‘National security’ charges deliberately vague ‘to mislead public’

‘National security’ charges deliberately vague ‘to mislead public’

Accusations that members of religious minorities, including Christians, are engaged in unspecified “actions against national security” are deliberately vague in order “to mislead the public”, says the author of a recent report on religious propaganda in Iran.

The intention, according to Shahin Milani, executive director of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, is “to basically convince the masses, the public, that these individuals are engaging in nefarious actions against the Iranian state”.

Mr Milani was speaking on Thursday, 3 November, as part of a virtual discussion hosted by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), for whom his July report was written. 

To illustrate his point, Mr Milani noted how Christian converts are now frequently referred to as “Zionists” by state-sponsored media, when in actual fact the claim “has no basis in reality”.

“It’s an arbitrary tie, an arbitrary link between Christians and Zionism and has no basis in reality,” Mr Milani said. “But they just put it there and try to link Christian converts in Iran to the worldwide Zionist movement, or the State of Israel.

“… Because just attacking religious minorities on religion itself, or on their beliefs, doesn’t have an effect on ordinary Iranians, but tying them to foreign states and arguing that these groups threaten Iran’s security, the government thinks at least it can be effective.” 

Mr Milani cited the example of a Fars News report in January 2021 about the arrest of Christians “in several provinces” who were labelled members of a “Zionist network” who had been “creating moral depravity and promoting religious conversion”.

“The final line of the report stated: ‘Networks connected to the Christian movement have engaged in widespread security efforts in the country,’” Mr Milani noted. “What does it mean: ‘security efforts?’ Really, the propaganda is vague, and it’s vague on purpose because there’s really no truth to it. But they just throw in these terms to mislead the public.”

Mr Milani, who spent time outlining the ways in which each of Iran’s other major religious-minority groups are vilified, also noted that very similar tactics are now being used against protesters.

“The government’s propaganda against ordinary protesters that are on the streets today is also very similar, in the sense of tying them to ‘foreign agents’, and ‘foreign governments’, and ‘foreign spy agencies’,” he said. “It’s a feature of Iranian propaganda, and it’s a charge that is going to be levelled against protesters. It is as baseless as it is against religious minorities.”

You can watch the full discussion, which also included comments from USCIRF Commissioner Eric Ueland, here.

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