UN Report: Iran's Christians Persecuted More Than Ever

Image: UN Report: Iran's Christians Persecuted More Than Ever Iranian Christian worshippers pray during Christmas Mass at the St. Joseph Chaldean-Assyrian Catholic Church in Tehran.

Friday, 21 Mar 2014 11:51 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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A new United Nations report reveals that Iranian Christians are being persecuted more than ever, despite last year's election of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who the report says has "no influence over hard-liners" still in charge of many parts of the government.

Rouhani's regime continues to put Christians in jail, according to the U.N. report, and designates evangelicals and house churches as "threats to national security," reports Fox News.

As of January, at least 49 Christians were among the 307 religious minority prisoners being held in Iranian jails. The regime was also criticized in the report for being hostile against Jews, Baha'is, Zoroastrians, and Dervish Muslims in addition to Christians, said the report  compiled by Ahmed Shaheed, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Iran.

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At least 42 Christians were arrested last year, including 35 for participation in more informal "house churches," perceived or real evangelical activity, and other instances in practicing their faith, said the report. They received prison sentences ranging from one to 10 years behind bars.

Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen, was sentenced to eight years in prison for crimes related to his faith.

President Barack Obama had been calling for Abedini's release while disarmament negotiations with the Iranian government continued, but Secretary of State John Kerry was not able to secure Abedini's release.

Persecution also can be done in more subtle ways, said Shaheed, noting Christians have also reported that their computers have been infected with viruses after they visited Christian websites.

"Under the law, religious minorities, including recognized Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians, also face discrimination in the judicial system, such as harsher punishments," said Shaheed, an internationally recognized expert on human rights.

The report indicates that "President Rouhani has no influence over hard-liners, who remain fully in charge of the judiciary and security apparatus, government entities that are responsible for the most severe abuses against religious minorities," said Dwight Bashir, deputy director for policy at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Sen. Mark Kirk also said the report is a reminder of the regime's "true nature."

"We can't pretend we are negotiating with Western moderates — we are negotiating with Islamic radicals who persecute Christians, Baha'is, other religious and ethnic minorities, and women, while denying all of its citizens basic human rights — including the freedom of speech and assembly," said Kirk, an Illinois Republican.

The Iranian government responded angrily to Shaheed's report, with Mohammed Javad Larajani, head of Iran's High Council for Human Rights, calling it "a vicious circle, which changes according to the political situation."

But German-Iranian journalist Saba Farzan, director of political studies at the Institute for Middle Eastern Democracy, said the situation is dire because the regime is a Sharia state.

"This dictatorship oppresses viciously all these precious groups with the abhorrent justification of Islamic [Sharia] law, and by that it violates Iran's constitution and a long-lasting tradition within Persian culture of peaceful tolerance and respect toward fellow Iranians with diverse religious backgrounds," said Farzan.

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