Hundreds of Iranian Christian converts flee to Turkey over alleged persecution

Around 500 Christian converts from Iran have gone to Turkey to flee what they claim is persecution from authorities.

(Reuters/Raheb Homavandi/TIMA)Iranian Christians stand in line at a church to cast their votes during elections in Tehran.

Iranian asylum seekers spoke to Rudaw without revealing their names and claimed that they were being persecuted by authorities for leaving Islam in favor of Christianity. One young man who waited until he arrived  in Van, Turkey, before he converted said he is now "comfortable" with his new faith and does not think he could be the person he wanted to be with his former religion.

Another young man who dared to show his face to the camera said hundreds of Kurdish youth have left Islam for Christianity. He said many of these people face death because of their change in faith.

"I changed my religion because I did not see anything in Islam. Whatever I saw was wrong," the man told Rudaw.

"It is a fact that the government of Iran is an Islamic one, yet our youth, are getting executed. In Iraq [it's] the same," he added. "There is ISIS and [they] are killing people in the name of Islam, and there are vulnerable people who are being beheaded there. They have fled to Turkey, and we came to Turkey. That is why I did not see any good from Islam."

Another man who converted to Christianity in Iran said the exact number of Christians in the country is unknown. He added that the Muslims who become Christians do so in secret and even practice their faith in private.

In Van, almost 500 of the 1,500 Kurdish refugees are Christian converts. Most of those who spoke to Rudaw expressed the desire to move to the U.S. or Canada, and some want to go to Europe.

Last month, the Center for Human Rights in Iran expressed concern over the string of arrests and imprisonments of Christian converts in the Islamic country. The group noted that 11 converts have been handed long jail terms in less than two months, Radio Free Asia – Radio Liberty reported.

CHRI executive director Hadi Ghaemi issued a statement decrying the continuous persecution of Christian converts even though Iran's Constitution recognizes Christianity as an official religious minority. However, Christian groups say these converts continue to multiply despite persecution at the hands of authorities.