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Special Report by ICC
8/2/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The case of Iranian Christian Mostafa Bordbar demonstrates the nation’s use of false arrests and long imprisonments as a way of intimidating Christians and violating religious freedom through the misuse of power.
On June 9, after six months in prison without any explanation, Mostafa was finally charged with “illegal gathering and participating in a house church.” Ms. Shima Qousheh, his lawyer and a member of the Iranian Human Rights Commission, says, “If Mr. Bordbar is found guilty, he can be sentenced to anywhere from 2 to 10 years in prison.”
Although the court has not issued its final verdict yet, the judge overseeing his trial is Pir-Abbasi, better known as the “hanging judge” because of the way he hands out death sentences with disturbing regularity.
In 2009, Bordbar was arrested for converting to Christianity and attending a house church. He was charged with “apostasy,” but eventually released on bail. On December 27, during Christmas celebrations, he was arrested again when Iranian security authorities attacked a house where Christians were gathered to celebrate Christ, even though they were well within their rights to do so.
After the arrest that night, security authorities attacked his brother’s home in Tehran and searched it thoroughly. When they were unable to find any evidence of Mostafa’s Christian faith, they left the place and took Mostafa with them, according to the Mohabat News.
Mostafa was then transferred to the infamous Evin prison in Tehran, where numerous Christians like Farshid Fathi, Alireza Seyedian and U.S. citizen Saeed Abedini, are being unjustly held. The last of them was recently sentenced to eight years in prison for his involvement in a house church movement more than 10 years ago.
In prison, Bordbar was interrogated and possibly tortured. He was not permitted to contact his family during the time he was being interrogated. In a brief phone call two weeks later, he told his family that he was in a good health. His family failed to get a visitor’s permit from authorities despite repeated attempts. They even went to the Evin prison itself, but were not allowed to visit him, according to Mohabat News.
Reason for Hope?
Mostafa’s greatest hope for justice lies in Iran’s President-Elect Hassan Rouhani, who has pledged to prepare a “civil rights charter,” restore the economy and improve relations with the West. Described as politically moderate, he is in stark contrast to his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, widely criticized for disregarding human rights. Ahmadinejad was Iran’s first president to be summoned by the Islamic Consultative Assembly to answer questions regarding his presidency.
In response to his election, Mostafa and two other prisoners wrote a letter to the President-Elect, wishing him a successful presidency and requested their release on the grounds of being imprisoned solely for their faith.
In the letter, they said, “We pray that you may bring freedom of religion to religious minorities of Iran, especially Christians, freedom which would allow us to worship God, the creator of heaven and earth. We wish that we may not be prisoners during your office term.”
Under Ahmadinejad, Iran carried out an aggressive campaign of intimidating Christians through all forms of social and judicial abuse. The goal was apparently to use the arrests to discourage Muslims from becoming “apostates” and keep Christians from freely practicing their faith.
Numerous cases followed the pattern of Christians being arrested without reason, cut off from their families, subject to torture and abuse, kept imprisoned for long periods of time without a trial until they are finally sentenced to long terms in prison through sham trials.
Even though there were cases where prisoners were released after intense international pressure, they were soon followed by the arrest of another Christian in a similarly lawless manner, so that the cycle of abuse and intimidation simply repeated itself with a new scapegoat.
Under the outgoing government, Iran had intensified its intimidation of Christians, seeing them as a threat to nationalism and internal security. Iranian Christians will be hoping that the new President will return the nation to its constitutional roots and establish the practice of religious freedom, beginning with the swift release of Christians like Bordbar, Abedini, Fathi and Seyedian.
As Todd Daniels, International Christian Concern’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, says, “We continue to urge the government of Iran to protect the rights of all of its citizens and to fulfill its legal obligations as a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which protects the rights of individuals to freedom of religion and freedom of association. We call on Iran to release the other Christians and minorities being arbitrarily held in Iranian prisons. ICC also calls on the international community to continue to pressure Iran to end its systematic and egregious violations of fundamental rights and its abuses of its citizens.”
But whether the Shi’a nation’s Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei will allow Rouhani to introduce reforms is a question that doesn’t have an easy answer.