‘Iran continues to arrest, charge, sentence and jail scores of Christians’

‘Iran continues to arrest, charge, sentence and jail scores of Christians’

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has once again recommended that the State Department re-designates Iran as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom”.

In its latest annual report, released today, the independent, bipartisan group said religious freedom in Iran “remained poor” in 2021.

In the section on Iran, the report said Iran’s government “continued to arrest, charge, sentence, and jail scores of Christians on charges including ‘propaganda against the regime’”.

As examples, it cited:

  • The charging and sentencing of three Christian converts under the amended Article 500 of the penal code to five years in prison for “deviant activity” that “contradicts or interferes with the sacred law of Islam.”

  • The continued imprisonment of USCIRF Religious Prisoner of Conscience Yousef Nadarkhani for “acting against national security” and “promoting ‘Zionist’ Christianity”, despite the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declaring his detention a violation on international law.

  • The rejection of the appeal of Christian convert Sam Khosravi against a custodial sentence for “propaganda against the state”, just months after he and his wife Maryam were told they must relinquish custody of their daughter “on the basis of their religious beliefs”.

  • The detention of exiled Christian convert Ebrahim Firouzi for “insulting the sacred”, and failure to drop charges against him despite his eventual release after a hunger strike.

  • The sentencing and imprisonment of Christian convert Hamed Ashoori for “propaganda against the state”.

  • The Supreme Court’s ruling that nine Christian converts should not have been sentenced to five years in prison on security-related charges.

The report also drew attention to rights violations against Baha’is, Sufis, Sunnis and atheists, as well as to the “continued spread of antisemitism” and denigration of the Yarsani faith, while failing to recognise it as distinct and separate from Shia Islam.

As well as re-designating Iran as a CPC, USCIRF said the State Department should: 

  • Sanction “government agencies and officials responsible for severe religious-freedom violations”.

  • Raise religious freedom and other rights abuses in “bilateral and multilateral negotiations with Iran”.

  • “Exert multilateral pressure on Iran to improve religious-freedom conditions.”

  • “Press for the release of all religious prisoners of conscience.”

It added that the US Congress should “reauthorize and exercise oversight to ensure implementation of the Lautenberg Amendment, which aids persecuted Iranian religious minorities seeking refugee status in the United States”.

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