Election victory for reformists in Iran is a step in the right direction, but Christian advocacy organisation Release International has called for more freedom.
Paul Robinson, chief executive of Release, said he hoped the election result, which gave President Rouhani a fresh mandate and secure platform for reform, signalled an ‘end to the current crackdown on Christians in the Islamic Republic and paved the way for true religious freedom’.
Mr Robinson pointed out that at least 90 prisoners are in jail for their faith, including Pastor Behnam Irani, and said, ‘This pastor has been beaten, abused and threatened with death — as have others. With Iran now voting for reform, now is the time to end the crackdown on the church and set free prisoners who are behind bars for their religious beliefs’.
Pastor Irani was jailed in 2011 for leading a Church of Iran congregation in Karaj. Like others, he was accused of ‘offences against national security’. He was badly beaten in jail, both by his captors and other prisoners. He suffered a bleeding ulcer and herniated disc, and was warned he would not leave prison alive because of his faith. He was put in a cell with violent offenders in Ghezal Prison, where there was not even enough room to lie down.
‘We call on Iran to show the world it is serious about reform, and set free Pastor Behnam Irani and other prisoners of faith’, Mr Robinson added.
In Iran, freedom for all faiths other than Shia Islam is limited, despite constitutional guarantees of religious liberty.