Iran: Extrajudicial Punishment Remains Routine for Christians

July 26, 2019

There are roughly 300,000 Christians in Iran. Most of them are members of the Armenian Apostolic Church, an ancient Church that broke off communion with Holy Orthodoxy over the fourth Ecumenical Council, the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Other Christians in Iran are members of the Assyrian Church of the East, the Chaldean Catholic Church, and the Roman Catholic Church; there is also a growing number of Pentecostals, Evangelicals, and other Protestants. The Iranian government guarantees Christians the right to representation in the Iranian Parliament, the right to produce non-halal food, and more; however, Christians in Iran not infrequently suffer expropriation of their property, the forced closure of churches, and other forms of persecution.

“Extrajudicial Punishment Remains Routine for Christians and Other Political Prisoners,” by Edward Carney, Iran News Update, July 26, 2019:

It was reported on Thursday that after being denied asylum in Germany, a 58-year-old Iranian convert to Christianity was immediately arrested upon being deported back to Iran. Fatemeh Azad fled to the West in 2015 with her three sons, and although two of them were granted asylum, her own application was denied in May. Her third son is also at risk of deportation, and consequently of arrest in a country where converting from Islam to any other religion is a criminal offense.

Under Iranian law, Azad is eligible for the death penalty, but no known person has been hanged for apostasy for several years. However, this represents only a modest improvement in the Iranian judiciary’s treatment of Christian converts and other religious minorities. Churches throughout the country are routinely raided, and persons who have been accused of proselytizing for Christianity have recently been sentenced to prison sentences ranging up to 15 years.

Making matters worse, many of those individuals are also subjected to extrajudicial punishments, as is the case with political prisoners in general. These include physical beatings and psychological torture during the period of detention, as well as the systematic denial of due process and the unlawful intermingling of prisoners of conscience with hardened criminals, putting members of the former group at risk….

This practice made headlines once again on Thursday, alongside the issue of Iran’s legal persecution of religious minorities, when it was reported that trial had been delayed for nine Christians because of their efforts to retain their own legal representation. Judge Mohammad Moghiseh returned five of those individuals to indefinite pre-trial detention and specified that they would remain there until they agreed to replace their own chosen attorney with one from a pre-approved list. At roughly the same time, Moghiseh refused to hear the case of four others because they sought to present their own defense to the court.

“The judge’s arbitrary and unwarranted decision to punish these Christians, simply for wanting to be represented by a lawyer of their choice, constitutes a grave violation of article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is party, and which stipulates, amongst other things, the right to legal assistance of one’s choosing,” said Mervyn Thomas, the chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide. “We urge the Iranian authorities to ensure that the upcoming trial is both fair and transparent, and to end the policy of subjecting Christians, who merely seek to practice their faith peaceably, to excessive national security-related charges.”

Thomas’ statement also urged action by Western governments on this and related human rights issues. Pressure from those sources has seemingly helped to reduce the instances of capital punishment for political prisoners, or at least slow their implementation. But that pressure is also accompanied by pressure from the prisoners themselves and from Iran’s larger activist community….