British MPs highlight Nadarkhani case and Iran’s “appalling” religious freedom violations

In a 90-minute debate on human rights in Iran, Members of Parliament yesterday highlighted the worrying situation of Iranian Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani and discussed the regime’s systematic denial of the Iranian people’s right to freedom of religion or belief.

The severe persecution faced by Christians, Baha’is, Jews and other religious minorities in Iran was highlighted as a key area of concern by various MPs, within the wider discussion on the extensive and broad-ranging human rights violations committed by the Iranian government.

Stewart Jackson MP drew heavily on Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s (CSW) research to describe the problems faced by Christians, including the worrying uncertainty surrounding the Nadarkhani case, and the plight of other detainees such as Farshid Fathi and Pastor Benham Irani. “Torture is used to pressure individuals to make confessions and to provide information on others. As I mentioned, exorbitant bail postings secure the release of individuals, along with illegal documents that religious detainees are forced to sign. Such documents demand an end to participation in Christian activities, the renunciation of faith, and compliance with further questioning when summoned. Laptops and mobile phones are often confiscated during raids on private Christian homes and are used to obtain information on the activities and identities of other Christians.”

Louise Ellman MP, who tabled the debate, began the proceedings by raising the plight of the severely-targeted Baha’i religious minority: “The repression takes a number of forms in an ongoing and systematic persecution. It means arbitrary arrest and imprisonment and the denial of access to higher education and areas of employment. The homes and businesses of Baha’is have been subject to arson attacks, cemeteries have been destroyed, and children have been harassed.”

MPs pressed the British Government to make representations to Iran on the issue of the Islamic Penal Bill, which is due to be passed by the Iranian parliament later this year and which may still include a clause stipulating the death penalty for male apostates, despite Iranian claims to the contrary.

Replying to the debate, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Alistair Burt MP said, “We will press at the [UN Human Rights] Council in March, as we do at every Council, for Iran to deal with the record against it that colleagues have spoken about. There is no doubt that the issues raised here will continue to be raised by colleagues, but they may rest assured that their concerns are echoed by the Government. We will continue to stand up for the rights of those who are oppressed in Iran.”

CSW was commended for its work by a number of Parliamentarians, and a reference was made to CSW’s engagement with a debate on human rights in North Korea, which also took place yesterday prior to the Iran debate.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “CSW welcomes the remarks made by Members of Parliament and the response of the government during yesterday’s debate on the human rights situation in Iran, and is encouraged by the robust coverage of the widespread abuses of freedom of religion or belief in that nation. Given the appalling violations that religious minorities face in Iran, it is of utmost importance that the international community both stands and acts in solidarity with them, something that was well articulated in yesterday’s debate. CSW is committed to continuing to raise religious freedom issues in Iran with key policy shapers and decision makers until the human rights situation there is positively and irrevocably changed.”

Under Pressure Pastor Youcef Refuses to Recant Faith

Iran is continuing its relentless attempt to force persecuted Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani to recant his faith in Jesus Christ. New reports state that Iranian officials are still pressuring the pastor, who has been sentenced to death for his Christian faith, “to renounce his faith in Christ and accept the prophet Muhammad as his savior.”

Pastor Youcef, has once again refused, remaining steadfast in his faith. Remember, Iran previously demanded on at least three separate occasions that Pastor Youcef recant his faith and convert to Islam at his latest trial, to which he replied “I cannot.”

 

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The Iranian court tasked with making a final determination about Pastor Youcef’s fate has ignored its own promise to make its determination over a month ago. Iran’s move to further delay a determination regarding Pastor Youcef not only violates international law; it violates Iranian law as well.

What is even worse than the delay, is that the Iranian government seems to be continuing to manipulate and coerce Pastor Youcef to convert to Islam.

We first told you several months ago that Iran’s Secret Security had visited Pastor Youcef in prison, without the presence of his Iranian attorney, and ordered him to “read and reflect” on Islamic propaganda. This is a direct and blatant violation of Iran’s own constitution, which provides that the “investigation of individuals’ beliefs is forbidden, and no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.”

As Tiffany Barrans, International Legal Director for the ACLJ, has stated, “Rather than uphold its legal obligations under the rule of law, which requires it free Pastor Youcef and allow him to peacefully practice Christianity, Iran yet again obliterates any credibility it might have held with the international community.”

Iran’s increased pressure on Pastor Youcef can be directly attributed to increased pressure from the international community. As more and more people around the world have learned about Pastor Youcef’s plight and Iran’s abuses, Iran is feeling the pressure. The Iranian regime is clearly reacting. If it can convince Pastor Youcef to convert to Islam, the story goes away, and its human rights abuses would no longer be in the spotlight.

Now is the time to continue to turn up the heat on Iran. Share Pastor Youcef’s story on Facebook, Twitter, email, and with your church.

Last week we put together a great resource that you can share regarding Pastor Youcef, detailing some of the disturbing facts about his case. We will continue to keep you informed as we work to secure his release.

Breaking News: Iran sentences American ex-Marine to death for spying

American Amir Mirzai Hekmati, who also holds Iranian citizenship, has been sentenced to death by a judge in Iran for spying for the CIA, local media reported on Monday.

The 28-year-old received the death penalty for “ cooperating with a hostile nation, membership of the CIA and trying to implicate Iran in terrorism,” the verdict said, according to the country’s semi-official Fars news agency.

EU’s foreign policy chief demands Iran halt executions of woman, pastor

The Europe Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton demanded Friday that Iran halt the pending executions of a woman sentenced to die by stoning and a Christian pastor convicted of apostasy.

Ashton also called on Iran to impose an immediate moratorium on the death penalty, saying the country leads the world in the number of executions per inhabitant.

“Thousands of individuals remain at risk of execution, including Ms Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani and Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. The EU reiterates its call on Iran not to execute them,” Ashton said in a written statement.