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Iran: What Christmas is Really Like for Christians

The U.S. State Department has classified Iran as a “country of particular concern” for “having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”

For previous coverage of Iran, see here.

“What is Christmas really like for Christians in Iran?,” Article 18, December 7, 2021:

Every year at Christmas, senior regime figures step forward to offer their well-wishes to their “Christian compatriots” on the occasion of the birth of Jesus.

Meanwhile, photos are shared on social media of Iranians buying Christmas trees from stores clad in the red and white of Santa Claus. 

The message in both cases is clear: Iran is a land of tolerance, where Christians are free to practise their faith and to worship in the hundreds of churches that they have, as is their constitutional right.

But dig beneath the surface, and the reality for Christians at Christmas-time – and at any other time of the year – is markedly different.

Perhaps the most well-known illustration of this at Christmas-time can be found in the story of the arrest of Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz.

It was 26 December 2014, and Pastor Victor, who as an ethnic Assyrian is one of Iran’s purportedly “recognised” Christians, was celebrating Christmas at his home with his family, and a few converts to Christianity, when there was a knock at the door.

The scene that followed will sound very familiar to any Iran-watcher: standing at the door were a dozen plainclothes intelligence agents, who barged into the pastor’s home, searched those present, separated men from women, confiscated personal belongings, and declared that they were participating in an “unlawful and unauthorised gathering”….

After several hours of filming and interrogation, Pastor Victor was arrested, alongside two of the converts, Amin Afshar-Naderi and Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi, and taken away to Tehran’s Evin Prison.

The three men, and a fourth convert, Hadi Asgari, were later sentenced to 10 years in prison for “acting against national security by organising and conducting house-churches”. Amin was given an additional five-year sentence for “insulting the sacred” – or, to put it more simply, “blasphemy”….

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