July 2016: Iran – the persecution of minorities and the use of capital punishment
In its latest Human Rights Priority Country update report on Iran, published on July 21, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office noted once again that despite “the Iranian constitution only formally recognises 3 religions other than Islam: Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism”, minority religions, and even non-Shi’a Muslims, face persecution and harassment in Iran.
For many years, the plight of religious minorities in Iran, especially the Christian community, has been a priority issue for me and many of my colleagues in the Parliament. We have also highlighted the plight of hundreds of Baha’is who have been killed, executed, tortured or imprisoned, and the tens of thousands who have lost jobs, access to education, and other rights – all solely because of their religious belief.
Christians in Iran are prevented from openly exercising their belief or promoting their religion.
Any efforts to that end is interpreted by the theocratic regime as an “illegal” act aimed at undermining the security of “the Islamic Republic” and “spreading propaganda against the system”. This leads to the Christian community being systematically harassed and intimidated by the repressive security organs, including the Revolutionary Guard Corps.
So much, too, for Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 18 insist on freedom of religion or belief – the right to believe, not to believe, or to change your beliefs – and honoured daily in Iran, only in its breach.
This reality makes Iran one of the world’s 10 most inhospitable countries for Christians and in recent years many Christian priests, pastors and believers have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and long prison sentences on trumped up bogus charges.
Two days after the Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued their latest human rights assessment, reports appeared about the plight of a Christian prisoner, Maryam Naghash Zargaran, who has been denied unconditional release by an Iranian court at the request of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS).
Maryam’s case, and that of her co-worker, Saeed Abedni, illustrate what is happening to Christians in Iran while the world chooses to look away.
Maryam is being held in Tehran’s Evin Prison, serving a four-year prison sentence on charges of “acting against national security”.
Maryam had previously been arrested in January 2013 in connection with her work on an orphanage with the Christian pastor, Saeed Abedini, who was freed from an Iranian prison in January this year as part of a U.S.-Iranian prisoner swap.
At the beginning of July Maryam began a hunger strike – and despite a short reprieve for urgent medical treatment – she is now twenty days into her hunger strike and her condition is causing great concern to her friends and family.
Staff at the prison have confirmed that Maryam’s blood pressure is very low; that she has pains and numbness in her feet – possibly early signs of Multiple Sclerosis – and that she is suffering psychologically as a consequence of her imprisonment.
Maryam had worked with Saeed Abedini, an Iranian American Christian pastor, who was detained while building an orphanage in Iran (his native country) and, in 2012, he was imprisoned on charges of setting up home churches.
In June, following Mr Abedini’s release, he joined tens of thousands of Iranians at the annual gathering of Iran’s democratic opposition movement, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), in support of a free and democratic Iran.
In his remarks, Mr Abedini recounted the torture and horror that he and many other prisoners of conscience had to endure in the Iranian prisons.
He recalled how prison guards told him he would never come out of prison alive and how he was left in solitary confinement for refusing to make false confessions. Recounting the horror, he described how he saw other prisoners being taken to be hanged.
However, he also pointed out that his very presence in the gathering on that day proves that each act of resistance will be a victory for freedom.
He thanked, the NCRI President-elect Maryam Rajavi for her constant support for the democratic rights of the Iranians, and the religious minorities, including the Christian community.
Just ahead of the gathering in Paris, nearly 80 church leaders from the UK and US, issued a joint statement setting out their “grave concern” at how Iran’s rulers are mistreating Christians.
“Repression of Christians has not only continued but intensified during the presidency of Hassan Rouhani”, the statement said, adding, “In such circumstances, we call on all Western countries to consider the deplorable situation of human rights in Iran, particularly the painful situation of Christians and the intensification of their oppression, in navigating their relations with Iran.”
The former Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd. John Pritchard, who also supported the statement, was among many international dignitaries and parliamentarians participating in the Iranians’ greatest gathering for a free and democratic Iran.
In his remarks, Bishop John said, “[I am] overwhelmed to be part of such an extraordinary event … The maltreatment of religious minorities is what the regime is known for. In clear opposition to the Iranian regime we have Maryam Rajavi who symbolises interfaith harmony between Christians and Muslims I am absolutely with you and wish you every success”.
During speeches at the gathering, secular and religious speakers highlighted Mrs. Rajavi’s 10-point democratic platform for a future Iran that not only promotes human rights, gender equality and freedom for average Iranian citizens but also envisions an end to the discrimination of the country’s religious and ethnic minorities.
It is truly unique for a Muslim woman to lead an organised opposition against a theocratic regime and to present such a progressive platform.
I have no doubt that it is in the best interests of anyone who cherishes the right to hold religious beliefs – but who also insists on the rights of those who do not – to support the courageous Mrs.Rajavi and her 10-point democratic platform in Iran.
A country’s greatness can be measured by the way it treats its minorities, upholds diversity and cherishes plurality. In place of a toxic theocratic ideology which spawns hatred and which murders, imprisons, tortures, and oppresses those who dissent, a free and democratic Iran can be a beacon to the rest of the world.
As Mrs Rajavi said in her recent message to Christian leaders of the world, “The Holy Bible teaches us to support and encourage the oppressed … Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed (Isaiah, 1:17).”
Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool, is a cross-bench member of the House of Lords and member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom, www.iran-freedom.org. He also writes on https://davidalton.net/
Statement by 80 Church leaders from the U.S. and UK in support of the Iranian opposition’s July 9 gathering in Paris
Expressing concern about the increase in suppression of Christians in Iran and calling for conditioning ties with the Iranian regime to an improvement in human rights
Nearly 80 Church leaders and personalities from the United Kingdom and the United States have signed a declaration expressing deep concern over the suppression of Christians in Iran and urging Western governments to condition any improvement of relations with the Iranian regime to an improvement of the human rights situation including the situation of Christians in Iran.
The Bishops, including John Pritchard, former Bishop of Oxford; and Rachel Treweek, the Bishop of Gloucester who is the Church of England’s first diocesan bishop, and priests reiterated that the suppression of Christians in Iran has increased during Hassan Rouhani’s tenure.
They added: “Iran’s ruling theocracy is rightly a source of grave concern for human rights organizations and institutions with a particular interest in the protection of the rights of Christians. … Reports by the UN Secretary General, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, and the U.S. State Department all indicate that the repression of Christians has not only continued but intensified during the presidency of Hassan Rouhani.”
These Christian leaders reiterated: “In such circumstances, we call on all Western countries to consider the deplorable situation of human rights in Iran, particularly the painful situation of Christians and the intensification of their oppression, in navigating their relations with Iran. We call upon them to precondition improvement of those relations on the cessation of oppression of Christians and on a halt in executions.”
The bishops and priests declared their support for the major “Free Iran” gathering on July 9 and its objectives in the run-up to the anniversary of the P5+1’s nuclear deal with the Iranian regime.
They added: “The time has come for us to listen to the wishes of the Iranian people for freedom, including religious freedom, and to add our voices to the grand international gathering titled ‘Free Iran’ that is to be held on July 9, 2016 in Paris to promote freedom and human rights in Iran.”
Also see – Amnesty International’s recent Iran report, ‘Health taken hostage: Cruel denial of medical care in Iran’s prisons.’
The report provides a grim snapshot of health care in the country’s prisons and illustrates the way that the Iranian authorities are toying with the lives of prisoners of conscience and other political prisoners. It presents strong evidence that the judiciary, in particular the Office of the Prosecutor, and prison administrations deliberately prevent access to adequate medical care, in many cases as an intentional act of cruelty intended to intimidate, punish or humiliate political prisoners, or to extract forced “confessions” or statements of “repentance” from them.
Furthermore, Amnesty International continue to campaign for the release of two British-Iranian individuals interned in Iran.
A 76-year-old British-Iranian Foroughi was working as a consultant for the Malaysian national oil and gas company, Petronas, when he was arrested. International fair trial standards were not followed. He was not charged until a year later, and even then, was not given information regarding the reasons for his detention or the charges against him. He had no access to a lawyer until the day before his trial in early 2013, before Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran.
Amnesty International is campaigning for Kamal Foroughi’s immediate release as well as calling on the Iranian authorities to ensure that he receives any specialised medical care he may require and has access to his medical records.
For the latest on his case click here:
Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe
British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe, a charity worker, was arrested on 3 April at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport by officials believed to belong to the Revolutionary Guards. She was about to leave Iran to the UK along with her toddler daughter, Gabriella Ratcliffe, after visiting their family in Tehran. Before being taken into custody, she was allowed to leave her daughter in the care of her parents, who had accompanied her to the airport. The authorities have confiscated the passport of her daughter, who holds British nationality. Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe was apparently held in a detention facility in Tehran for about a week before being taken to an undisclosed detention centre in Kerman, southern Iran.
Amnesty International is campaigning for Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe’s immediate release unless she is promptly charged with an internationally recognisable offence, and urging the Iranian authorities to allow her regular contact with an independent lawyer of her own choosing and visits and phone calls from her family, including her daughter.
For the latest on her case click here: