At least 193 Christians were arrested or imprisoned in Iran in 2016.


World Watch List Rank World Watch List Score
8 85/100
Leader Population
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei 80,946,000 (800,000 Christians)
Main Religion Government
Islam Republic
Source of Persecution Persecution Level
Islamic Oppression Extreme Persecution

Ethnic Persians are seen as being Muslim, and carrying out any Christian activities in the language of this group, Farsi, is strictly illegal. A Persian person who decides to leave Islam can be sentenced to death if male, and life imprisonment if female - although this sentence hasn't been carried out for over 20 years. Despite this, Christians from a Muslim background make up the largest group of Christians in Iran.


Taher had tried everything to stop his wife and children from believing in Jesus. He banned them from going to church, beat them, said he would report them to the secret police, and even threatened to kill them. But they refused to give up their faith, and ran away.

One night Jesus appeared to Taher in a dream. He hugged him and said: "I will clean you from all your sins, you are free. I will give you rest. Believe in me."

He went to the church that his family had attended, but people were afraid; they knew what he had done to his family and thought he must be a government spy. "How can I help you?" asked one of the leaders. He answered: "I want to give my life to Christ, but I don't know how."

Islam is the official religion of Iran and all laws there must match the requirements of Sharia (Islamic law). Only Armenians and Assyrians are allowed to be Christians, and even they are treated as second class citizens. Those who try to reach out to Muslims have reported imprisonment, physical abuse and harassment.A Muslim who leaves Islam is considered an 'apostate' and is at risk of the death penalty. Muslims are not even meant to shake hands with Christians, touch them or eat their food. Muslim-background believers often meet in house churches, but these are frequently monitored by secret police and raided. At least 193 Christians were arrested or imprisoned in Iran in 2016.

Pastor Behnam Irani was released from prison in October 2016 after six years. During his imprisonment, he said: "Many of my cellmates in prison ask me why I don't just deny my belief and go back to my wife and children? I then ask myself: what cost did that the Lord pay to save me? I have decided to keep my faith in our Lord and stay in prison."


Open Doors supports the church in the Middle East through the following activities:

  • Bible and Christian literature distribution
  • Training (eg discipleship training, trauma training)
  • Supporting Christian multimedia initiatives for the region
  • Advocacy.


  • That the laws of Iran will change to allow for freedom of religion
  • For comfort for imprisoned Christians in Iran, and that God will give them love for their captors
  • For many Muslim families, it is a great disgrace when one of its members leaves Islam. Pray for protection and provision for Christians who have been cursed and disowned by their families.


  • Pray for those that are suffering by reading the latest prayer requests from persecuted Christians around the world.
  • Advocate for persecuted Christians by signing the Hope for Middle East Petition.
  • Consider donating your resources to Open Doors.