Persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in Iran has especially been on the rise. In 2021, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi signed two alarming amendments to Articles 499 and 500 of its Penal Code, making it easier for the authorities to crack down on religious minorities. Pictured: Raisi delivers a speech in Tehran, on January 3, 2022. (Photo by Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images)
While turning a blind eye to the Iranian regime's increasing persecution of religious minorities, the Biden administration and the European Union are focusing only on lifting the sanctions against the Islamic Republic. The move will help to revive the disastrous nuclear deal that will empower the ruling mullahs to race toward nuclear weapons breakout; strengthen Iran's internal militia, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and expand the country's proxy militias abroad: the Houthis in Yemen, and the designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. That does not even include any plans Iran might have to expand its operations, which threaten America, in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has filled his cabinet with members of the IRGC, a domestic militia that the US Department of State has listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and that is key in cracking down on religious minorities in Iran.
In 2021, Raisi signed two alarming amendments to Articles 499 and 500 of Iran's Penal Code, making it easier for the authorities to crack down on religious minorities. The amendments impose prison sentences and fines on whoever insults "divine religions or Islamic schools of thought recognized under the Constitutions with the intent to cause violence or tensions in the society," as well on whoever conducts "any deviant educational or proselytizing activity that contradicts or interferes with the sacred law of Islam."
Persecution of Christians in Iran has especially been on the rise. While Iranian leaders celebrate and publicize those who convert to Islam, those who convert to Christianity are severely punished. As the latest report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom points out, in Iran, Christians "faced intense religious persecution in 2021."
"As in previous years, Iran has targeted Christian converts from Islam in particular. These include USCIRF religious prisoner of conscience Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was charged in 2016 with 'promoting Zionist Christianity.' Pastor Nadarkhani remains in prison on a ten-year sentence. Following her release from prison in February 2020, Christian convert and political activist Mary Mohammadi was re-arrested in January for improperly wearing her headscarf. In February, an appeals court in Bushehr sentenced three Christian converts to jail time for spreading 'propaganda' against Iran through promoting Christianity. At same month, Iran's Ministry of Intelligence summoned Christian convert Ebrahim Firouzi to the prosecutor's office in Sarbaz after he posted videos online detailing his persecution."
Another religious minority that faces persecution in Iran is the Baha'i faith. According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom:
"Conditions for Baha'is in Iran reflect an alarming deterioration in 2021. Throughout 2020 and into 2021, Iran escalated the publication and broadcast of anti-Baha'i propaganda through state media channels compared to previous years. In February 2021, Branch Two of the Hormozgan Court of Appeals upheld prison sentences against eight Baha'is on the grounds that their Baha'i identity makes them a prima facie threat to national security. Additionally, the court is forcing them to attend 'counseling sessions' run by a Shi'a religious institute regarding their religious beliefs. this treatment marks a new and concerning shift by Iran's government toward an explicit policy that Baha'is do not have rights in Iran on national security grounds, despite the baseless nature of the charges and the non-derogable [derogable in human rights law means whether a right may be suspended in certain circumstances] nature of religious freedom under international law."
Other minorities persecuted in Iran, according to the report, include Zoroastrians, Sufi Muslims, Sunni Muslims and Yarsanis.
Meanwhile, the European powers are not only failing to hold the Iranian regime accountable, they are busy appeasing the ruling mullahs of Iran and doing business with them. From January to July 2021, the EU's trade with Iran brought the regime roughly $3 billion. "Germany remained the top trading partner of Iran during the seven months under review, as the two countries exchanged €1.01 billion worth of goods," The Financial Tribune reports.
"Italy came next with €347.96 million worth of trade with Iran.... The Netherlands with €264.48 million (down 9.23%), Spain with €178.33 million (up 9.25%) and Belgium with €140.14 million (up 6.79%) were Iran's other major European trading partners. Estonia registered the highest growth of 709.52% in trade with Iran during the seven months under review. Malta with 471.77%, Romania with 284.86% and Croatia with 169.12% came next."
The Biden administration is also busy lifting sanctions on the Iranian regime, on several former Iranian officials and on several companies. In February 2021, the administration revoked the designation of Iran-backed Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Then, in a blow to the religious minorities and advocates of human rights, the Biden administration announced that it is considering lifting sanctions against Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Since the Biden administration lifted the "maximum pressure" imposed by the previous administration, the ruling mullahs have only escalated their persecution of religious minorities. Instead of incessantly lecturing the world on human rights, the EU and the Biden administration would sound more credible if they would stop appeasing the human rights catastrophe that Iran's regime has become, and hold the ruling mullahs accountable.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a business strategist and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US foreign policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu