Iran: Restrictions effectively criminalize Christian faith

April 26, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-asia

The Rev. Vruir AvanessianIran, April 24, 2013: A new report produced by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has found that Christian activities are effectively criminalised by the Iranian authorities.

The report, which is based on interviews with 31 Christians in Iran between April 2011 and July 2012, found that the authorities consistently treat standard Christian practices, such as being a member of a house church or attending a Christian conference, as criminal acts.

Although the Iranian government claims to respect the rights of its recognised religious minorities, it does not do so in practice. The report found that Christian converts and members of unregistered churches are denied the right freely to practise their faith, and that they face violations of their right to life through extrajudicial killings and even execution for apostasy (though only one Christian convert is known to have been executed since the 1979 Islamic Revolution).

A pattern of systematic, arbitrary arrest and detention of Christian converts in Iran is described. Christians are often accused of security crimes against the state, and officials make unsubstantiated allegations that Christians are waging a foreign-inspired “soft war” in the country.

Christians are often denied basic rights while detained; they are held without charge, denied access to proper legal advice and ill-treated.

The report also found clear and consistent evidence that the lives of Christian converts are threatened. Although some church leaders who have been sentenced to the death penalty for apostasy were subsequently acquitted following intense international pressure, the report reveals that security officials threaten Christian detainees with execution on numerous occasions.

It also found that the lack of due diligence that characterised the investigations into a number of suspicious deaths of Christian leaders strongly suggested government complicity in the crimes or in the subsequent cover-ups.

Freedom to practise the Christian faith is consistently and severely restricted; the government has not allowed a single new church to be built since the revolution. Many churches have been closed; attendance at others is restricted; and church groups are monitored and harassed. Bibles and religious literature are routinely confiscated during arrests.

The research also found that Christian converts and members of non-traditional churches are discriminated against in education and employment and by laws governing marriage and family life.

Iran is obligated to safeguard freedom of religion under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The report concludes by urging the international community to “hold Iran accountable for its rights violations”.

Hadi Ghaemi, Executive Director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, said:

The egregious violations of Christians’ rights, which include not only the inability to freely practise their religion, but also the threat of torture and death at the hands of state officials, go against all international law. The international community must let the Iranian government know this is unacceptable.

Barnabas Fund has recently reported on several cases that illustrate the persecution described in the report. Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini was arrested for planting house churches “intended to undermine national security”. Since he began the eight-year prison sentence he was given in January, he has been beaten, denied medical treatment andtold that if he does not return to Islam, he will not be freed even when he has served his sentence.

Fifty Christians were arrested at a house church gathering last Christmas, and although all the others were released after being interrogated, the Rev. Vruir Avanessian, who suffers from kidney disease, was detained and was only released after enduring 15 days in jail during which he was frequently interrogated.

– barnabas team

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