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Conference hears of dark shadow cast over Iran

29 January 2016


Laughter: President Hassan Rouhani (left) during his meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Tuesday

Laughter: President Hassan Rouhani (left) during his meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Tuesday

ATTACKS on members of the Iranian opposition resident in Iraq are evidence of the “dark shadow of Iran”, a country that should not be welcomed into the international fold unless its “appalling” human-rights record improved, the former Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, said last week.

Bishop Pritchard was speaking in Paris, where he presented the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran with a copy of a letter to the British Government, signed by 52 bishops, urging it to help put an end to attacks on the residents of Camp Liberty. In October, a missile attack on the camp, home to 2200 members of the Iranian opposition, left 23 dead (News, 6 November).

“The dark shadow of Iran is obviously over all of this,” Bishop Pritchard said last Friday. “Iran seems to be a regime where human rights are appallingly neglected. . . And now we have Iran being welcomed back into the international fold because of its promises on nuclear weapons.

“As a citizen of the United Kingdom, it seems to be essential that we don’t get any closer to Iran unless there is a halt to these dreadful executions, and the torture and the acid attacks on women and girls; and the cutting-off of hands and feet; and the imprisonment of political opponents and Christian minorities; and so on: a dreadful catalogue.”

He urged the British Government to be “more resolute” in its talks with the Iranian government.

Camp Liberty should be declared a refugee camp by the UN, he said. The Iraqi government should remove from the camp’s security staff anyone with “known ties” to Iran.

The Bishops’ letter, co-ordinated by the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, in November, expresses “deep concern” about the October attack, and urges the Government to “intervene and pressure” the government of Iraq, the United States, and the UN to take “urgent and decisive action” to end such attacks. The Iraqi government is, it suggests, “neither interested in nor capable” of upholding its international obligations to the Camp’s residents.

Amnesty International shed light on the execution of juveniles in Iran on Tuesday, in a report that accused the regime of a “shameful disregard for the rights of children”.

Despite pledging to abolish the use of the death penalty for juveniles more than 20 years ago, Iran executed 73 between 2005 and 2015, the report says.

A UN resolution on the human-rights situation in Iran, passed in November, expressed “serious concern at the . . . increase in the carrying out of the death penalty”.


‘A wall of black or white is turning into grey’

THE Iranian regime’s desire for a better image on the international stage spells good news for the country’s Christians, executives of a Christian satellite television company that operates in the Middle East, SAT-7, said this month.

In the wake of the execution by Saudi Arabia of the Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, and the subsequent attack on Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Iran, both countries were “less likely to try and antagonise the Western world over other human-rights issues,” the CEO of SAT-7, Dr Terry Ascott, said. This included the treatment of Christians. Both countries were “looking to the international community for moral support in their cause”.

The executive director of SAT-7’s Persian channel, the Revd Mansour Khajehpour, said that Christian converts in Iran had endured a “miserable life” under the former President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, “who was determined to wipe out Christianity from Iran”. His successor, Hassan Rouhani, was “trying to show a moderate presentation of Iran in many areas”. He pointed to Mr Rouhani’s pursuit of those guilty of attacking the Saudi embassy.

On Tuesday, Mr Rouhani met the Pope: the first such meeting since 1999.

“Iran does need to show international agencies that they are tolerating and respecting the human rights such as freedom of speech and religion,” he said. He felt “optimistic” about the position of the country’s Christians. The regime “definitely needs more churches and Christians to be ambassadors of Iran”. He spoke of the recent release of prisoners, including Pastor Farshid Fathi (News, 8 January), and the potential growth of “dynamic contextualised theology” in Islam. He said he was celebrating the signs of rapprochement with the United States: “That means that a wall of black or white is turning into grey.”

Dr Ascott suggested that regional conflict was prompting Muslims to consider the Christian faith.

“When Muslims start killing Muslims in the name of a common God, it leads to cognitive dissonance in Muslims in general,” he said. “They do not get it . . . and it undermines the credibility of the Muslim faith.” SAT-7 had seen evidence of this in a “number of countries”, including Iran and Saudia Arabia, where “more and more people” were tuning in to the company’s broadcasts and “responding in numbers that we have not seen before”. Surveys had indicated an increase in people in the region declaring themselves atheist, he said.

Both Dr Ascott and Mr Khajehpour described the impact of SAT-7’s emphasis, in its programmes, on non-retaliation and co-existence. Broadcasting services from churches in Egypt burned during a spate of attacks in 2013, showing Copts expressing forgiveness, was “incredibly powerful and changed Muslims’ perspectives on Christians”, Dr Ascott said.

In October, the police came to SAT-7’s offices in Egypt, confiscated £100,000 of equipment, and ended all live shows. “There is nervousness about freedom of the press at the moment,” Dr Ascott said.


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