Less than 1% of Iranians consider themselves Christians.
Islam is practiced by a majority of citizens in the country of 83.5 million, according to recent estimates from Open Doors USA, which released its 2021 World Watch List in January.
The WWL ranks each country by the level of persecution believers face inside its borders.
At No. 8, Iran is among the top 12 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian. The list ranks the top 50 violators, with Nos. 1–12 labeled as “extreme persecution” and Nos. 13–50 labeled “very high persecution.”
‘A year of fear’
David Curry, CEO of Open Doors, called 2020 “a year of uncertainty and fear.” The organization estimates 340 million Christians have suffered “high levels of persecution and discrimination” — 1 in 8 Christians worldwide.
One of the trends highlighted in the report is the use of surveillance technology. Curry mentioned an incident in Iran in which believers were targeted through cell phone technology used to record private meetings among believers.
Saghar, an Iranian Christian, told Open Doors her phone was tapped by the government.
“They could sort of record my conversations, and so in our meetings, we would turn off our phones and put [them] in another room,” she said.
Saghar believes the government has a team to hack emails and other forms of social media.
“And I know that they spend lots of money for this, and use the technology to have surveillance on Christians,” she said.
The WWL highlighted China and India for increasing surveillance and the use of artificial intelligence software to spy on their people.
The report said Chinese companies now export technology to at least 63 other countries, including Myanmar, Laos, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“As free people, we must stand with those who seek freedom of conscience, the ability to decide for yourself what you believe,” Curry said. “We have to share their stories. Churches, places of worship, even worship itself, it must remain sacred, free from discrimination, so that everyone has the freedom to think, to study and to practice the faith of their choosing — even if they choose not to have any faith at all.”
According to the report, Muslim-background believers are persecuted the most. Secret churches are often raided; those arrested are charged with “crimes against national security.”
The Iranian government views conversion to Christianity as a Western-led attempt to undermine Islamic rule.
Evin Prison, where the majority of Christians are jailed in Iran, is known as the “torture factory.”
Middle Eastern countries, like Iran or “some of the Gulf countries that have historically repressed their religious and ethnic minorities,” observe what is happening in China and desire to use the same technology to maintain power, said Chris Meserole, director of research and policy at the Brookings Institution.
No other country can match “the sheer scale of surveillance technologies that China has developed and also deployed,” Meserole said. But China is sharing the technology with other nations.
“It’s not a problem that’s going to stay in China,” Meserole warned.
Open Doors shared three prayer points:
- Pray for isolated believers. Many Christians don’t know any other believers and depend on online resources to learn more about God.
- Pray for Christians who are currently imprisoned for their faith. The pandemic has only made prison conditions worse.
- Pray for those who advocate for the rights of Christians in Iran, both within and outside the country, that they would be listened to and that God would protect them.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Name has been changed for security reasons.