Analysis

Iran continues to deny religious freedom abuses, against all evidence

Iran continues to deny religious freedom abuses, against all evidence

Iranian-Armenian MP Ara Shahverdyan (left) and Iran’s ambassador to Ireland, Masoud Eslami. (Photos: Mohabat News)

Any observer of Iran’s multitudinous religious freedom abuses will be familiar with the repeated denials by regime officials.

The latest include comments from Iran’s ambassador to Ireland, Masoud Eslami – responding to claims that Baha’is are targeted in Iran solely because of their beliefs – and the new Armenian representative to the Iranian Parliament, Ara Shahverdyan, claiming, like many minority MPs before him, that religious minorities “live without any restrictions and with complete freedom”.

The reasons for why a minority MP may make such remarks are complex and will be discussed in a future Article18 feature, while it is hardly surprising to see an official government employee such as the ambassador to Ireland defend the country’s reputation. 

Yet both comments fly in the face of all evidence. 

As Article18 and other rights groups have consistently highlighted, religious minorities such as Christians and Bahai’s are indeed targeted only because of their beliefs, and the outworking of those beliefs. 

Last month Article18 highlighted the case of seven Christian converts in Bushehr, whose charges related solely to their possession of Christian Bibles and other Christian artefacts.

As Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, commented at the time: “Condemning these people to prison because of their possession of Bibles and Christian symbols is a clear demonstration that Iran’s Foreign Minister and others aren’t telling the truth when they say that ‘no-one is put in prison in Iran simply because of their beliefs’.”

Earlier this week, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom highlighted the case of pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who is serving a six-year sentence (recently reduced from 10 years) solely because of his membership of a house church, and his pleas for his children not to be obliged to sit examinations for Islamic Studies – a request that continues to be denied because the state will not recognise converts to Christianity as Christians.

Only on Saturday, four more Christian converts from Yousef’s city of Rasht received prison sentences of between two and five years in prison – again, only because they became Christians and joined a house-church, as official churches are off-limits to converts.

These are just a few of the latest examples of Iran’s regular violations of religious freedom, but Article18 believes it is important to continually challenge the state rhetoric, as it persists in professing its provision of full religious freedom, against all evidence.