Christians in Iran

An underground church network is becoming increasingly important in Iran.

Iranian christians 521 (photo credit: 'A Cry from Iran' at
Iranian christians 521
(photo credit: 'A Cry from Iran' at
There have been conflicting reports in recent weeks over the fate of Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who is under a death sentence from the Ayatollahs for converting from Islam and questioning the education system for forcing his children to learn about the Muslim faith.
Pastor Nadarkhani is apparently still alive but his case continues to bring widespread attention to the plight of Christians in Iran.
To find out more about the persecuted Christian community in Iran, The Christian Edition recently spoke with Mikael Elmolhoda, a 23-year-old Iranian student currently pursuing theological studies at the University of Helsinki.
Elmolhoda, whose father is a Shi’ite Muslim still in Iran, also works as a television producer and edits a blog called Nuotta Youth Media.
Elmolhoda estimates that there are currently around 300,000 Evangelical Christians in Iran out of a total population of 70 million, though some sources put the numbers of Christian believers at over one million and growing fast. Half of these believers are members of the underground house church network, which operates throughout Iran. This movement is becoming increasingly important as the clerical regime is continuously tightening its grip on the Christian minority.
“Many of these house churches are linked to Christian satellite TV broadcasts for Bible teachings and spiritual nourishment, as they are unable to get it from official Church institutions,” said Elmolhoda. “Many of the house churches are also loosely networked in order to protect each other, in case a single church is compromised.”
Elmolhoda explained that the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is especially hostile towards the unofficial house church movement, which is growing rapidly inside Iran. He has openly warned that the house churches “threaten the Islamic faith and deceive young Muslims.”
“The government’s response has included abductions, interrogations, arrests, prison sentences, assassinations, death sentences and torture,” Elmolhoda claimed. “The secret police continuously attempt to track down, threaten and destroy the house churches through every possible means.”
There has also been a government campaign to control the officially registered churches in Iran, to prevent the spread of Christianity. A recent example of this state persecution of Christians was the decision of the Ministry of Intelligence to shut down the last two registered churches in Iran holding Farsilanguage services.
“We can speak about the imprisonment of many pastors,” said Elmolhoda, “including the high-profile arrest of Youcef Nadarkhani, who is slated to be executed. A typical method is to accuse a person of apostasy, which according to Iranian law is punishable by death.”
Elmolhoda has produced a Finnish version of the documentary A Cry from Iran, which details the lives and martyrdom of many of these pastors.
Elmolhoda noted that women are also severely repressed in Iran, citing the case of “Dabra,” a Muslim convert to Christianity who was imprisoned inside her own house and repeatedly beaten by family members. The torment continued for over a year until she was finally taken to police headquarters. During interrogation, police discovered a Bible hidden on her and locked her in a small room, where she escaped a guard’s rape attempt by screaming at the top of her lungs.
Dabra was finally released and returned to her family, but her brother beat her until she lost consciousness. The trauma of the attempted rape and then the beating was so great that Dabra was unable to speak for over two months, he related.
“Thousands of Christians in Iran continue to face similar situations,” insisted Elmolhoda. “In Western countries, we have this principle of ‘never hit a woman.’ But in Islamic countries, members of one’s own family can work in tandem with officials to torture and beat women converts.”