News

Article18 calls for ‘full enjoyment’ of religious freedom in UPR submission

Article18 calls for ‘full enjoyment’ of religious freedom in UPR submission

The UN in Geneva (Flickr / CC / Nunavut)

Article18 has partnered with two fellow advocacy organisations to submit recommendations on Iran to the 34th Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the UN’s Human Rights Council.

In the eight-page document, Article18, CSW and Middle East Concern call on Iran to ensure that “all religious minorities are recognised and able to fully enjoy the right to freedom of religion of belief”. 

The submission also calls for the “immediate and unconditional release of all those detained on charges of blasphemy or apostasy, or national-security charges related to their religion or belief”.

The focus of the submission is the plight of Christians – particularly converts from Islam – and Baha’is. 

It notes that Christians continue to face the “forced closure of churches, arbitrary detention on spurious charges, harassment, surveillance, and excessive prison sentences delivered after legal processes that fail to respect due process”. 

Baha’is, meanwhile, as an unrecognised religious minority, “continue to be subjected to hate speech and discrimination in law and practice”. 

The submission highlights the dozens of Christians arrested over the past year, including as many as 150 in the final two months of 2018 alone, across a number of different cities. This pattern has continued in 2019, with the arrest of at least 11 more Christians – including nine in the northern city of Rasht

Most of those arrested – usually during peaceful gatherings in private homes – face charges of “action against national security”. Several have been handed lengthy prison sentences of up to 15 years. The submission calls for an end to these “excessive” charges and for Iran to “end the criminalisation of the peaceful expression of faith”.

Meanwhile, the submission notes that Baha’is, as well as Dervishes, have been “increasingly targeted with hate speech” and face a “raft of discriminatory and repressive policies, including with regard to education and burial sites”.

The submission notes that during the second cycle of the UPR, Iran only accepted six recommendations related to religious freedom and rejected nine recommendations to take steps to protect religious minorities from repression, and a further seven calling specifically for amendments to laws and legislation to achieve the same. 

Furthermore, Iran accepted two recommendations to ensure freedom of opinion and expression, yet the submission notes that “despite this, religious minorities are exposed to multiple restrictions of freedoms of expression, opinion and assembly. Arrest, detention, physical and emotional abuse during interrogation and other oppressive actions are commonplace for religious minorities, especially those not recognised within the constitution, and including Christian converts”.

This is despite Iran having acceded to the the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to religious freedom under article 18, and Iran’s own constitution declaring that “the investigation of individuals beliefs is forbidden, and no-one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief”.

The submission also notes that while Iran accepted a recommendation to ensure due process and fair trial, particularly during any process leading to the death penalty, at the same time it “somewhat contradictorily” rejected other recommendations to ensure a right to fair trial, to guarantee due process in all proceedings, and to ensure continued access to legal counsel.

“Due process has not been respected in trials involving Christians and Christian converts,” the submission notes, highlighting the consistent use of “infamous and partial judges” who hand out heavy sentences and in some cases even put pressure on converts to recant their faith.

The submission follows Article18’s inaugural annual report, released in January as a collaborative effort with CSW, Middle East Concern and fellow advocacy organisation Open Doors. 

That report highlighted the “unprecedented” wave of raids on private house gatherings of Christians at the end of 2018 as the culmination of a year in which religious freedom continued to be violated in Iran. 

It called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of those still detained, for a “careful investigation” by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Iran, and for the international community to “promote freedom of religious and belief in Iran and to keep this principle in mind in political or economic discussions”.

The UN’s Special Rapporteur, Javaid Rehman, in his latest report, bemoaned the “heavy sentences” given to Iranian Christians and called for the “release of all those imprisoned for having exercised their right to freedom of religion or belief”.

UK’s controversial rejection of convert’s asylum claim ‘needs thorough investigation’

UK’s controversial rejection of convert’s asylum claim ‘needs thorough investigation’

Hundreds of Iranians have travelled to the UK to seek asylum, many of them claiming to be Christian converts. (Flickr / CC / malachybrowne)

The UK’s immigration service has come under fire for using verses from the Bible to contradict the claims of an Iranian asylum seeker who said he’d converted to Christianity because it was a “peaceful” religion.

The unnamed Iranian, who filed for asylum in 2016, was told on Tuesday that his claim had been rejected because the claim that Christianity was “peaceful” was inconsistent with verses such as “You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you” – from the book of Leviticus. 

“These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a ‘peaceful’ religion, as opposed to Islam which contains violence, rage and revenge,” read a letter from the British Home Office, which was shared online by the Iranian’s lawyer, Nathan Stevens.

The lawyer later shared another similar Home Office rejection to a separate asylum case, which stated: “You affirmed in your Asylum Interview Record that Jesus is your saviour, but then claimed he would not be able to save you from the Iranian regime. It is therefore considered that you have no conviction in your faith and your belief in Jesus is half-hearted.”  

A member of the UK-based Christian Action Research and Education charity, James Mildred, writing on the Christian website Premier, said “both examples demonstrate a dangerously shallow level of religious literacy in the Home Office”.

Church of England spokesman, Bishop Paul Butler, said he was “extremely concerned that a government department could determine the future of another human being based on such a profound misunderstanding of the texts and practices of faith communities”. 

Archbishop Angaelos of the Coptic Church in London said the incident needed “thorough investigation” to “determine whether this is merely out of misunderstanding or a proactive attempt to adversely affect the application of someone whose life may very literally be at risk”.

As Article18 has highlighted, Iranian converts to Christianity are often targeted by the intelligence service (MOIS). 

Many have been arrested and charged with “actions against national security”, then given lengthy sentences of up to 15 years in prison.

Once arrested, converts often face pressure to recant their faith or sign commitments not to meet with other Christians. In many cases, converts have been released after paying huge sums for bail, then given their passports and encouraged to leave Iran. 

As a result of the harsh treatment they face, many converts decide to leave Iran, as Article18 highlighted in its inaugural annual report, released in January.

UN renews mandate of special rapporteur on human rights in Iran

UN renews mandate of special rapporteur on human rights in Iran

Javaid Rehman was appointed special rapporteur in July 2018 (Photo: Twitter@JavaidRehman)

The UN has today renewed the mandate of its special rapporteur on human rights in Iran for another year following a joint letter by 42 rights groups, including Article18. 

The open letter, sent on 14 March, highlighted the “persistence of serious, chronic and systematic violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights in [Iran], which have only become more dire over the past year”. 

It called for the mandate of Javaid Rehman, appointed in July last year after the death of former rapporteur Asma Jahangir, to be renewed to “address the on-going repression in Iran” and “advance the promotion and protection of human rights”.

Among the rights abused by Iran, the letter noted, is the right to freedom of religion or belief.

Twenty-two members of the UN’s human rights council voted in favour of the renewal of Mr. Rehman’s mandate; seven voted against, and 18 abstained.

The UN’s resolution, introduced by Sweden, noted with “regret” Iran’s “lack of cooperation”, including failing to grant Mr. Rehman permission to travel to Iran, and called for Iran to “cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur and to permit access to visit the country and to provide all information necessary to allow the fulfilment of the mandate”.

Among the comments made by members of the human rights council during the discussion of the resolution, Brazil specifically mentioned concerns about reports of rights violations against members of religious minorities.

In his latest report, Mr. Rehman bemoaned the “heavy sentences” given to Iranian Christians and called for the “release of all those imprisoned for having exercised their right to freedom of religion or belief”.

Mr. Rehman’s report called on Iran to “protect the rights of all persons belonging to religious and ethnic minorities and address all forms of discrimination against them”.

He noted that several Christians have “received heavy sentences after being charged with threatening national security, either for converting people or for attending house churches” and said the “disproportionate number of arrests and convictions of members of minority groups” illustrates “discrimination in the administration of justice”.

“Ethnic and religious minority groups constitute a disproportionately large percentage of persons executed or imprisoned,” he said.

Over the past decade, Article18 has consistently highlighted Iran’s failure to grant freedom of religion to its citizens. 

Article18’s inaugural annual report, released in January, noted that at least 14 Christians remained in prison at the end of 2018, detained on spurious charges related to their faith or religious activity.

Ahead of Christmas, 114 Christians were arrested in one week alone, after a series of raids in ten cities across the country.

Amnesty International said 2018 had been Iran’s “year of shame” due to its “chilling” crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. 

Human Rights Watch also highlighted the imprisonment of Christian converts in the Iran chapter of its 2019 World Report.

Seven Rasht Christians released on bail, two detained

Seven Rasht Christians released on bail, two detained

Seven of the nine “Church of Iran” members arrested this year in Rasht have been released on bail, but two remain detained.

L to R: Abdolreza Ali Haghnejad, Khalil Dehghanpour, and Hossein Kadivar (Middle East Concern)

Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi, Behnam Akhlaghi, Hossein Kadivar, Khalil Dehghanpour, Kamal Naamanian and Mohammed Vafada have all been released since Saturday after paying 150 million tomans (around $12,000) each for bail.

They are all expected to face a court summons soon, though the prospective date of that summons is unknown, as are the charges they are facing.

Shahrooz Eslamdoost and Abdolreza Ali Haghnejad remain in detention, where Abdolreza has been charged with “action against national security” and “promoting Zionist Christianity”.

The nine Christians are all members of the same group as pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who is currently serving a ten-year jail sentence after being convicted of the same charges as those now facing Abdolreza.

Three more of Yousef’s church members – Saheb (Zaman) Fadaee, Mohammad Ali Mosayebzadeh, and Mohammad Reza Omidi – are also serving ten-year jail sentences on the same charges. They were sentenced in July 2017, then taken to serve their sentences a year later, in July 2018, after violent raids on their homes, having received neither warning, nor summons.

L to R: Kamal Naamanian, Mohammed Vafada and Shahrooz Eslamdoost. (Middle East Concern)

Hossein Kadivar and Khalil Dehghanpour were detained following a raid on the “house-church” meeting they were leading on 29 January; Abdolreza Ali Haghnejad was arrested on 10 February during a raid on his home; Kamal Naamanian, Mohammed Vafada and Shahrooz Eslamdoost were arrested at a “house-church” gathering on 15 February; Babak Hosseinzadeh and Mehdi Khatibi were arrested at two separate “house churches” on 23 February; and Behnam Akhlaghi was summoned to the offices of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (Sepah) that same day.

The nine men were each helping to lead services in Yousef’s absence. Two of them – Abdolreza and Kamal – had been arrested before for their Christian activities.

Yousef previously spent nearly three years in prison after being sentenced to death for apostasy in 2010. He was acquitted of the charge in September 2012.

Yousef’s wife, Fatemeh, was reportedly recently told she will be arrested if she leaves Gilan Province.

Rights groups call for renewal of UN rapporteur’s mandate

Rights groups call for renewal of UN rapporteur’s mandate

A coalition of 42 rights groups, including Article18, have called for the renewal of the mandate of the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Iran.

In a joint letter to members of the UN’s human rights council, the groups highlight the “persistence of serious, chronic and systematic violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights in [Iran], which have only become more dire over the past year”. 

The letter calls for the mandate of Javaid Rehman, appointed in July last year after the death of former rapporteur Asma Jahangir, to be renewed to “address the on-going repression in Iran” and “advance the promotion and protection of human rights”.

Among the rights abused by Iran, the letter notes, is the right to freedom of religion or belief.

In his latest report, Mr. Rehman bemoaned the “heavy sentences” given to Iranian Christians and called for the “release of all those imprisoned for having exercised their right to freedom of religion or belief”.

Mr. Rehman’s report called on Iran to “protect the rights of all persons belonging to religious and ethnic minorities and address all forms of discrimination against them”.

He noted that several Christians have “received heavy sentences after being charged with threatening national security, either for converting people or for attending house churches” and said the “disproportionate number of arrests and convictions of members of minority groups” illustrates “discrimination in the administration of justice”.

“Ethnic and religious minority groups constitute a disproportionately large percentage of persons executed or imprisoned,” he said.

Over the past decade, Article18 has consistently highlighted Iran’s failure to grant freedom of religion to its citizens. 

Article18’s inaugural annual report, released in January, noted that at least 14 Christians remained in prison at the end of 2018, detained on spurious charges related to their faith or religious activity.

Ahead of Christmas, 114 Christians were arrested in one week alone, after a series of raids in ten cities across the country.

Amnesty International said 2018 had been Iran’s “year of shame” due to its “chilling” crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. 

Human Rights Watch also highlighted the imprisonment of Christian converts in the Iran chapter of its 2019 World Report.

The full text of the letter is below:

TO: Member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council

Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned Iranian and international human rights organisations, urge your government to support resolution A/HRC/40/L.15 renewing the mandate of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, to be tabled during the 40th session of the Human Rights Council.

The renewal of this mandate is warranted by the persistence of serious, chronic and systematic violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights in the country, which have only become more dire over the past year. The capacity and expertise of the mandate are necessary to address the on-going repression in Iran, including through conducting urgent documentation and urgent actions and through sustained and continuous engagement with the Iranian authorities in order to advance the promotion and protection of human rights in the country.

Discontent with corruption and mismanagement of resources and demands for civil and political as well as economic, social and cultural rights have led to protests across the country over the last year. These protests and strikes have often been met by arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as violations of the rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly. In 2018, at least 5 individuals, including protestors, have died in state custody and authorities have failed to conduct any transparent investigation into the circumstances of their death. State repression has been especially severe against already marginalized communities and ethnic minorities, for whom these issues are particularly acute. The security forces have violently dispersed peaceful demonstrations, beating unarmed protesters and using live ammunition, tear gas and water cannons against them.

The authorities have intensified their efforts to choke off the space for civil society work. Dissenting voices, including journalists, online media workers and human rights defenders, including human rights lawyers, labour rights activists and women’s rights defenders, have been subjected to arbitrary arrests and detention, simply for speaking out. In 2018, at least 63 environmental activists were arrested. They include eight conservationists who could face the death penalty or long prison terms following a grossly unfair trial for their wildlife conservation work. Space for online expression continues to be closed off as part of efforts to inhibit the free flow of information in the country, as exemplified by the blocking of the popular instant messaging application Telegram.

Meanwhile, the Iranian authorities have consistently failed to adopt and enact legislation and policies that would address the core human rights violations that people in the country have been facing for decades, despite the many recommendations it has received from UN human rights bodies and through the UPR to that effect, and despite continued popular demands expressed through strikes and protests.

Long-standing bills pertaining to the protection of children against abuse and violence against women remain stalled, and some of the reforms included in the original drafts have already been watered down by the Guardian Council and the judiciary. In December 2018, a parliamentary committee rejected an amendment to the article on the age of marriage in the Civil Code, which would have banned marriage for girls under 13. Moreover, no legislative efforts were made to abolish the death penalty for individuals under the age of 18 at the time of the offence, which Iran practises “far more often than any other states”, as the Special Rapporteur stressed in his report.

Meanwhile, as abundantly documented by the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, by the UN Secretary General, and by civil society organizations, legislation, policies and state practices continue to be at odds with international human rights standards on women’s rights, the rights of the child, ethnic minority rights, the rights of recognized and unrecognized religious minorities, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, the rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, protection from torture and other ill-treatment, the right to life, due process and fair trial guarantees, as well as the equal enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.

Human rights organisations documented the executions of over 230 individuals in 2018, a decrease from last year, most likely as a result of amendments to the country’s drug law that went into force in November 2017. Authorities executed at least six who were under the age of 18 at the time of the offence. Iranians belonging to ethnic minorities, especially Kurds and Baluchis, have been disproportionately represented in execution statistics. Trials that violated due process and fair trial guarantees led to capital sentences, and death sentences were pronounced against individuals for a large range of offences that do not constitute the most serious crimes under international law.

Rampant impunity remains prevalent in the judicial system. The most flagrant example is the systematic impunity that exists with respect to the on-going enforced disappearances and the secret extrajudicial executions of 1988; many of the perpetrators involved continue to hold positions of power, including in key judicial, prosecutorial and government bodies responsible for ensuring that victims receive justice. Indeed, the newly appointed head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, is one of the aforementioned perpetrators, who was the deputy prosecutor general of Tehran in 1988 and a member of the Tehran “death commission”.

The work carried out by the Special Rapporteur has been critical to amplifying the voices of victims of human rights abuses within the UN system. This work also supports a stifled domestic civil society, identifies systemic challenges, stimulates discussions about human rights within Iran, calls for key human rights reforms, and takes action on a large number of individual cases through individual communications, thereby saving or otherwise impacting the lives of many in Iran.

For all these reasons, we call on your government to support the renewal of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, and show that the community of states requires tangible change in the human rights record of the country, in line with Iran’s treaty obligations and UPR commitments.

Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

The Advocates for Human Rights

All Human Rights for All in Iran

Amnesty International

Arseh Sevom

Article 18

ARTICLE 19

ASL19

Association for the Human Rights of the Azerbaijani people in Iran (AHRAZ)

Association for Human Rights in Kurdistan of Iran-Geneva (KMMK-G)

Balochistan Human Rights Group

Center for Human Rights in Iran

Center for Supporters of Human Rights

Child Rights International Network (CRIN)

CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation

Conectas Direitos Humanos

Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM)

Freedom from Torture

Freedom House

Freedom Now

Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRAI)

Human Rights Watch

Impact Iran

International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA)

International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

Iran Human Rights

Iran Human Rights Documentation Center

Justice for Iran

Kurdistan Human Rights Network

Minority Rights Group International

OutRight Action International

Reprieve

Siamak Pourzand Foundation

Small Media

United for Iran

West African Human Rights Defenders’ Network

World Coalition Against the Death Penalty

World Organization Against Torture (OMCT)

6Rang – Iranian Lesbian & Transgender Network

Farsi-language service held at UK Anglican church for first time

Farsi-language service held at UK Anglican church for first time

Around 450 Iranian Christians attended the service on Saturday (Twitter@WakeCathedral)

A Farsi-language service has been held at an Anglican church in the UK for the first time, in recognition of the growing number of Iranian-born Christians attending churches across the country.

The service, held on Saturday, 2 March at a cathedral in the north of England, was attended by around 450 Iranian Christians and led by an Iranian bishop forced to flee her home in 1980 after her brother was murdered because he was a Christian.

The Rt. Rev. Guli Francis-Dehqani told The Telegraph newspaper the service had been “very emotional” for her as it was the first time she had ever led a service in Farsi.

“I came to this country during the very early stages of the revolution back in Iran,” she explained. “We found ourselves in England thinking we would be here for a few weeks or months, but as it turned out, I was unable to return.

Mohsen Chinaveh, with his wife, Sara, and son, Jesus (Twitter@WakeCathedral)

“We are finding that many Iranians are coming to be baptised and be part of the Church. That’s a really joyful thing for us to celebrate.”

One Iranian couple who attended the service told The Telegraph they fled their home in Shiraz in 2017 after their secret church was discovered.

“Within one week, everything we built for over 28 years was destroyed,” Mohsen Chinaveh said. 

“We had to be very secret when we were practising Christianity in Iran. It’s not part of the rules that you can just change your religion. The government will arrest you. 

“It wasn’t a nice way to live at all, because we should have the right to do it the way we want – not in secret. 

“Why can’t people choose their way? From the day we were born the government told us we were Muslim and that was it.”

Christians are a recognised minority in Iran, but in the past decade the government has put increased pressure on Farsi-speaking churches in an attempt to stem the tide of Muslim-born Iranians converting to Christianity.

Churches have been made to choose between forced closure and the confiscation of their properties, or conducting their services only in the ethnic minority languages of Armenian and Assyrian – historically Christian communities.  

However, the crackdown on Farsi-speaking churches has led to the proliferation of underground churches in private homes – known as “house churches” – which the government continues to battle by arresting new converts en masse.

UN Special Rapporteur calls for release of all imprisoned for their faith

UN Special Rapporteur calls for release of all imprisoned for their faith

Javaid Rehman (Twitter)

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran has bemoaned the “heavy sentences” given to Iranian Christians and called for the “release of all those imprisoned for having exercised their right to freedom of religion or belief”.

In his latest report, Javaid Rehman, who was appointed Special Rapporteur in July 2018, says Iran must “protect the rights of all persons belonging to religious and ethnic minorities and address all forms of discrimination against them”.

He notes that several Christians have “received heavy sentences after being charged with threatening national security, either for converting people or for attending house churches”.

Rehman says the “disproportionate number of arrests and convictions of members of minority groups” illustrates “discrimination in the administration of justice”.

“Ethnic and religious minority groups constitute a disproportionately large percentage of persons executed or imprisoned,” he adds.

Article18’s inaugural annual report, released in January, noted that at least 14 Christians remained in prison at the end of 2018, detained on spurious charges related to their faith or religious activity.

Ahead of Christmas, 114 Christians were arrested in one week alone, after a series of raids in ten cities across the country.

Amnesty International said 2018 had been Iran’s “year of shame” due to its “chilling” crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. 

In a new report released earlier this week, Amnesty accused Iran of “systematically violating” freedom of religion or belief in 2018 in both “law and practice”. 

Amnesty highlighted the continuing “harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention” of Christians; raids on “house churches”; and “harsh” prison sentences given to Christians such as the Assyrian pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz, his wife Shamiram, and church members Amin Afshar-Naderi and Hadi Asgari – both converts. 

Amnesty, which launched a petition for the release of the four Christians in August last year, noted that they had been sentenced to between five and 15 years in prison “for peacefully practising their faith”. 

Shamiram’s appeal against her five-year sentence was last week postponed until after the Iranian New Year. The new judge in the case, Ahmad Zargar, ruled that her appeal will now be heard alongside that of her husband and the three men sentenced alongside him – Amin, Hadi and a third convert, Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi.

Human Rights Watch also highlighted the imprisonment of Christian converts in the Iran chapter of its 2019 World Report.