According to official statistics, the Islamic Republic is home to 117,700 Christians, although the real number is probably closer to 350,000. The regime, while never tolerant of non-Muslims, seems lately to have intensified its anti-Christian policies. Earlier this month, twelve Iranians were reportedly each sentenced to a year in prison for “propagating against the Islamic Republic in favor of Christianity.” Julie Lenarz and Benjamin Weinthal note some other examples, and urge the West to take action:
Last year, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arrested two Christians—a mother and her son—as part of a vicious crackdown on Catholicism in the country’s West Azerbaijan Province. . . . Iranian authorities regularly arrest worshippers, raid house churches, and confiscate Bibles, Christian CDs and other religious literature while regime-controlled media outlets spread anti-Christian propaganda.
Four evangelical Christians were arrested in May 2017 and sentenced each to ten years in prison for house-church activities and evangelism. Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani stood trial in July along with three co-defendants because of their house-church activities. They were all sentenced to ten years in prison. It is worth recalling that Nadarkhani was sentenced to death in 2010 for his conversion to Christianity. After a global pressure campaign ensued, Iran’s regime released him from prison, after a three-year incarceration. . . .
The 125,000-member-strong IRGC has a long record of brutality targeting Christians and democracy movements opposed to the mullahs’ regime. The U.S. administration of President Donald Trump designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization in October 2017. Europe, so far, has declined to sanction the IRGC for its blatant human-rights violations.
To isolate Iran’s clerical leaders—and hold those accountable for grave human-rights violations—the EU and U.S. should impose a potent round of human-rights sanctions on regime officials persecuting Iranian Christians. The Islamic Republic remains highly vulnerable when a spotlight is shined on its widespread repression of religious freedom. If past is prologue, new human-rights sanctions and global pressure can save the lives of persecuted Iranian Christians.