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EP Conference on religious freedom in Iran: Speech by Dr Sanabargh Zahedi

Text of speech by Dr Sanabargh Zahedi, chair of the Judicial Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), at European Parliament Conference on religious freedom in Iran, 22 April 2015:

Good afternoon dear friends,

It is a great pleasure for me to be here to address a very painful issue that has been going on for so many years in my bleeding country. I wish to thank honourable MEPs Mr Andrew Lewer and Mr Peter Van Dalen for organizing this important conference on Religious Freedom in Iran.

I hope we will be able to shed light to one of the gross injustices and violations of the most fundamental human principals under the mullahs’ rule in Iran.

Iran’s population is currently about 80 million. Iranians were Zoroastrians before Islam came to Iran. Iranians converted to Islam after the fall of the Sassanid Empire and the take over of Iran by Muslims. For the past 500 years majority of the Iranian people adhered to a Shiite branch of Islam known “Twelve Imam Shia”.

But according to the latest official poll conducted in 2011, 99.38% of Iranian people are Muslims of which 95% of them are Shia Muslims. Less than 5% are Sunni and only 0.6% are non-Muslims.

According to reliable estimates 98% of the Iranians are Muslims, 89% of whom are Shia, 9% Sunni and about 2% are followers of other religions.

The current ruling system in Iran, known as Velayat-e Faqieh or the absolute rule of clergy, is a full-blown religious dictatorship, initiated by Khomeini, which has no respects for other thoughts and beliefs or religions.

Article 12 of the clerical regime’s constitution states: “The official religion of Iran is Islam and the Twelver Ja’fari school, and this principle will remain eternally immutable.” The next Article reiterates that Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian Iranians are the only recognized religious minorities
In reality all religious minorities have been subjected to double oppression. The members of the Baha’i faith are not even recognized and have been brutally repressed.

Allow me to give you a detailed example of suppression of Christians. In 1994 three bishops, by the names of, Mehdi Dibaj, Hoosepian Mehr, and Mikhaeilien, who had refused to give in to the “absolute rule of Mullahs” were massacred in the most vicious manner. After committing the crime, the regime declared that these three priests were killed by the opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). To discredit their main opposition, in a mock trial staged by the regime on national television, three women admitted to killing the three priests under the direction of PMOI.

After this incident the United Nations appointed a Tunisian lawyer Abdolfatah Amoor, as the Religion and Minority special Rapporteur to go to Iran and investigate the condition of religious minorities in Iran. In 1995, I along with Ayatollah Ganjehei, Chair of the Religious Freedoms of the National Council of Resistance of Iran ( NCRI) went to visit Professor Amor in Geneva and briefed him on the regime’s falsifications and distortions of the facts so that he may not be misled. After visiting Iran, Mr. Amor delivered his findings in a comprehensive report to the United Nations. One of the chapters of this report deals with the assassination of the three Christian leaders. I am going to read part of this report verbatim…

I quote:

“ During his visit, the Special Rapporteur noted the traumatism caused to the Christian and Protestant communities by the murder of three Protestant pastors in 1994: the Rev. Tatavous Michaelian,; the Rev. Mehdi Dibaj, and the Rev. Haik Hovsepian Mehr.
The Special Rapporteur was able to speak freely for almost five hours at Evin prison with the three persons charged with murder: Farahnaz Anami, Batoul Vaferi and Maryam Shahbazpoor. These persons, who were interviewed separately, said that they belonged to the Mojahedin organization
Some members of non-governmental bodies thought that the Iranian State, acting through various groups or persons, had ordered the murders of the Protestant pastors. They pointed out that Rev. Dibaj had been imprisoned since 1986; that an Islamic revolutionary court had sentenced him to death for apostasy. Concerning Rev. Hovsepian, had publicly expressed his opposition to the death penalty to which the latter had been sentenced. Rev. Michaelian was responsible for a community consisting partly of Muslim converts whose number was increasing.”

Professor Amor continues:

“According to the information received, the Iranian Government had apparently decided to execute those Protestant leaders in order not only to bring the Mojahedin organization [PMOI/MEK] into disrepute abroad by declaring it responsible for those crimes, but also, at the domestic level, partly to decapitate the Protestant community and force it to discontinue the conversion of Muslims, pastor Dibaj and his colleagues had apparently been executed in order not to encourage the Protestant community, , to continue its conversion activities.
Members of non-governmental bodies also regarded the trial of the three women as a travesty of justice and indicated that those women had dissociated themselves from the Mojahedin organization; some even went so far as to say that those women were also agents of the State”

This regime has massacred dozens of our Christian compatriots during the mass executions of political prisoners in Iran.

When it comes to the Jewish minority, their suppression takes a much wider scale. Most of the Iranian Jews have been forced to leave the country or are afraid to claim their beliefs. The suppression of the Baha’is is to a point that despite the fact that according to statistics there are hundreds of thousands of Baha’is in Iran, the regime does not even recognize their religion or existence; hundreds of Baha’is have been executed or killed under torture and their cemeteries have been destroyed. As a result the Baha’is are officially banned from going to high education at the universities.

The Sunni population suffers the same fate. During the 1990s in a chain of politically motivated murders, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards killed dozens of Sunni leaders in Kurdistan and Baluchistan. Thousands of other Kurdish and Baluchis were killed at the hands of regime’s agents or died in prisons.

The crux of the matter of religious suppression in Iran is that the ruling Velayat-e faqih regime commits all these crimes under the name of Islam. I wish to point out that as a Muslim scholar and lawyer, who had done a lot of work and research in the field for many years and also as a member of a democratic movement, meaning PMOI, the crimes committed by this regime are only to prolong its existence and has nothing to do with Islam.

The Quran’s logic is contrary to those of the mullahs in Iran. They execute newly converted Christians as apostates. They are against the universal principles of human rights as much as they are against Quran and Islamic teachings.
Verse 62 of Bagharah chapter states:

إنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ وَالَّذِينَ هَادُواْ وَالنَّصَارَى وَالصَّابِئِينَ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحاً فَلَهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ
عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ وَلاَ خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلاَ هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ {البقرة/62}

[2:62] Surely, those who believe, those who are Jewish, the Christians, and the converts; anyone who (1) believes in GOD, and (2) believes in the Last Day, and (3) leads a righteous life, will receive their recompense from their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.

Verse 13 of chapter 49 addresses everybody irrespective of their religion and states:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَى وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ {الحجرات/13}

[49:13] O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recognize one another. The best among you in the sight of GOD is the most righteous. GOD is Omniscient, Cognizant.

Verse 99 of chapter 10, forbids forcing a certain religion upon people and states:

ولو شاء ربک لآمن من فی الارض کلهم جمیعا افأنت تکره الناس حتی یکونوا مؤمنین؛ سوره یونس ، آیه ۹۹٫

[10:99] Had your Lord willed, all the people on earth would have believed. Do you want to force the people to become believers?
And most important of all, the verse 256 of chapter 2 strictly declares:

لا اکراه فی الدّین قد تبیّن الرّشد من الغیّ فمن یکفر بالطّاغوت و یؤمن بالله فقد استمسک بالعروﺓ الوثقی لا انفصام لها والله سمیعٌ علیم؛ سوره بقره، آیه ۲۵۶٫

[2:256] There shall be no compulsion in religion: the right way is now distinct from the wrong way.

There are many verses like this which point to the freedom to choose ones own religion and condemn forcing of ones religion on others, leave alone executing someone for changing their religion.


Another point about the mullahs in Iran is their fixation on their belief. They want to enforce a thousand year old Sharia law in today’s society. Whereas Quran’s logic and view is absolutely dynamic

The dynamism of our movement approach to Islam stems from a crucial distinction drawn within the Quran between two different types of its verses: mohkamat and motashabihat.
Mohkamat are the fundamental principles of Islam, definite and unchangeable, which contain the essence of Islam’s worldview.

Motashabihat, on the other hand, are therefore relative, dynamic, and flexible injunctions that relate to the methods and rules of conduct in everyday life. As such, motashabihat are never rigid, rather more like practical guidelines than principles, which can and must be adapted to human progress, technological advancement, and the changing social norms of the times.
Technically speaking, amongst the grave interpretative errors made by Khomeini and the mullahs who have followed him is that they intentionally confuse mohkamat with motashabihat in their interpretation of the Quran,
In Sura 3, the Family of Imran, the Quran explicitly denounces any attempt to confuse basic principles with transient rules. It says :

[3:7] He sent down to you this scripture, containing straightforward verses – which constitute the essence of the scripture – as well as multiple-meaning or allegorical verses. Those who harbor doubts in their hearts will pursue the multiple-meaning verses to create confusion, and to extricate a certain meaning.

Especially in recent years, the Iranian regime has been able to export its sectarian behavior to other countries in the region. What we are witnessing in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen is the result of this religious discrimination. The ruthless massacre of Iraqis, especially the Sunnis, the murder of more than 250,000 people in Syria, supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon, which is a subsidiary of the Iranian regime and its revolutionary guards in that country are all examples of implementation of this phenomenon.

In fact the religious fundamentalism is fueled by gender discrimination against women on the one hand, and spreading the religious sectarian war on the other. The use of chemical warfare in Syria is the other side of the coin to splashing acid on the face of women in cities in Iran.

The emergence of a criminal group called Daesh (ISIS) and its atrocities in Iraq and Syria should not over shadow the crimes of the mullahs’ rule in Iran. A regime which is the founder of criminal punishments such as stoning, eye gouging, amputation of limbs, throwing people from heights, and burning people alive, in recent decades in Iran.

In fact Daesh, which calls itself the Islamic Caliphate, is a petit Sunni version of the regime ruling Iran. We should not forget that in summer of 1988, the regime massacred over 30,000 political prisoners in cold blood. Many jurists view this as the biggest massacre of political prisoners since Second World War. The fact of the matter is that Khomeini and Khamenei are the real Caliphate and Daesh is only an imitation.

However there is a widespread and responsible resistance movement opposing the clerical regime that over 120000 of their members have so far been executed. Over 30 years ago, in 1985, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) approved the plan and announced the separation of religion and state in which all religious discriminations are prohibited. The first part of this plan states:

1. All forms of discrimination against the followers of various religions and denominations in the enjoyment of their individual and social rights are prohibited. No citizen shall enjoy any privileges or be subject to any deprivations with respect to standing for elections, participating in elections, employment, education, becoming a judge, or any other individual or social rights, based on their belief or disbelief with respect to a particular religion or denomination.

2. All forms of compulsory religious and ideological teaching and any compulsion or practice or non-practice of religious rituals and customs is forbidden.
3. Jurisdiction of judicial authorities shall not be based upon their religious or ideological stance, and laws not formulated within the legislative institution of the land shall have no official sanction or validity.

Finally, although we are talking about religious discrimination and repression of religious minorities in Iran, but the fact of the matter is that the mullahs’ regime in Iran despite claiming to be “Islamic and Shia” is the biggest enemy of Shi’ism and Moslems around the world. A simple review shows that no other government has killed as many Shia and Moslems as this regime has, which ironically calls itself Islamic. So it must be said that the repression by the ruling regime in Iran is applied equally against Moslems, Christians, Jews, Baha’is, Sunni or Shia and non believers.

This regime is indeed an inhumane regime, and Iranians must unite to liberate their country and the Middle East from this nightmare. It is a clear fact that as long as the religious dictatorship in Iran is in power we will not witness peace and tranquility in the region. We must point out that unless all countries put improvement of human rights as a pre condition to doing business and trade with this regime, we will not see any real progress in any area including the nuclear issue.

Dr Sanabargh Zahedi, an Islamic Scholar and lawyer, is chair of the Judicial Committee of the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)