An Open Letter to the Honorable Rex W. Tillerson Concerning Religious Freedom in Iran
Regarding Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, Chairman of the Guardian Council and Assembly of Experts
September 1, 2017 Dear Mr. Secretary,
Thank you for reaffirming our commitment and obligation to recognize and defend the freedom of religion—a fundamental American value and a universal human right.
On August 15th, 2017, following the release of the 2016 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, you noted that “many governments around the world use discriminatory laws to deny their citizens freedom of religion or belief.” The Islamic Republic of Iran has been designated as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for its systematic violations of religious freedom. As you observed:
In Iran, Baha’is, Christians and other minorities are persecuted for their faith. Iran continues to sentence individuals to death under vague apostasy laws—20 individuals were executed in 2016 on charges that included, ‘waging war against God.’ Members of the Baha’i community are in prison today simply for abiding by their beliefs.
Sadly, President Donald J. Trump’s incitement of religious hatred and violence—his equation of religious belief with terrorism—has eroded respect for the universal principles and freedoms enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. Instead of condemning the Iranian people and blaming Islam for the scourge of tyranny and terrorism in the Middle East, why not advance the cause of freedom, faith and friendship by addressing the religious hypocrisy of Iran’s leaders?
The State of Religious Freedom in Iran
The 2016 Report notes that Iran’s penal code specifies the death sentence for:
- Moharebeh (“enmity towards or waging war against God”) - Fisad fil-arz (“corruption on earth, including apostasy and heresy”) - Sabb al-nabi (“insulting the prophets” or “insulting the sanctities”)
Drawing on the work of Amnesty International and other human rights groups, the 2016 Report provides an overview of religious persecution in Iran.
According to the Iran Prison Atlas data set from United for Iran, there were 31 political prisoners incarcerated on charges of “insulting Islam,” 198 for moharebeh, and 12 for “corruption on earth” and at least 103 members of minority religious groups remained imprisoned for their religious activities. According to the Baha’i
International Community (BIC), there were 86 Baha’i prisoners incarcerated at year’s end. According to Christian World Watch Monitor, there were 82 arrests of Christians (including converts) during the year. According to Iran Human Rights Documentation Center at least 261 people remained imprisoned at the end of the year for their membership in or activities on behalf of a minority religious group, including at least 115 Sunnis, 80 Baha'is, 26 Christian converts, 18 Sufis, and 10 Yarsanis.
Of course, religious persecution in Iran is not limited to religious minorities. The Special Court of the Clergy targets Shi’a clerics as well as Sunni and Sufi leaders by charging them with moharebeh.
The Center for Human Rights in Iran reports that Ayatollah Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi, is serving an 11-year prison sentence, since 2006, for advocating the separation of religion and politics. Hojjatoleslam Ahmad Montazeri, the son of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, was sentenced for endangering national security by posting an audio recording of his father condemning the 1988 mass execution of political prisoners.
Women and children are particularly vulnerable. In March 2016, Ahmed Shaheed, then UN Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, noted that Iran’s penal code “explicitly stipulates that the value of a woman’s life is equal to half of a man’s.” The penal code also “retains the death penalty for boys of at least 15 lunar years of age and girls of at least 9 lunar years” for hudud crimes, like homicide, adultery or sodomy.” 73 children were executed between 2005 and 2015. 160 are on death row. The Boroumand Foundation—a leading human rights organization working to end the death penalty in Iran—documents many of these cases of religious violence in the Omid memorial—a list of 19,142 victims of judicial and extrajudicial murder since 1979.
The 2016 Report also draws attention to the daily toll of religious persecution on millions of Iranians subject to a state-sanctioned system of religious and judicial extortion. The state imposes fines and extorts bribes by policing every aspect of life from dress, diet, sports and sex to education, commerce, marriage and prayer. Of course, the persecution is not universal; God’s laws are subject to politics and corruption, mandatory for outsiders, discretionary for insiders. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati: The Face of Religious Persecution and Hypocrisy in Iran Still, for all the harm that the 2016 Report highlights, it ignores a historic anomaly—an eclipse of faith--that has profound implications for religious freedom and human rights in Iran. In February 2016, on occasion of the 37th anniversary celebrations of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, an American delegation led by Minister Louis Farrakhan, the head of the Nation of Islam, arrived in Iran as guests of the Islamic Republic. Minister Farrakhan was extended all the courtesies reserved for Muslim heads of state, including an audience with no less a figure than Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati.
Ayatollah Jannati casts a long and lethal shadow over Iran. As the chairman of Iran’s Guardian Council, the body of six clerics and six jurists that monitors laws and vets elections for conformity with Islamic principles, he has repeatedly abused his position at the pinnacle of theocracy to incite religious violence.
As early as November 2005, the Ayatollah was dividing Iran by dehumanizing non-Muslims.
Non-Muslims such as Zoroastrians, Christians and Jews cannot be called human beings but are animals who roam the earth and engage in corruption.
In the aftermath of protests following Iran’s 2009 presidential elections, the Ayatollah called for the swift execution of detainees, whom he labeled as “hypocrites.”
God ordered the Prophet Muhammad to brutally slay hypocrites and ill-intentioned people who stuck to their convictions. The Qur’an insistently orders such deaths. May God not forgive anyone showing leniency towards the corrupt on earth.
Given the Ayatollah’s animus towards apostates, heretics and hypocrites, his embrace of Minister Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam opens him and the Guardian Council to the charges of moharrebeh, fisad fil-arz and sabb al-nabi.