Five weeks of street protests in Iran have attracted and emboldened the Islamic republic’s Christian minority, human rights advocates said Thursday.
More than 300 Iranian Christians took the unusual step of releasing a public letter protesting the regime as a “bloodthirsty infection” on the nation, Lela Gilbert, senior fellow for international religious freedom at the Family Research Council, told a webinar sponsored by the group Save the Persecuted Christians.
Ms. Gilbert said Christian believers are 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 reportedly wearing the mandatory headscarf incorrectly in public.
Ms. Gilbert said the protest letter “is the first time the Christian community, not just women, men and women, has made a statement against the regime.”
She estimates that “at least a million Christians” in Iran have converted from Islam, although others believe the number is far greater.
Ms. Gilbert read from the protest letter, which said Iran’s Christians “are very pained and angry” about Ms. Amini’s death, “[b]ut we don’t think it is enough to only express our solidarity and words, and instead want to join in practical action against this bloodthirsty 43-year-old infection on our society.” Iran’s theocratic regime has been in power since the 1979 revolution that ousted the U.S.-backed shah.
The letter continues, “We have suffered but we have not retreated for our messianic beliefs and belief in freedom and choice of thought by saying a firm no to compulsory religion. We have proudly accepted the punishment of standing and resisting for years, both ourselves and our families.”
Faith McDonnell, advocacy director for Katartismos Global, said Iran’s Christian community “is the fastest growing church in the world today.” Hard numbers on religious practice in Iran are difficult to come by, but the CIA World Factbook, citing a 2016 survey, reports that 99.6% of Iran’s population were Muslim, mostly of the Shiite branch of Islam. Christian, Jews and Zoroastrians represented a combined 0.3% of the population.
Lauren Homer, an international attorney who counsels faith-based organizations, told the webinar the United States needs to support the 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 everybody has equal rights and opportunity,” Ms. Homer said. “It is very important that the United States government and the Christian community realize this is a ground for hope,” she added.
She said, “The Iranian people do not want a theocracy, they do not want these mullahs, and we should get behind 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 linked to “a moment of truth, a moment of choosing in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere around the world, whether nations like the United States will stand fully with the people of Iran as they seek their fight for freedom from this regime.”