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Religious Freedom Internationally
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Situated between the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf, Iran’s history dates back to biblical times. 99% of Iranians are Shi’ite Muslims, 0.5% are Baha'i, 0.1% Farsi-speaking Jews, and 0.4% Christians. The Bible is translated into 3 of the nation’s 69 languages, and two more have the New Testament translated. The overthrow of the Shah in 1979 installed a Shi'ite Muslim government set on preserving and promoting Islam.

Today, persecution persists despite constitutional guarantees of religious freedom. Reports out of Iran indicate a growing dissatisfaction among younger generations with the strict theocratic regime, and demands for greater freedom of speech, and respect for human rights. There also continues to be a rising interest in Christianity.

Religious Freedom

The constitution claims that Islam is the official religion, in particular, the Ja'fari Shi'ism sect of Islam. Other sects of Islam and other religious minorities are subject to numerous restrictions. While members of religious minorities are officially granted the freedom to practice their religion and instruct their children accordingly, government interference with school administration and harassment are common. Laws stipulate penalties for government workers who do not follow Islamic principles and rules. The printing of Christian literature, including church bulletins and church newsletters, is prohibited. Non-Muslims are forbidden to proselytize.

A Muslim who converts to another religion is considered an apostate under Muslim law, and may be subject to the death penalty. In the years since the Iranian Revolution, most evangelical churches have gone underground. The government is actively seeking out these underground churches and inflicts severe punishment on those involved. Many pastors report being under constant surveillance and many are also pressured into signing documents that say they will not proselytize Muslims or allow them to attend church services. Some ethnic Christians no longer support and minister to Mulsim converts in obediance to the law.

According to reports, the persecution of apostates has significantly increased since the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

International Treaties Signed by Iran

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
The Convention on the Rights of the Child

Canada-Iran Diplomatic Relations

Information about Canada's relationship with Iran
Canadian Embassy in Iran
Canadian representatives in Iran
Iran’s representatives in Canada


For prayer requests, see the alerts, or the general page of prayer for the Persecuted Church.

Related Links

General information about Iran
Information about human rights in Iran
Information about the persecuted Church in Iran  (from the Voice of the Martyrs Canada)

Related EFC Religious Liberty Commission Alerts

Note: Alerts are in the reverse chronological order, beginning with the most recent.

URGENT PRAYER ALERT: Execution Order for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani - signed


SOURCES: (Voice of the Martyrs, National Review, Yahoo News, Christian Today, Christian Post, American Centre for Law and Justice, CBN)

The EFC’s Religious Liberty Commission is calling for urgent prayer and action on behalf of 34 year-old Evangelical Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.  Sources in Iran say that an execution order has been signed for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who has been imprisoned for 865 days following his arrest for protesting in October, 2009.  Read more here.

URGENT PRAYER ALERT: IRAN - Evangelical Pastor Faces Exection and False Accusations


SOURCES: (National Post, National Review Online, Jerusalem Post, Voice of the Martyrs, Mission Network, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Canadian Foreign Affairs)

UPDATES: Visit Voice of the Martyrs PrisonerAlert.com for updates on Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani

In October 2009, after protesting a government policy that required his children (sons, 8 and 9 years-old) to study the Quran in school Youcef Nadarkhani, a 34 year-old pastor and leader of a network of house churches from Rasht, Iran, was arrested for protesting. Following his arrest, he was brought before a political tribunal, and his charges were then amended from protesting to apostasy and evangelism of Muslims, a charge which carries the death penalty. Read more here.

Iran: Pastor Receives Prison Sentence and Faces Possible Apostasy Charges


(Sources: Voice of the Martyrs Canada, Compass Direct, World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission, Christianity Today)

On February 16, Iranian Christian pastor Hamid Pourmand was sentenced to three years in prison by the Tehran military court. Pourmand, a former colonel who served in the Iranian army for 20 years, was convicted on charges of deceiving the Iranian armed forces by failing to declare his conversion to Christianity. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is illegal for a non-Muslim to serve as a military officer. Pourmand's lawyer produced original documents revealing that the military superiors were fully aware of Pourmand's faith and yet excused him under special conditions. The court denied these documents, and proceeded to condemn Pourmand for testifying falsely and producing illegitimate documentation.

Pourmand, 47, converted from Islam to Christianity over 25 years ago. Married with two children, Pourmand’s family has lived peacefully in military family housing in Bandar-i Bushehr, where he also volunteered his time as a pastor in a small Assembly of God congregation. He was arrested last September when the police raided a church conference in Karaj, near Tehran. As a result of his conviction and dismissal from the army, Pourmand's family has been expelled from their home.

As Pourmand still faces charges of apostasy, which, like murder, armed robbery, rape and serious drug trafficking is a capital offence under Iranian law and therefore is punishable by death. As he begins serving his three year sentence, it would be quite convenient for the Iranian government if Pourmand were "mysteriously killed" in prison before a controversial apostasy trial could take place. Pourmand's lawyer intends to appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court and fight efforts to have him tried in sharia court on charges of apostasy and proselytizing.



  • Letter writing is an effective tool for advocacy. At this time, we encourage you to write to Hon. Pierre Pettigrew, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, encouraging the Canadian government to engage with the Iranian government on the issue of religious freedom, and to advocate for the release of pastor Hamid Pourmand.
  • Below you will find the Minister’s contact information and a sample letter. You can also take a look at the EFC’s Faith in Action page for tips on effective letter writing.
  • The Honourable Pierre Pettigrew

    Minister of Foreign Affairs

    Lester B. Pearson Building

    125 Sussex Drive

    Ottawa, ON K1A 0G2

    Ph: 613- 995-1851

    Fax: 613-996-3443

    Email: Pettigrew.P@parl.gc.ca

    Dear Minister:

    I am writing to express my deep concern regarding the recent sentencing and ongoing detention of Christian Iranian pastor, Hamid Pourmand. Mr. Pourmand has served his country faithfully for decades both as a colonel in the Iranian army and also as a lay pastor in a small, local church. Mr. Pourmand is an upstanding member of his community, and is in no way a threat to his country. In spite of all this, Mr. Pourmand was recently stripped of his military position, convicted on trumped up charges, and sentenced to three years in a military prison, and may now face apostasy charges, which carry a penalty of death.

    Mr. Pourmand converted from Islam to Christianity twenty-five years ago. This makes him a criminal in his home country. Under Iran’s Islamic apostasy laws, conversion from Islam is a capital offence. It is also illegal for a non-Muslim to serve as a military officer, yet documentation shows that his superiors were aware of his religious beliefs and made an exception for Mr. Pourmand. The court has disregarded these original documents, and sentenced Mr. Pourmand to three years in a military prison on false charges that he “deceived his superiors” with regard to his beliefs. His family has since been expelled from their military home. They also face the possibility of losing their father and husband, as the Iranian authorities consider charging Mr. Pourmand with apostasy and proselytizing, which are capital offences.

    Respecting religious freedom is a norm of international human rights protection. Having ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Iran has agreed to respect and protect its citizens’ rights to practice their religion individually and communally (Article 18.1.). However, Iran's government has disregarded these commitments, and continues to abuse and detain members of its religious minorities, like Mr. Pourmand. This is simply unacceptable. It is my hope that, in light of these facts and Canada’s renewed diplomatic relationship with Iran, you will take this opportunity to call Iran to fulfil its commitments, and to uphold freedom of religion for all the people of Iran.

    I appeal to the government of Canada to raise its concern about this situation with the Government of Iran. I respectfully request that you intervene on behalf of Pastor Hamid Pourmand, urging that he be released and cleared of all charges. Thank you for your attention to this serious matter. I look forward to your response.

    Yours sincerely,



    • Pray that God would give Hamid Pourmand courage and protection while he serves his sentence in prison.

    • Pray that Mr. Pourmand’s wife and children would sense God's peace and love that surpasses understanding, and that God would provide for their needs.

    • Pray for wisdom and success for Pourmand's lawyer as he appeals the verdict and fights to have the charges of apostasy lifted.

    • Pray for Iranian Christians serving unjust sentences; pray that they would experience a renewed hope and continue to shine Christ's love to those around them.

    Nancy: Iranian Refugee Given Permission to Remain In Canada


    Nancy, an Iranian convert to Christianity who fled to Canada to avoid persecution, has undergone a three-year battle to prove to Canadian authorities that her life would be at risk if she was deported back to Islamic Iran. Apostasy is an illegal offence in Iran and thus, by returning to her homeland, Nancy would most certainly face intense persecution. On January 23, 2004, her lengthy fight finally ended in victory – she was given permission to remain in Canada.

    Canadian authorities were originally unconvinced of Nancy’s conversion and the danger that awaited her in Iran and her request for refugee status was rejected. Despite the evidence that was submitted, including a warrant for her arrest from the Iranian government, her initial two PRRAs (Pre-Removal Risk Assessments) were turned down. Yet finally, after the submission of further evidence on a third PRRA, Nancy’s request was accepted, making her the first person to succeed at this level.

    The Lord’s perfect timing truly became evident when, after Nancy’s second PRRA was rejected, Canadian authorities did not deport her immediately. They decided, instead, to wait and observe the U.S.’s response to Nancy’s application for a US Religious Workers VISA. It was the delay of this VISA that gave Nancy the opportunity to apply for the third PRRA in which she was finally granted refugee status. Nancy hopes to work as a Lutheran missionary to the Muslim communities in Southern Utah and the Las Vegas area and, to her delight, the US consulate has granted her a VISA. While Nancy is thrilled with the recent victories, her husband and daughter are still in Iran and remain at risk. She is planning to apply for permanent residency in Canada and is hoping that her family can join her soon.



    • Praise God for His perfect timing and for enabling Nancy to remain in Canada.

    • Pray for Nancy’s husband and daughter, that they would be kept safe and be able to join Nancy soon.

    • Pray for Nancy as she prepares to begin her new ministry. Pray that God will help the ministry to grow and to reach the hearts of many people.

    • Pray that the Canadian government would be granted wisdom in future cases that are similar to Nancy’s.

    Iranian refugees allowed to stay in Turkey for an additional six months


    (Source: Compass Direct News)

    The Erfanis, an Iranian Christian family who fled Iran to escape persecution, have been granted Convention refugee status by the UN High Commission for Refugees! This status allows them to stay in Turkey for six more months while they reapply for acceptance into Canada or another country. Mr. Erfani has called the new status a miracle. The Erfanis were turned down as refugees by a Canadian embassy employee this spring, leaving them in danger of immediate deportation from Turkey back to Iran. EFC RLC asked you to write to the Minister of Immigration and the MP of a Canadian church working on behalf of the Erfanis to urge them to reconsider Canada's decision to reject the Erfani family. With help from a U.S.-based association of Iranian Christians, Mr. Erfani was able to document the persecution he and his family faced in Iran and he was able to appeal his case to the Canadian embassy.


    • Praise God for delivering the Erfanis and granting them official UN refugee status!

    • Pray that God would prepare a special place for the Erfanis in whatever country decides to accept them as refugees. Pray for social and physical support for them there, for excellent medical care for Mrs. Erfani (she suffers from advanced multiple sclerosis) and a loving and supportive church family.

    • Pray for the education and future of the three Erfani daughters, aged 19, 15, and 9.

    Refugees faces deportation back to Iran from Turkey after immigration application to Canada turned down


    (Source: Compass Direct News)

    A Christian family that fled Iran to escape persecution is being deported back to Iran after being rejected by Canadian immigration authorities. The Canadian Embassy in Ankara turned down an Iranian Christian family's immigration application last week, closing the last known option for religious asylum for former Muslims Mahmoud and Atefeh Erfani and their three daughters. After nearly three years as refugees in central Turkey, the Erfani family faces deportation by Turkish authorities back to Iran, where Muslims who convert to Christianity can be executed for apostasy.

    This month, the Canadian Embassy has declared that after "a careful consideration" of his immigration interview, Erfani did "not satisfy the definition of Convention refugee nor member of the country of asylum class." The embassy letter gave no specific reason for the refusal. Church sources in Canada, however, said they believed Mrs. Erfani's health problems were most likely the determining factor. Erfani's wife, whose health is deteriorating from advancing multiple sclerosis diagnosed eight years ago, is now in a wheelchair. According to definitions cited in the refusal letter from the Canadian Embassy, a "Convention refugee" is any person who "by reason of well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group or political opinion" has left his country and "by reason of that fear, is unwilling to return to that country."

    Although converted and baptized 21 years ago, Erfani and his wife faced deepening hostility and harassment from local police authorities during their last 12 months in Iran, which finally frightened them into fleeing the country. Although Erfani himself was subjected to a series of terrifying abductions by local secret police during the last half of 1998, he had no documents to "prove" officially that he was being persecuted for his faith by the Iranian government. Erfani moved his family to Tehran, the capital of Iran, in order to escape the persecution of local authorities. When he learned other Christian believers were being arrested and questioned about his own whereabouts, he secretly packed up his family and fled across the Turkish border.

    The Erfanis have already been turned down by the UN High Commission for Refugees. Canada was their last hope for asylum; the Turkish authorities have ordered that they be deported back to Iran. According to a representative of a church in Toronto which pledged full sponsorship for the stranded family, the Erfani family's case is now closed with Canadian immigration. Even "if there is new evidence presented," the representative told Compass, "there is no way to reopen the case." The church plans to pursue this case with its MP, Bill Graham (Mr. Graham is also Canada' s minister of foreign affairs).


    • Write to Bill Graham (MP of the Toronto church prepared to sponsor the Erfanis) and ask him to take up the case of this family.

    • Write to Denis Corderre, Minister of Immigration, and ask him to review this case in light of the clear danger the Erfanis face in Iran because of their religious faith. Remind him of Canada's moral obligation to protect refugees regardless of their health situation. Make sure to send a copy of your letter to the immigration critics from the opposition parties.

    Letters sent to the House of Commons can go postage free:

    Hon. Bill Graham

    Minister of Foreign Affairs

    House of Commons

    Parliament Buildings

    Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

    Fax: (613) 996-9607


    Hon. Denis Coderre

    Minister of Immigration

    House of Commons

    Parliament Buildings

    Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

    Fax: (613) 995-9755


    Diane Ablonczy

    Canadian Alliance Immigration Critic

    House of Commons

    Parliament Buildings

    Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

    Fax: (613) 992-2537


    Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral

    Bloc Québécois Immigration Critic

    House of Commons

    Parliament Buildings

    Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

    Fax: (613) 996-1195


    Judy Wasylycia-Leis

    New Democratic Party Immigration Critic

    House of Commons

    Parliament Buildings

    Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

    Fax: (613) 996-9713



    • Mr. Erfani has asked for prayer for his family. "Just pray that God's will be done for our family, and that we will be filled with the Holy Spirit, to bear all these problems with God's peace."

    • Pray also for the Toronto church as it pursues the case with political authorities in Canada.

    • Pray that the Lord would move powerfully to save and protect the Erfani family. Pray that God would move the hearts of the political leaders in Canada and that they would intervene and overturn the unjust decision of the immigration authorities.


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