The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom rates Iran as a Country of Particular Concern. The panel’s report last year reported that “the government of Iran engaged in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused.” The Commission noted that “severe violations targeting religious minorities . . . continued unabated.”
Sufis and “dissenting Shi’a Muslims also faced harassment, arrest, and imprisonment.” More than six hundred Christians have been arrested since 2010, and “there were numerous incidents of Iranian authorities raiding church services, threatening church members, and arresting and imprisoning worshipers and church leaders, particularly Evangelical Christian converts.” The regime “continued to propagate anti-Semitism and target members of the Jewish community on the basis of real or perceived ‘ties to Israel’.” Further, “the government continues to use its religions laws to silence reformers—including human-rights activists, journalists, and women’s rights advocates—for exercising their internationally protected rights to freedom of expression and religion or belief.” The number of those imprisoned increased after Rouhani’s election.
The State Department’s own religious liberty report came to similar conclusions. A number were executed for alleged “enmity against God” and “insulting the prophet.” Shias who failed to support the regime faced “intimidation and arrest.” The “government continued to harass, interrogate, and arrest Bahai’s, Christians, Sunni Muslims, and other religious minorities and regulated Christian religious practices closely to enforce the prohibition on proselytizing.” The regime denied building permits for religious facilities, restricted and confiscated religious materials, and denied educational opportunities for, discouraged employment of, and restricted or closed businesses of religious minorities. Finally, “the government continued to use anti-Semitic and anti-Bahai rhetoric in official statements, as well as promote Holocaust denial.”
Alas, the attacks continue. Last fall Islamist parliamentarians pressed for legislation to allow Iranians to only vote for their coreligionists. That would effectively bar minorities from office. The effort was retaliation for the triumph of a over a conservative Shiite in a city council race in Yazd. The Zoroastrian was reelected with three times the vote of his opponent and subsequently suspended. Apparently, the least bit of freedom embarrasses Islamists who obviously lack the public support that they routinely claim to possess.
Surely this record establishes that religious minorities have good reason to fear for their liberty and safety. And those who came to Vienna relied on years of promises and processes made by the U.S. government. Noted Miriam Jordon of the New York Times: “They sold their homes and possessions, quit their jobs, and left their country—they thought for good.” They expected to be in Vienna for a short time, but now, “more than a year later, some 100 of them remain stranded in Vienna, their savings drained, their lives in limbo and the promise of America dead.” One of the would-be refugees, H. Avakian, whose brother already lives in Los Angeles, complained that “it’s unexplainable.” To return is to risk being charged as an enemy of the state. “We are afraid they will give us a sentence,” he said.
There is no justification for rejecting the helpless and vulnerable. Religious minorities fleeing Iran will not be terrorists. Rather, they are about the most pro-American people around. Nor are the numbers involved significant: The United States easily can accommodate one hundred, one thousand or ten thousand religious minorities fleeing persecution. The spectacle of the administration saying no to people seeking to escape from a regime targeted by the administration is nothing short of a moral and political scandal. Argued The American Conservative’s Daniel Larison: “It would be typical of Iran hawks to feign concern for the Iranian people while doing nothing to help any of them, but even for the hard-liners in the Trump administration this is ridiculous.”
Consistency might not be expected from President Trump. But from Vice President Pence? What does he think about the administration’s willingness to sacrifice those who have given up everything to come to America? It is time for the vice president, at least, and other Americans of good will to take a stand for the persecuted.
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.