Interview with Iranian Christian activist on persecution of Christians in Iran

Our latest podcast on Mideast Youth features an interview with a Christian Iranian activist, Firouz Khanjani, whose brother, a pastor, was arrested twice this year in Iran. In the podcast Firouz describes the persecution Christians suffer in Iran, the limitations of freedom, harassments, arrests and mass exodus of Christians from Iran as a result. According to Firouz, the Iranian regime maintains a policy of “religious Apartheid” toward religious minorities in Iran like the Christians, Baha’is and Zoroastrians, amongst others. Firouz said that before people in the Middle East protest against discrimination of Muslims in the public sphere of Western countries (e.g. the niqab ban in France), they must offer religious freedom to discriminated religious minorities in their own countries.

A transcript of the podcast is below (it has been slightly edited for clarity:)

Q: Can you first introduce yourself?
A: I am Firouz Khandjani, I am a member of the National Council of Church of Iran.

Q: Can you describe the situation of Christians in Iran?
A: Yes, we are facing the worst persecution in Iran since the beginning of the Revolution. We can say that the persecution in Iran had two steps, the first step since the beginning of the Revolution was what we may call not hard persecution. Christians would lose jobs. And the opportunity to work were very limited. But since four years ago we can say that we have a hard persecution – that Christians are losing everything, and they are being targeted by security forces everywhere. They used to come in the houses and confiscate everything. Since one year, our leadership in Iran is targeted and Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani in Rasht has been arrested because he asked that his children must receive Christian courses, not Islamic courses. It’s his right. Since January my brother, Pastor Behrouz Khanjani has been arrested too, because he had connections with pastor Yousef and as the National Council of Church of Iran.

Q: And your brother, where is he now?
A: Now he is in Shiraz. And we have limited possibilities to contact him.

Q: How is the Iranian government treating religious minorities in Iran compared with average Iranians? In general the Iranian people within Iran they are treating religious minorities with respect?
A: Yes.

Q: So it’s only the government that is persecuting them?
A: Yes, usually the people are very tolerant. We can say that Iran is a country where many minorities exist. We have several ethnicities in Iran, several religious in Iran. Usually he people of Iran and the minorities coexist without problem. We have no problem with the people. We are Iranians like others and we are accept as such by other Iranians. You may be Sunni, Shia, you may be Christian or Jew, there is no difference in Iran. The very problem is the government that tries to limit the minorities who are considered as “enemies.” We can say that what’s happening in Iran is religious apartheid. We can say that the Iranian government is a racist government because it has discriminating policies against minorities.

Q: What about other religious minorities there – like the Baha’is and Zoroastrians, are they facing similar things?
A: Every minority meet quite the same problem. For example, the Baha’i situation is worse but we can say that even the Armenians and Assyrians who have Christian ancestry are very limited in Iran. You may see for example one area in the past once an Armenian area in Esfahan, New Julfa, the majority are not Muslim, the Armenians left the country. Maybe 80% of Christians left the country since the beginning of the Revolution. The same with Jews or the Baha’is. As you live in the Persian Gulf, you may see that there are many Sunnis live there. They come to work in Dubai or other Sunni places. They are Iranian too. They have the right to stay in Iran to work.

Q: How many Christians are there in Iran? The population of Christians.
A: It’s difficult to say but we can estimate that we have maybe – Greek Orthodox and Catholic Christians – maybe 3 or 400,000 Christians. And protestant Christians, maybe 30,000. Maybe 95% of Protestant Christians left the country.

Q: What’s the best way for people to help?
A: The people have to show they can’t accept in the 21st century we have in the Middle East, in Iran the same situation that minorities used to meet in France 500 years ago. It is unacceptable that in the 21st century, the Christians and other minorities in the Middle East are living the same situation. The people have to express that we have to end the religious apartheid in the Middle East. The people who are living in the Middle East who even come from other countries – they are from these areas, they didn’t come from other countries – and they have a right to live in their countries without problems.

Q: You have a blog that talks about the Christian persecution in Iran?
A: I have a blog discussing the Christian persecution of Iran, yes. It’s

Q: Do you have help from other Christian groups around the world?
A: It’s difficult to have information about all the Christian groups in Iran, we may have news about people we know, because we know that there were many Christians being arrested and no one knew about that. And we can only report about the people we know and are sure about them.

Q: That’s the end of my questions – do you want to add anything else?
A: I hope that we will have in the future a better Middle East, where all people, Christians, Jews, Muslims may live together in peace, and other groups. We have the Sabeans, Zoroastrians, Baha’is, and before speaking about the situation of Western countries to express concern when the Hijab is forbidden for example in France, we have to start in our own area to give freedom to all the identities in the Middle East and this is the condition for a better future for our countries.

Leaders need to have better policies toward the people – righteousness and justice is the basis of equality. Better policies will be profitable for everybody.

Interviewer: I agree with you, completely. And I hope one day we will live in a place where all minorities will be respected regardless of their faith, and I really wanted to thank you for the work that you’re doing because a lot of people they witness this persecution and they don’t speak out and they don’t tell us, then the people aren’t aware of what’s going on and how they can help, and I think the work you’re doing is important and that you will continue doing it. So thank you very much. We’ll be writing a post about what you’ve said in this podcast and also show people your blog and help people get the information that they need in order to help out.

Firouz: Thank you very much.