World Watch Monitor - Iranian and European human rights and religious rights organisations have urged the international community to use new opportunities for trade with Iran to hold the government there to account over its treatment of Christian converts.
By David Adams
Nineteen NGOs, including Middle East Concern, Forum 18, Impact Iran and Justice for Iran, issued a joint call for governments to "explore avenues beyond dialogue alone" to ensure that human rights violators are held accountable and that trade and diplomatic relations do not contribute to further abuses. They noted that converts from Islam to Christianity have been especially affected.
Opportunities for trade have opened up since a deal was reached in July 2015 between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. Under the terms of the deal, Iran agreed to curtail its nuclear activities in return for many of the economic sanctions against it being lifted.
The charities noted that the EU's strategy for relations with Iran, published after the nuclear agreement was signed, "disappointingly includes very little mention of human rights".
They wrote: "In the summer of 2016, Iranian authorities increased their persecution of Christians, honing in on converts from a Muslim-background," and detailed what they described as "a pattern" of treatment by the Iranian authorities that included arrests, interrogations, detention, raids on churches and harassment by security agents.
They cited the case of four converts – including Youcef Nadarkhani, a church leader once sentenced to death for apostasy – arrested in May and charged with acting against national security, three of whom are also appealing their sentence of 80 lashes each for drinking Comm wine. The next hearing is scheduled for 14th December.
The NGOs also asserted that such actions contravene Iran's Constitutional and international legal obligations, which include not taking action against someone solely on account of his or her beliefs, and urged Iran to comply with them.
They called on the UN Secretary General and the newly appointed Special Rapporteurs on freedom of religion and human rights in Iran to report extensively on violations of freedom of religion in Iran.