"The traditional churches are being strangled," Rode told DW."Those involved have no other choice but to go underground." Many Christians form small house churches and meet in private homes.He wants the population to grow to at least 150 million – and in a in a traditional country like Iran, that means increasing the marriage rate first.In May 2014, Ayatollah Khamenei issued an edict ordering the government to decrease the marriage age, increase the fertility rate, and evict the obstacles to marriage.Parliament responded by taking steps to reverse family planning laws by banning voluntary sterilization and restricting access to contraceptives.
Muslims who choose to become Christians are threatened with prison sentences and even death.In the late 1980s, Ayatollah Khomeini issued fatwas making birth control widely available in the country.Since then, Iran has experienced a large drop in fertility, so now the government is reversing course. Last year, Iran announced that this rate has fallen by six percent to 712,000 marriages.Some point to financial causes for matrimony's declines.An economic downturn has made it difficult for young couples to afford the cost of starting households.When Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visits Pope Francis in the Vatican on Tuesday (), at least one topic cannot be overlooked on their agenda: human rights in Iran, particularly the rights of the Christian minority. The situation for Christians of any denomination in Iran is "very dramatic," according to Markus Rode from Open Doors.In particular, individuals who have converted from Islam to Christianity are subjected to "extreme persecution." Many have been imprisoned, tortured, or threatened with death."Iran is a totalitarian state, a surveillance state, and a police state that tries to protect the population from anything outside of the Shiite or Islamic culture," according to katholisch.de, the website of the Catholic Church in Germany.Nuclear deal not a sign of opening To what extent is the US-Iran nuclear deal impacting the climate within the country?Neither Rode nor Voigt expect the human rights situation to improve any time soon."From the Western perspective, it looks like this is a historic opportunity for improvement," said Rode. It needs weapons, which is why it signed the nuclear deal with 'the big Satan,' the US. In the West, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is traveling to Europe for the first time after two years in office, is seen as a "beacon of hope." Many believe that with the nuclear deal he has led his country out of political isolation and opened up economic possibilities.