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The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has once again recommended that Iran be re-designated a “Country of Particular Concern” for “engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom”. In its latest annual report, published yesterday, the independent advisory body to the US State Department notes that the religious freedom conditions in Iran remain “extremely poor”. According to USCIRF, Iran has the third most religious prisoners of conscience, behind only China and Russia. Of the more than 2,200 religious prisoners documented in USCIRF’s FoRB Victims List in 2023, Iran accounted for 347 (15%). The cases of five Iranian Christian prisoners of conscience – Homayoun Zhaveh and Sara Ahmadi, Joseph Shahbazian, Abdolreza (Matthias) Ali-Haghnejad, and Yousef Nadarkhani – were highlighted in the report, as were the mass arrests of Christians in the summer of 2023, and the targeting of Baha’is, Jews, Sunni and Sufi Muslims.  As well as re-designating Iran a “Country of Particular Concern”, USCIRF recommended that the US State Department: imposes targeted sanctions on government agencies and officials responsible for FoRB violations. stems the flow of surveillance technology and weapons platforms used to suppress lawful religious expression in Iran. facilitates financial and technological support for Iranians asserting their freedom of religion or belief through peaceful demonstrations and labour strikes.  supports the UN Fact-Finding Mission to Iran. supports a Security Council referral of the situation in Iran to the International Criminal Court for investigation of crimes against humanity against those asserting freedom of religion or belief.   And that the US Congress:  permanently reauthorises the Lautenberg Amendment, which aids persecuted Iranian religious minorities seeking refugee status in the United States.   USCIRF noted how, despite the “ceiling” for refugees being increased to 125,000 for 2023, less than half that number were resettled. The report calls on the Biden administration to “prioritize resettlement for survivors of the most egregious forms of religious persecution” – members of religious minority groups in Iran are among those who have been granted priority access to resettlement in the US – and to do more to “meet the admissions ceiling”. USCIRF also called on Congress to reintroduce the bipartisan Stop Helping Adversaries Manipulate Everything Act (SHAME Act), which it said “would prohibit lobbyists from receiving compensation from countries designated as foreign adversaries by the U.S. Department of Commerce”.  Most of the designated countries, USCIRF noted, “engage in particularly severe religious freedom violations and other egregious human rights abuses”, including Iran. “The SHAME Act would considerably strengthen the existing regulatory framework around lobbying on behalf of foreign governments,” USCIRF said. [...]Download
Article18’s newly released annual report focuses on the many victims whose names and faces remain unknown, due to fear that publication of their cases may worsen their plight. “Despite a comparable number of Christians being arrested in 2023 as in previous years – 166 arrests were documented in 2023, compared to 134 in 2022 – fewer names and faces could be publicised,” notes the report, ‘Faceless Victims: Rights Violations Against Christians in Iran’, released today in collaboration with Open Doors, CSW and Middle East Concern. Arrests came in waves in 2023, the report notes, with “just a handful reported prior to June, then over 100 within the next three months, before a further rash of arrests at Christmas. “However, very few of those arrested agreed to publicise their cases, leading to an increasing number of faceless victims.” “By the end of 2023, at least 17 of the Christians arrested during the summer had received prison sentences of between three months and five years, or non-custodial punishments such as fines, flogging, and in one case the community-service of digging graves,” the report explains, but only two of those arrested during the summer were identified – Armenian citizens Elisa Shahverdian and her husband, Hakop Gochumyan, the latter of whom is still in Evin Prison. Another trend in 2023 was the clear targeting of Bible distributors, with “over one-third of arrests targeting individuals in possession of multiple copies”. Meanwhile, at least nine Christians were pardoned and released from prison, “though the majority were already nearing the end of their sentences, which related to the peaceful practice of their faith and therefore should never have been issued in the first place”. The report also includes a section on the specific abuses of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that affect the Iranian Christian community. Eleven different articles of the ICCPR are highlighted – including those relating to freedom of religion or belief, opinion and expression; peaceful assembly; and protection from arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture – with examples of how each violation has affected Christians. The report also contains a special analysis section explaining how pressure on individuals and their families continues even after release from arrest or imprisonment. Seven different types of post-prison pressure are listed – including continued monitoring and harassment; denial of employment and education; and new charges or reopened cases – all of which, the report states, “make it increasingly difficult for Christians to remain in Iran”. “Many flee,” the report notes, “only to find a new set of challenges awaiting them as refugees, as shown in our 2023 report on The Plight of Iranian Christians Claiming International Protection in Türkiye”. The report concludes with recommendations for Iran and the international community. Iran is called on to “immediately and unconditionally” release all Christians “detained on charges relating to their faith and religious activities”, and to “clarify where Persian-speaking Christians may worship freely in their mother tongue, without fearing arrest and prosecution”. The international community is encouraged to ensure Iran is “held accountable for failures to fulfil its obligations under international law”; that human rights infractions are “highlighted during bilateral and multilateral dialogues with Iran”; and that refugee-receiving countries “expedite resettlement for Iranian Christians in Turkey”. The report is released on 19 February to coincide with the killing of Rev Arastoo Sayyah, who was murdered in his church office just eight days after the 1979 revolution. This incident was the first of many targeting Christians, and especially converts, under the Islamic Republic – an approach that, as this report shows, continues today. You can read the full report here. [...]Download
Iranian Christians continue to be among the most affected by the significant drop in refugee resettlement to the United States in recent years, according to a new report. Just 112 Iranian Christians were resettled to the US last year, 95 per cent fewer than 2016, the last year when resettlement figures remained at their historically high level, according to the report, ‘Closed Doors’, which was co-authored by Christian charities World Relief and Open Doors US. An Iranian woman, referred to as “Mana”, was one of those resettled in 2016, and is featured as the first of four case studies in the report, which is the second edition of a report first published in 2020. Mana, like many other Iranian Christian refugees, fled first to Turkey, where she and her youngest son lived in “challenging conditions” for two and a half years before being accepted for resettlement. Meanwhile, her oldest son was still in prison in Iran, and though he has since been released and also fled Iran, and Mana has applied for him to be resettled with her, the report states that “the wait time will likely be at least eight years” as “the odds of being selected for refugee resettlement have grown slim in recent years”. “Facing the threat of imminent deportation,” the report adds, this son recently “embarked on a dangerous journey to seek asylum in Europe” and at the time of writing had made it as far as Albania, “with hopes of eventually finding freedom in Germany”. Why the decline in refugee resettlement? The report explains that between 1980, when the Refugee Act was passed, and 2016, around 80,000 refugees arrived in the US each year, with the maximum intake – or “refugee ceiling” – set at around 95,000.  This “ceiling” was reduced each year between 2017 and 2020, when the US resettled fewer than 10,000 refugees for the first time since the resettlement programme was created. Then in April 2021, the “ceiling” was set by the newly installed president, Joe Biden, at just 15,000, which “surprised and dismayed many refugee and religious freedom advocates”, according to the report. And while after this “pushback” the ceiling was increased, by the end of 2021 the initial maximum of 15,000 refugees had still not been reached. Since 2021, the numbers have been steadily rising, the report notes, with the US on track to resettle around 60,000 refugees this year. However, with the official ceiling now more than double that figure (125,000), the report authors call for overseas processing and domestic resettlement infrastructures to be rebuilt “to ensure that this goal is met”.  “The positive trend in the number of persecuted Christians being resettled seems likely to continue,” the report notes. “Still, the U.S. has yet to return to the number of persecuted Christians being resettled with relative consistency prior to 2017—and further policy changes, such as a reduction in the overall refugee ceiling, could abruptly slam the door shut on persecuted Christians seeking refuge as occurred beginning in 2017.” What else does the report say? The authors note that both the number of displaced people and number of Christians experiencing “high levels of persecution and discrimination” have risen since 2020, and while “not every persecuted Christian flees their home … and not every displaced person is persecuted on account of their religion … these numbers certainly are related”. Meanwhile, America is “no longer the safe haven for displaced persons that it once was”. Last year, the number of Christians resettled to the US from the top 50 countries on Open Doors’ World Watch List – with Iran at number eight on this list of countries where Christians are most persecuted – was “down 70 percent from 2016”. “Last year, 9,528 Christians were resettled from these 50 countries, down from 32,248 in 2016,” though this was still “a significant rebound from the low point of 5,390 Christian refugees resettled from these countries in 2020”. And of the four countries mentioned as reference cases, Iran once again ranked the worst, with a 95% fall in resettlement compared to 2016, ahead of Iraq (94%), Myanmar (92%) and Eritrea (85%). The report, while focusing on Christians, also notes that members of other faith groups – including Baha’is, Zoroastrians and Sabaen Mandaeans – have also been affected. It further notes that asylum-seekers who have yet to be recognised as refugees are often even more “vulnerable to hardship, exploitation and injustice, as they wait to be recognized by a host country”. Meanwhile, “asylum cases can be difficult to win, even when the asylum seeker has legitimately fled persecution … because the burden of proof in an asylum case is on the asylum seeker, and often they lack documentary evidence of what they claim to have experienced”. What recommendations are made? The authors conclude by asking Christians to pray and advocate for those who are persecuted on account of their faith, and US officials: To consistently prioritize the advancement of international religious freedom, and to leverage diplomatic influence to urge all countries to reduce religious persecution and discrimination. To restore the U.S. Refugee Resettlement program, both consistently setting the annual refugee ceiling at a high level such as 125,000 and rebuilding the overseas processing and domestic resettlement infrastructure to ensure that this goal is met. To ensure that those persecuted for their faith continue to have access to the U.S. Refugee Resettlement program alongside those persecuted for other reasons. To reject changes to asylum processing that reduce access to due process and present new barriers to those with credible fears of persecution from accessing protection in the United States. [...]Download
There is a “critical need” for new resettlement opportunities and sponsorship programmes for Iranian Christian refugees in Turkey, says a new joint report published today on World Refugee Day by Article18 and three partner organisations. The report, which is a collaboration with Open Doors, CSW and Middle East Concern, notes that resettlement often takes many years, and “meanwhile, most Iranian Christian refugees exist in survival mode, overwhelmed by their precarious living conditions … stable jobs or incomes, and risk of being deported”. The report includes first-hand testimonies from dozens of refugees to answer the following questions: What drives Christians to flee Iran? Why is Turkey a preferred first destination? What is the procedure for those seeking international protection in Turkey? What challenges do Iranian Christian refugees, and their children, face? Do they suffer discrimination? And what are the opportunities for resettlement in a third country? The majority of the report is dedicated to highlighting the challenges the refugees face, under seven headers: “Lack of employment, exploitation, and financial challenges”; “Health insurance withdrawal”; “Discrimination, racism, societal hostility and security threats”; “Children’s welfare and education”; Uncertainty and procedural inconsistencies”; “Threat of deportation”; and “Psychological pressure”. The report also highlights the few current opportunities for resettlement: sponsorship programmes to Canada, Australia and, most recently, the United States. “Traditionally, many refugees in Türkiye have been resettled through the UN mechanism,” the report explains. “However, the process has slowed significantly in the past few years. In contrast to the situation a few years ago, only a small percentage of those relocated are Iranians, and an even smaller percentage are Iranian Christians.” The report applauds the recent establishment of a new sponsorship programme in the US, as well as the Canadian parliament’s decision to resettle 10,000 Uyghursfleeing persecution in China, and calls for “the establishment of a similar initiative to expedite the resettlement of refugees from Türkiye, including Iranian Christians”. “According to UNHCR statistics, in mid-2022 there were 32.5 million refugees worldwide, 3.7 million of whom were hosted by Türkiye,” the report says.  “In the first six months of 2022, just 42,300 refugees were resettled globally, with or without the assistance of the UNHCR. If resettlement continues at this rate, it will take nearly 400 years to resettle the existing refugees throughout the world.” The report concludes with recommendations for:  Turkey to provide access to basic healthcare beyond the first year of registration for protection, and to regulate and facilitate employment opportunities for refugees, thereby ending exploitation in the workplace; the Turkish immigration authorities to clarify the application procedure, providing a timeline within which claims will be processed, and to undertake and illustrate due diligence in assessing refugee claims, including those of Iranian Christians; the UNHCR to ensure the resettlement process is transparent, and to intervene swiftly to assist refugees and asylum-seekers who are in imminent danger of refoulement; refugee-receiving governments to provide resettlement opportunities and develop sponsorship programmes to expedite the resettlement process for Iranian Christians and other refugees in Turkey. [...]Download
The “sharply deteriorated religious-freedom conditions” in Iran are the focus of the cover and introduction to the latest annual report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. The cover of the report, which was published yesterday, features a photograph of Mahsa Amini, alongside the names of scores of Iranians imprisoned on account of their religious beliefs, including a dozen Christians. The report begins by explaining how protests erupted in Iran following the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, “because her visible hair violated the government’s religiously grounded headscarf law”.  “Outraged by this flagrant denial of life,” the report goes on, “young women and girls led hundreds of thousands of fellow Iranians in peaceful protests asserting their right to freedom of religion or belief, risking severe punishment, permanent injury, and even death.” The cover, USCIRF says, “honors the many Iranians, known and unknown, held in prison in 2022 on account of their religious beliefs, activity, or identity by displaying the names of the individuals from Iran who are included in USCIRF’s Freedom of Religion or Belief Victims List”.  Among the names listed are a dozen Christians: Malihe Nazari, Joseph Shahbazian, Gholamreza Keyvanmanesh, Morteza Mashoodkari, Ahmad Sarparast, Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh, Alireza Nourmohammadi, Amin Khaki, Milad Goodarzi, Abdolreza (Matthias) Ali-Haghnejad, Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie, and Yousef Nadarkhani. The report also highlights the cases of Anooshavan Avedian, Abbas Soori, Maryam Mohammadi, Rahmat Rostamipour, Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, and Fariba Dalir, as well as the Christian converts “pressured to abandon their faith” in Dezful, and Armenian church leaders “pressured … to issue statements supporting the government”. “Iranian authorities’ repression of freedom of religion or belief has been a decades-long campaign targeting both religious minorities and members of the majority Shi’a Muslim community,” the report explains.  “During 2022, in addition to its repression of protesters, Iran’s leadership continued to target members of the Baha’i, Christian, Gonabadi Sufi, Zoroastrian, Yarsani, Sunni Muslim, Shi’a Muslim, and nonreligious communities with harassment, arrests, egregiously long prison sentences, multi- year internal exiles, or bans on participating in political and social activities.” USCIRF recommends that the US State Department re-designates Iran as a Country of Particular Concern for “systematic, egregious, and ongoing violations of religious freedom”; “imposes targeted sanctions on Iranian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom”; “continues to coordinate international action to lift the veil of impunity under which Iran’s leadership continues to operate”; and “prioritizes resettlement for survivors of the most egregious forms of religious persecution, including Iranian religious minorities”. [...]Download
Article18 today releases its fifth joint annual report on “Rights Violations against Christians in Iran”, with partner organisations CSW, Middle East Concern, and Open Doors International.  The 25-page report is released on 19 February to coincide with the 44th anniversary of the murder of Rev Arastoo Sayyah, the first Christian killed for their faith in the Islamic Republic of Iran – just eight days after its inception. And while it is no longer common for Iranian Christians to be killed for their faith, the report shows clearly that, contrary to the claims of the Islamic Republic, there is still no religious freedom in Iran today. Instead, religious minorities including Christians – both the “recognised” Christians of Armenian and Assyrian descent, and unrecognised converts – are systematically deprived of their right to freely practise a faith of their choosing, in violation of Iran’s obligations as a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In the year of the death of Mahsa Amini, when Iranians poured onto the streets to demand justice, the joint report argues that, “at their core, the ongoing protests are a cry for freedom: the freedom of the Iranian people to live in a way that corresponds with their beliefs”. And while the Iranian regime has consistently sought to play down the uprising – including by using Armenian and Assyrian leaders as their mouthpieces – both Armenian and Assyrian Christians, as well as converts, have been among those arrested for participating. Aside from the protests, 2022 was another year in which Christians continued to face harassment, arrest and imprisonment only due to the peaceful practice of their faith. At least 30 Christians endured imprisonment or exile in 2022 – the same number as 2021 – while there were more than double the number of arrests: 134 in 2022 compared to 59 in 2021. There was also a marked increase in the number of Christians detained – 61 in 2022, compared to 34 in 2021. At the end of 2022, at least 17 Christians remained in prison, serving sentences of up to 10 years on charges such as “acting against national security” and “propaganda against the regime”. For, as the report outlines, to practise a belief other than Shia Islam in the Islamic Republic of Iran is “considered a threat to the Islamic Republic and its values”. This is why, for example, two Iranian-Armenian Christians were sentenced in 2022 to 10 years in prison for holding church services in their homes. Or why a 64-year-old convert to Christianity with advanced Parkinson’s disease, and his wife, are now serving a combined 10 years in prison. These examples, and many more, are detailed in the report, a copy of which can be downloaded here. [...]Download
Iran’s “misinformation campaign” against religious minorities, including Christian converts, is the focus of a new report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. The report, written by Shahin Milani of the US-based Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC), says religious minority adherents are arrested and prosecuted on “baseless national security charges”, while propaganda is used “to justify the measures taken”. These measures are “distinct” depending on the group targeted, the report states, but a “common thread” is “their alleged ties to foreign states and nefarious activities aimed at sowing discord and division within Iranian society”. The report provides specific examples of the types of propaganda used against the different groups, with separate sections devoted to Jews, Sunni and Sufi Muslims, Christian converts, and Baha’is.  In the section on Christians, the report notes how the detention of converts has continued despite the Supreme Court ruling in November recognising that “promoting Christianity and establishing home churches are not crimes and do not amount to national security crimes”.  “Under Iran’s legal system, a ruling by a Supreme Court branch is not necessarily binding on lower courts,” the report notes, adding that even the Supreme Court ruling “used the phrase ‘Evangelical Zionist cult’ to refer to the Christian converts whose case it was addressing”. “Propaganda against Christian converts is often disguised as anti-Zionism, and Christian converts are regularly referred to as members of a ‘Zionist’ network,” the report explains.  It also notes how “Iran’s misinformation campaign has persistently used vague national security accusations to differentiate Christian converts from Armenians and Assyrians as recognized religious minority groups”, referencing an interviewwith a senior cleric who “claimed that the political aims of evangelical Christianity have resulted in their alienation from other Christians, and that Iranian Armenians are opposed to evangelical Christians”. In its conclusion, the report states that while the right to promote one’s religion is protected under international law, “the Iranian government has consistently harassed and prosecuted Christian converts and Bahá’ís for proselytizing”.  “While the Iranian judiciary uses national security charges to suppress Christian converts and Bahá’ís, the propaganda campaign against the two groups implicitly admits that they are targeted for promoting their faiths rather than nefarious activities against the Iranian state,” it adds. [...]Download
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has once again recommended that the State Department re-designates Iran as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom”. In its latest annual report, released today, the independent, bipartisan group said religious freedom in Iran “remained poor” in 2021. In the section on Iran, the report said Iran’s government “continued to arrest, charge, sentence, and jail scores of Christians on charges including ‘propaganda against the regime’”. As examples, it cited: The charging and sentencing of three Christian converts under the amended Article 500 of the penal code to five years in prison for “deviant activity” that “contradicts or interferes with the sacred law of Islam.”The continued imprisonment of USCIRF Religious Prisoner of Conscience Yousef Nadarkhani for “acting against national security” and “promoting ‘Zionist’ Christianity”, despite the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declaring his detention a violation on international law.The rejection of the appeal of Christian convert Sam Khosravi against a custodial sentence for “propaganda against the state”, just months after he and his wife Maryam were told they must relinquish custody of their daughter “on the basis of their religious beliefs”.The detention of exiled Christian convert Ebrahim Firouzi for “insulting the sacred”, and failure to drop charges against him despite his eventual release after a hunger strike.The sentencing and imprisonment of Christian convert Hamed Ashoori for “propaganda against the state”.The Supreme Court’s ruling that nine Christian converts should not have been sentenced to five years in prison on security-related charges. The report also drew attention to rights violations against Baha’is, Sufis, Sunnis and atheists, as well as to the “continued spread of antisemitism” and denigration of the Yarsani faith, while failing to recognise it as distinct and separate from Shia Islam. As well as re-designating Iran as a CPC, USCIRF said the State Department should:  Sanction “government agencies and officials responsible for severe religious-freedom violations”.Raise religious freedom and other rights abuses in “bilateral and multilateral negotiations with Iran”.“Exert multilateral pressure on Iran to improve religious-freedom conditions.”“Press for the release of all religious prisoners of conscience.” It added that the US Congress should “reauthorize and exercise oversight to ensure implementation of the Lautenberg Amendment, which aids persecuted Iranian religious minorities seeking refugee status in the United States”. [...]Download
Two rulings at the end of 2021 offered hope that one day Iranian Christians may no longer be charged with “acting against national security” for simply meeting together to worship in their homes. First, on 3 November, the Supreme Court ruled that nine Christians serving five-year sentences for their involvement in house-churches, and the propagation of what was referred to as the “Evangelical Zionist sect”, should not have been convicted of “acting against national security”.  Then, on 30 November, the public prosecutor of the Civil and Revolutionary Court in the western city of Dezful decided there was no grounds to charge eight other Christians, saying they “merely converted to a different religion”, which is “not criminalised in the laws of Iran”, and “didn’t carry out any propaganda against other groups”. But aside from these late glimmers of hope, Article18’s latest annual report, released today in collaboration with CSW, Open Doors International and Middle East Concern, shows Iranian Christians continued to suffer widespread violations of their rights in 2021.  Of the publicly reported cases alone, 30 Christians endured imprisonment or exile in 2021 on charges related to their faith or religious activities, and 21 were still serving these sentences at the end of the year – 18 in prison, one in exile, and two more serving the remainder of their sentences at home with an electronic tag. Many others faced ongoing legal battles, while Christians continued to flee the country to seek asylum elsewhere, despite worsening conditions for refugees in neighbouring countries such as Turkey. Meanwhile, the first Christians were charged, sentenced and imprisoned under the controversial new amendments to Article 500 of the penal code, for “engaging in propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam”. Churches remained closed to Persian-speaking Christians, while they continued to be arrested and imprisoned for attending house-churches, leading three prisoners to bravely ask: “Where can we worship once we are released?”, a question that inspired the ongoing campaign for Persian-speaking Christians to be given a #place2worship. It was in the wake of this campaign that two of the three Christians were among the nine released on bail while their sentences are reviewed. But fears the move represented an exception rather than the rule seemed to be confirmed just two weeks later, when one of the nine Christians was sent back to prison to serve another previously quashed sentence related to his faith. There was also great inconsistency regarding which prisoners were permitted release with an electronic tag – a growing trend in 2021 – and which were rejected the opportunity; or which prisoners were offered parole, and which were cruelly denied it. As the report bemoans, “The differing decisions highlight the inconsistencies that plague the judicial system in Iran, and suggest that favourable rulings reflect the views of individual judges rather than systemic improvements at the heart of the judiciary.” You can read the full report here. [...]Download
A new report by a Christian charity in Germany is highly critical of its immigration service for failing to recognise the testimony of pastors when considering the claims of asylum-seekers professing to be Christian converts, the majority of whom are Iranian. The report by Open Doors Germany, released in German in October and now in English, found that since 2017, of 5,207 Christian converts who received certificates from pastors testifying to the integrity of their faith – 3,081 of whom were Iranian – 2,045 subsequently saw their asylum claims rejected. Furthermore, the appeals of 1,400 of these asylum-seekers were later rejected, and 99 have now been deported – either back to their country of origin, or to the first country they entered after leaving home. Speaking to Article18, the author of the report, Ado Greve, said the findings – based on the responses of 133 Protestant and Evangelical churches from across each of Germany’s 16 federal states – showed that the German immigration service in many cases does not consider the testimony of pastors to be of any significance. “If you think of a court case, when there is a question about the mental condition of the accused person, many times they will call in an expert like a psychologist, and the expert comes up with a statement, which usually has great significance,” he said.  “In the same way, pastors are experts in their profession, which is the Christian faith. So the certificates of these experts must be recognised, without any reservation. And they must be viewed as the main source of information about the integrity of the faith of a convert. “It’s simply not OK that the staff of our immigration authorities look at the certificate of a German pastor, and say, ‘Well, yeah, you know, you may have made this judgment after knowing the person for three years, but we have had three hours, and my judgment is much better than yours!” Mr Greve also pointed to the “high discrepancies” between regions, citing a 94% rejection rate in the German capital, Berlin, compared with just 10% in other states. This isn’t the first time Open Doors Germany has raised the issue of Christian Convert asylum-seekers. In 2016, the charity released a report focusing on the violence they face in refugee accommodation.  Then in 2019 the focus of another report was the sharp decline in acceptance of their asylum claims. Of the 2019 report, Mr Greve said he had been particularly shocked to discover that asylum-seekers who produced a letter of recommendation from a pastor testifying to the genuineness of their faith were statistically less likely to be accepted than those who did not.  “It means nothing less than converts and the pastors who issue the faith certificates are equally mistrusted – by the German authorities,” he said. So when, in May this year, he heard the vice-president of Germany’s immigration service responding to the public criticism of a Berlin pastor by saying the service had encouraged pastors to write letters of recommendation, he decided to focus a new report solely on this issue. Still, he said the findings shocked him, including the sense that, if anything, the situation of Christian asylum-seekers appears to be getting worse. “That’s what I hear from many pastors,” Mr Greve said, explaining that not only are rejections of claims increasing, but living conditions for asylum-seekers are also deteriorating. For example, whereas five years ago an asylum-seeker would be allowed to work while a decision on their case was pending, and given language courses to help them integrate into society, both of these provisions have now been removed. Instead, Mr Greve said asylum-seekers now receive from the state “just enough money to stay alive”, and cannot work legally. “The whole thing has become so restricted,” Mr Greve said, “so for them it is now just an endless pain, over years, while they are waiting for their court case at the administrative courts.” Another finding that Mr Greve highlighted was the remarkable increase of rejections of Iranians in the past five years, rising from around 50% in 2017 to as high as 75% in 2021, according to the official figures of the Federal Office of Migration. “It makes you question, ‘Did all the good Iranians come before 2017?’ And now the bad ones are coming?’” he said. In fact, Mr Greve said the real reason for the shift seems to be to dissuade other asylum-seekers from coming. Asked what the German government stands to gain by becoming more restrictive, he said:“The state is sending out the message: ‘Don’t come to us! Don’t come to Germany, as this will be a very hard time for you!’”  Mr Greve added that in the past couple of years the immigration service has even begun to exert additional pressure on those whose claims have been accepted by sending letters to their pastors three years later to check they are still going to church. However, he said that while this had understandably increased the anxiety of the refugees – “who think the whole thing is starting again” – it may in fact prove beneficial for others, given that “more than 95% of those who had a follow-up investigation were , which is actually quite a remarkable result, and proves the pastors do a good job, and that the converts are not lying!” The German immigration service rejected the chance for an interview with the national newspaper, Die Welt, that first broadcast the findings. Instead it published a short statement, saying: “The Federal Office rejects the partly sweeping criticism of its decision-making practice expressed in the report. The conversion of an asylum seeker is naturally and comprehensively taken into account in the asylum procedure.” [...]Download
The “systematic” oppression of Christian converts in Iran is the focus of a new in-depth report by the US-based Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. Available in both English and Persian, the report highlights the myriad ways in which converts to Christianity have been and continue to be oppressed in the Islamic Republic, in violation of both national and international law. From charges of “apostasy”, leading in some cases to the death sentence, to the extrajudicial killing of church leaders, the report highlights how Christians from numerous denominations have been affected, and particularly those belonging to the burgeoning house-church movement. The report begins and ends by analysing the Shia understanding of “apostasy”, noting that “although there are considerable disagreements and ambiguities regarding acts that could constitute apostasy”, Shia jurisprudence suggests it is a crime punishable by death. And it is in this context, the report suggests, that the treatment of Christian converts in Shia Iran should be understood. Beyond charges of “apostasy”, the report outlines the other charges levelled at converts, including “acting against national security”, or propagating so-called “Zionist Christianity”. It also provides numerous examples of Christian leaders, as well as regular house-church members, who have suffered under the regime’s campaign of “mass arrests and imprisonment”, while also detailing the known cases of extrajudicial killings of Christians since 1979. The report provides examples of confiscations of Christian properties, and explains how this practice is tied in to the Islamic Republic’s efforts, “since its early days … to diminish Christians’ presence in the country and limit it to small groups of ethnic Christians”, as opposed to converts from Muslim backgrounds. The final section of the report outlines the ways in which the Islamic Republic has violated its own constitution, as well as international law, before concluding:  “Christian converts not only have been denied the right to practice their religion openly, freely, and without fear of repression, but they have also encountered the Iranian government’s repressive and discriminatory policies and practices.  “Christian converts have been labeled as unrecognized or unofficial, their properties have been seized without compensation, and their due process rights have been violated.  “Several pastors and Christian converts were murdered, many were sent behind bars, and many were forced to go into exile.  “The Iranian governments’ actions in the prosecution of Christian converts are contrary to international human rights law and Iran’s Constitution.” [...]Download
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has called on the US government to “prioritise” the resettlement of refugees who have experienced the “most egregious forms of religious persecution”, singling out “Iranian religious minorities” as an example. In its latest annual report, released today, the independent, bipartisan group once again recommends that Iran remains among the list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs) for “engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom”.  In its section on Iran, USCRIF says religious freedom conditions in Iran “deteriorated” in 2020, “with the government escalating its severe repression of religious minorities”. USCIRF commissioner Johnnie Moore notes how “Iran’s activities within and outside of the country target religious minorities and especially Jews, Evangelical Christians, and Baha’is”. The commissioner adds that he is “appalled by reports that certain Biden administration officials would, in effect, reward Iran for its bad behaviour by eliminating sanctions prematurely”. “During the year, scores of Christians were arrested, assaulted, and unjustly sentenced to years in prison,” the report notes. USCIRF highlights the arrest and mistreatment of Christian convert Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi, as well as the court’s decision to remove two-year-old Lydia from the care of her adoptive parents, Sam Khosravi and Maryam Falahi, because they are Christian converts and Lydia is considered a Muslim. The report also references the 80 lashes given to Christian convert Mohammad Reza (Youhan) Omidi; the harsh sentencing of 65-year-old Christian convert Esmaeil Maghrebinezhad; how Iranian-Assyrian pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz and his wife Shamiram Issavi fled the country after their appeals against long prison sentences were rejected; and how pastor Yousef Nadarkhani remains in prison despite the findings of a UN working group that his detention is arbitrary.   In its recommendations, USCIRF says the US government should: Re-designate Iran as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA); Continue to 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; Raise religious freedom and other human rights abuses in any discussions with Iran’s government regarding U.S. re-entry to and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA); Work with members of the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance to exert multilateral pressure on Iran to improve religious freedom conditions and release religious prisoners of conscience;  Press for the release of all religious pris- oners of conscience, including Yousef Nadarkhani and Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee;  Reauthorise and ensure implementation of the Lautenberg Amendment, which aids persecuted Iranian religious minorities seeking refugee status in the United States.  [...]Download
In a year dominated by Covid-19, Iran still found time to persecute Christians in 2020, Article18’s annual report reveals. The report, published today in collaboration with Middle East Concern, Open Doors, and CSW, shows that 15 Christians were being held in Tehran’s Evin Prison on account of their faith by the end of the year, while two others were living in internal exile and another was imprisoned on a disputed criminal charge. A further 115 Iranian Christians were arrested in 2020, though only 52 of those arrests were publicly reported. Meanwhile, two Iranian Christians were flogged for drinking wine as part of Communion, others were denied education or employment, and one couple were told they could no longer retain custody of their adopted daughter on account of their faith. The vast majority of the Christians affected were converts from Muslim backgrounds, whom the state does not recognise as Christians, but Christians from the recognised Armenian and Assyrian Christian communities were also affected. Indeed, the case study for this year’s report is the Iranian-Assyrian pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz, who was forced to flee Iran in August 2020, with his wife Shamiram, after learning that their years-long appeals against lengthy prison sentences had finally been rejected. The case study reveals how Victor and Shamiram faced 10 and five years in prison, respectively, for leading a house-church after Victor was removed from the leadership of a recognised Assyrian church for refusing to stop converts from attending. Three of the converts from his church, who later joined his house-church, were also sentenced to 10 years alongside pastor Victor and have also now fled the country. This case highlights how the state targets both converts to Christianity and those who minister to them. The same is true in the case of Iranian-Armenian pastor Joseph Shahbazian, who was one of dozens of Christians arrested by Revolutionary Guards in a coordinated operation targeting homes and house-churches in Tehran, Karaj and Malayer on 30 June and 1 July 2020. Iran recently denied persecuting Christians, in response to a formal query by six senior UN figures. But while it may be true that Christians from Armenian and Assyrian backgrounds are afforded some freedoms, the cases of Victor, Shamiram and Joseph show that this freedom only exists within strict confines. Iran is a signatory of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, which defines religious freedom as including the right to “have or adopt a religion or belief of one’s choice” and to practise that religion “either individually or in community with others”. Iran’s continued crackdown on house-churches shows that no such freedoms exist. Article18’s report calls on the Iranian government to immediately and unconditionally release all Christians detained on spurious charges related to their faith or religious activities, and to uphold the right to freedom of religion of belief for every citizen, regardless of their ethnic or linguistic group, thereby amending Article 13 of the constitution to recognise fully the freedom of religion or belief of all faiths as envisaged by Article 18 of the ICCPR, to which Iran is a State Party, without reservation, and therefore legally bound to respect.  We also call on the government to: Re-establish ownership of churches, properties and material confiscated from Christians and other religious minorities under security-related charges. Cease to use provisions such as Articles 498, 499, 500 and 513 of the Penal Code and Article 167 of the Iranian constitution to unjustly detain minority-faith adherents. Guarantee the right to counsel to all individuals charged with security-related crimes and to select a lawyer of their choice, therefore repealing the Note to Article 48 of Iran’s Criminal Procedures Regulations. Grant access to the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran to allow him to thoroughly investigate Iran’s compliance with international law on human rights. Finally, we call on members of the international community to assist in holding Iran accountable for upholding its obligation to ensure and facilitate freedom of religion or belief for all its citizens by highlighting this principle during political and/or economic discussions with, or concerning, Iran. [...]Download
A joint report by Christian charities World Relief and Open Doors has highlighted the dramatic reduction in refugee arrivals to the US from countries where Christians are most persecuted. The report, released on Friday, focuses specifically on refugee arrivals from countries on Open Doors’ annual World Watch List of the 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted, including Iran, which was ranked 9th on the 2020 list. The report notes that overall refugee arrivals from the 50 World Watch List countries have dropped sharply in the past five years – from more than 18,000 in 2015 to fewer than 950 so far this year. And of all the countries, it is Iran that has seen the sharpest decline, with a 97% drop in Christian refugee arrivals since 2015, ahead of a 95% drop for Iraqi Christian refugees and 94% for Burmese Christians. The report highlights the example of one Iranian Christian convert, who is given the name “Mana”. Mana’s story closely resembles those of dozens of other Christians that Article18 has spoken to. After her conversion to Christianity, Mana worshipped together with other Christians in a house-church, as open churches are off-limits to converts. When the house-church, which she hosted, was raided, Mana’s oldest son was imprisoned and “Mana concluded that fleeing Iran was necessary to keep herself and her younger son safe”. But this is where Mana and her younger son’s story deviates sharply from the experience of many Iranian Christian converts today, for after two and a half years of living in “challenging conditions” in Turkey, Mana and her son were accepted for resettlement in the US. And, as the report notes, the reality for most Iranian Christian refugees today is that they will not be resettled – or at least not quickly, and usually not in the United States. The report notes that “Mana now fears for her older son, who was released from jail in Iran and also escaped to Turkey, where he now lives as a refugee. “His odds of resettlement to the U.S. are slim, as just 25 Iranian Christians have been resettled to the U.S. as refugees in the first half of 2020.” Indeed, as the story concludes, “The U.S. is on track to receive 97 percent fewer Iranian Christian refugees this year than when Mana was resettled in 2015.” In a joint letter published at the beginning of the report, World Relief President Scott Arbeiter, CEO Tim Breene, and Open Doors USA CEO David Curry write: “Historically – at least at our noblest moments – the U.S. has stood as a beacon of safety and freedom for those persecuted for their faith, including many persecuted Christians. The current administration has recently made unprecedented levels of assistance available to religious minorities worldwide. In addition, a new category established in the fiscal year 2020 refugee resettlement program prioritizes religious minorities to be resettled to the United States. “However, as the statistics and stories within this report demonstrate, the number of persecuted Christians to whom protection is available through the U.S. refugee resettlement program and the application of asylum laws has still been dramatically curtailed. With further restrictions on the near horizon, our aim with this report is to raise awareness and call the American Church both to prayer and advocacy for the persecuted. We also hope Congress and the administration will strengthen U.S. commitment to the persecuted through the refugee and asylum processes.” [...]Download
Article18 has submitted a new report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, highlighting the “multiple layers” of religious-freedom violations faced by Christians and other religious minorities in Iran. The report, released in collaboration with partner organisations Open Doors, CSW, Middle East Concern and The World Evangelical Alliance, lists five ways in which Iranian Christians face violations to their right to freedom of religion or belief: Through the prohibition of Persian-language church services and religious materials, and forced closure of those that fail to comply. Through the use of Articles 489, 499 and 500 of the Iranian Penal Code to prosecute Christians for their peaceful religious activities. Through prosecuting, and in one case executing, Iranians who leave Islam on charges of “apostasy”, and justifying it through the use of Article 220 of the Iranian Penal Code and Article 167 of the Constitution, which allow judges to rely on non-codified Islamic law. Through the confiscation or forced closure of church properties, including the Assyrian Presbyterian Church in Tabrizin May last year. Through discrimination against non-Muslims in marriage and inheritance laws, and access to employment and education. The report includes a table of 29 court cases filed against Christians in 2018 and 2019: 18 had been temporarily released on bail at the publication of the report; five were serving five-year prison sentences; four had been released from prison after completing their sentences; and a further two were detained but not yet charged. Since the publication of the report, on 29 May, four of those on bail have since commenced serving their own five-year prison sentences, while another, Aziz Majidzadeh, appeared in court yesterday.   The table is not exhaustive and does not include confidential cases, nor cases that began prior to 2018, including that of Yousef Nadarkhani and the three Christian converts currently serving 10-year prison sentences alongside him. However the report highlights Yousef’s case elsewhere, as well as that of Victor Bet-Tamraz and his family. Just three days after the report’s publication, Victor, his wife Shamiram and three Christian converts involved in the same court case saw yet another scheduled appeal hearing postponed. The report also highlights the case against eight Christian converts in Bushehr; the three prison sentences recently given to 65-year-old Anglican Church member Esmaeil Maghrebinezhad in Shiraz; and the forced closures of the Central Church of Tehran, Emmanuel Protestant Church, St Peter’s Evangelical Church and Assemblies of God Church in Jannat Abad. The report concludes by calling on the Human Rights Committee to question the Iranian government on how its treatment of Christian converts is in line with its commitments as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), by asking: How Article 13 of the Iranian Constitution, which recognises only Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians as religious minorities is in line with the provisions of the covenant. For information on minority faith adherents who wish to practise their faith in the Persian language. For a response to reports that minority faith adherents are being tried on national security charges for the legitimate practice of their faith. For clarification on how apostasy charges are in line with Article 18 of the ICCPR, which provides for freedom to choose and change one’s religion. For reports on how many Christian converts are currently detained on charges relating to national security or apostasy. For an indication of whether Iran plans to amend its Civil Code to allow non-Muslims to inherit from Muslims or Muslim women to marry non-Muslims. [...]Download
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, 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. Refugee ‘ceiling’ 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 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”. [...]Download
Iranian Christians continued to suffer multiple violations of their right to freedom of religion of belief in 2019, Article18’s latest annual report reveals. The report, a collaboration with Open Doors International, CSW and Middle East Concern, names 25 Christians arrested in 2019 and 13 Christians who received sentences of between four months and five years in prison for alleged “actions against national security”. Criminal cases against many other Christians went unreported, either because no-one raised awareness – arresting authorities frequently issue threats to prevent publicity – or because those involved requested confidentiality. At least 17 Christians were imprisoned at the end of 2019, all serving sentences based on national security-related charges. The sentences of 16 other Christians were upheld, while many others continued to wait, indefinitely, for their court summons or result of their appeal.  Six Christians were released from prison during 2019, having completed their sentences, although one, Ebrahim Firouzi, was sent straight into “internal exile” for two more years in a remote city 1,000 miles from his home – the first time an Iranian Christian has endured such a punishment. Article18’s report notes that 2019 was the year in which Iranian intelligence agents began to harass family members of Iranian Christian converts who had fled the country, even though they may not be Christians themselves. The report highlights the case of Vahid (Nathan) Roufegarbashi and his wife Mahsa, who now live in America. The parents of both were harassed by Iranian intelligence agents in 2019, and Mahsa’s father, Esmaeil Maghrebinezhad, was arrested and charged with “propaganda against the state and insulting the sacred Iranian establishment”. He has just been sentenced to three years in prison. 2019 was also a year in which Christians were denied education. Christian convert Yousef Nadarkhani, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence in Tehran’s Evin Prison, went on a three-week hunger strike in September to protest against the denial of education to his two children, Danial, 17, and Youeil, 15. Youeil was barred from school because he refused to take Islamic classes, while Danial was only readmitted to his school as a “guest”.  And in December fellow Christian convert Fatemeh Mohammadi, 21, was kicked out of university, without explanation, on the eve of her exams. Just a few weeks later she was arrested, and at the time of writing her family have no knowledge of her whereabouts and remain very concerned for her safety. Hate speech against Christians was another trend that continued in 2019, as religious and political leaders in Iran continued to speak out against Christianity and assert that Christian converts, as apostates from Islam, should be put to death. Persian-speaking churches remained closed, while Christians continued to face challenges in obtaining Bibles and Christian literature. Bibles and related literature were consistently confiscated in searches by Iranian security agents, and it was reported that a bookseller, Mostafa Rahimi, was arrested in Bukan and sentenced to three months plus one day in prison for selling Bibles. All the while, the battle between appearance and reality continued, as Iranian leaders repeatedly claimed that Christians, as a recognised religious minority, enjoyed full religious freedom. Meanwhile, Christian converts, who are not recognised as Christians, were being rounded up in raids across the country, while even the “recognised” Christians of Assyrian and Armenian descent continued to be treated as second-class citizens. This pressure on Christians – both recognised and unrecognised – continued to lead hundreds of Christians to flee the country. The treatment of Christian prisoners also caused concern. In December, Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie, another Christian serving a 10-year sentence in Evin Prison, was suffering from a severe fever, but after initially being given medication he was denied further treatment despite the continuation of his symptoms. 2019 ended with the discovery that the grave of Rev Hossein Soodmand, the only Christian to have been officially executed for “apostasy”, had been desecrated. His family told Article18 the discovery “wounded our hearts yet again”. [...]Download
Christian converts seeking asylum in Germany are half as likely to succeed in their applications today as they were two years ago, according to this survey . by Christian charity Open Doors Germany reviewed the experiences of over 6,500 converts – 70% of whom are Iranian – from 179 German churches between January 2014 and September 2019. It found that the acceptance rate of Germany’s Federal Office of Migration and Refugees (BAMF) has “fallen drastically” for Christian convert asylum seekers of “almost all nationalities” since mid-2017, and that in several federal states it has halved. For the 4,557 Iranians in the survey, 50% had claims accepted before July 2017 and only 22% since. The majority of rejected claims were successfully appealed in administrative courts (AC), but Open Doors Germany says the great disparity between BAMF’s findings and those of the appeal courts “must give rise to concern”, as they show “thousands of wrong decisions”. The authors of the 100-page report estimate that the survey sample represents 15-30% of the total number of convert asylum seekers in Germany, a country that has seen an influx of over two million asylum seekers since 2014. Many of the converts – whether they converted in their home countries or in Europe – are Iranian, as indicated by the survey.  As Article18 has highlighted frequently, Iranians who convert to Christianity face immense pressure, leading many to flee. Open Doors accuses Germany’s migration service of failing to recognise the dangers faced by Christian converts in primarily Islamic countries like Iran. The report notes that while Germany’s overall acceptance rate for asylum seekers has fallen largely in line with the figures for converts since mid-2017, the protection rate for converts has dropped to an even greater degree. Open Doors says converts’ “situation of special vulnerability, and thus their need of protection, is not acknowledged in many cases”. Instead, “authorities bring forward the argument that there is no sincere change of faith, therefore persecution is not to be expected in the event of deportation”.  So what’s changed since 2017? The report says there is “no evidence” to suggest anything has changed in the profile of the converts seeking asylum today than pre-2017, including no indication of an increase in “strategic” conversions – as is often claimed in the verdicts for those rejected asylum.  In contrast, the pastors who contributed to the report claimed confidence in the genuineness of a convert’s faith in 88% of cases. The report’s authors note how significantly Germany’s approach to asylum seekers has shifted over the past few years – from an initially warm welcome, to “the political will to remove as many asylum-seekers as possible from the country”. Open Doors says such political will “must not lead to these asylum-seekers and refugees being deprived of their human right of religious freedom”, which “includes the right to change religion, enabling converts to live their faith in public and privately”.  The report says it is therefore not appropriate to claim a convert can avoid danger by keeping their faith secret upon their return to a country like Iran, where the freedom to change one’s religion does not exist. It also questions the appropriateness of interrogating asylum seekers on the sincerity of their faith. A German bishop is quoted as  saying “faith tests for converts are an attack on the Constitution”. The report also suggests that, as the verdict is “almost exclusively focused on the applicant, the outcome of the hearing is therefore highly dependent on the type of person, i.e. introverted or extroverted, and on the applicant’s level of education and thus his or her ability to express himself or herself”. Recommendations Open Doors Germany calls on BAMF to treat the testimonies of church pastors seriously and to rely on them as experts in the assessment of whether or not a convert’s faith is genuine. The researchers found that, rather than proving helpful to a converts’ case, both a clerical affidavit testifying to the authenticity of a convert’s faith, and a baptism certificate, are in fact detrimental to the convert’s chances of success. The report includes observations from several pastors who express serious concerns about the current asylum process. The pastor of a church in Berlin says the discrepancy between verdicts in different parts of Germany is “insanely huge” – even in some neighbouring states.  For example, the pastor says that “in the courts outside Berlin, the judicial appeals of our church members, as far as I was present, were granted by far more than 90%. In the AC Berlin, the recognition rate is under 20%, even at 0% with some judges”. The report says there is “no consistent legal practice concerning the fate of converts in Germany. The protection rates of the federal states differ significantly from one another”.  Another unnamed pastor, whose letter to the appeal courts is included in the report, writes of his concern that the political climate in Germany “influences, or can influence, the verdict”. “In the first trials to which I was summoned as a witness,” the pastor writes, “almost all verdicts were positive for our Iranian brothers and sisters. This has changed greatly in recent months. Almost all appeals are dismissed.  “For me, the question is whether the politically charged situation in Germany should have an influence on asylum decisions.” Another contributor, German MP Volker Kauder, cautions against assumptions that “strategic” conversions have increased, saying “there is simply no evidence of this”. “We must not place Iranians who have converted to Christianity under general suspicion,” he writes. “Iranian converts can be found in non-state churches, Catholic and Protestant congregations. It primarily the task of these churches to examine the sincerity of the change of faith.” Open Doors Germany’s report also includes, in full, the ten-page report released earlier this year by researchers at Open Doors International, providing “considerations for immigration officials, government agencies and advocates of Iranian Christians”. That report urges immigration officials to focus their questions on the claimant’s “personal experience of Christianity”, rather than the extent of their theological understanding; to “explore when and where the claimant’s personal experience of Christianity began, and the steps taken on the way to full acceptance of the new faith”; and for the interview “not be reduced to a mere collection of data describing the journey from Iran to the country of destination, or to a description of exact dates when the person was first introduced to the new faith”. What’s the situation elsewhere? The report ends with a comparison of similar studies carried out in other European countries in recent years. A March 2019 study in Sweden also found the “rhetorical ability of converts to reflect on their faith” was central to the success of their applications, so that “ultimately it was not the sincerity of their faith that was assessed, but their intellectual capacity”. A 2018 study in the Netherlands said the Dutch migration agency’s guidelines on cases involving Christian converts were “deficient” in 60% of cases and that newly published guidelines in July 2018 “had not led to a noticeable improvement” because “new, inappropriate arguments had been added on the grounds of which conversions were rejected as implausible”. A 2017 study on Denmark found that “statements by pastors/churches were explicitly mentioned” in a quarter of cases “evaluated as plausible”, and that asylum was granted in 75% of those cases. However, it was denied in the remaining 25%. And earlier this year the United Kingdom hired clerics to train its staff in religious literacy after a 2016 report by a UK parliamentary group noted a discrepancy between “guidelines and actual practice” and recommended that “all cases involving persecution should be reviewed by a higher-level specialist in order to grant consistency and proper proceedings”. Meanwhile, a June 2019 report for the UK Foreign Office on the persecution of Christians worldwide showed “few instances of assaults of Christians were recorded for Afghanistan … lead to the misconception that violence against Christians did not occur in Afghanistan and that it was secure to deport Christians to that country”. [...]Download
Although Christians in the Armenian and Assyrian churches may practise their faith within strict confines, persecution in Iran is on the rise for others and most of it is targeted at Christians from a Muslim background and Protestant Christians.  Just before Christmas 2018, 114 Christians were arrested, several house churches were raided in nine different cities, and the arrests continued into 2019. On his return to Iran in February 1979, Khomeini promised religious freedom to Christians and other religious minority groups. Just eight days after the revolution, Arastoo Sayah, an Anglican pastor, was beheaded in his church office in Shiraz.  The brutality of the early revolution has given way to systematic pressure and intense persecution against Christians during the past 40 years. As more disillusioned Iranians turn to Christianity, the regime intensifies their intimidation against Christians.  Almost all Farsi speaking Christian churches were closed down or forced to change their language to Armenian or Assyrian. (The only Farsi churches open are the Anglican/Episcopal churches in Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz. However, the churches have been controlled and monitored by the state and converts are not allowed to attend those churches.) House churches have been regularly targeted, their members and leaders have been arrested and imprisoned. Since October 2010, the state has started a new campaign against Christians by propagating hate speech and incitement of hatred against Christians on state sponsored media. The vast majority of hate propaganda is against Protestant Christians and converts to Christianity accusing them of treason, “plotting against the regime and Islam,” “being part of the West’s soft war against the regime,” and “being spies of the West and Israel.” In its 2019 Annual Report, USCIRF, once again, listed Iran as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for severe violation of human rights and religious freedom. Open Doors World Watch List has also listed Iran number 9 in its 2019 annual report. [...]Download
Iran remains among the world’s most egregious violators of religious freedom, according to the 20th annual report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The report, released today, recommends that, as in every year since 1999, Iran be listed among the US State Department’s Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs) “for engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, egregious violations”. “In 2018, religious freedom conditions in Iran trended in a negative direction relative to 2017,” USCIRF says, adding that the Iranian government “heightened its systematic targeting” of religious minorities such as Christians, Baha’is, and Sunni and Sufi Muslims. The report notes the “dramatic uptick” in documented arrests of Christians – 171 in 2018 compared to 16 in 2017 – particularly in the run up to Christmas, when 114 Christians were arrested in just one week. “Christians arrested in Iran are often treated and charged as enemies of the state, and lawyers who take on their cases face the threat of detention,” the report says. “Christians have been sentenced to prison terms for holding private Christmas gatherings, organizing and conducting house churches, and traveling abroad to attend Christian seminars. Evangelical Christian communities face repression because many conduct services in Persian and proselytize to those outside their community. Pastors of house churches are often charged with national security-related crimes and apostasy.” USCIRF specifically references the cases of Youcef Nadarkhani, Hagi Asgari, Amin Afshar-Naderi, Saheb Fadaie and Fatemeh Bakhtari, and the Bet-Tamraz family, all of which have been highlighted by Article18. USCIRF also notes that despite President Hassan Rouhani “signalling his intent to address some religious freedom violations, these promises have yet to be implemented”. It notes that in December 2016 he released a Charter on Citizens’ Rights that promised, among other rights, recognition of all religious identities and nondiscriminatory legal protection. “However, since his reelection in May 2017, religious minorities in Iran have seen little change based on this document.” USCIRF makes the following recommendations to the US government: • Speak out publicly and frequently at all levels about the severe religious freedom abuses in Iran, and highlight the need for the international community to hold authorities accountable in specific cases; • Identify Iranian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom, freeze those individuals’ assets, and bar their entry into the United States, as delineated under the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA), the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, and related executive orders, citing specific religious freedom violations; • Press for and work to secure the release of all prisoners of conscience, including Youcef Nadarkhani, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, and Mohammad Ali Taheri; • Work with European allies to use advocacy, diplomacy, and targeted sanctions to pressure Iran to end religious freedom abuses, especially leading up to Iran’s 2019 Universal Periodic Review; • Develop and utilize new technologies to counter censorship and to facilitate the free flow of information in and out of Iran. And for the US Congress to: • Reauthorize and ensure implementation of the Lautenberg Amendment, which aids persecuted Iranian religious minorities seeking refugee status in the United States. [...]Download
This report is the result of collaboration between Article18, Middle East Concern, CSW, and Open Doors International. Executive Summary During 2018, the Iranian Christian community, along with other religious minorities, continued to suffer multiple violations of their right to freedom of religion or belief. Ongoing surveillance of Christians by the authorities was often accompanied by harassment. The end of 2018 saw an unprecedented wave of raids on private house gatherings, leading to a large number of arrests. Many Christians received prison sentences, or had sentences upheld by the Court of Appeal. Most of the reported violations involved converts from Islam, but there were also several instances where members of the recognised Armenian and Assyrian Christian minorities were imprisoned or sentenced to jail terms due to their religious activities. Recognised church buildings remained closed to ethnic Persian Christians and, in several cases, church property remained under threat of confiscation.  Introduction – Freedom of Religion or Belief  Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states: Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions. Although Iran ratified the ICCPR in 1975, it fails to uphold the values enshrined in it, including the right to freedom of religion or belief for all of its citizens. This report records the violations experienced by the Christian community during 2018. Ongoing Violations of Freedom of Religion or Belief  Religious and political leaders in Iran continue to speak out against Christianity. It is therefore unsurprising that the Christian community experiences repression in various forms. The Iranian intelligence service (MOIS) closely monitors Christian activity and, together with the Revolutionary Guard (IRCG), has raided Christian gatherings in private homes, arresting all in attendance and confiscating personal property. Those arrested have been subjected to intensive and often abusive interrogation. In June 2018, Christian convert Fatemeh Mohammadi released a letter detailing the sexually abusive interrogation she had undergone when she was arrested and detained in Evin Prison in Tehran. House church networks and the targeting of converts to Christianity  For nearly a decade, Persian Christians, who are generally converts from Islam, have been prohibited from entering official church buildings.  They have consequently been forced to resort to informal meetings, frequently called “house churches”, which are regularly targeted by the security services. This prohibition, and the subsequent targeting of house churches, not only constitutes a violation of the right to freedom of religion or belief, but also of the right of peaceful assembly and association. Not only did the prohibition continue in 2018; there were also regular reports of house churches being raided, with a surge during November and December 2018 as arrests were reported in the cities of Ahvaz, Chalus, Damavand, Hamedan, Hashtgerd, Karaj, Mashhad, Rasht, Shahin Shahr and Tehran. In one week alone, one hundred and fourteen Christians were reported to have been arrested.  In March 2018, twenty Christians associated with house churches were arrested in Karaj and six were detained. On 10 April 2018, Christian convert Mohammad Ali Yassaghi was arrested in Mazandaran Province, North Iran. He was held in Babol Prison, Mazandaran Province, on charges of “propaganda against the establishment.” On 25 June 2018, Mohammad Ali Yassaghi was brought before a judge in the 102 Revolutionary Court of Babol. The judge acquitted him, rejecting the charges. It was reported that on 17 and 18 June 2018 five Christian converts had been arrested in Karaj and West Tehran. Those arrested were named as Razmik Zadourian, Shahab Bani Bayat, Mohammad Mohaghegh Dolatabadi, Shahin Shakib, and Vahid Dehghani. On 16 November 2018, two Christian converts were arrested after arranging to hold a meeting in Mashhad. Behnam Ersali was arrested in Mashhad and Davood Rasooli was arrested in Karaj.   On 30 November 2018 Jamshid Derakhshan, a Christian convert from Karaj, was arrested as he went to a house gathering in Hashtgerd. His family was unaware of his whereabouts for nearly two weeks. He was released on bail on 16 December and charged with “propagation of Zionist evangelical Christianity.” On 2 December 2018 four Christian converts were arrested in Ahvaz. Sisters Shima and Shokoofeh Zanganeh were arrested together with Farzad Behzadizadeh and Abdollah Yousefi. Shima and Shokoofeh Zanganeh were both physically assaulted during interrogation. Shokoofeh Zanganeh was released on bail of US$44000 on 25 December, and Shima was released on bail of US$44000 on 31 December 2018.  On 6 December 2018 intelligence agents raided the home of Amir Taleipour and his wife, Mahnaz Harati, arresting them in front of their 7-year old daughter. In December 2018 nine Christian converts were arrested in Alborz province during Christmas celebrations. In 2018 there were many reports of Christians, mainly converts, being arrested. Those arrested often faced pressure to recant their faith or sign commitments not to meet with other Christians. Those who did not comply were detained and generally faced charges related to evangelism, engaging in “illegal” house churches or acting against “national security.” They were eventually released conditionally on payment of bail pending a court summons.  As a result of the pervasive and ongoing repression, during 2018 Christian converts and those from ethnic minorities continued to flee the country. Church closures and violation of property rights In 2018 churches which used to hold services for Farsi-speaking Persian Christians remained closed. These include St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church and Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in Tehran, Assemblies of God Central Church, Tehran, and Assemblies of God churches in Jannat Abad, Ahvaz, and Shahin Shahr among others. In addition, the Assemblies of God retreat centre in Karaj, the Garden of Sharron, was issued a confiscation order on 7 March 2018. Imprisoned Christians A number of Iranian Christians are either still serving prison sentences or were released in 2018. Several appealed their sentences during 2018. However, with few exceptions, the sentences were upheld.  In January 2018 Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh was detained and began serving a 10-year prison sentence in Evin Prison for “acting against national security through forming and establishing illegal house churches.” On 2 May 2018, Yousef Nadarkhani, Yasser Mossayebzadeh, Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie and Mohammad Reza Omidi were informed that the 10-year prison sentences given on 14 June 2017 at the 26th Branch of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran for “acting against the national security through propagating house churches and promoting Zionist Christianity” had been upheld. On 22 July 2018, ten police officers arrived at Yousef Nadarkhani’s home and physically assaulted Yousef Nadarkhani’s son, Danial, when he opened the door to them. Both Yousef Nadarkhani and his son were tasered, despite offering no resistance. Mohammad Reza Omidi and Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie were arrested on 24 July and Yasser Mossayebzadeh on 25 July before being taken to Evin Prison to serve their sentences. The men had received no official summons prior to the arrests. On 25 April 2018 there was a preliminary appeal hearing for Rev Victor Bet Tamraz, an ethnic Assyrian, and Christian converts Kavian Fallah Mohammadi, Hadi Asgari and Amin Afshar-Naderi. Rev Victor Bet Tamraz, Kavian Fallah Mohammadi and Amin Afshar-Naderi were arrested at a private Christmas celebration on 26 December 2014. Amin Afshar-Naderi was re-arrested at a picnic in August 2016, together with Hadi Asgari and Ramiel Bet Tamraz (see below). In June 2017, Judge Ahmadzadeh sentenced Rev Victor Bet Tamraz, Kavian Fallah Mohammadi and Hadi Asgari to 10-years’ each for “conducting evangelism and illegal house church activities.” Amin Afshar-Naderi was sentenced to 15-years’ imprisonment for “conducting evangelism, illegal house church activities and insulting Islamic sanctities.” On 6 January 2018, Shamiram Issavi, the wife of Rev Victor Bet Tamraz, was sentenced to 5-years’ imprisonment for “membership of a group with the purpose of disrupting national security and another five years in prison for “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security.” An appeal is ongoing – the first session of the Court of Appeal has since been held. In May 2018, Majidreza Souzanchi Kushani, a Christian convert detained in Evin Prison, was sentenced to 5-years’ imprisonment for “membership of evangelistic groups and conducting evangelism.” Majidreza Souzanchi and Fatemeh Mohammadi, another Christian convert, had been arrested in November 2017. On 20 June 2018, 12 Christian converts from Bushehr were given prison sentences of one year each for “propaganda activities against the regime through the formation of house churches.”  They were also under intense pressure to recant their faith. On 11 July 2018, Ramiel Bet Tamraz, son of Rev Victor Bet Tamraz, was sentenced to prison for four months for “spreading Christian propaganda.” The sentence is being appealed. On 22 September 2018, Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie – already serving a 10-year sentence in Evin Prison – received an 18-month prison sentence for “spreading propaganda against the regime.” Fatemeh Baktari received a 12-month sentence for the same charges. The following table includes cases which have appeared in public reports, and does not constitute a comprehensive record of every Christian currently detained in Iran:  Name Place Detention began Released Length of prison sentence (if convicted) Ebrahim Firouzi Karaj 2013 – 5 years Sevada Aghasar Tehran 2017 – 5 years Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh Tehran Jan 2018 – 10 years Hadi Asgari Tehran 2016 April 2018 on bail 10 years Majidreza Souzanchi Kushani Tehran 2017 – 5 years Ali Amini Tabriz 2017 April 2018 Fatemeh Mohammadi Tehran 2017 April 2018 6 months Yousef Nadarkhani  Tehran July 2018 – 10 years Aziz Majidzadeh Tehran March 2018 May 2018 on bail Mohammad Ali Yassaghi Babol April 2018 June 2018 Yasser Mossayebzadeh Tehran July 2018 – 10 years Saheb Fadaie  Tehran July 2018 – 10 years Mohammad Reza Omidi Tehran July 2018 – 10 years Behnam Ersali Mashhad Nov. 2018 Davood Rasooli Karaj Nov. 2018 Shokoofeh Zanganeh Ahvaz Dec. 2018 25 Dec. 2018 on bail Shima Zanganeh Ahvaz Dec. 2018 31 Dec. 2018 on bail Farzad Behzadizadeh Ahvaz Dec. 2018 Abdollah Yousefi Ahvaz Dec. 2018 Jamshid Derakhshan Karaj Dec. 2018 16 Dec. 2018 on bail Amir Taleipour Mashhad Dec. 2018 Mahnaz Harati  Mashhad Dec. 2018 Recommendations  The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has an obligation under international law to respect, protect and fulfil the right to freedom of religion or belief.  We therefore call: For the immediate and unconditional release of Christians detained on spurious charges related to their faith or religious activities, and For the government of Iran to uphold the right to freedom of religion or belief for every citizen regardless of their ethnic or linguistic group, and including converts from other religions. We also call on members of the international community to assist in holding Iran accountable for upholding its obligation to ensure and facilitate freedom of religion or belief for all of its citizens by highlighting this principle during political or economic discussions with, or concerning, the nation. Finally, we ask the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief to consider investigating and issuing a report on the ongoing mistreatment of Christians and other religious minorities in Iran.  [...]Download
Iran’s mistreatment of religious minorities, including the imprisonment of 37 converts to Christianity, is highlighted in the Iran chapter of Human Rights Watch’s latest annual World Report. “As of September 30, Iran has sentenced 37 Christians who converted from Muslim backgrounds to imprisonment for ‘missionary work’,” notes the report, citing Article18 as the source of the information. HRW also highlights the sentencing of at least 208 Dervishes; the detention of at least 79 Baha’is, and the refusal to allow them to register at public universities “because of their faith”; the discrimination faced by Sunnis; the cultural and political restrictions placed on Azeris, Kurds, Arabs and Baluchis; and the case of Yazd city councillor Sepanta Niknam, a Zoroastrian, who was suspended from his work because of his religion. The report also notes the reaction of Iran’s security forces to the numerous nationwide protests in 2018: “arbitrary mass arrests and serious due process violations”.  “Authorities have also tightened their grip on peaceful activism, detaining lawyers and human rights defenders who face charges that could lead to long jail terms,” says HRW. HRW’s report also highlights: The execution of at least 225 people, with “apostasy” and “insulting the prophet ” among crimes punishable by death in Iran.The continued detention of scores of human rights defenders and political activists.The failure to provide fair trials and adequate medical care to those charged with national-security crimes (among them several Christians); and the suspected use of torture to extract confessionsDiscrimination against women in “personal status matters related to marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody”.Stigma and discrimination against disabled people, and failure to provide them with sufficient access to social services, healthcare and public transportation.Iran’s continued role in the ongoing Syrian Civil War.  [...]Download
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has cited Iran among the main contributing countries towards an “ongoing downward trend” in religious liberty worldwide and asked the State Department to re-designate Iran as a “country of particular concern”, or CPC, for “egregious” religious-freedom violations. The report noted: “In the past year, religious freedom in Iran continued to deteriorate for both recognised and unrecognised religious groups, with the government targeting Baha’is and Christian converts in particular.” It also reiterated that “evangelical Christians and Christian converts, however, are particularly targeted for repression because many conduct services in Persian and proselytise to those outside their community. Pastors of ‘house churches’ are commonly charged with unfounded national security-related crimes, as well as apostasy and illegal ‘house-church’ activities”. According to the report, violations of religious freedom included a range of severe abuses – from surveillance and legal restrictions, to arbitrary arrest, detention of Christians and the proliferation of anti-Christian publications in Iran. [...]Download
This joint report is the result of a follow-up enquiry into the persecution of Christians in Iran by the Christians in Parliament All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and the APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief. The report catalogues the abuses Christians have suffered during Hassan Rouhani’s presidency, despite the optimism he generated with promises to improve civil rights. The report hopes to draw attention to the lack of religious freedom in Iran and to encourage the UK government to prioritise this issue in all dialogue with Iran. The report concludes: “The persecution remains as severe today as it was in 2012.” The report quotes Ajay Shama of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as saying: “There has been no substantive change in Iran’s human-rights record since the election of President Rouhani; in fact, by some indicators you could argue that things have gotten worse.” [...]Download
Article18 contributed to this 2013 report, which documents the rights violations of Protestant Christians in Iran within the context of international human rights laws and the rights guaranteed within Iran’s own constitution. The comprehensive, 73-page report documents a pattern of rights violations that extend to all walks of life for Protestant converts in Iran: they face severe restrictions on religious practice and association, arbitrary arrests and detention for practising their faith, and violations of the right to life through state executions for apostasy, as well as extrajudicial killings. Rights violations listed in this report include: PERSECUTION OF PROTESTANT CONVERTS Violations of the Right to Life Arbitrary Arrest and Detention Torture and Ill-Treatment of Detainees Lack of Due Process and Access to a Lawyer Restrictions on Freedom of Assembly and Association Monitoring and Harassment Attacks on Free Expression and Access to Information DISCRIMINATION Employment Discrimination Discrimination in Education Discrimination in Marriage and Family Life Discrimination in Access to Justice [...]Download
This joint report is the result of an enquiry into the persecution of Christians in Iran by the Christians in Parliament All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and the APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, whose work is to ensure that religious freedom is a priority for the UK parliament and government. This report catalogues the persecution Christians face in Iran and makes recommendations in the hope of contributing towards an international climate in which the Iranian regime would be forced to reconsider the way Christians are treated. The enquiry heard evidence of the following forms of persecution by the Iranian government directed towards Christians: Execution and extra-judicial killings of pastors, solely on account of their Christian faith Arbitrary arrest and imprisonment without charge or trial Beatings and torture, including physical and psychological torture Intimidation of individual Christians Repression of churches Incommensurate bail demands Appropriation of property, including passports and personal-identification documents Discrimination, particularly within employment and education [...]Download