The situation for Christians and other minorities in Iran “has reached an alarming stage”, according to a new report conducted on behalf of the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The report, which comes after the UK’s Foreign Secretary called for a global review into the persecution of Christians worldwide, notes that the state is the “main actor” in Iran, and that “though most cases involve converts, indigenous Christians such as Pastor Victor [Bet-Tamraz], an Assyrian Christian, with his wife Shamiram Issavi and their son, [Ramil], have also been targeted and imprisoned”.
The case of Christian convert Ebrahim Firouzi is used to highlight how “unjust trials are commonplace” in Iran. The report notes that although Ebrahim was “originally arrested in March 2013 on allegations of ‘promoting Christian Zionism’ … since 2015 been serving a further five-year prison sentence on charges of acting against national security”.
Ebrahim is serving that second sentence alongside Sevada Aghasar, an ethnic Armenian Christian – another example of how the Iranian authorities target indigenous Christians as well as converts.
“Arrest, detention and imprisonment are common [for Christians] in Iran,” the report notes, referencing the 114 Christians arrested over just six days before Christmas, “with court cases left pending as a form of intimidation”.
The analysis by Article18’s Advocacy Director, Mansour Borji, ’40 years of religious apartheid: Christianity in post-revolutionary Iran’, is cited as the source of that information; Mansour was one of the expert witnesses called to give evidence to the review team on the situation of Christians in Iran.
The report also notes the “rise of hate speech against Christians in state media and by religious leaders” in Iran, which it says has “comprised the safety of Christians and created social intolerance”; and highlights the confiscation of church properties in Iran, such as the retreat centre in Karaj taken over last year by EIKO (the Executive Headquarters of Imam’s Directive) for “being funded by the CIA”.
The focus of the report is global, with the report’s author, Bishop Philip Mounstephen, citing research from the International Society for Human Rights in claiming that as much as 80% of religious persecution around the world today targets Christians.
“Persecution on grounds of religious faith is a global phenomenon that is growing in scale and intensity,” he writes, and “it is to our shame … [that] we have abjectly failed to implement the best system that women and men have yet devised to protect universal freedoms” – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 of which guarantees freedom of religion or belief.
The bishop concludes by challenging the UK government to turn his recommendations into “workable solutions that can be implemented”.