Marjan Keypour Greenblatt reports on the persecution of Christian converts in Iran for ADL’s Task Force on Middle East Minorities
As the Islamic Republic marked its 40th anniversary, Iranian religious minorities are experiencing continual persecution. Hundreds of Gonabadi Dervishes, Sunnis, Christians and Baha’is are incarcerated for their religious beliefs. While the pressures on religious minorities have been persistent since the beginning of the Iranian revolution, 2018 has emerged as a particularly heinous year in the persecution of minorities. The year was punctuated by an escalation of harassment and arrests of Christian converts.
As Christians were preparing for Christmas celebrations in December, Iran’s Mehr News Agency reported that 142 men and women belonging to Christian convert communities were arrested in a seemingly coordinated sequence targeting various cities across the country. Experts who closely monitor the condition of religious minorities in Iran usually anticipate an uptick in arrests around momentous religious occasions. But the recent spate of arrests proved one of the most severe crackdowns in recent years, certainly the largest sweep in the last decade, and is symptomatic of the increasing pressure on converts to Christianity in Iran.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocratic state based on Shi’a Islam. As a Shi’ite majority country, Iran has an estimated 5 to 9% Sunni minority, and only less than 1 percent of the 82 million population is registered as something other than belonging to the Muslim Faith. Iran has been designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) by the United States since 1999 under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) for its severe violations of religious freedom. In their most recent report, Open Doors revealed that Iran has risen to the top 10 nations in the persecution of Christians. Perhaps as a consequence, as of 2018, only around 300,000 Christians are estimated to be living in Iran.
Arguably, one of the most troubling aspects of Iran’s treatment of religious minorities is its institutional nature. The Islamic Republic of Iran makes a clear distinction between state-recognized religious minorities and others. Iran’s constitution recognizes Sunni Muslims, Jews, Zoroastrians, and Armenian and Assyrian/Chaldean Christians as “official religious groups” and a second-class order of citizenship. Although all religious minorities face some form of systematic discrimination and oppression, members of the state-recognized minorities are granted autonomy in personal matters such as marriage, divorce, or inheritance rights. Whereas Baha’is, Mandeans, and certain groups of Muslims do not have any recognized status, leaving them vulnerable to arbitrary decision in the criminal justice system.
Read the full article from the ADL’s Task Force on Middle East Minorities