Feb 02, 2011

Assyria: European Parliament Discusses Iran Crackdown

Iran’s Christian community is amongst the religious minorities currently bearing the brunt of a new government crackdown that has left dozens in prisons and hundreds fearful of their future within the country

Below is an article published by UNPO:

In the wake of arrests in Iran over the Christmas period of many Christians, the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relation with Iran devoted its meeting on 1 February 2011 to the current situation of religious minorities with in the Islamic Republic.  Chair of the Delegation, Ms. Barbara Lochbihler MEP opened the meeting with reference to information that had been provided by the diplomatic mission of Iran before opening discussion to representatives of Iran’s religious minorities.

Discussing the situation facing followers of Sufism in Iran, Dr. Seyed Mostafa Azmayesh spoke of the Iranian regimes used of forced labour camps and policies that “placed Sufis in the front line” of the regime’s attacks on its own people.  The media was increasingly being used within Iran to spread a message of hate targeting Sufis as agents of foreign powers that sought to undermine Iran.

But a similar situation was also facing Iran’s Baha’i community with Ms. Sarah Vader, Brussels representative of the Baha’i International Community, using a case study of one Baha’i follower to show the political, economic, religious, and educational discrimination faced by the community - a community where there were “so many more cases that could be highlighted.”  The frustrations were made all the more powerful by the fact that Baha’i “love their homeland [and wish to]…contribute to the wellbeing of their nation” Ms. Vader concluded.

Introduced by Mr. Andrew Johnston of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Mr. Mansour Borji in representing the Iranian Christian Fellowship spoke of the increasing human rights abuses occurring since 2005 and which in the last six months had taken on a dramatic increase in the arrests, confiscation of property, and harassment of non-Muslims within Iran.  These arrests had taken place across twenty-two cities and typically involved coercing those arrested to recant their faith and to stop attending church services. 

In the arrest sweep churches had been forcefully entered and twenty-four individuals remained in prison without charge after the initial arrests.  In prison, they were often kept in solitary confinement, without legal representation, and with no access to medical attention.

The issue of house churches – which are opposed by Tehran – was a phenomenon that had arisen because Christians were either unable, due to limits on the construction of new churches, or fearful of attending services in existing churches because of state intimidation.

Christians were portrayed by the state in an extremely negatively light it was reported by Mr. Borji.  The governor-general of Tehran going so far as to publicly declare Christians a “false, deviant, and corrupt sect” which could be likened to parasites.  These statements could not be downplayed Mr. Borji believed.  Continuing, he stated Christians faced an “uncertain future” in Iran and parallels to the pogroms that had been seen in past centuries in Europe could not be ignored.  Iran was pursuing a policy of “religious cleansing” in which the regime was failing to uphold the articles of Iran’s constitution. 

It fell to the international community to ensure Tehran was held to account according to its own laws and that an investigation should be launched into the regime’s use of the death penalty.  It was imperative that Iran live up to its international obligations to respect religious freedom as well Mr. Borji concluded.

Ms. Barbara Lochbihler MEP then opened discussion to questions from the floor before the meeting concluded.  The Delegation for Relations with Iran is next scheduled to meet on 14 March 2011 in Brussels, Belgium.