As the U.S. and its allies prepare to return to the negotiating table with Iranian representatives, hoping to reach a deal on their nuclear ambitions, the Islamic Republic has significantly ratcheted up its efforts to repress religious minorities in the country.
According to a new report from the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, “Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Intelligence Organization has recently and abruptly taken over the oversight of Christian churches in Iran, which were previously overseen by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence and the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.”
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ latest crackdown marks a new phase in the regime’s goal of clamping down Christian beliefs.
In late May, Iranian authorities closed the Assembly of God church, which had provided “two services per week for 80 to 100 attendees, as well as prayer sessions and bible studies” to the struggling Christian community in Tehran.
According to the humanitarian group, Iranian officials told leaders of the church that they must close its doors—and that if they didn’t comply, the regime would seize the building altogether.
As my colleague Cliff May has noted, the “persecution of Christians in numerous Muslim-majority countries is the most important international story not being told by the mainstream media.”
So far, major media outlets have ignored the closures of the Iranian churches. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran noted that the regime had shut down the Assembly Church in the southern city of Ahvaz on December 23, 2011, two days before Christmas.
In 2009, Iranian leaders arrested Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani for merely questioning the compulsory Islamic education of his children and seeking to register a home-based church. He has now been incarcerated for nearly 1,000 days, and faces the death penalty.
Iran’s campaign to stifle religious minorities and free thinkers has even spilled over into Europe. Earlier this week, the German-Iranian scholar Dr. Wahied Wahdat-Hagh wrote about a new fatwa in which Iran’s leaders condemned an Iranian rapper living in Germany to death.
According to Dr. Wahdat-Hagh, rapper Shahin Najafi’s only crime was insulting a Shia Imam. The clerical regime’s fanaticism has even resulted in the creation of an online video game in which web surfers can “practice the execution of ‘apostates.’”
When the Obama administration meets Iran’s representatives over their nuclear program, it should pressure them on the human rights front, as well.
Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.