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Condemning Iran for Its Persecution of Youcef Nadarkhani

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. FRANKS of Arizona. Mr. Speaker, at no other point in recent history has it been more crucial for Congress to take action on international religious freedom. I would like to deeply thank my colleagues, Congressmen JOE PITTS and KEITH ELLISON, for sponsoring H. Res. 556 that addresses religious freedom in Iran. These vital issues deserve our immediate attention as we see religious persecution escalate internationally: in Iraq, for instance, Assyrian Christians were brutally murdered in their church and continue to be directly targeted by terrorist organizations; some have even been attacked and murdered on their own front doorstep. In China, thousands of Christians and Falun Gong practitioners are forced into re-education through labor camps while the lawyers that try to defend them are often imprisoned. Uygur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists are targeted as separatists because of their faith.

Mr. Speaker, commitment to religious freedom is not just for one faith community but for people of all confessions throughout the world and across political lines. Religious freedom is not only for Americans or Christians or Republicans or Democrats, it is a sacred right for all humanity. The U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, of which Iran is a signatory, allows for the ``right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion'' and this right includes the freedom to change religion or belief. I would like to note that Pastor Yousef was imprisoned and charged with apostasy in direct violation with the international standards that Iran had accepted. The fundamental right of religious freedom, furthermore, is enshrined in Iran's Constitution in Articles 13, 14, and 23.

Mr. Speaker, the Pitts-Ellison resolution condemns the Iranian government, one of the most horrific perpetrators of religious freedom violations, for its repression of religious minorities. It focuses, in particular, on the case of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, a Christian with the Church of Iran denomination, who faces imminent execution for his faith. Pastor Yousef's arrest and imprisonment resulted from questioning the mandate from the government of Iran that all school children be taught Islamic teachings.

Mr. Speaker, one of the most precious rights parents can have is having the freedom to educate their own children and bring up their children the way they believe is best for their family. Pastor Yousef was not given this foundational right to instill in his children a respect for freedom of religion and conscience. As the author of The Children's Hope Act, I know how critical it is for parents to make their own independent decisions about the education of their children. No parent should have to face death, as is the situation for Pastor Yousef, just for asking his government to grant him freedom of religion, even if that freedom of religion was narrowly defined to the freedom to educate and practice his faith in his own home.

Mr. Speaker, the case of Pastor Yousef is only one of many other deplorable religious freedom cases in Iran. A close personal friend of Pastor Yousef and a member of the Council of Elders for the Church of Iran described the egregious situation for Christians in the Middle East as strikingly similar to ``the final decision in Germany,'' when the Nazis religiously and racially ``cleansed'' German society of the Jews. This elder ended by saying that the ``international reaction [to the religious cleansing in the Middle East] is also like the time of Hitler. They waited and didn't react until it was too late.'' In Iran, at least 285 Christians were arrested during the first half of 2011 without reaction.

Mr. Speaker, one such case of the silently persecuted is Masoud Delijani, a school teacher in Kermanshah, Iran, who was arrested by plain clothes intelligence officers in March 2011. He was arrested, together with his wife and nine other Christian converts, when they had gathered in a house church for a service. He was held in solitary confinement and was severely pressured both mentally and physically. The court eventually charged him with having faith in Christianity and for holding illegal house church gatherings.

Mr. Speaker, the Revolutionary Court of Kermanshah province recently sentenced Masoud Delijani to three years in prison. Sources report that his trial was anything but fair: he was denied the right to choose his own advocate or defend himself against the charges levied. Masoud Delijani is now being held in Deizal-Abad prison of Kermanshah to serve his three-year prison sentence. The central prison of Kermanshah is described as horrendous and sickening by knowledgeable sources.

Mr. Speaker, the cases described above would largely go unnoticed and the persecuted would be forced to suffer if we are silent. Given our own freedoms in America and the responsibility to represent the concerns of our constituents who are concerned with the suffering of persons and families abroad, I believe we have a personal responsibility to stand up for justice and support those who are persecuted. I would also urge other world leaders to not wait to speak out on behalf of Pastor Yousef and his universal right of religious freedom until it is too late.

Mr. Speaker, Alexander Hamilton, one of the architects of our Republic, said, ``The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased.''

Mr. Speaker, may the right of religious freedom touch those around the world and persons of all faiths, and may future generations walk in the sunlight of that most inalienable and universal freedom.


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