UN rapporteur calls for ‘immediate and unconditional’ release of religious prisoners of conscience

UN rapporteur calls for ‘immediate and unconditional’ release of religious prisoners of conscience

Javaid Rehman (UN Web TV)

The UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Iran has once again called on Iran to “immediately and unconditionally release all those imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief”.

In his latest report, released ahead of today’s 75th session of the UN General Assembly, Javaid Rehman said he remained “deeply concerned” about the situation of religious minorities.

He noted the recent removal of the “other religion” category from Iran’s national ID card, which he said “raised fears” that non-recognised religious groups including Christian converts would not be able to obtain an ID unless they were willing to lie about their beliefs.

The rapporteur called on Iran to “protect the rights of all persons belonging to ethnic and religious minorities” and “address all forms of discrimination against them”.

Mr Rehman welcomed Iran’s release of as many as 120,000 prisoners at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in February, but noted that the mass release did not include “most human rights defenders, lawyers, dual and foreign nationals, conversationists, religious and ethnic minorities and prisoners of conscience imprisoned on national security charges” – including most Christian prisoners.

Article18 reported last month on concerns for the health of several Christian prisoners of conscience, amid a coronavirus outbreak in the ward in which several are incarcerated in Tehran’s Evin Prison.

Mr Rehman also noted that Iran only accepted or partially accepted 9 of the 25 recommendations made concerning religious freedom during its universal periodic review last year.

What else did the report say?

The first half of the report focuses on violations of the rights of protesters during the mass demonstrations in November 2019 and January 2020.

As Article18 reported at the time, an Iranian-Assyrian Christian was among the hundreds killed during the November protests. 

Mr Rehman called for “prompt, independent and impartial investigations into all acts of violence … including deaths and injuries of protesters and ill-treatment in custody”.

Christian convert Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi was among the many arrested for taking part in the protests in January following Iran’s admission of guilt in the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane, and she reported severe mistreatment and abuse at the hands of those who detained her.

Mary was later given a suspended prison sentence and lashes for her participation in the protests.

Mr Rehman called for the release of all those detained for exercising their “rights to freedom of opinion, expression, association and peaceful assembly” in this way.

His report also called on Iran to:

  • Abolish the death penalty.
  • Ensure fair trial provisions, including access to a lawyer of one’s choosing.
  • Release all foreign and dual nationals held on questionable charges.
  • Improve hygiene in prisons to prevent further spread of Covid-19.
  • Protect women and girls against discrimination and inequality.

Mr Rehman took over as rapporteur following the death of Asma Jahangir in February 2018. His mandate was renewed for another year in June 2020.

Last year, Mr Rehman focused one report on the challenges facing unrecognised religious minorities in Iran, including Christian converts.

He continues to be denied access to Iran, despite repeated requests to visit.