Remembering the Plight of Iranian Christians

While much attention to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East has focused on Iraq and Syria, Shay Khatiri calls attention to the growing, and endangered, Christian population of Iran:

Islam is the fastest shrinking religion [in Iran], while Christianity is the fastest growing. According to a U.S. State Department report from 2018, up to half a million Iranians are Christian converts from Muslim families, and most of these Christians are evangelicals. Recent estimates claim that the number might have climbed up to somewhere between one million and three million.

Under Iran’s constitution, Christians have full rights to practice their religion, but they don’t have the right to evangelize. The government also restricts . . . the selling and the distribution of Hebrew and Christian Bibles to people the government identifies as Muslim, and sellers have gone to prison. The state only protects freedom of worship for those born into Christian families. Under Iran’s apostasy laws, conversion out of Islam merits the death penalty. Conversely, those who convert into Islam receive special rights—precisely, complete inheritance from their parents, leaving their non-Muslim siblings empty-handed.

Similarly, Iranian Jews officially have religious freedom, but that fact hardly reflects their actual situation. Khatiri calls on Washington to take note:

Both the United States government and Christian groups should prioritize Iran’s treatment of Christian converts. Many other states persecute Christians, but Iran has perhaps the highest rate of persecution and the greatest number of Christian converts, who persistently resist government persecution.

Read more at Providence

More about: Freedom of Religion, Iran, Middle East Christianity, U.S. Foreign policy

Leaked Emails Point to an Iranian Influence Operation That Reaches into the U.S. Government

Sept. 27 2023

As the negotiations leading up to the 2015 nuclear deal began in earnest, Tehran launched a major effort to cultivate support abroad for its positions, according to a report by Jay Solomon:

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues—particularly its nuclear program—by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative. The scope and scale of the IEI project has emerged in a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails.

The officials, working under the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, congratulated themselves on the impact of the initiative: at least three of the people on the Foreign Ministry’s list were, or became, top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, who was placed on leave this June following the suspension of his security clearance.

In March of that year, writes Solomon, one of these officials reported that “he had gained support for the IEI from two young academics—Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiary—following a meeting with them in Prague.” And here the story becomes particularly worrisome:

Tabatabai currently serves in the Pentagon as the chief of staff for the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, a position that requires a U.S. government security clearance. She previously served as a diplomat on Malley’s Iran nuclear negotiating team after the Biden administration took office in 2021. Esfandiary is a senior advisor on the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, a think tank that Malley headed from 2018 to 2021.

Tabatabai . . . on at least two occasions checked in with Iran’s Foreign Ministry before attending policy events, according to the emails. She wrote to Mostafa Zahrani, [an Iranian scholar in close contact with the Foreign Ministry and involved in the IEI], in Farsi on June 27, 2014, to say she’d met Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal—a former ambassador to the U.S.—who expressed interest in working together and invited her to Saudi Arabia. She also said she’d been invited to attend a workshop on Iran’s nuclear program at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. . . .

Elissa Jobson, Crisis Group’s chief of advocacy, said the IEI was an “informal platform” that gave researchers from different organizations an opportunity to meet with IPIS and Iranian officials, and that it was supported financially by European institutions and one European government. She declined to name them.

Read more at Semafor

More about: Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy