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Does Iran’s Government Persecute Its Christian Population?

A report published last year by experts working at the United Nations has been repeatedly cited, especially throughout Right-Wing press in the United States, as proof that Iran persecutes its Christian population for practicing their faith. But are these charges true, or is there more to the story?

Iran’s constitution unequivocally protects the rights of all its citizens to freely practice their religions; in fact prosecuting people purely based upon their right to practice their religion is against Iran’s penal code. In Iran there are vibrant and prosperous minority communities, such as the Jewish community, with representatives from each community having participated in government. In the case of most Iranian christians, their communities are as prosperous as any other.

The number of Christians in Iran is in the hundreds of thousands and ranges up to 750,000 in some Western organization’s estimates, ample organizations in the West also indicate that Christianity is on the rise in Iran. Many of the Christians in Iran are ethnic Assyrians or Armenians and are free to practice their religion. However, despite the fact that most Iranian Christians have not reflected the views of Western Organizations seeking to depict Iran as an oppressor of the minority – and that no independent fact finding missions have reported on the issue – the allegations are very much becoming a prominent claim.

The report, which was not written with the backing of the United Nations as an official document sanctioned by the UN, does raise some concerning issues. According to United Nations Human Rights inspectors, since 2010 approximately 300 Iranian Christians have been arrested or detained. The report released by UN experts back in November of last year also names 24 people who are currently in prison, on charges which they assert are baseless in their own assessments.

So let’s first take a look at the UN report and what it shows about the 24 named Christian prisoners. All of those named are not said to have been imprisoned for the practice of their faith, there is not one charge which states as such. The charges range from threatening national security, to theft, being members of groups which act against the government, producing anti-Iran propaganda and promoting Zionism. Some may feel such offenses do not justify a jail sentence, yet it begs the question, why are almost all of them accused of posing national security threats? Is the intention of the Iranian government to stop them from practicing their religion, or to crack down on Israeli propaganda and people who attempt to inspire actions against the government. 

What has to be put into context here, is that foreign intelligence agencies such as the CIA, Mossad and MI6 are operating in Iran and attempting to manufacture uprisings in order to overthrow the government. With such a hostile environment in the country, as Western countries seek to destroy the government by manufacturing coups – much like they did in 1953, utilizing sectarian groups to attack government targets – the paranoia and the need to clamp down on those seen to be inspiring anti-government action can be understood. 

The next finding produced by UN experts, that must be addressed, was that 300 Christians had been detained or arrested since 2010. Despite the claim seemingly aimed at portraying foul play, there is actually no independently verifiable evidence to suggest that the 300 figure consisted of wholly innocent people, although there is always a possibility it could be true. But even with this figure, using the classic Occam’s Razor as a means of reasoning, if only 300 out of a potential 750,000 people were arrested within the space of 10 years, the most obvious assessment is that these people were perhaps arrested for a reason outside of a crackdown on their faith. 

It truly would be unreasonable to deliver the verdict on a massive Iranian conspiracy to systematically crack down on Christians for simply practicing their faith, armed with the evidence of only 300 arrests/detainments having been committed over the space of 10 years. The more likely conclusion is that the Iranian authorities have arrested people they see as threatening in some way, with their Christian identity having little to do with it. 

To assert that there have been no wrongdoings by Iranian authorities, when it comes to the handling of Christians, especially in the cases of Muslims who convert to Christianity, would be just as ludicrous as claiming there is a large scale conspiracy against Christians. But ultimately, the assertion that out of all the communities in Iran it is the Christian community that is being targeted, remains without evidence, and the evidence currently recorded on the matter is not proof of the Islamic Revolutionary government’s problem with the Christian faith, but instead those who wish to sow discord and harm the country during a time in which it is under threat of annihilation.

The proof that Iran does not have problems with Christians can be observed from its aid to Syrian Christians under threat of genocide in Syria – due to Takfiri groups – during the US sponsored war in the country. Members of the IRGC actively took part in defending majority Christian areas, in Syria, from fundamentalist groups. Moreover, their allied forces such as Hezbollah singlehandedly came to the aid of Christians, liberating Churches and Monasteries in areas such as Maaloula.

Christian churches can be visited today in Iran, preserved and protected. The country’s government and leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei will often praise diversity and offer respects to Christians and Christianity. In fact Iran’s leader Ayatollah Khamenei sends out yearly congratulation messages to Christians in solidarity, as he did this year on Christmas day.

Whilst many in the West may dispute the need to imprison people over certain practices and may debate Iran’s perceived threat that comes from those conspiring, or spreading propaganda, against it, the assertion that Iran is anti-Christian is simply war propaganda. Again, the same old canard of the evil other who hates the West, has to be placed in the category of hating the number one faith in the Western World. If instead we compare the crackdowns, false imprisonments, torture, spying and intimidation practices in most Western countries against Muslims, there is in fact an argument there of a well-oiled system of oppression, and the evidence for this is not based upon merely 300 arrests or detainments in the space of 10 years.

Robert Inlakesh
Robert Inlakesh is a documentary filmmaker, journalist, writer, Middle-East analyst & news correspondent for The Last American Vagabond.

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