The Islamic Republic of Iran has launched a brutal crackdown on the country’s Christian minority before and after Christmas, Benjamin Weinthal, a research fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, reported for Fox News on Saturday.
Weinthal cited a report by the Iranian group Alliance for Rights of All Minorities, which said on December 30 that “nine Christians were arrested in Karaj, Iran on alleged charges of affiliation with Christian Zionists and recruitment of Muslims to home churches. The arrests are also based on fears that this group intends to harm Iran and insult Iran.”
Open Doors UK, a Christian human rights organization, noted that just weeks earlier the Iranian regime had unleashed another crackdown on practicing Christians that resulted in the incarceration of more than 100 people. The campaign of intimidation was meant to prevent Christians from spreading their faith during the Christmas period the group said.
Non-Muslims in Iran are prohibited from publicly expressing their religious affiliation, and any attempt to convert a Muslim to another religion is punishable by death. The right to choose, change, or leave one’s religion is considered apostasy and also carries the death penalty.
“The Iranian regime has long persecuted Christians, Baha’is and other religious minorities. The recent uptick in repression, specifically targeting Christians and Christian converts, is alarming and unacceptable,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R – Fla.) told Fox News. “The U.S. must continue to raise the cases of individual political prisoners and pressure the Iranian regime to end its gross human rights and religious freedom violations.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R – Texas) added: “The Ayatollahs persecute Christians, and anyone else who refuses to accept their theocratic vision, because they fear freedom of conscience. Iran’s repeated and worsening persecution of Christians is unacceptable and must stop. It is imperative that we support religious liberty around the world, and work to end the persecution of Christians and people of all faiths.”
Despite Christians being protected by the Iranian constitution as a recognized minority, Iranian security services regularly raid church services, arrest worshippers, and confiscate religious symbols and literature. Since 2010, approximately 550 Christians have been arbitrarily arrested because of their religious beliefs and activities. Over 90 are currently lingering in prison on trumped-up charges. Human rights organizations have stated that Christian prisoners are subjected to severe beatings, sexual assault, and torture.
The spike of persecution against minorities in the Islamic Republic prompted calls for tougher international action against the regime. Alireza Nader, the CEO of New Iran, a research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., told Fox News: “Europe should find new ways of improving human rights, including actively supporting the real democratic opposition forces, and not fake reformists.”
He added: “Christianity may be the fastest growing religion in Iran, a fact which worries a regime fanatical about its ability to enforce a rigid conformity. The fact that so many Iranians are turning away from Islam and to Christianity means its efforts to create an ideal Islamic society has failed.
“U.S. and European leaders should publicize the plight of Christians as much as possible. The Europeans are lagging in this regard as they assume that the state of instability in Iran may somehow still be resolved by preserving JCPOA [the Iran nuclear deal] and counting on so-called Iranian reformists, who in reality are totally powerless.”
In an essay published in The Tower Magazine in March 2017, Julie Lenarz, a Senior Fellow at The Israel Project, observed that “much of the persecution is taking place under the radar of the international community, which has too readily embraced the sanitized version of Iran sold by President Rouhani since the nuclear détente.” Lenarz added that “at least 250 prisoners of conscience, including Sunni and Sufi Muslims, Baha’is, Christians, Yarsanis, and Zoroastrians remain unlawfully detained.”
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