“During the holiday season, we do not forget that the Christian community in Iran is suppressed,” she wrote, adding that “tonight many Christian families in Iran see the empty chairs of their fathers, brothers, and mothers at dinner tables.”

Although the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran technically defends Christians and Jews as fellow adherents to Abrahamic religions, official tolerance is only extended to communities that have traditionally followed these religions since prior to the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Those who convert from Islam to these or any other religions may be arrested and tried for apostasy, which can be punished by death.

Laws such as this contribute to the high rate of capital punishment in Iran – the highest per capita rate in the world, placing it in the number two slot for overall annual executions, behind only China. Though details are not readily available for all executions under the Iranian system, rights groups and the NCRI generally link the liberal application of the death penalty to Iran’s penchant for holding political prisoners.

Rajavi’s Christmas message looked ahead to the coming year and declared, “We shall not forget all those jailed, tortured and executed simply for believing in a cause greater than themselves: freedom.”

Certainly, a portion of Iran’s prison population is comprised of activists who have been arrested for pursuing freedoms of religious practice. This includes Christians, Jews, and numerous members of the native Iranian Baha’i faith, followers of which are routinely denied access to education and made to witness the government’s willful destruction of their cemeteries.

The plight of Christians in Iran has been given greater attention in Western media in the past two years, owing to the arrest of Pastor Saeed Abedini, a native Iranian who fled to the United States following his conversion to Christianity. After taking up residence in Boise, Idaho alongside his family, Abedini began taking return trips to Iran to support the local house church movement that allows Iranian Christians to practice their faith privately.

In the summer of 2012, Abedini was arrested while in Iran to help in the construction of an orphanage. He was subsequently sentenced to eight years in prison on the charge of undermining state security through his religious activities. He has reportedly been subject to extremely harsh conditions during his time in prison, including beatings, threats from other prisoners as well as guards, and denial of medical treatment. These conditions were highlighted once again last week when they were mentioned in a Christmas letter written by Abedini to his wife and children in the United States