US State Department highlights Iran’s continued persecution of religious minorities

US State Department highlights Iran’s continued persecution of religious minorities

The US State Department’s latest annual report on international religious freedom includes a comprehensive overview of Iran’s continued persecution of its religious minorities, including Christians.

The report, released yesterday, leans heavily on the information provided by rights groups including Article18.

Among the violations of Christians’ right to religious freedom, the report references:

  • The violent arrest of Christian convert Sina Moloudian in Isfahan in January 2019, and confiscation of his property.
  • The admission by Iran’s Minister of Intelligence, Mahmoud Alavi, in May 2019 that his officials summoned Christian converts for questioning about why they had converted.
  • The confiscation by officials from the Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order (EIKO) and Ministry of Intelligence of the Assyrian Presbyterian church in Tabriz in May 2019, and tearing down of its cross. (Article18 cited as source.)
  • The sentencing in July 2019 of 62-year-old Christian convert Rokhsareh (Mahrokh) Ghanbari to one year in prison.
  • The sentencing in August 2019 of bookseller Mostafa Rahimi to three months and one day in prison for selling copies of the Bible.
  • The sentencing in September 2019 of nine Christian converts from Rasht to five years in prison.
  • The exile in November 2019 of Christian convert Ebrahim Firouzi after six years in prison. (Article18 cited as source.)
  • One of several postponements in the trial of Assyrian pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz, his wife Sharmiam Issavi and three Christian converts, in November 2019, because the court was said to be “too crowded”. (Article18 cited as source.)
  • Government-sponsored anti-Christian propaganda aimed at deterring conversions to Christianity – such as referring to house-churches as “illegal networks” and “Zionist propaganda institutions” – and concurrent societal pressure against converts, including rejection by family or community members.
  • Monitoring of activities by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, and Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and monitoring of churches by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The report also highlights abuses against other religious minorities, such as Baha’is and Yarsanis, as well as Sufi and Sunni Muslims.

Among the violations affecting several groups, the report references:

  • The ban in May 2019 on religious minority teachers working in nursery schools, except special schools where all children already belong to that minority.
  • The claim in September 2019 by Iran’s Minister of Education, Mohsen Haji Mirzaei, that children who profess an unrecognised religious faith at school are engaging in “propaganda” and should be banned.

The report also says religious minorities suffered:

  • Arbitrary arrest and detention.
  • Denial of the right to a fair trial, including access to a lawyer.
  • Poor conditions within prisons and treatment including torture, beatings and denial of medical care.
  • Discrimination in the areas of employment and education, including denial of access to higher education and mandatory Islamic classes. “Books published by religious minorities,” the report notes, “regardless of topic, were required to carry labels on the cover denoting their non-Shia Muslim authorship.”
  • The denial of the right to convert to a religion other than Islam.
  • The denial of the right to freedom to worship unless proven to belong to a historically recognised religious community, i.e. Jew, Zoroastrian or Armenian or Assyrian Christian.