Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Sakineh Rahnama


Nationality: Iran
Religion: Christianity
Civil Status: Married


Date of Killing: August 3, 2008
Location of Killing: Esfahan, Esfahan Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Extrajudicial killing

About this Case

July 27, 2008 was the very first last time Ms. Rahnama hosted several christians in her house church for praying.

Information regarding the extrajudicial killing of Ms. Sakineh Rahnama was published on Aso – Shahed Alavi (February, 01, 2019), Persian World and Radio Zamaneh (October 29, 2013), Voice of America (June 23, 2012), and Melliun (January 07, 2009) websites. In some reports her last name is mentioned as Rahimi.

Ms. Rahnama was married and along with her husband, Mr. Abbas Amiri, were Christian converts. After converting to Christianity, they used to secretly run a house church in their house in Malek Shahr area in Isfahan.


While Christianity counts among the three Abrahamic religions officially recognized in Iran, the status carved out for Christians by the Constitution and civil and penal code is markedly inferior. In practice, religious tolerance applies only to ethnic groups who are historically Christian, i.e. Armenians and Assyrians, and not to believers or converts from Muslim backgrounds (UN 1992). The Iranian government has implemented policies that demarcate, monitor, and aggressively suppress Christian civic presence.

The Constitution bars Christians from becoming President, members of the Guardian Council, Army Commanders, School Principals, and from holding senior government positions (UN 1998, IFHR). They are prohibited from running in General Parliamentary elections, and the three seats allocated to Christians in Parliament are exclusively for Armenian, Assyrian, and Chaldean representatives (IFHR).

Civil and criminal statutes explicitly disadvantage Christian parties. They are entitled to less compensation in car-accident settlements and cannot inherit property from Muslims (UN 1998, IFHR). Several offenses punishable by lashings for Muslims are for Christians punishable by death.

The activities of Christian churches and peoples have long been subject to Ministry of Culture surveillance. A law purporting to flag sellers of non-halal foods requires Christian shop owners to display signs reading “designated for religious minorities;” in practice, this signage has been enforced on all Christian businesses as a deterrent to Muslim patrons (UN 1998). Christians have reported denials of academic admissions and business permits on religious grounds (Suuntaus). By the mid-90s all but two Protestant churches had closed under various government pressures, including demands to provide congregants’ names and personal information (Suuntaus, HRW 1995).

Since the revolution, hundreds of Christians have been detained arbitrarily. Many are sentenced to various prison terms and others are released with the specter of charges and investigations against them that are left open indefinitely. Multiple sources who have been arrested or detained reported being threatened by judicial or security officers with apostasy charges, execution, or assassination. With apostasy left unaddressed in penal code, judges defer to the Shar’ia, leaving Christian converts vulnerable to death sentences (ICHRI); it is also left to the personal discretion of judges whether the murder of a Christian by a Muslim even constitutes a crime (IFHR). The state has historically displayed a lack of due diligence in resolving the cases of Christians who die in suspect circumstances, which further exacerbates the precarity of Christians’ social and legal status.

While the Iranian government does not publicize official data on the size of Iran’s Christian population, available sources reflect the consensus that conversions from Islam have been steadily on the rise since the revolution, and that Iranians with Christian leanings could now number as high as 1 million, or 1.5 percent of the population (IJRF, Gamaan, MS). The regime thus continues to invest significantly in the surveillance of Christian activities (IJRF). Scores of Christians have fled Iran and taken refuge in other countries (ICHRI, IJRF, ABC Research). 

The 1990s marked a period of religious crackdowns that staggered, among others, Christian communities. Amid the overall increase in executions, corporal punishments, raids, and press restrictions, scores of Christian converts were imprisoned and tortured (HRW 1996, 1993). In an effort to curb growing public interest in Christianity, Iran placed caps on church attendance, shut down Iran’s main Persian-language bible publisher, prohibited sermons in Persian, confiscated all Christian books, closed all Christian bookstores, and dissolved the Iranian Bible society (Suuntaus, UN 1993). 

The authorities’ heightened reactivity also brought Christian leaders into the crosshairs of the “chain murders,” a string of assassinations during the 1990s of secular intellectual and political dissidents and religious minorities (IW) and other undesirable individuals. Of the seven suspicious deaths of Christian leaders since the revolution, five occurred between 1990 and 1996 (FN). 

Ms. Rahnama’s Death

On Sunday August 03, 2008, Ms. Sakineh Rahnama died of cardiac arrest due to injuries caused by the beatings from security officers and the pressure from the death of her husband.

Based on the available information, while several Christians were praying in the house church at Ms. Rahnama, and Mr. Amiri’s house on July 27, 2008, security officers attacked the church and arrested 6 women, 8 men, and 2 children. On the same night, security officers harshly beat Ms. Rahnama and her husband. Mr. Amiri went into coma due to severe injuries on his chest and due to old age, and died in the ICU of Shariati hospital in Esfahan on July 30, 2008 at 16:30 hrs.

Officials’ Reaction

Based on the available information, after Ms. Rahnama’s death, security forces officers and several plainclothes agents surrounded her house and monitored every movements to and from the house.

Security agents threatened Ms. Rahnama's family with insults saying that they were Armenian, Christian, apostate, and that they deserved to be killed.

Officers told Ms. Rahnama's relatives and children that they were not allowed to hold any ceremonies and that they should immediately leave the city after the funeral. Mr. Amiri's brother protested to the officers, but several officers attacked, punched and kicked him.

Security agents threatened them with insults saying that they were Armenian, Christian, apostate, and that they deserve to be killed.

Familys’ Reaction

Ms. Rahnama's family transferred her body to Masjed Soleiman on Monday, August 15, 2008, and in the presence of her relatives and children, buried her in the city cemetery next to her husband at 6 o’clock in the morning.

Correct/ Complete This Entry