02/21/2022, 09.37
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UN Special Rapporteur: Tehran arrested dozens of Christians in 2021

The UN reports on "at least 53 arrests" made among members of the minority. And it expresses "concerns" about the "continued repression". A group of converts forced to undergo "re-education" sessions in the Islamic faith. The role of the Pasdaran in anti-Christian attacks. 

Tehran (AsiaNews) - Between January and December 2021 "at least 53 Christians were arrested" for the mere fact of having "practiced worship related to their faith". The confirmation of the repeated cases of violations of religious freedom in the Islamic Republic, which also affect Christians, comes from the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran Javaid Rehman.

In a report published a few days ago, in anticipation of the 49th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council from 28 February to 1 April, the expert raises "concerns" about "the continued repression of religious minorities", including arbitrary detentions. 

Among the violations contained in the UN report are "forced closures" of places of prayer, especially house churches, under the pretext of alleged violations "of national security". Rehman reiterated his call for "the release of those who have been arrested" for having only practised "the right to freedom of opinion, expression, association and peaceful assembly".

At the same time, he emphasises that, in practice, the government's claim that 'minorities are respected' and that 'Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians are free to practise the rites of their religion on the basis of Article 13 of the Constitution' has been disregarded. 

Further confirmation of the reports of abuses and violations of religious freedom comes from activists on Article18, a website specialising in documenting repression in the Islamic Republic. In recent days, a group of Christian converts, who were acquitted last November of charges of violating the law and spreading anti-state propaganda, have been forced to undergo "re-education" by attending classes and seminars held by Muslim experts. 

The group of Christians came from Dezful, in the west of the country, and were contacted by intelligence agents belonging to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (Pasdaran) in the middle of the night, asking them to report to their offices the next morning.

Despite warnings from lawyers not to respond to the summons, part of the group showed up and underwent some kind of indoctrination. Officials told them they had been "misled" about their faith and that 10 sessions with Islamic leaders would soon be organised to "guide them on the right path". 

Unless the authorities change their minds at the last minute, the group of Christians will have to participate in working groups whose basic objective is to convert them. The measure that constitutes a blatant violation of the free practice of religion according to international regulations and treaties, of which Tehran is a signatory nation.

Activists explain 're-education sessions' have become increasingly common in recent years to the extent that they appear on the list of "corrective punishments" in official court documents. In at least 12 of the 38 cases of persecution or violence recorded in 2021, the Guardians of the Revolution were directly responsible for the attacks, with arrests, raids on homes or domestic churches and confiscation of property. 

The US-based international NGO International Christian Concern points out that "the compulsory Islamic re-education classes are in conflict with the rulings" of the court in Dezful, according to which the group "has only converted to a different religion". The judges, the ICC note concludes, ruled that apostasy 'could' be punished under Sharia, Islamic law, but 'does not constitute a crime' under the rules of the Republic of Iran; excluding the crime of propaganda towards other (religious) groups.

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