More than 300 Christians throughout the country have been arbitrarily arrested since 2010.
During the time of the year when millions around the world hope for “peace on earth, good will toward men,” the Iranian government continues to repress the right to religious freedom for the country’s religious minorities.
Ahmad Shaheed, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, recently reported that more than 300 Christians throughout the country have been arbitrarily arrested since 2010, and that at least 41 individuals were detained for periods ranging from one month to over a year. “Scores of other Christians appear to remain in detention for freely practicing their religion,” Mr. Shaheed said.
In September, Iranian authorities released from prison Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, whose death sentence on the charge of apostasy had caused an international outcry. But other Christian pastors remain behind bars for their religious activity on spurious security-related charges.
There are reports that Pastor Behnam Irani, who is serving a five-year sentence in Ghezel Hesar prison in Karaj, is in very poor health and has been denied adequate medical care. Pastor Farshid Fathi, who was arrested by authorities in the December 2010 crackdown against Christian house churches, is serving a five-year prison term in Evin, where he has spent months in solitary confinement.
Other religious minorities are also persecuted. Baha’is are banned from university education if they identify with their faith; their property is confiscated; their leaders sentenced to long prison terms. Sufi Muslims have been attacked and shot; journalists for their websites imprisoned. Sunni Muslims also face harassment and discrimination.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called religious freedom and the rights of religious minorities, “the first front-line” of human rights, and has noted the increasing pressure religious minorities are under and the harm such pressure causes:
“Societies are strongest when they deliver justice not just for the powerful, but also for the vulnerable. And while religious freedom is a human right unto itself, this issue is about other rights too – the right of people to think what they want, say what they think, associate with others, and assemble peacefully without the state looking over their shoulders or prohibiting them from doing so.”
The United States has repeatedly called on the government of Iran to live up to its obligations under the international rights instruments it has ratified to respect the rights of its citizens regardless of their religious beliefs. The U.S. stands in solidarity with all Iranians seeking to practice their religion without fear of persecution.