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US Ambassador Slams Iran for Religious Rights Abuses against Christians, Other Minorities

The US is pushing back against religious injustice in Iran. Illustrative. By Joshua Spurlock

The Islamic Republic of Iran is not known for being open to religious minorities, and United States Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback highlighted some of the egregious Iranian offenses in a recent speech. Christians, Baha’is and even Sunni Muslims have faced religious persecution from Iranian authorities. “In Iran, blasphemy, apostasy from Islam, and proselytizing of Muslims are crimes punishable by death,” said Brownback in a speech last week published on the US State Department website.

“Minorities not recognized under the Iranian constitution—such as Baha’is and Christian converts—may not engage in public religious expression and are particularly vulnerable to discrimination, harassment, and arbitrary arrest.”

Brownback cited multiple examples of the plight facing Christians in Iran—noting that a dangerous label is to be called a Christian supporter of Israel.

“In 2017, for example, the court sentenced Pastor Youcef to ten years in prison for ‘assembly and collusion against national security,’ organizing home churches and preaching what they called ‘Zionist Christianity,’” said Brownback. “After an appeals court upheld the sentence in 2018, officers violently detained the pastor and took him to Evin Prison to serve his sentence.”

Another pastor, Victor Bet-Tamraz, continued his faith work after Iran closed down his church in 2009. Brownback noted that earned him a 10-year prison sentence in 2017 “for ‘acting against national security by forming home churches, attending seminars abroad, and proselytizing Zionist Christianity.’” The pastor’s wife and son have also received prison sentences for their faith expression and are currently on appeal.

“We call on the Iranian government to drop the ridiculous charges against them and allow them to practice their beliefs in peace,” said the US official last Wednesday, speaking at the 2019 Policy Day for the International Christian Concern group.

Brownback said of Christians in general in Iran, that heading into Christmas last year, Iranian security services “conducted raids on house churches throughout the country, detaining congregants for hours or days and interrogating them about their Christian faith.”

The US Ambassador noted that other minorities in Iran have also been mistreated for their religious beliefs, including Sunni Muslims. Iran is the world’s leading national proponent of the Shia branch of Islam, the main rival sect to the Sunnis. Reportedly, persecution of Sunnis has included “extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, and torture in detention,” according to Brownback.

In response to Iran’s lack of religious freedom, the US sanctions Iranian government officials involved in human rights abuses and continuing to designate Iran as a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act. The US also hosted a conference on religious freedom last year that brought together more than 80 governments and international groups to discuss the broader topic.

In addition, Brownback has spoken with Iranians in the US who have suffered religious persecution in Iran. One particular story from the pastor of a Farsi-language church received Brownback’s retelling in his speech.

“He had moved to the United States from Iran several years ago and recalled his abhorrent treatment at the hands of the Iranian security services officials that were handling him,” said Brownback. “During one interrogation, he said, the officer showed him a bullet, rolled it in his fingers, and said, ‘Every Christian should get one of these.’

“He said it was his faith in God that helped him endure his imprisonment and abuse. The ongoing work of the pastor, and of other Iranian-Americans in this area, is an inspiration to us all. I hope we can continue to collaborate with activists like these to advocate for a better future for Iran.”

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, May 29, 2019)

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