The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has once again listed Iran among the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.
In its latest annual report, USCIRF recommends that the US State Department re-designates Iran as one of 14 “Countries of Particular Concern” – for “engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations” of religious freedom.
“As in years past, [Iranian] the government responded to calls for reform by systematically cracking down on religious minorities,” the report states.
It notes that Christians, “especially those who converted from Islam” continued to be “persecuted and imprisoned for practicing their faith” in 2019.
The report references the comments of Iran’s Intelligence Minister, Mahmoud Alavi, who in May 2019 admitted that his agency was collaborating with Shia religious seminaries in seeking to combat the perceived threat of mass conversions to Christianity in Iran.
USCIRF highlights the forcible closure last year of an Assyrian church in the northwestern city of Tabriz, and the destruction of the grave of executed Pastor Hossein Soodmand.
The report also notes the arrests of eight Christian converts in Bushehr, and the persistent delays to the appeal hearings for Assyrian pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz, his wife Shamiram, and the three Christian converts sentenced alongside them. (The next appeal hearing in their case is scheduled to take place on 1 June.)
USCRIF notes that US Vice President called on Iran to release pastor Victor and his wife during the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in July 2019, while President Donald Trump met with the couple’s daughter, Dabrina Bet Tamraz.
The report also highlights the case of Yousef Nadarkhani, and his hunger strike in protest against the denial of education to his sons. Yousef is one of 11 Christians still detained in Tehran’s Evin Prison, despite calls for the release of all prisoners of conscience amidst the coronavirus outbreak.
USCIRF calls on the US government to “return the annual ceiling for the United States Refugee Admissions Program to the previously typical 95,000, and fully implement the Lautenberg Amendment, which aids persecuted Iranian religious minorities seeking refugee status in the United States”.
The report notes that last year the “ceiling” was set at just 18,000 – less than a fifth of the typical annual figure – and included just 12 Iranian Christians, while a further 80 “fully vetted” Iranians remained in Vienna, Austria, awaiting final approval (since granted) to fly to the United States for resettlement.
In addition, USCIRF calls on the US to “press [Iran] for the release of all religious prisoners of conscience” and “impose targeted sanctions on Iranian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ assets and/or barring their entry into the United States under human rights-related financial and visa authorities, citing specific religious freedom violations”.
The report also highlights Iran’s persecution of other religious minorities, noting a “particular uptick in the persecution of Baha’is and the local government officials who supported them in 2019”.