Iran has 800,000 to a million converts to Christianity, who meet secretly in a fast-growing house church network under the threat of arrest and imprisonment, Kiaa Aalipour says. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Journalist highlights plight of Christian converts in Iran

  • February 8, 2019

OTTAWA – An increase in Muslims converting to Christianity has prompted a crackdown by Iran’s theocratic government, says Kiaa Aalipour a representative of Article18, a London-based NGO supporting persecuted Christians in Iran.

“Iran is one of the fastest-growing evangelical churches in the world,” said Aalipour.

Aalipour was a featured speaker at the Canadian launch of the Open Doors International’s 2019 World Watch List, an annual guide to global persecution of Christians. For the 18th straight year, North Korea topped the list for “extreme persecution,” followed by Afghanistan and Somalia.

Iran moved up one spot from last year to ninth on the 50-country list. The Christian faith in Iran is seen as “a constant threat to the Islamic identity” of the country, Aalipour said.

Forty years ago, at the time of the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran had about 400-500 Christian converts, Aalipour said. Now, said Aalipour, there are conservatively 800,000 to a million converts, who meet secretly in a fast-growing house church network under the threat of arrest and imprisonment. 

“Despite persecution the Church is growing,” he said. 

“Even sons and daughters and close family members of the Ayatollah’s are coming to Christ. (The Ayatollahs) are seeing the threat come closer and closer and that’s one of the reasons why persecution is on the rise.”

The Islamic government does not allow any Christian materials in Farsi, the language of Iran, he said. Though Christianity in Persia predates Islam by hundreds of years, the theocratic Shi’ite Muslim government of Iran only recognizes Armenian and Assyrian churches that worship in Armenian or Syriac and Aramaic. If members of those churches help out the Christian converts by providing them with pamphlets or Bibles in Farsi, those clergy or parishioners become quickly unregistered, Aalipour said.

In December, more than 100 Christians were arrested in one week. Aalipour showed a video of a house church meeting as well as pictures of Christian churches and centres that have been shut down, including St. John’s Catholic Research Centre. He showed pictures of several Christian leaders who have been arrested and jailed, including one family where the husband, wife and teenaged son were all imprisoned, leaving a nine-year-old daughter to fend for herself.  That family is now living as refugees in Turkey.  

Open Doors has been monitoring Christian persecution for 30 years. It measures Christian freedom in each country on criteria ranging from freedom to practice one’s faith, the impact of government policies on family and community life, and levels of violence against Christians.

Open Doors Canada’s executive director Gary Stagg said this was the first year Open Doors had been able to present its watch list to Members of Parliament. He asked MPs to focus on five countries of special concern where “Canada and politicians can play a role.”

In addition to Iran, Open Doors recommended Canada pay special attention to Nigeria, Sudan, India and Algeria.

India, ranked No. 10, has seen a rise in persecution of Christians, Muslims and other minority religions since the Modi government took power. Since then “a wave of religious nationalism” has taken hold to “stamp out any religion that is not Hindu,” he said.

Stagg said even someone like Mother Teresa would not be welcome in India now because her efforts to serve the poor would be seen as proselytization.

Open Doors International estimates as many as 40 out of 50 Christians experience very high or extreme levels of persecution. Five years ago, only 22 out of 50 were in that category, Stagg said.

The 2019 Watch List can be accessed at

NOTE: This article has been revised for editing purposes.

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