Iran Continues Its Vicious Campaign Against its Own Citizens

April 29, 2021

As the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) publishes its latest annual report, Iran once again is in the spotlight. Last year’s USCIRF report stated that “religious freedom conditions in Iran remained egregiously poor.” It’s particularly troubling therefore that this year’s annual report records that “In 2020, religious freedom conditions in Iran deteriorated.” 

In the meantime, a British-Iranian called Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is the subject of news reports as the cruel regime has sentenced her to another year in prison. Denied a reunion with her husband and young daughter, Nazanin has been enduring the vile conditions of Evin Prison in Tehran since 2016, on spurious charges relating to espionage. The additional sentence was for “propaganda against the regime.” In Nazanin’s case the charge is entirely unrelated to religious beliefs, but it is a charge she shares in common with so many Iranians imprisoned solely, in reality, on account of their religious identities. 

In an interview with Premier Radio, I raised the case of an Iranian Christian called Hamet Ashouri who has, in the past few days, been sentenced to ten months in prison on the aforementioned catch-all charge of “propaganda against the regime.” Ironically, Ashouri turned down bribes by the authorities ostensibly to become an informant against his co-religionists. He’s in prison for not spying. USCIRF’s report notes that “scores of Christians were arrested, assaulted, and unjustly sentenced to years in prison” last year. The Iranian Regime also “continued to arrest Baha’is and impose lengthy prison sentences on them. Between 50 and 100 Baha’is were reported to be in prisons in Iran during 2020.” Sunnis were targeted and prosecuted on charges of “waging war against God” and “corruption on Earth.” Several Sufis who protested against the detention of their leader, who has since died under suspicious circumstances, were arrested and subjected to deplorable mistreatment. 

Nazanin may be unfortunate that her dual citizenship makes her a bargaining chip in Iran’s negotiations with Western powers, including the UK, one which they are not yet willing to release from their grasp. However, it might be considered the smallest consolation that as a dual national she has a powerful government working determinedly for her release. The vast majority of detained Iranians, brutalised by their own leaders, have no hope to enjoy such a benefit. 

As talks driven by the Biden administration reopen on subjects such as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) known as the “Nuclear Deal,” attempts must be made to secure advances to religious freedom and other human rights in Iran. 

The West must finally learn its lesson, that regimes which mistreat their own citizens are not reliable partners. Seeking strategic benefits and demanding respect for human rights are not such irreconcilable and discordant aims as our diplomats might believe. Either way, the persecuted religious minorities of Iran need someone to speak for them.