10 rights Iranian Christians are denied on 75th anniversary of declaration

10 rights Iranian Christians are denied on 75th anniversary of declaration

On the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, here are 10 rights that have been denied to Christians in Iran since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979.

Article 3 – Right to Life

Eight of the Christians were remembered at a memorial service in London in 2019. Left to right: Arastoo Sayyah, Bahram Dehqani-Tafti, Hossein Soodmand, Haik Hovsepian, Mehdi Dibaj, Tateos Michaelian, Mohammad Bagher Yusefi, Ghorban Tourani.

At least 10 Iranian Christians have been killed for their faith – all but one of them extrajudicially – since the 1979 revolution.

Anglican pastor Arastoo Sayyah was murdered just eight days after the revolution. A year later, the Anglican bishop of Iran’s son, Bahram Dehqani-Tafti, was murdered. In 1990, Rev Hossein Soodmand was hanged for “apostasy”, and between 1994 and 1996 four other pastors – Haik Hovsepian, Tateos Michaelian, Mehdi Dibaj, and Mohammad Bagher Yusefi – were also killed. 

Finally, in 2005, house-church leader Ghorban Tourani, was murdered.

Meanwhile, an elderly Christian couple, Abbas Amiri and Sakineh Rahnama, died in 2008 due to injuries sustained during a raid on their house-church by intelligence agents.

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Article 5 – Right to Freedom from Torture

Iman Shahvari was detained for a year, including two months in solitary confinement, following his second arrest for his Christian activities.

Iman says his first solitary cell, where he was detained for about a month, was “very dark, warm, and full of insects. For 24 hours a day, there was a noise in the cell like that of a helicopter, putting pressure on my nerves and psyche. I wasn’t allowed to remove my blindfold in the cell. There was a camera, and if I ever took off my blindfold an officer would come and beat me with a stick!

“I was taken in for questioning once a week. They wanted to bring me back to Islam through threats and psychological torture. They said: ‘We know that you are determined in your choice, but we aren’t in a hurry; we have many ways and techniques to bring you back!’ I was kept in this cell for about a month.

“One day, at 3pm, I was taken to another solitary cell that was cooler and cleaner. At 6pm, they threw food into the cell. I was very cold and said: ‘Please can you increase the temperature of the AC in here?’ ‘Sure,’ the officer said, but then he decreased it even more, so the cell became even colder. I felt frozen until the morning, when I told the officer: ‘You mistakenly decreased the temperature last night, and I was freezing from the cold!’ ‘I’m sorry,’ he said, and decreased it even more. I realised at that moment that I was in a torture cell.”

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Article 7 – Right to Equality Before the Law

According to Article 881 of Iran’s Civil Code, “an ‘infidel’ [non-Muslim] cannot inherit from a Muslim, and if there is a Muslim among the heirs of a deceased ‘infidel’, the heirs of the ‘infidel’ will not inherit, even if they are superior to the Muslim in terms of class and rank”.

According to Article 1059, a Muslim man can marry a non-Muslim woman, but it is not permitted for a non-Muslim man to marry a Muslim woman.

Meanwhile, Article 310 of the Islamic Penal Code provides for retribution in kind (qisas) for the murderer if the victim is a Muslim, but if the victim is a non-Muslim, they are not entitled to retribution.

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Article 9 – Right to Freedom from Arbitrary Arrest and Exile

The UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled in November 2020 that the Iranian government was guilty of arbitrarily detaining Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani on four grounds – lack of legal basis for detention, detention resulting from “legitimate exercise” of freedoms, lack of fair trial and due process, and “discrimination based on religious beliefs”. 

The group called not only for Yousef’s immediate release, but for compensation and “other reparations” to be given to him, and for Iran to conduct an independent investigation into his arbitrary detention and hold accountable those responsible.

Despite this ruling, Yousef remained in prison until February this year, and upon his release still faced two years in exile for “acting against national security by propagating house-churches and promoting ‘Zionist’ Christianity”. 

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Article 10 – Right to a Fair Trial

Left to right: Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh, Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari.

Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh were sentenced last year to five years in prison for “engaging in propaganda and education of deviant beliefs contrary to the holy Sharia”. 

Their lawyer, Iman Soleimani, wrote on Twitter:

“I’ve been involved with this case from the beginning, and volumes of unspoken stories could be written regarding the shortcomings of how the arrest and preliminary investigations took place, the illegal proceedings in the Revolutionary Court in Rasht, and even the way my defendants were wrongfully condemned for someone else’s interview about them with Iran International.”

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Article 17 – Right to Freedom from Arbitrary Deprivation of Property 

The Assemblies of God church in Gorgan, northeast Iran, is the latest example of a Christian property that has been expropriated by the state and earlier this year was finally put up for sale.

The church was founded by Haik Hovsepian, who went on to become the head of all Assemblies of God churches in Iran, before his murder in January 1994.

For more than 25 years, the church building has stood empty and dormant, a relic to a former time when, even in the early days of the Islamic Republic, it had seemed possible, for a short while, for Christians – even converts – to meet inside a church building.

But, as with many other Christian properties in recent years, the Gorgan church has since followed a familiar pattern of forced closure, years passing, and then, when all is almost forgotten, clandestine confiscation and gradual appropriation by the Iranian state.

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Article 18 – Right to Freedom of Religion or Belief

“While leaving the prison, I explained to all the officers who had heard it being claimed that my crime was ‘political’ that I had been arrested because I had become a Christian. I wanted to state this fact clearly, so that the Ministry of Intelligence couldn’t falsely tell the world that ‘we don’t imprison anyone for their beliefs’.” 

These are the words of Sanaz Karami, who was arrested in 2015 for being part of a house-church and later convicted, alongside her husband, Amid, with “propaganda against the Islamic Republic regime in favour of hostile groups”.

Sanaz and Amid later fled the country and are now refugees in Turkey.

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Article 20 – Right to Freedom of Assembly and Association

Iranian Christians are frequently arrested for assembling peacefully together in their homes to pray and worship together because converts have no #Place2Worship, as they are not permitted to enter the churches of Iran’s Armenian & Assyrian minorities.

In Ayoob, Ahmad and Morteza’s case, there lawyer Iman Soleimani also told the court his clients’ only “crime” had been to meet together for prayer and worship.

A religious assembly, Mr Soleimani said, could not be considered an “action against the state”.

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Article 23 – Right to Employment

After 11 days in detention following his arrest at a house-church leadership meeting in 2013, Peyman Kiani returned to work to discover that the Ministry of Intelligence had spoken with his employers and ordered that he be fired.

“I went through a lot of hardship, a lot of filtering to get this job, and I had become officially employed permanently and I was being promoted,” Peyman explained. “I was so confident about the achievements I could make in this job, I had long-term plans, even to my retirement, about how things would progress.”

So desperate was he to regain his position that Peyman even returned to his interrogator to ask to be allowed to return to work.

His response? “We cannot allow traitors and sick people like you to work and prosper in the Islamic Republic of Iran!”

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Article 26 – Right to Education

Christian convert Parsa Mostafaei was expelled from university after his arrest in 2015.

“When I was in prison, the interrogator had told me: ‘If you don’t cooperate with us, all your work opportunities and even your university education in Iran will be over’,” he explained. “But I hadn’t really thought the MOIS [Ministry of Intelligence] would inform the university about my arrest and ‘security’ file. I had completed my diploma at another university, and at that time I was studying accounting at the Islamic Azad University of Qods City in Tehran. But due to the interference of the intelligence officials, unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to pass the six credits required to receive my final degree.”

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