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Christians report persecution in Iran

02 November 2012


Long-held: Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani (centre), seen after his release from prison in September, after two years' confinement on a death sentence on charges of apostasy 

Long-held: Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani (centre), seen after his release from prison in September, after two years' confinement on a death sentence on c...

IRANIAN voices singing a hymn of protection filled the Cellarium at Westminster Abbey on Monday night, at the launch of a new report on the persecution of Christians.

The 36-page Christians in Parliament All Party Parliamentary Group Report on the Persecution of Christians in Iran brings together evidence from four oral sessions held in April and July this year, during which MPs heard from 12 witnesses, as well as from a research trip to Turkey, where many Christians have fled from Iran (News, 26 April).

After a testimony from Ladan, a young Christian woman, Ruth Rogers, the daughter of the Revd Sam Yeghnazar, the founder of Elam ministries, which trains Iranian Christians, sang a song, Blessing, in Farsi, joined by Iranian members of the audience.

Ladan, who cannot be named in full for safety reasons, was in prison in Tehran for 36 days, 20 months ago, and spent 25 days in solitary confinement. "I am sure that your presence here and this inquiry will have an impact," she said.

Mr Yeghnazar read a letter from Farshid Fathi, an Evangelical leader who has been in prison since December 2010 (News, 26 April).

The report said that there was "strong evidence . . . of severe persecution perpetrated by the Iranian regime, predominantly (but not exclusively) focused on Evangelical churches that speak about their faith among Muslims, and have members who are Christians from a Muslim background".

The inquiry heard evidence of execution and extra-judicial killings of pastors, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment without trial, beatings and torture, the repression of churches, and discrimination in areas such as education and employment.

Despite the persecution carried out by their government, witnesses reported that the Iranian people were "generally accepting and positive towards their Christian neighbours". Several witnesses said that the Iranian regime "is not impervious to international opinion".

The report makes seven recommendations to the British Government: it should urge the Iranian regime to uphold its obligations under its own constitution and international law; speak out publicly against the persecution of Christians; and support those who work for the release of people imprisoned beacause of their faith. The UK Government should also ensure that the asylum system is aware of the situation of Christians in Iran, and work with the Turkish government to provide refuge for persecuted Christians, it says.

Alistair Burt, the Under Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, who received the report on behalf of the Government, said that Iran was "one of the countries where so many other things are going on, it is still easy easy to overlook the human-rights elements.

"Sometimes as a minister you are able to respond in an obvious way, and say 'This is wrong, we shall not put up with this, this is something we can do something about. But, in reality, it is not that simple: these things are complex."

The report would be "seriously looked at", and he expected an adjournment debate to be tabled. He also said he prayed for Christian prisoners in Iran, and had a picture of Mr Fathi on his desk.

The launch was attended by the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed; he estimates that 10-15,000 Christians emigrate from the country each year.

Blessing can be heard at: www.elam. com/userimages/articles/197/ruth%20track10.mp3

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