many regions of the world clamp down on converts to Christianity out of a fear that they will lose their control over their people if there are large-scale conversions to Christianity. The result is the persecution and harassment of converts to Christianity in particular.

Please pray that Almighty God would grant to these four Christians and to all the Christians of Iran the indomitable strength and perseverance in the Faith of the Holy Martyrs.

For previous coverage of Iran, see here.

“Iran passes bill that threatens further repression of Christian converts,” Article 18, February 19, 2021:

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has signed into law two controversial amendments to the Penal Code, which it is feared will be used to further clamp down on unrecognised religious minorities, including Christian converts.

The amendments affect two articles of the Penal Code that are routinely used in the prosecution of converts: Articles 499 and 500.

Indeed, every one of the more than 20 Christians currently in prison on charges related to their peaceful religious activity were prosecuted under either or both Article 499 or 500, which relate respectively to membership or organisation of “anti-security groups”, and “propaganda” against the state or in support of opposition groups.

Of the two amendments, it is the amendment to Article 500 which will most concern advocates of freedom of religion in Iran – including the freedom to change one’s belief and to propagate it, as enshrined in Article 18 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory, without reservation, and therefore legally bound to uphold.

ARTICLE 19, an organisation dedicated to the protection of freedom of speech, called the changes to Article 500 “a full-on attack on the right to freedom of religion and belief”.

The amended version of Article 500 provides for up to five years’ imprisonment for “any deviant educational or proselytising activity” by members of so-called “sects” that “contradicts or interferes with the sacred law of Islam” through “mind-control methods and psychological indoctrination” or “making false claims or lying in religious and Islamic spheres, such as claiming divinity”.

Given that Iran’s judiciary, in its response to a UN letter of concern about alleged persecution of Christians, recently referred to imprisoned house-church members as belonging to “cults”, it is easy to see how the new provisions may be used to further clamp down on them.

The same is true of the amendment to Article 499, relating to membership or organisation of “anti-security groups”; in its response to the UN, the Iranian judiciary called house-churches “enemy groups” with “anti-security purposes”, while claiming “nobody is prosecuted on religious grounds”.

The new amendment to Article 499 provides for up to five years’ imprisonment for “anyone who insults Iranian ethnicities or divine religions or Islamic schools of thought recognised under the Constitution with the intent to cause violence or tensions in the society or with the knowledge that such [consequences] will follow”.

As ARTICLE 19 noted in its analysis, the vaguely-worded amendment “grant[s] extensive interpretive discretion to the prosecutorial and judicial authorities, providing a fertile ground for arbitrary arrest and detention” and will “further tighten the already shrunken space for freedom of expression in the country”. 

In both cases, the punishment can be doubled to up to 10 years’ imprisonment if the groups in question have received either financial or organisational help from outside the country….

Human rights lawyer Hossein Ahmadiniaz previously warned that the bill, if passed, would “facilitate the repression and punishment of Christian converts and others belonging to unrecognised religious groups”.

“The law should protect citizens, including Christian converts and Baha’is, against the government,” he said. “But in Iran the law has become a tool to justify the government’s violent treatment of converts and other unrecognised minorities.”…