Religious freedom is severely curtailed for everyone other than Farsi speaking Shi’a. For Armenian and Assyrian Christians, being restricted to use of ethnic languages is limiting, as is the state-imposed obligation to ensure that only people of the ‘right’ ethnicity participate in worship. Emigration of Christians in Iran is a long-standing challenge, with an estimated 10,000 leaving each year. For those of Muslim heritage, the pattern of Christian persecution in Iran varies by location.
In major cities, the state is the persecutor. Some are arrested, some imprisoned; others are simply excluded from their place of study or work. Some choose to leave the country; a few are obliged to due to intense pressure and threats of imprisonment. In rural areas, the persecutor is the family and community. For all, there is denial of the right to open, public worship with fellow disciples.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
“This government is not truly Islamic,” “This is the Shah with a different label” and “What we long for is a truly Islamic state, not the repressive one we have at present.”
The state has become more repressive since 2009.
— Protestors in Iran
History of Christianity
Christianity arrived at Pentecost or shortly afterward. The Assyrian Church of the East emerged following the Council of Nicea in 431. Its formation used a theological issue as cover for an underlying political motivation of demonstrating to their rulers that they were different from the state church of the Byzantine Empire that was in competition with the Persian Empire.
Today, the recognized churches are Armenian and Assyrian. They are able to conduct services in ethnic languages but not the national lingua-franca Farsi. Historically, there have been churches within the Protestant family worshipping in Farsi and other languages. They were established for expatriates, but most became authentically Iranian over time.
However, these have been closed for a decade. The numerous disciples of Jesus of Muslim heritage use a house-fellowship model of church, although many choose to worship alone. Satellite TV, online and other media forms of church are widely appreciated.