There are roughly 300,000 Christians in Iran. Most of them are members of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Other Christians in Iran are members of the Assyrian Church of the East, the Chaldean Catholic Church, and the Roman Catholic Church; there is also a growing number of Pentecostals, Evangelicals, and other Protestants. 

For previous coverage of Iran, see here.

“‘I didn’t know worshipping and praying in Jesus’ name was illegal,’” Article 18, June 12, 2023 Features

When he was arrested, Vahid Hakani told his interrogator he hadn’t known until that day “that gathering and worshipping and praying in the name of Christ is not legal in Iran”.

His interrogator wanted him to confess that he was part of a “deviant Christian sect”, and pledge to no longer have any more interactions with other house-church members.

Vahid said he couldn’t promise not to see the other members – “they are my whole life!” – and added: “We aren’t a deviant sect. We’re Christians!”

“The official churches of Iran don’t accept you,” the interrogator responded.

And on this point, at least, the interrogator wasn’t entirely wrong; after becoming a Christian, Vahid had soon found out that there is no place for converts in the churches of Iran today.

“There are many churches in Iran, some of which are considered historical monuments, and for many years many people entered these churches and worshipped God,” Vahid explains. “But the government of the Islamic Republic doesn’t allow Persian-speakers to become members and participate in the meetings in the church buildings.

“They have ordered and threatened the leaders of the churches that they must not allow Christian converts to enter.”

Vahid says he tried “several times” to enter the church building in his city – Simon the Zealot Church in Shiraz – and even once, through an Armenian friend, got in.

But the process was far from easy, and he couldn’t become a member.

“Church buildings are controlled by the government, and the Shiraz church building is between the offices of the Ministry of Intelligence and the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice,” Vahid explains. “A camera has been installed in that alley, and all entrances and exits to the church are under the authorities’ control.

“The sermons also aren’t in the Persian language, and for this reason Persian-speaking Christian converts are forced to gather secretly in their homes, and pray and have Christian fellowship with other Christians in house-churches.”

But for this, as Vahid was soon to find out, there can be a heavy price to pay.

“As the number of our members and house-churches grew, we knew we ran the risk of one day being arrested by the Ministry of Intelligence,” he says. “Sometimes, we felt that we were being followed, or that our phones were being tapped, and later on we found out that our suspicions were correct.”

Before his arrest, Vahid was twice interrogated and threatened by agents from the Ministry of Intelligence. Then, on Wednesday 8 February 2012, his house-church gathering was raided, and he and seven other members were taken away.

Vahid and three of the others would spend the next three years in prison….