Christians face arrest, persecution in Iran, U.N. experts say
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - More than 300 Christians have been arrested since mid-2010 in Iran where churches operate in a climate of fear and Muslims who convert to Christianity face persecution, United Nations human rights investigators said on Thursday.
They welcomed the release earlier this month of Yousof Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor who spent three years in prison before his death sentence for apostasy and evangelism was commuted, but voiced deep concerns for those still detained.
In a joint statement, the independent investigators called on authorities in the Islamic Republic to "ease the current climate of fear in which many churches operate, especially Protestant evangelical houses of worship".
Ahmed Shaheed, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, estimated that based on his own interviews and reports from activist groups, "over 300 Christians have been arbitrarily arrested and detained throughout the country since June 2010".
They included at least 41 people detained from one month to more than a year, sometimes without official charges, said Shaheed, a former foreign minister of the Maldives, who has not been allowed into Iran despite repeated requests.
"Scores of other Christians appear to remain in detention for freely practicing their religion," he said, noting the Iranian constitution and a landmark international treaty ratified by Iran protect the right to practice that faith.
"Churches continue to report undue pressure to report membership, in what appears to be an effort to pressure and sometimes even detain converts," he said.
Nadarkhani, born to Muslim parents, converted to Christianity at age 19 and joined a Protestant church in the northern city of Rasht. Continued...