Lord Alton writes, “For many years, the plight of religious minorities in Iran, especially the Christian community, has been a priority issue for me and many of my colleagues in the Parliament. We have also highlighted the plight of hundreds of Baha’is who have been killed, executed, tortured or imprisoned, and the tens of thousands who have lost jobs, access to education, and other rights – all solely because of their religious belief.” and adds, “Christians in Iran are prevented from openly exercising their belief or promoting their religion.”
According to Lord Alton, the Christian community continues to be harassed by repressive security forces, including the Revolutionary Guard Corps. He cites Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which insist on freedom of religion or belief, and which is not honoured in Iran, making it one of the world’s 10 most inhospitable countries for Christians and in recent years. Many Christian priests, pastors and believers have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and long prison sentences.
He says, “Two days after the Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued their latest human rights assessment, reports appeared about the plight of a Christian prisoner, Maryam Naghash Zargaran, who has been denied unconditional release by an Iranian court at the request of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS). Maryam’s case, and that of her co-worker, Saeed Abedni, illustrate what is happening to Christians in Iran while the world chooses to look away.” She is serving a four-year sentence at Evin prison, charged with “acting against national security”. She was previously arrested in January 2013 for her work at an orphanage with the Christian pastor, Saeed Abedini.
Mr Abedini was freed in January this year as part of a U.S.-Iranian prisoner swap.
Ms. Naghash Zargaran is now twenty days into a hunger strike that threatens her already fragile health. Staff at the prison have confirmed that her blood pressure is very low; that she has pains and numbness in her feet – possibly early signs of Multiple Sclerosis.
Mr Abedini joined tens of thousands of Iranians at the annual gathering of Iran’s democratic opposition movement, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), in support of a free and democratic Iran. In his remarks at the “Free Iran” rally, he told of the torture that he and many other prisoners of conscience had to endure, recalled how prison guards said he would never come out of prison alive, and left him in solitary confinement for refusing to make false confessions. He also described the horror of watching other prisoners being taken to be hanged.
Lord Alton describes an optimistic note, when Abedini pointed out that his very presence in the gathering on that day proves that each act of resistance will be a victory for freedom.
Prior to the gathering in Paris, nearly 80 church leaders from the UK and US, issued a joint statement regarding their “grave concern” about the mistreatment of Christians. “Repression of Christians has not only continued but intensified during the presidency of Hassan Rouhani”, the statement said, adding, “In such circumstances, we call on all Western countries to consider the deplorable situation of human rights in Iran, particularly the painful situation of Christians and the intensification of their oppression, in navigating their relations with Iran.”
Lord Alton applauded the National Council for Resistance of Iran (NCRI) President-elect Maryam Rajavi’s 10-point democratic platform for a future Iran that promotes human rights, gender equality and freedom for average Iranian citizens, and envisions the end of discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities.
“It is truly unique for a Muslim woman to lead an organised opposition against a theocratic regime and to present such a progressive platform. I have no doubt that it is in the best interests of anyone who cherishes the right to hold religious beliefs – but who also insists on the rights of those who do not – to support the courageous Mrs. Rajavi and her 10-point democratic platform in Iran.” he said, and concluded, “As Mrs Rajavi said in her recent message to Christian leaders of the world, “The Holy Bible teaches us to support and encourage the oppressed … Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed (Isaiah, 1:17).”