Yousef Nadarkhani still looks set to become the first Christian executed for apostasy in Iran since 1990. Unfortunately, he may be merely the first in a new wave of Iranian persecutions–yet the media has hardly noticed.
Abdolreza ‘Matthias’ Haghnejad, a pastor in the Evangelical Church of Iran, was arrested August 17 while on a pastoral visit. It is not known where he is being held, or what charges he may face, and he does not have access to a lawyer.
Haghnejad and others were arrested last April, but acquitted in mid May when Mohammed-Ali Dadkhah, a human rights lawyer, took on their case. Despite this high-profile acquittal, other Iranian Christians have also been arrested in recent days:
Last month, a Christian man and woman were detained in Iran. The man was released but the woman, Leila Mohammadi, was arrested and is believed to be behind bars in Evin prison.
CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said: “It is vital that the Republic of Iran ensures due process and ends this practice of incarcerating persons simply on the basis of their faith as this is in clear violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
“Those who, like the pastor, have been arrested must either be charged and tried in a timely manner or released, and all detainees must be allowed contact with their families and lawyers.”
In August a consignment of 6,500 Bibles was confiscated as it was being transported between the cities of Zanjan and Ahbar in the north-western province of Zanjan. In a comment on the seizure, Dr Majid Abhari, advisor to the social issues committee of the Iranian parliament, declared that Christian missionaries were attempting to deceive people, especially the youth, with an expensive propaganda campaign. He also indicated his belief that all religions are strengthening their power to confront Islam.
This rhetoric is the latest in a stream of condemnations of Christians from members of the Iranian regime, who have attempted to demonise Christians as western-backed conspirators, ‘parasites’ and ‘like the Taliban’.
Christians are not the only religious minorities to be targeted in Iran; Sufis and those in the Baha’i community have also seen an uptick in persecution.
Iran’s treatment of its own legally-protected minorities may prove a harbinger of things to come in its relations with the rest of the world. That’s especially relevant given the nation’s penchant for nuclear weapons development. As Walter Russell Mead observed,
Interestingly, like many stories of Christian persecution in the Middle East and elsewhere, the stories of Iranian Christians and Pastor Nadarkhani have received widespread attention in the US religious press — and are covered much more episodically and lightly if at all by mainstream outlets. The contrast not only undermines public credibility in the mainstream press as readers take this as evidence of an anti-Christian or anti-western PC bias in the press; it blinds those who rely on mainstream reports to the actual state of US public opinion.
For many Americans, evidence of how Iran treats its Christian minority is an indicator of the kind of uses to which it would put nuclear weapons.
This should concern even those who are uninterested in what happens to Iran’s Christians. Iran persecutes its own people–why should should it treat other nations any better, especially if it gains access to nuclear weapons?