By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Iran has launched the “systematic persecution and prosecution” of “Protestants and Christian converts” with a Muslim background, closing churches, detaining believers and threatening some with execution, a new report claims.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, a major network of Iranian activists, said believers “face severe restrictions on religious practice and association, arbitrary arrests and detentions” for practicing their faith, “and violations of the right to life through state execution for apostasy and extrajudicial killings.”
It’s extensive report, ‘The Cost of Faith: Persecution of Christian Protestants and Converts in Iran’, cites cases of 31 Christians throughout Iran from April 2011 to July 2012, including Farshid Fathi, a Christian leader from Tehran who was detained in December 2010 as part of “a Christmas crackdown” on Christians.
The 33-year-old Fathi is serving six years imprisonment on charges of “acting against national security,” “contact with enemy foreign countries,” and “religious propaganda.”
“Since 2005, authorities have arrested and prosecuted Protestants most often for security crimes against the state,” said the report obtained by BosNewsLife Friday, January 18.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, noted in September last year that at least over 300 Christians have been arbitrarily arrested and detained throughout the country since 2010.
The report said several of Christian inmates face life danger and some are killed. It recalled that Christian pastor, Hossein Soodmand, was executed by the state for “apostasy”, or abandoning Islam, in 1990.
Other church leaders sentenced to death for apostasy, included Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was eventually acquitted after intense international pressure.
The Campaign’s research revealed what it said were “numerous reports of security officials threatening Christian detainees with execution on apostasy charges”.
Additionally, it said, there were many cases of “suspicious deaths involving Christian leaders” as investigations “were so lacking in due diligence that government complicity in the killings or the cover-ups is strongly suggested.”
Iranian officials have strongly denied wrongdoing saying Christian converts are part of a foreign inspired “soft war” against the state and members of sects threatening the state.
Hojjat Al-Islam Abbas Kaebi, a member of the influential Assembly of Experts, said in 2010 that “the Zionists and Westerners have targeted [through Christian converts] our society’s identity and people’s religion.”
Authorities have not provided licensing of any new church since the 1979 Revolution, restrict church attendance and closed many churches. They also shut down Iran’s main Persian–language Bible publisher and have restricted the distribution of Bibles
while monitoring and harassing church groups, according to the Campaigns report.
Activists also expressed concerns that “interrogators, prosecutors and courts consistently refer to standard Christian practices, such as membership in a house church, evangelical activities, and participation in a Christian conference, as ‘criminal acts’.”
Security officers “routinely confiscate standard Christian items such as bibles, religious literature, and crosses during arrests,” the report said.
The report also said there was “systematic discrimination” of Christian Protestants and converts in employment, education, in laws governing marriage and family, and in Iran’s penal code.
“The egregious violations of Christians’ rights, which include not only the inability to freely practice 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,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director for the Campaign.
Under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Iran is obligated to safeguard freedom of religion, he said.
Iran’s government claims it respects the rights of its recognized religious minorities within the laws of the Islamic state, but devoted Christians say they face persecution.
“From apostasy charges that threaten the lives of converts to the imprisonment of church members involved in proselytizing, authorities have engaged in a pattern of human rights abuses that effectively criminalizes faith and manifestations of it,” Ghaemi said.
The Campaign said it has urged Iran allow its Christian converts “to freely practice their religion, without further threat or intimidation, as is required under international and Iranian domestic law.”
There are at least 100,000 evangelical Christians in Iran, including many former Muslims, according to missionaries, with some saying that figure is several times higher.
The Campaign’s report is based on testimonies by Iranian Christians, defense lawyers, Christian rights activists and Iranian Christian journalists, as well as Iranian court verdicts and religious edicts by Shi’a jurists and Iranian laws.
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