26 July-two days after he addressed an event aimed at highlighting the divide between the Iranian government and its people, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo published an editorial in the USA Today in which he further highlighted the theocratic regime’s history of human rights abuses.
Although the article was more broadly focused on urging democratic nations to safeguard the rights of religious minorities all throughout the world, it began by focusing on the case of Mohammad Salas, a member of the Iranian Sufi community known as the Gonabadi dervishes who was recently executed following a judicial process in which he was reportedly tortured and denied due process while facing accusations of responsibility for the deaths of three policemen during clashes between protesting dervishes and Iranian security forces.
Pompeo emphasized that the Salas case is only one part of a much larger crackdown on the Gonabadi dervishes, some of whom have apparently died during the period in which hundreds have been imprisoned on the basis of their beliefs. The article went on to state that Iran’s well-publicized religious persecution is by no means limited to the dervishes, but includes either outright attacks or systematic denials of civil rights to “Christians, Jews, Sunnis, Baha’is, Zoroastrians, and other minority religious groups simply trying to practice their faiths.”
Also on Tuesday, Forbes published an article by author and human rights activist Ewelian Ochab in which she outlined the particular tactics of persecution facing one of these groups, the Baha’i. The article reiterated the familiar claim that this faith, with its origins in early 20th century Iran, maybe the most systematically persecuted in the country, even though that persecution is rarely expressed through bloodshed. Ochab characterized the repression of Baha’i religious practice as being subtle but also comprehensive, involving an average of 100 arbitrary detentions per year over the past decade, along with concerted efforts to deny adherents access to education, the means to earn a livelihood, and the same modest legal protections afforded to officially-recognized religious groups.
The Pompeo and Ochab editorials both concluded with similar calls to action, urging governments and all defenders of human rights to undertake measures that would affirm the defense of religious freedom while putting pressure on Iran and other states with poor records in this area. Ochab specifically observed that “the Baha’i community in Iran demonstrates how the destruction of a minority group can be achieved relatively quietly within a state or region,” and thus underscores the need for pre-emptive action to prevent such an outcome.
Of course, it is only natural that some observers find more motivation to speak out on such matters when the affected groups are personally familiar to them. So while the Baha’i community, which has only a small global presence, may receive less international attention than its persecution would warrant, it nonetheless stands to benefit from the general attention that is given to Iran’s persecution of religious minorities, as a result of the impact of that phenomenon on global faith communities like evangelical Christians. This may have been evident early this week when members of that community came together with supporters of Iran’s regional adversary, Israel, at an event in Washington.
The two aforementioned editorials coincided with the two-day conference called “Christians United for Israel.” In two separate reports on the event, Voice of America News highlighted some of the ways in which the event provided an outlet both for international defense of Iranian Christians and for Christian solidarity with the various Iranian activists who have been protesting against the clerical regime during recent months.
In the first place, VOA pointed out that Israeli officials addressed the assembled evangelicals to affirm that they would continue exerting pressure on Iran over issues including its domestic human rights violations and its institutionalized discrimination against Christians. Although the Iranian constitution technically lists Christianity as an officially-recognized religious minority, legal protections extend only to persons born into Christian communities, even in best case scenarios. Those who convert to Christianity are typically condemned to 10 years in prison, but can also be executed for “apostasy”.
VOA quoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as saying “Israel stands in complete solidarity with persecuted Christians in Iran.” He went on to invoke calls to action similar to those of Pompeo and Ochab, asking rhetorically, “Why are so many people silent as Christians are jailed … in Iran?” Netanyahu described the attendant persecution as “brutal” and acknowledged that it has resulted in Christians fleeing not only from the Islamic Republic but also from other areas of the region in which Iran exerts influence.
The same VOA article quoted the renowned evangelical pastor and CUFI founder John Hagee as saying that participants in the conference stand with young Iranians who oppose the clerical regime. “You deserve a bright and predictable future, you deserve fair and free elections, and you deserve better than the iron-fisted dictators that have enslaved your nation,” he said before crediting the current American presidential administration with greater attention to such issues that had been offered by its predecessors.
Accordingly, the other VOA article emphasized the efforts by four Republican senators to connect concern for Iranian Christians and support of pro-democracy activism to the assertive policies that have been adopted by the Trump White House. Senators Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Tom Cotton, and John Cornyn each called attention to their own efforts to support that assertiveness, as by introducing legislation that, in Graham’s words, “sides with the Iranian people against the ayatollah and his henchmen.”
VOA reported that CUFI organizers joined each of these lawmakers in urging attendees to visit Congress on Tuesday and insist upon broader support for measures that are aimed at defending persecuted minorities in Iran while also putting pressure on the regime over the full range of its malign behavior in the region and across the globe.