From Mohabat News, Karaj, Iran – August 27, 2013:
Security authorities arrested three Christians, two of whom are Farsi-speaking, in an arbitrary move without mentioning any charges for their arrest. The unreasonable arrest of these Christian men and an increase in condemnation of Christians by the Iranian judicial authorities all point to a deteriorating situation for the Iranian Christian community. Ebrahim Firouzi and Sevada Aghasar went to visit Masoud Mirzaei in his office in an insurance company in Karaj, when plain-clothes security authorities raided the office and arrested all three Christians present.The arrested Christians are, Masoud Mirzaei, resident of Karaj, Sevada Aghasar, Armenian resident of Tehran, and Ebrahim Firouzi who was arrested again after being sentenced in the Revolutionary Court. The authorities then transferred them to an unknown location. Their location is still unknown at the time of writing this article and no indication has been given with regards to their charges for this arrest.
- International Christian Concern (ICC): They are “alarmed by the latest series of events that continue a pattern of egregious violations of fundamental rights and freedoms in Iran.”
- Peresecution.org: “There has not been any improvement in the months since the election of President Hassan Rouhani.”
- Todd Daniels, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East: “Iran continues to engage in a pattern of systematic abuse of the basic and fundamental rights of both its own citizens, and in the case of Saeed Abedini, an American citizen.
Thanks to dedicated groups like the American Center for Law and Justice and some at Fox News, many Americans are aware of the plight of Saeed Abedini, an American pastor imprisoned in Iran since 2012 for, essentially, refusing to renounce his faith in Christianity. Pastor Abedini’s imprisonment (as well as the imprisonment of two other Americans) has drawn the attention of Secretary of State John Kerry; the topic even came up in President Obama’s phone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani this week.
But as we debate the wisdom of extending the hand of friendship to Iran, it’s important to be aware that human rights abuses occur there on a daily basis with no real signs of improvement since the June election.
Religious minorities are especially at risk. The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran states that Islam is the country’s official religion and all laws must be consistent with Islam. Though the Constitution guarantees freedom for religious minorities, many activities, including Christian publishing and proselytizing are seen as conflicting with Islamic law and are therefore not protected — they are in fact, punishable by imprisonment or death. While those born into traditionally ethnic Christian families (Armenians and Assyrians) face less persecution, ethnic Persians are considered to be Muslim by default and according to the state, are labeled as apostates deserving the death penalty for conversion.
According to Open Doors, “[A]t tleast 450,000 Christians live in Iran. Of this estimate, about 370,000 are “new” Christians from a Muslim background.” Fearful of the increasing Christian influence in the country, which is seen as a threat to the regime, Christians, particularly those in house churches, are closely monitored by authorities. Evangelism, Bible training, and publishing scriptures in Farsi are illegal. Christians detentions are common.
Discussing the recent detentions of Christians, Todd Nettleton from Voice of the Martyrs said,“The charges reveal a government mindset that has earned it the dubious distinction of occupying spot #8 on the Open Doors World Watch List (a ranking of the 50 countries where persecution of Christians is most severe). Nettleton said that having contact with foreign ministries is considered a national security threat. “But ‘disrupting national security’…they equate spreading Christianity, being a witness for Christ, with disrupting the security of the entire nation of Iran. That tells you what the regime thinks of Christianity.”
Though Iran released 80 political prisoners in anticipation of the Iranian leader’s trip to the United Nations last week as part of what the New York Times called his “charm offensive,” at least 2000 political and religious dissidents remain incarcerated. According to a UN Special Rapporteur, prisoners are regularly subjected to torture, including beating and whipping in 100 percent of the cases; sexual torture, rape, and molestation in 60 percent of the cases; and with psychological and environmental torture such as solitary confinement as “highly prevalent.”
And human rights activists fear that Rouhani plans to empty the prison by executing prisoners. The French news agency AFP reported Rouhani saying, “’We don’t like to have anyone or see anyone in prison. We would like to have empty prisons.” Prior to Rouhani’s election, Iran had the highest execution rate in the world, a rate that has continued unabated since his election in June, with some 100 Iranians executed in the first month alone, some of them juveniles. Moreover, a large number of prisoners are secretly killed by the regime.
Earlier this month, in a column at Al-Monitor, Dwight Bashir, deputy director of policy and research at the US Commission on International Religious Freedom urged caution in dealing with Iran’s new leader. “[T]he biggest mistake the United States and its allies could make going forward would be to sidestep Iran’s international human rights obligations in favor of making progress on its international proliferation commitments. These concerns are not mutually exclusive, nor should Iran interpret the allure of a short-run nuclear bargain with the West as a free pass on its long-standing domestic abuses.”
Bashir said that despite Rouhani’s moderate rhetoric, minorities have faced continued repression since his election in June. “There has been a renewed crackdown on Protestant Christians resulting in numerous arrests; Sufi activists were convicted in an unfair trial for peaceful religious expression; and, for the first time in 15 years, a Baha’i, Ataollah Rezvani, was shot to death because of his faith. In the months leading up to Rezvani’s murder, intelligence officials had been harassing and threatening him and a month after his killing, no official investigation is underway.”
Bashir said the U.S. should judge Rouhani on his deeds, not just words. He offered the following benchmarks that could demonstrate Rouhani’s sincerity:
- Pardon the Sufis during Ashura commemorations in November.
- Release Pastor Abedini and the remaining Christian prisoners of conscience by Christmas.
- Ensure that more than 100 Baha’is in prison for their faith are set free by March 20, 2014, which marks both the Iranian and the Baha’i new year.
Bashir said, “Democracies that respect the rights of their people rarely go to war with each other. Prudence alone suggests the wisdom of holding Iran’s feet to the fire on human rights.”
Iran needs to know that the international community is watching and will hold Iran accountable.