Writing in the New York Post, Benny Avni reminds us that Iran’s Christians are a terribly persecuted minority group.
Christian leaders were therefore targeted and executed by mobs, and by the state, since the first days of the revolution, but under “moderate” Rouhani things haven’t changed much. “Christians most commonly prosecuted appear to be converts from Muslim backgrounds or those that proselytize or minister to Iranian Muslims,” wrote Ahmed Shaheed, the UN watchdog on human rights in Iran, in a 2014 report.
“While most cases involving Christians are tried in revolutionary courts for national security crimes, some Christians face charges in public criminal courts for manifestation of religious beliefs,” Shaheed added. In one October 2013 case, a court sentenced four Christians to 80 lashes each for drinking wine during communion.
Unfortunately, as the article suggests, Iran’s persecution of Christians does not vary much from year to year. In 2014, Liana Aghajanian wrote a very similar article as an op-ed in the New York Times. She begins with an interview given her by a young man who insisted she hide his name as a condition of talking. He told her of many friends who had been disappeared by the regime, assumed killed in the prisons. “When you’re Christian in Iran, you can’t speak,” he said. “You have to keep quiet and not talk about the truth that you know and that you believe in.”
In addition to these specific abuses targeting Christians, there is a structural violation of religious freedom of conscience for nearly all Iranians. By law, only ethnic Assyrians and Armenians are even permitted to be Christian. Anyone born a Persian is defined as a Muslim and is not allowed to leave that faith. Anyone may convert to the regime’s particular interpretation of Shi’a Islam, but no one may leave.
During all of this, the President of the United States has remained silent. Other leaders in what was once called “the Free World” have not. Prince Charles of the United Kingdom has condemned the oppression of Christians in Iran and across the Middle East. The President-elect of the National Council of Resistance – Iran, Maryam Rajavi, issued a Christmas message calling for brotherhood and respect between Christians and Muslims in Iran and abroad. Though a Muslim herself, her message opens with a scene of her venerating at a shrine to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Nothing similar is forthcoming from the Iranian regime, which is to be expected. Silence is less expected from the President of the United States. Indeed, the opposite of support has been the hallmark of this President. His administration, though pushing heavily for increased refugees from the Syrian crisis, has denied refugee status to oppressed Christian groups. This is not limited to refugees from Iran, but Christian refugees from Syria as well. He has refused to respect the beliefs of Christian aid groups trying to help women in the Middle East and abroad.
This Christmas, remember Iran’s suffering Christians, and indeed all Iranians who are denied freedom of conscience.