Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
After his campaign promises in 2013 to guarantee the rights of religious minorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the country’s self-declared moderate President Hassan Rouhani has remained silent about the ongoing crackdown on Christians. Rouhani’s indifference to imprisoned Christians is a form of complicity in human rights violations and a window into a flawed nuclear negotiation process.
US Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) captured the severe deficits in the bargaining process between the world powers and Iran to end the Islamic Republic’s illicit nuclear weapons program, telling The Jerusalem Post recently, “The Iranian regime’s systematic persecution of Christians, as well as Baha’is, Sunni Muslims, dissenting Shi’a Muslims, and other religious minorities, is getting worse not better. This is a direct consequence of President Obama’s decision to de-link demands for improvements in religious freedom and human rights in Iran from the nuclear negotiations.”
The UN Security Council members (US, France, UK, China, Russia) and Germany have failed to draw a connection between Rouhani’s broken campaign promises and the worthlessness of his assurances that Tehran will be abide by a nuclear agreement.
Todd Nettleton, director of media communications for the American-Christian organization Voice of the Martyrs, was quoted on Wednesday by the Mission Network news outlet, saying that Rouhani “is still someone who wants to protect the Islamic Republic of Iran. He wants to protect the mullahs who are in charge of that country. And he sees Christianity as a direct threat to his government and particularly to the mullahs there.”
All of this helps to explain the necessity of getting behind deceptive appearances in Iran. The country’s opaque power structure has helped to hoodwink many in many Western capitals, swayed by Rouhani’s affable rhetoric.
Just last month, Iran’s revolutionary court sentenced 18 Christian converts to sentences that totaled nearly 24 years on charges including evangelism, propaganda against the Islamic Republic and founding home-based churches, according to a Persian-language report on the website of Radio Farda.
In its annual report last month, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote, “Over the past year, there were numerous incidents of Iranian authorities raiding church services, threatening church members, and arresting and imprisoning worshipers and church leaders, particularly Evangelical Christian converts.”
The report further noted, “Since 2010, authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained more than 500 Christians throughout the country.”
Saba Farzan, the German-Iranian executive director of Foreign Policy Circle, a strategy think tank in Berlin, argues, “They [nuclear talks] never made sense and never will. The West can’t discuss arms control with a leadership that oppresses religious minorities and human rights activists.”
Moreover, Mansour Borji, a spokesman for the Article 18 Committee initiative of the United Council of Iranian Churches (Hamgaam), told the Iranian Christian outlet Mohabat news, “The Islamic regime of Iran treats Christians cruelly, while Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, claims that no one is in jail in Iran for their beliefs. Despite President Rouhani’s promises in his campaign, not only do we see no relief of suppression of Christians, but we see an increase in the number of arrests and unfair sentences, and the security atmosphere imposed by the Islamic regime on the Iranian Christian community still continues.”
Article 18 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right “to change his religion or belief.”
The list of question marks regarding the Iranian regime's empty guarantees of human rights progress continues to balloon. And Rouhani’s human rights record constitutes the best litmus test for a solid, verifiable deal to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Benjamin Weinthal reports on human rights in Iran and is a fellow of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.