UN experts call on Iran to ‘stop persecution, harassment of religious minorities’

UN experts call on Iran to ‘stop persecution, harassment of religious minorities’

Eight UN experts have called on the Iranian authorities to “stop persecution and harassment of religious minorities and end the use of religion to curtail the exercise of fundamental rights”.

Nazila Ghanea, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. (Photo: Twitter @NazilaGhanea)

The experts*, including the new Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Nazila Ghanea, and the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, said the recent targeting of the Baha’i community “formed part of a broader policy to target any dissenting belief or religious practice, including Christian converts, Gonabadi dervishes and atheists”.

“The international community cannot remain silent while Iranian authorities use overbroad and vague national security and espionage charges to silence religious minorities or people with dissenting opinions,” they said.

The experts called for the “immediate and unconditional release of all individuals detained on the basis of their religious affiliation, and accountability for the systematic persecution of religious minorities by authorities”.

“We are seriously concerned that provisions of the Penal Code are used to prosecute individuals on grounds of religious affiliation and based on allegations that they expressed views deemed to be critical or derogatory towards Islam,” they added. 

“Such state-sanctioned intolerance furthers extremism and violence. We call on the Iranian authorities to de-criminalise blasphemy and take meaningful steps to ensure the right to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of opinion and expression without discrimination.” 

On the same day as the publication of the joint statement, which coincided with the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, the British Ambassador to Iran, Simon Shercliff, tweeted a message in the Persian language promoting religious freedom, including freedom to share one’s faith with others and to change one’s belief.

“Everyone should be free to choose any religion/belief, practise it freely, share their religion … and also freely change their religion/belief,” he wrote.

Joint submission to UN

Article18 last week joined with partner organisations CSW, the World Evangelical Alliance, Middle East Concern and Open Doors to send an updated report to the UN’s Human Rights Committee on the situation of Christians in Iran.

The report provided details of publicly reported incidents over the two years since the previous submission in May 2020. 

Among the new cases cited were those of: Amin Khaki, Milad Goodarzi and Alireza Nourmohammadi; Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh; Fariba Dalir; Anooshavan Avedian, Abbas Souri, and Maryam Mohammadi; and Joseph Shahbazian, Mina Khajavi, Malihe Nazari, Salar Eshraghi Moghadam, Farhad Khazaee, Somayeh (Sonya) Sadegh, and Masoumeh Ghasemi.

But the submission reiterated: “We estimate that there are dozens more detained, but unreported or unwilling to have their cases made public or awaiting trial for cases dating prior to 2021.

“The list is prepared mainly from public sources and is not exhaustive. Confidential cases were omitted for security reasons.” 

The submission also highlighted the Place2Worship campaign; the Supreme Court’s decision to acquit nine Christian converts of “acting against national security”; the repurposing of a confiscated Church-owned retreat centre; and the increasing involvement of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in “raids on house-churches and the subsequent arrest and interrogation of house-church members”.

Two additional suggested questions for the Human Rights Committee to ask Iran were also included: “Please clarify how Persian speakers in Iran, whatever their ethnicity, may freely gather to worship, as envisaged by Article 18 of the [International] Covenant [on Civil and Political Rights]”; and “Please report on how many converts to Christianity are currently detained and facing charges under the amended Articles 499 and 500 of the Islamic Penal Code.”

*The other experts were the UN Special Rapporteur on Minorities Issues, Fernand de Varennes, and five members of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances: Luciano Hazan, Aua Baldé, Gabriella Citroni, Henrikas Mickevičius, and Angkhana Neelapaijit.

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