Five weeks of street protests in Iran have drawn in and emboldened the Islamic republic’s Christian minority, human rights activists said on Thursday.
More than 300 Iranian Christians took the unusual step of issuing a public letter protesting the regime as a “bloodthirsty infection” on the nation, said Lela Gilbert, senior researcher for international religious freedom at the Family Research Council, during a webinar sponsored by Save Persecuted Christians.
Ms Gilbert said Christian believers were stepping forward to join protests over the treatment of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman who died last month in the custody of Iran’s ‘morality police’ after being detained for apparently wearing the mandatory headscarf incorrectly in public.
Ms Gilbert said the protest letter “is the first time that the Christian community, not just women, men and women, has made a statement against the regime”.
She estimates that “at least one million Christians” in Iran have converted to Islam, although others believe the number is much higher.
Ms Gilbert read the protest letter, which said Christians in Iran “are very saddened and angry” about Ms Amini’s death, “[b]But we do not believe that it is enough to express our solidarity and our words, and rather want to join in concrete action against this 43-year-old bloodthirsty infection in our society. Iran’s theocratic regime has been in power since the 1979 revolution that toppled the US-backed shah.
The letter continues: “We have suffered but we have not backed down for our messianic beliefs and our belief in freedom and choice of thought by firmly saying no to compulsory religion. We proudly accepted the punishment of standing and resisting for years, both ourselves and our families.
Faith McDonnell, director of advocacy for Katartismos Global, said the Iranian Christian community “is the fastest growing church in the world today.” Precise figures on religious practice in Iran are hard to come by, but the CIA’s World Factbook, citing a 2016 survey, reports that 99.6% of Iran’s population was Muslim, mostly from the Shia branch of Islam. . Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians together made up 0.3% of the population.
Lauren Homer, an international lawyer who advises faith-based organizations, told the webinar that the United States must support Iranian protesters’ demands for a more open society.
“Most of my Iranian friends told me they want to be a country like the United States, where everyone has the same rights and opportunities,” Ms Homer said. “It is very important that the United States government and the Christian community realize that this is cause for hope,” she added.
She said: “The Iranian people don’t want a theocracy, they don’t want these mullahs, and we should support them.
Frank Gaffney, who heads the anti-persecution group as well as the conservative Center for Security Policy, said the wave of protests in Iran is tied to “a moment of truth, a moment of choice in Washington, DC, and elsewhere. in the world”. , whether nations like the United States will fully stand with the Iranian people in their struggle to free themselves from this regime.