IN SHORT: Photos are circulating on Facebook in South Africa with the claim they show the Christian baptism of more than 80 Iranian Muslims, in Germany. But each photo is from a different event and the claim can’t be proven.
“More than 80 Iranian Muslims in Germany accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord. They left their country to get baptized in Christ,” a post circulating in South Africa in January 2023 reads.
“Iran‘s underground church is exploding with new believers. Some believe that in the last years more than five million Iranians in Iran have come to Christ,” it continues.
The post is published with four images showing people gathered in groups, being immersed in water.
It has been reposted over 800 times on Facebook and the claim has been repeated here, here and here, using some of the same images.
But is it true that these images show Iranians who travelled to Germany to get baptised as Christians? And is there data to show that 5 million people in Iran have become Christian in recent years? We checked.
Images from different locations and events
The first step we took in verifying the claim was to do a reverse image search of each of the four images, using the Fake news debunker by InVID & WeVerify tool.
The tool allows you to run a reverse image search across several search engines, including Google, Bing, Tineye and Yandex, at the same time.
The search results gave us information on the earliest online use of each of the images, with captions which placed them in context.
The earliest source of the first photo we checked, below, is from 4 October 2009 on Getty Images – more than 13 years before the social media posts were published.
According to its caption, the photo was taken at Yardenit in northern Israel and shows the moment that “Brazilian Evangelist Christians embrace in prayer during their mass baptism ceremony in the Jordan River”.
On 23 July 2019, the German publication Wolfsburger Nachrichten reported that another of the photos used in the social media posts was of a baptism ceremony which took place at Allersee lake in Wolfsburg, northern Germany.
The article reported that among the 31 people baptised, 13 were Iranian refugees. It does not mention whether they were previously of the Muslim faith.
In a September 2016 article, Christian publication Evangelical Focus published this photo, below, saying it showed an asylum seeker being baptised in Germany. It did not mention where they were from.
We could not trace the fourth image to a trustworthy source. But at least three of the four photos in the original claim were used out of context, and only one reliably shows Iranians being baptised.
Available data shows less than 1 million Christians in Iran
A 2021 report on International Religious Freedom in Iran by the US’s Office of International Religious Freedom says that article 13 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran recognises and allows the practice of the Zoroastrian, Jewish and Christian faiths in the country, although these religious groups are a minority.
The report recorded that there were an estimated 117,700 people who practised Christianity or who self-identified as Christians in Iran.
Africa Check was unable to independently verify this number, but it is very far from the “5 million” that the Facebook posts claim “some believe” have been converted in the country in the “last years”. However, claims that the photos in the posts show the baptism of 80 Iranians in Germany is false.
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