A 29-year-old Iranian Christian man who chose not to follow the Islamic faith of his parents, which is also the dominant religion of the country, was forced to flee Iran recently because of pressure from his family, friends and the authorities.
"In Iran, anyone who converts to Christianity faces various problems," said Abdol-Rahman Mohammad Pouri, as quoted by Mohabat News, an Iranian Christian news agency. "In spite of the love I had for my family, I had to leave home. Everyone rejected me. The only thing that helped me through was my faith in Christ."
The news agency reported Sunday that Pouri had to leave due to "pressures of security authorities," and is currently seeking asylum in neighboring Turkey. Pouri also said even his friends rejected him after he converted to Christianity from Islam, calling him an apostate and an infidel.
Pouri first heard about Jesus in 2006 or 2007.
"In my opinion, the violence and contradictions in Islam made it impossible for me to feel close to God. Because of this I replaced my traditional religion with Christianity,” he said.
"Immediately after I trusted in Jesus, I started to share my faith in the city of Semnan," Pouri said. "This action caused me problems as our city was fairly small. As a result and since I had some good Christian friends in Mahabad, I moved to that city and rented a house for myself. That was the starting point for my extensive evangelical activities."
The pressures that Pouri experienced are reminiscent of the case involving pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, a Christian convert in Iran who attracted international attention after he was arrested for apostasy and sentenced to death.
He currently remains imprisoned by Iranian authorities, and U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton appealed over the weekend for his "immediate and unconditional" release.
Nadarkhani was originally arrested for protesting against Christian children being forced to participate in Muslim religious education in school in October 2009, but his charge was changed to apostasy and attempted evangelizing of Muslims, a crime punishable by death in Iran. The pastor was found guilty. Although the death sentence has not been carried out as yet, Nadarkhani is still facing danger while in prison, where there are reportedly efforts being made to convert him back to Islam.
The 34-year-old pastor was the leader of a network of Christian house churches, and is a member of the Protestant evangelical Church of Iran.
Iran's constitution states that Islam is the official state religion and provides that Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians are recognized as "protected" religious minorities. Despite the protected status, in practice, non-Shia Muslims face discrimination and the government severely restricts freedom of religion, according to the U.S. Department of State's 2009 International Religious Freedom Report.
The situation of the evangelical church is said to be "dire" in Iran, with the government intensifying its crackdown on the Christian community.
Some 202 Christians were reportedly known to have been arrested and detained since June 2010.
Iran is overwhelmingly Muslim, with 89 percent of the population being Shi'a Muslims, 9 percent Sunni Muslims, and the remaining religions - Zoroastrianism, Jewish, Christianity and Baha'i &mdash: constituting only 2 percent, according to the U.S. Department of State.
According to U.S.-based organization Iranian Christians International, Inc. (ICI), the persecution of the Christian community started in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, after foreign missionaries were chased out of the country.