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August 8, 2017

Wilberforce A!ert: Iran Punishes Religious Minorities with Lengthier Sentences

At dawn, the Muslim call to prayer echoes down the streets of Tehran. About 20 miles west of the busy Iranian capitol, a Christian prisoner of conscience remains locked behind bars at the Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj city. On July 21, Ebrahim Firouzi initiated a 10-day hunger strike to protest Iran’s increasing persecution of Christians. The 30-year-old criticized the government for what he deemed “unjust and hefty verdicts and sentences against new Christian believers and converts.”  

In August 2013, Mr. Firouzi was arrested and imprisoned during a security forces raid. Mr. Firouzi, a former Muslim, was initially charged with “propagating material against the Islamic republic, launching and leading deceptive Christian evangelical organizations, connection with anti-Islamic revolution elements abroad, and setting up Christian internet sites.”

In April 2015, he was re-sentenced to five years of imprisonment on charges of “forming a group for disrupting national security.” Mr. Firouzi has denied all charges. Disturbingly, according to the National Council of Resistance of Iran, some of the evidence used against Mr. Firouzi was the same evidence used in the previous court case for which he had already served his prison sentence. Mr. Firouzi has been denied temporary medical leave, as well as from visiting his mother who is undergoing medical treatment for cancer. As a Christian, Mr. Firouzi faces the harrowing reality of living in a country where the basic tenets of human rights and religious freedom are denied to religious minorities. 

According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the government of Iran continues to be “engaged in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused.” Since 2013, USCIRF verifies that there has been an increase in arrests and imprisonments of prisoners of conscience, specifically among the religious minority communities. Due to its track record of violating religious freedom, the U.S. State Department has designated Iran as a “country of particular concern” since 1999. 

As a Muslim majority country of more than 80 million, only one percent of Iran’s population considers itself a religious minority. Some especially vulnerable religious communities include the Baha’is (more than 300,000) and Christians (nearly 300,000). In December 2016, the nonbinding Charter on Citizens’ Rights outlined provisions to respect religious freedom and freedom of thought for all Iranian citizens. However, President Hassan Rouhani and the government have continued to deny religious freedom to these religious minority communities. Over the past month, World Watch Monitor reports 12 Christians have been sentenced to lengthy prison confinement for 10 years or more because of their faith. Also, according to Open Doors World Watch List, the Iranian government arrested or imprisoned at least 193 Christians in 2016.

Mr. Firouzi is not the first among Christians to protest harsh government prison sentences with a hunger protest. Will justice be denied to a man who is only living according to the confines of his own conscience?

Take Action:

1. Read the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Annual country Report on Iran.

2. Consider adopting a prisoner of conscience by praying for him or her weekly. For a list, go to

http://www.uscirf.gov/uscirfs-religious-prisoners-conscience-project

3. Start corresponding with Christians suffering persecution by visiting Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

Category: Middle East & North Africa
Region: Middle East & North Africa
Keywords: Ebrahim Firouzi,Iran,USCIRF,religious prisoner,21st Century Wilberforce Initiative,21 Century Wilberforce Initiative,21 Wilberforce,21CWI

Elisabeth Doherty

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The 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative is empowering a global movement to advance religious freedom as a universal right through advocacy, capacity building and technology.