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Ebrahim Raisi
President Ebrahim Raisi
Photo: Mehr News Agency (cc)

The recent election of Ebrahim Raisi as president of Iran has led to concerns for those monitoring religious freedom in the country. The election has been discredited by many since reformers or moderates were banned from running for the position and only half of the country's eligible voters cast a ballot. (There were incidents in which various Iranian citizens tried to cast their votes for this year's June election but, while doing so, encountered attacks.) Experts say that President Raisi has been directly appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Kahmenei, and is viewed as his intended successor.

Iran's newly appointed president is considered a hardliner. As former head of the judiciary, he was directly responsible for the imprisonment of dissidents and served on a "death committee" that ordered the execution of up to 5,000 political prisoners. Amnesty International has been calling for the new president to be investigated for crimes against humanity.

While the constitution of Iran recognizes Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians as "protected minorities," in practise, any religion other than Shi'ism is only tolerated within very restricted confines. Persecution against Christians significantly increased in 2015 due to the perception that house churches posed a threat to national security. Conversion from Islam to Christianity is seen as betrayal --- not only against the Islamic faith, but also against the state --- and can be punishable by death. With Ebrahim Raisi as president, there are concerns that the persecution of Christians may intensify.

Despite opposition, the church in Iran continues to grow. It is estimated that there are presently more than one million Christians in the country. Opportunities to spread the Gospel continue to emerge, whether through personal contact or technological means. Todd Nettleton from VOM USA reminds us of this present-day reality: "Fertile soil is receiving those Gospel seeds. And it is flourishing because people have seen the true face of Islam, and they do not want that face any longer." For more details on the church in Iran, go to our country report.

As the time approaches for Ebrahim Raisi to assume his new presidential role and begin fulfilling his official duties, please pray that God's Spirit will work mightily in and through his life. May he realize the value of Christianity as a means of enhancing society and, therefore, allow citizens to honour their personal convictions and freely follow the teachings of Christ. In the interim, remember our Iranian Christian brothers and sisters who for now must worship in secret, or face severe consequences for their beliefs. Ask the Lord to minister needed protection and encouragement to these believers, providing them the necessary resources for their ongoing spiritual growth and to ensure their churches will continue to thrive.