UK ambassador calls on Iran to end persecution of Christian converts

UK ambassador calls on Iran to end persecution of Christian converts

The UK’s permanent representative to the UN has called on Iran to end its “persistent” discrimination and persecution of religious minorities, “particularly the Baha’i and Christian converts”.

Julian Braithwaite was speaking as part of a 9 March interactive dialogue with the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, who was presenting his latest report

Mr Rehman’s report, released ahead of the 46th session of the Human Rights Council, called on Iran to “release all those imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief” and “eliminate all forms of discrimination against them”.

In his comments on 9 March, the special rapporteur said he was “disturbed” at the “harassment, arbitrary arrests and imprisonments of religious minorities” in Iran and called on UN member states “to make human rights compliance an integral element in all their bilateral dialogue with the Islamic Republic”.

He also said the international community should “continue to raise concerns publicly and privately when [rights] violations happen”. 

The UK representative was the only speaker to specifically mention the plight of Christian converts during the 9 March discussion, though Israel’s representative also named Christians among the religious minorities facing “discrimination and oppression”.

Meanwhile, the representatives of Denmark, Canada, Australia, Netherlands, Albania, New Zealand, Ireland and Czech Republic referred to the mistreatment of religious minorities, without naming Christians, and the representatives to France and the USA called on Iran to uphold religious freedom.

Several representatives also raised concerns over violations of the freedoms of opinion, expression, association, and peaceful assembly, as well as arbitrary detentions.

The UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention recently ruled that the Iranian government is guilty of “arbitrarily detaining” Christian convert and pastor Yousef Nadarkhani

Article18’s partner organisation CSW, in a statement written for the 9 March session, echoed the UN working group’s call for Mr Nadakhani’s release, as well as that of his friend and fellow Christian convert Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie. Both men are serving six-year sentences in Tehran’s Evin Prison because of their involvement with house-churches.

CSW also referenced the arrest last year of at least 115 Christians, as mentioned in our joint annual report, the recent detention of Christian convert Ebrahim Firouzi, and the interrogation of 11 Christian families near Karaj, who were warned “to stop house-church activity and not to visit each other’s homes”.

“We urge Iran to ensure due process, judicial independence, and to cease equating peaceful adherence to minority faiths to national security threats,” CSW said. “We also urge Iran to ensure freedom of religion or belief for all citizens, and to end discrimination, harassment, and even persecution of religious minorities.”

Among the other comments from rights groups was a statement by Callum Birch of ARTICLE 19, an organisation that campaigns for freedom of expression, in which he accused Iran’s parliament of “launching a whole-scale attack on human rights through repressive laws” such as the recent amendments to articles 499 and 500 of the Penal Code, which he said “effectively criminalise the right to freedom of expression and religion or belief”. 

As Article18 reported last month, every one of the Christians currently in prison on charges related to their peaceful religious activity were prosecuted under either or both of Article 499 or 500, which relate respectively to membership or organisation of “anti-security groups”, and “propaganda” against the state or in support of opposition groups.

Karen Wright of the British Humanist Association also welcomed Mr Rehman’s recommendations to “protect the rights of all persons belonging to ethnic, religious and sexual minorities, eliminate all forms of discrimination against them, and release all those imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief”, and said Iran was violating its own constitution by sentencing people to death for apostasy and blasphemy.