Iran's Christians experiencing '1984-style nightmare'

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The persecution of Christians in Iran has echoes of Orwell's dystopian novel, 1984, religious freedom advocates have said.

That is the warning in a new report by Article 18 in partnership with Open Doors UK, Middle East Concern and CSW. 

The report, Faceless Victims - Rights Violations Against Christians in Iran, was launched in Parliament this week and says that Christians are being subjected to high tech surveillance, including spyware that can extract data, photographs, screenshots of conversations, and recordings of video calls from applications like WhatsApp and Telegram without the user knowing.

One shocking incident was recounted by Iranian Christian convert Touraj Shirani: "We were talking once, when one of my daughters asked, sadly: 'Why won't they just leave us alone?' That very moment, the Ministry of Intelligence called us and said: 'Shut up!'"

Detained Christians have described gruelling interrogations where they were put under extreme pressure to recant their faith. 

One such Christian was Mojtaba Keshavarz Ahmadi, also a convert from Islam, who said: "My interrogators told me frankly and boldly: 'You have no rights and no choice because your religion has already been chosen for you.'"

Others had to take part in lengthy Islamic "re-education" sessions, even after they had been acquitted. 

Christian convert Nima Rezaei recalled the authorities trying to catch her out in a re-education session that was filmed. 

"We talked with this theologian for a few hours, and it felt like the whole aim was to try to coax answers from us that would cause us further trouble if we were arrested," she said. 

The report also describes Christians being offered money to remain within the Christian community and inform on other believers. 

Iman Shahvari, a Christian convert, said she was once approached by the authorities and asked "to cooperate". When she refused, they threatened to kill her.  

According to Article 18's Mansour Borji, "The parallels between Orwell's '1984' and the experiences of Iranian Christians are not mere fiction but a harrowing reality.

"Christians have long been surveilled and violently pressured in Iran, it's the extent of this which has grown, especially the use of new sophisticated forms of cyber surveillance that is so shocking.

"It's a call to the global community to recognise and respond to the systemic suppression faced by Christians in Iran."