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

The New York Review of Books - - News -

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.

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