Iranian Christian Converts Flee Persecution In Their Homeland for Freedom In Germany

Girl looks at Christmas tree as she and her mother walk past Christmas decorations in central Tehran. (Reuters)
Girl looks at Christmas tree as she and her mother walk past Christmas decorations in central Tehran. (Reuters)

Iranian-born Muslims who converted to Christianity are breathing new spiritual life into communities across Germany, where they are fleeing to in increasing numbers to escape persecution back home.

Men and women, who have been sentenced to the lash or worse for apostasy – converting from Islam – are forming a thriving community of Christian ex-pats in German cities and towns. The Iranian immigrants seek asylum, or simply pay up to $30,000 to enter the country illegally with a fake passport, a new name and plans to start their lives over in new churches.

“The growing number of Iranian Christians fleeing their homeland to come to Germany should alarm us that Iran’s regime is getting more and more radicalized and repressive – on a daily basis,” Saba Farzan, a German-Iranian expert on human rights, told

A telling example of Iran’s heavy-handed crackdown on Christians is the case of a 40-something Iranian woman named Afsaneh. A spiritual display brought down the full force of Tehran’s hard-line regime.

“I was so excited about Christmas that I put up a tree in my home and work,” Afsaneh told The Guardian.

However, she along with her cousin would pay a steep price for their embrace of the Christian faith in the Sharia-dominated Islamic Republic. Iranian authorities imprisoned both converts and imposed more than 70 lashes on Afsaneh and her cousin for merely practicing Christianity.

After securing refuge in Germany, Afsaneh said she resents her homeland’s lack of freedom.

“I want Iran to have respect for my perspective, about what religion I choose,” she said. “Not just to tell me that I have to be a Muslim.”

The number of Iranian Christians fleeing to Germany has grown to nearly 4,500 in 2012 from less than 1,000 four years earlier, according to The Guardian. Although Germany is not the only destination for Iranian Christians fleeing from persecution, its strong economy make it more desirable than other choices, such as The Netherlands, Sweden and Austria.

Iranian immigrants have helped double the size of the congregation at House of God’s Help church in Berlin, church deaconess Rosemarie Götz told the Christian Broadcasting Network.

“It came like an unexpected summer rain,” Götz said. “Suddenly new people started coming every week and asked to be baptized.”

The flight from Iran underscores the divide between the Muslim and secular worlds, said Richard Landes, an associate professor of history and director and co-founder of the Center of Millennial Studies at Boston University.

“Nothing illustrates the contrast between the Muslim world and the West than Christians fleeing Iranian persecution,” Landes said. “On the one hand, the Iranians, poster-boys for a medieval religiosity that feels it only has honor by degrading and demeaning other religions; on the other, the West, whose ‘secular’ public sphere is actually welcoming to those seeking religious freedom.”

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Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal.

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