Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on a group of Christian journalists to put a spotlight on the persecution of Christians under Iran’s Islamic regime. Speaking at the first Christian Media Summit in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said it’s time to speak out for suffering Christians in Iran, Mohabat News reports.
“Christians have been lashed, do you hear this, lashed for sipping wine during prayer services,” he said, citing pastors who are jailed for no other reason than being Christian leaders and believers who have been brutally tortured just for practicing their faith.
Netanyahu has been warning the world about Iran’s terrorist activities and nuclear ambitions, but he said on this night that he wanted to turn his attention to the persecuted.
“Some world leaders are willing to ignore this repression and seek to appease Iran, but I am not one of them. I think that how a country treats religious minorities is a very good indicator of how it will treat its fellow citizens and its neighbors.”
He then encouraged the Christian journalists to highlight Iran’s suffering believers.
“Dedicate this week to outlining the plight of the countless Christians suffering under Iran. Profile the brave Christian leaders jailed for practicing their faith. Sit with the families, the schoolteachers jailed for years merely for converting to Christianity. Call out the lies of President Rouhani, who promised in 2013 that all religions would quote “feel justice” in Iran while so many Christians live there in constant terror,” he said.
The Israeli leader noted that the Iranian threat is two-fold: the possibility of gaining a “vast arsenal” of nuclear weapons and its aim to create a “Shi’ite Arc” of influence in the Middle East.
“It wants to build the Shi’ite Arc – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon – and it’s working. They want a Shi’ite arc to colonize and control. It is an act of unadulterated aggression,” he said.
The U.S. State Department has categorized Iran as a Country of Particular Concern since 1999 under the International Religious Freedom Act.
“During the past year, 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. As of December 2016, approximately 90 Christians were in prison, detained, or awaiting trial because of their religious beliefs and activities,” read an annual report released earlier this year by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Levi MacGregor with Voice of the Martyrs Canada says the violations of religious freedom and human rights are especially stringent on the Iranian Christian population.
“We call what’s happening in Iran ‘the squeeze’, and the squeeze is when persecution is at such a rate that Christians are really just feeling pressured all the time and they’re living in an environment that is hostile to them, so their day-to-day living is very difficult. They can’t express their Christianity in any public way. Even in private, they have to be careful about what they say, how they act.”