In October, authorities detained members of an Iranian house church in the city of Shiraz.
The United States and nations across the world hailed the release in September of Iranian Christian Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani after three years in prison. Pastor Nadarkhani had faced execution on the charge of apostasy before authorities decided he was guilty of the lesser offense of “proselytizing Muslims.”
But the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in Iran remains a grave problem.
Ahmad Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, states in his most recent report that 300 Christians have been arrested in Iran since mid-2010. “Targeting of new converts is what’s really at issue at the present time,” he said.
Earlier this month Christian activists reported that in October authorities detained members of an Iranian house church in the city of Shiraz. More than a half dozen people were allegedly seized in a raid and taken to an Intelligence Ministry detention center. NGOs also said they had received reports that Iranian Pastor Benham Irani, serving a five-year prison term in Ghezel Hezar Prison for supposed national security crimes, is in very poor health and has been denied adequate medical care.
Members of other minority religions in Iran, like Gonabadi Dervishes -- and even Shi’ite clergy who do not share the government’s views -- are being targeted by authorities; though the Baha’i community comes under the greatest pressure, according to human rights experts. Special Rapporteur Shaheed called the Baha’is, whom authorities regard as apostates, “the most persecuted religious minority” in Iran. “The numbers of Baha’is that are in prison have increased, over 100 at the present time,” Mr. Shaheed said. “They face a whole range of discrimination.”
In its most recent report on the condition of religious freedom in countries around the world, the U.S. State Department catalogued the series of abuses suffered by Baha’is in Iran, including arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, seizure of property, and the denial of a university education. The State Department also noted that “according to law, Baha’i blood is ‘mohbah,’ which means it can be spilled with impunity.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that “religious freedom is both an essential element of human dignity and of secure, thriving societies.”
The grim state of religious freedom in Iran is an affront to the former and an assault on the latter. It is time the Iranian government lives up to a fundamental duty -- the protection of the human rights, including the religious liberty, of the Iranian people.