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UN Special Rapporteur calls for release of all imprisoned for their faith

UN Special Rapporteur calls for release of all imprisoned for their faith

Javaid Rehman (Twitter)

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran has bemoaned the “heavy sentences” given to Iranian Christians and called for the “release of all those imprisoned for having exercised their right to freedom of religion or belief”.

In his latest report, Javaid Rehman, who was appointed Special Rapporteur in July 2018, says Iran must “protect the rights of all persons belonging to religious and ethnic minorities and address all forms of discrimination against them”.

He notes that several Christians have “received heavy sentences after being charged with threatening national security, either for converting people or for attending house churches”.

Rehman says the “disproportionate number of arrests and convictions of members of minority groups” illustrates “discrimination in the administration of justice”.

“Ethnic and religious minority groups constitute a disproportionately large percentage of persons executed or imprisoned,” he adds.

Article18’s inaugural annual report, released in January, noted that at least 14 Christians remained in prison at the end of 2018, detained on spurious charges related to their faith or religious activity.

Ahead of Christmas, 114 Christians were arrested in one week alone, after a series of raids in ten cities across the country.

Amnesty International said 2018 had been Iran’s “year of shame” due to its “chilling” crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. 

In a new report released earlier this week, Amnesty accused Iran of “systematically violating” freedom of religion or belief in 2018 in both “law and practice”. 

Amnesty highlighted the continuing “harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention” of Christians; raids on “house churches”; and “harsh” prison sentences given to Christians such as the Assyrian pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz, his wife Shamiram, and church members Amin Afshar-Naderi and Hadi Asgari – both converts. 

Amnesty, which launched a petition for the release of the four Christians in August last year, noted that they had been sentenced to between five and 15 years in prison “for peacefully practising their faith”. 

Shamiram’s appeal against her five-year sentence was last week postponed until after the Iranian New Year. The new judge in the case, Ahmad Zargar, ruled that her appeal will now be heard alongside that of her husband and the three men sentenced alongside him – Amin, Hadi and a third convert, Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi.

Human Rights Watch also highlighted the imprisonment of Christian converts in the Iran chapter of its 2019 World Report.