The views expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SyriacPress.
By Matti Kallo Writer and Journalist
Ara Shahverdyan, an Iranian Christian Armenian parliamentarian for the Christian “quota” in the Islamic Shura Council published a statement which was spread via social media in which he stated that religious minorities in Iran enjoy complete freedom without religious restrictions. And that this is contrary to what human rights watchers in the world say about Iran! Christians are free to perform their religious ceremonies.
Statements in defence of authoritarian regimes by persons like Shahverdyan should not surprise us. It is known that every corrupt regime recruits individuals to polish its image. But none of these people and their statements can block the sun with their lies. The interesting thing here is that there are some who are even artistic in their lies. And Shahverdyan, without shame, openly lies and knows that he is lying.
Here, I want to remind Shahverdyan of the imprisonment of Christians for holding gatherings on birthdays, praying in their homes, for traveling abroad to attend Christian seminars and charging church priests with artificial crimes under the pretext of national security! Many were also sentenced by unfair rulings to 5-10 years in prison for converting from Islam to Christianity!
Many Christians held in regime prisons are subjected to torture because they openly expressed Christian slogans in the Persian language, for circulating the Bible, Christian books, CDs, and Christian religious literature in the Persian language. The authority of the mullahs forbids Christian expression in the Persian language and considers these to be missionary activities to spread propaganda against their Islamic beliefs. The Islamic Republic of Iran also imposes restrictions on building or renovating churches.
These restrictions are among the most important reasons for the emigration of more than two thirds of Iran’s Christians. Their number currently does not exceed more than 110,000 in a country with a population of about 82 million people. The number of Assyrians alone in Iran was about 200,000 before the Islamic revolution and today their number does not exceed 25,000!!
A question comes to mind, in which world does Shahverdyan live?! In a cave isolated from the rest of the world! Does he not follow the world media and listen to human rights organizations! Did he not hear about the arbitrary detention of his sons, brothers and sisters, and the interrogation because of religious activities in his “home country” Iran? Has he not heard that his sons are being treated cruelly, detained, and physically and psychologically tortured during their detention? All through false justifications to close down their churches and expel them from educational institutions!
Didn’t Shahverdyan hear about the removal of a church cross in Tabriz at the hands of Iranian intelligence agents who asked the worshipers to leave the church and forbade them to perform any religious rituals after that! This was not the only church that Iran intentionally closed. Many churches, especially the older ones, were closed, turned into secular buildings, abandoned and prepared for demolition.
Does Shahverdyan not know that his fellow Christians did and do not have any role in the Islamic Republic of the mullahs, a system that suppresses and imprisons everyone who opposes the mullahs’ ideas?! And this does not only concern Christians but all minorities in Iran, including the Baha’is, Jews and Zoroastrians. And this also goes for the Iranian Shiite opposition which demands the removal of the regime and the establishment of a secular democratic state.
Did Shahverdyan during the writing of his statement not remember when in 2011 the Iranian authorities raided a church in the Ahvaz region and arrested all worshipers, including Sunday school children?! Or in 2012, when the Iranian Revolutionary Guards arrested all converts to Christianity, especially in the cities of Tehran, Kermanshah, Isfahan, and Shiraz, considering them a danger to the state and paving the way for the closure of churches in general.
I also remind Shahverdyan that the Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the countries with the most persecuted Christians and was listed ninth on the 2016 global index by international organizations. One Human Rights Organization published on its website, “The number of Christians who have been sentenced to imprisonment is increasing more and more, and those who are already in detention are subjected to more pressure, more than before, in the form of physical and moral abuse.” One author published an article on a social networking site stating, “I obtained information that Christians are being beaten in prisons, and threatened when they do not abandon their faith in Christ and they did not turn away from their Christian belief, they would have no choice but to leave the country or be beaten to death.”
When he made his statement, did Shahverdyan forget when Christians were accused of “spreading corruption on the ground”, among them the Iranian pastor Matthias and Silas Rabbani, and 18 charges were raised against the Iranian priest Behnam among them for “Opposing God,” and for “spying.”
Shahverdyan cannot deny international reports that Iranian discourse and hatred of Christians and other minorities in the shadow of the Islamic Republic of Iran has been escalating over the past 40 years. Forty years of sectarian tyrannical regime, suppression of freedoms, silencing journalists, the media, political activists and ethnic minority activists who ask for their rights and dare criticize the policies of the mullahs’ regime.
The remarks of the Iranian “Christian quota” parliamentarian Ara Shahverdyan remind us of some of the parliamentarians within the Christian “quota” in Iraq who brush up the face of the ugly regime by supporting all the sectarian and Islamic parties and engaging in their militias. They have become trumpets defending these parties that rule Iraq, steal its goods for a handful of “dollars” and fraudulent electoral votes!!
Matti Kallo is a writer and journalist originally from the Syriac town of Bartella, Nineveh Plain in Iraq. Since 1995 he lives in Melbourne, Australia