Iran still a ‘country of particular concern’ when it comes to religious freedom

Iran still a ‘country of particular concern’ when it comes to religious freedom

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The US State Department has re-designated Iran as a “Country of Particular Concern” for “engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom”.

Iran is one of only 10 such countries, alongside Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

“No country or entity should be allowed to persecute people with impunity because of their beliefs,” wrote Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Twitter. “These annual designations show that when religious freedom is attacked, we will act.”

Meanwhile, the EU has agreed a new mechanism for imposing sanctions upon officials and organisations responsible for human rights abuses, including travel bans and the freezing of assets.

The new system will work much like the Magnitsky Act in the US, under which multiple Iranian organisations and individuals have been sanctioned, including, most recently, the Minister of Intelligence and the Mostazafan Foundation.

Last year, Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi openly admitted to summoning Christian converts for questioning “to ask them why they were converting”, as “it is happening right before our eyes” – a clear breach of Article 23 of Iran’s constitution, which states that “no-one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief”, and contrary to the claims of officials such as Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that no-one is targeted because of their beliefs.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom noted that Mr Alavi’s intelligence agents were also behind the closure of the Assyrian church in Tabriz last year.

The Mostazafan Foundation, meanwhile, recently reopened the long-confiscated bishop’s house in Isfahan – once the seat of the Anglican Church in Iran – as its new office to manage its many other properties.

The foundation, which is under the direct rule of the Supreme Leader, is one of the richest organisations in the country – with an estimated value of over $3 billion dollars – and its dealings are far from transparent.

“Iran’s Supreme Leader uses Bonyad Mostazafan to reward his allies under the pretense of charity,” said US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement explaining the sanctions. “The United States will continue to target key officials and revenue generating sources that enable the regime’s ongoing repression of its own people.”