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‘Human rights defenders are trying to give Iran a good name’

‘Human rights defenders are trying to give Iran a good name’

Pastor Farhad Sabok Rooh (second from right) was one of the speakers at an event to mark International Human Rights Day (Photo: DW)

An Iranian pastor who fled the country after being threatened with death for apostasy says Iran should “remember that human rights defenders are actually trying to give Iran a good name”.

Farhad Sabok Rooh was one of the speakers at an event to mark International Human Rights Day.

The pastor, speaking in Washington DC on Sunday, called on Iran to “respect its international obligations and fulfil the demands of its people for the improvement of the human rights situation, including political, social and religious freedoms”.

He highlighted the challenges faced by Christians in Iran today, particularly converts, who continue to be harassed and arrested, as he was.

This, he said, continues to lead Christians to flee the country, as he and his wife, Shahnaz, did after being threatened with execution for apostasy if they didn’t leave Iran.

The pastor recently shared that his wife still has nightmares about the months they spent in prison.

In his speech on Sunday, Pastor Sabok Rooh highlighted how Christians and other religious minorities in Iran face discrimination in employment and education, among other things.

He also noted that many churches have been closed down, while the few churches that are still able to offer services in the Persian language are monitored closely – to ensure no converts attend.

Meanwhile, the Iranian Bible Society has been closed down, meaning Bibles – many of which have been corrupted – and other Christian literature are only available via the black market, at extortionate prices.

“All this and more,” he said, “are just some of the examples of what is going on in Iran and the pressures being placed upon those who are just trying to live normal lives.”

The pastor also shared the stories of several of the Christians who have been killed since the revolution in Iran:

Anglican pastor Arastoo Sayyah was murdered just eight days after the revolution, while this year marks 25 years since the killings of Bishop Haik Hovsepian-Mehr, Rev. Tateos Mikaelian and Rev. Mehdi Dibaj.

Others killed in the 40 years since the revolution are Rev. Hossein Soodmand, whose death by hanging for “apostasy” was the only one officially claimed by the regime, Bahram Dehqani-Tafti, and pastors Mohammad-Bagher Yusefi and Ghorban Tourani.

Pastor Sabok Rooh said the support by the “overwhelming majority” of UN member states of a recent UN resolution expressing “serious concern” about “grave” human rights violations in Iran showed the “depth of the painful situation raging in our country”.

Yesterday, Article18 joined 38 other rights groups in calling for the UN General Assembly to support the draft resolution.

Other speakers at the event on Sunday, which was put on by the United Republicans of Iran, included representatives of Iran’s minority Sunni, Baha’i and Sufi communities.