For scores of Christians in Iran, the peace and tranquility which should mark the Christmas season were shattered when Iranian authorities arrested as many as 70 Christians in unannounced raids. Those targeted are reportedly Evangelical Christians who meet in private houses to pray and read the Bible.
Tehran's Governor Morteza Tamadon confirmed that there have been detentions, and that more are on the way. As reported by Iranian state media, he compared the Christians to parasites, and said their practices are "deviant" and an assault on Islam.
Shi'a Islam is the state religion of Iran. But Christianity, along with Zoroastrianism, Judaism and other Islamic denominations, are officially recognized by the government, and the constitution provides their adherents freedom to practice their religion. Members of these minority religions are, however, not permitted to proselytize; and apostasy from Islam is punishable by death. The U.S. State Department, in its latest report on religious freedom, said that the Iranian government's respect for religious freedom continues to deteriorate, with Government rhetoric and actions creating a threatening atmosphere for nearly all non-Shi'a religious groups.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the USCIRF, a bipartisan governmental body appointed by the President, expressed concern over the fate of the scores of Christians who were detained in Tehran during the Christmas season. The Commission noted that since the arrests, some of those who were arrested have been released, others remain in detention. Leonard Leo, the Commission's chair said, "What's most troubling about this wave of detentions is the fact that Iran is continuing its recent trend of targeting Evangelical Christians, which they've been doing for years, and also leaders from the recognized and protected Armenian Christian community. ... The USCIRF calls on Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release those Christians who have been detained."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has noted that "religious freedom is both a fundamental human right and an essential element to any stable, peaceful, thriving society:"
"This is not only the American view; it is the view of nations and people around the world."
The United States joins the international community in urging the Iranian authorities to release all religious minorities who are currently in detention for peacefully exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms.