Restrictions on the celebration of Christmas, the takeover of church property, unfair inheritance laws to encourage conversion to Islam, a fudge over equalising ‘blood money’ payments to non-Muslims and the ethnic cleansing of Assyrian Christians – minority rights in Iran are in a lamentable state. As for Jews, their numbers are dwindling fast and the remainder are used by the regime both as instruments of propaganda and hostages to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Must-read interview in Jewish Journal by Karmel Melamed with Frank Nikbakht of the LA-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran.
Frank Nikbakht: Jewish minority under constant threat (Photo: Karmel Melamed)
KM: I understand the Assyrian representative at the Islamic
Assembly in Iran, who is Christian, has publically protested takeover of
a church property by Islamic groups in Iran. Can you shed some light on
the situation facing Assyrian Christians in Iran?
The Assyrians are being ethnically cleansed in Iran, while a lot of
Iranians living outside of Iran are silent about it. The Assyrian
representative has also said that the infamous ex-intelligence minister
in Iran, now assigned to the special “Presidential Council for the
Religious Minorities”, has washed his hands off the issue of the church
take over, saying there is nothing he can do. At the same time, the
Farsi language American government radio based in Europe called “Farda
Radio” recently pointed out that Iran’s current president Rouhani has
not honored any of his promises to the religious minorities, as we had
predicted in several interviews at the outset of his charm offensive for
the West, a couple of years ago. There are currently at least two major
church properties in Tehran, taken over by Islamic entities supported
by the government. Such takeovers are not uncommon and in addition to
their economic impact, are extremely humiliating traditions, helping
push the minorities out of the country.
KM: How have the Assyrian leadership in Iran today been trying to
lead the way for greater protections and rights in the current Iranian
The Assyrians, are the same people who back in the early 2000s,
challenged the un-equal “Life Value” of Muslims and non-Muslims in Iran.
Other religious minorities followed them and finally had the Iranian
Assembly act upon it. Of course the Supreme Islamic Guardian Council in
Iran, declared equality of Muslims and non-Muslims under the law, as
“un-Islamic” and voided the law. Later, some Iranian regime officials
decided to make Muslims and non-Muslims “equal”, only in traffic
accidents, where the difference between the life value of Muslims and
non-Muslims would be paid by the insurance companies! This was then
falsely advertised as the “equality” of all Iranian citizens, partly
thanks to pro-Iranian regime advocates in the West. The Assyrians are
also the ones who are being thrown out of Iraq after thousands of years
in their own territories, mostly occupied by Muslim Arabs.
KM: I’ve interviewed many Iranian Christians, especially younger
people, who had in recent years fled Iran after secretly converting to
Christianity from Islam. How common is this conversion in Iran today and
is this a reason why the regime has been cracking down on Christians in
The new generations not only are espousing softer forms of Islamic
practice, such as modern Sufism which is itself being persecuted in
Iran, because it is a more personal form of Islam and is considered as a
rival to the institutionalized Islam represented in the government. In
addition, there are relatively large numbers of young Iranians- perhaps
in hundreds of thousands- escaping Islam as a whole, and embracing
Christianity, Zoroastrianism and other religions. While this is
happening both inside and outside Iran, the Islamist government in Iran
is cracking down as hard as it can on Christian converts who are
considered as a non-stoppable phenomenon, if unchecked at this stage.
KM: The Iranian regime’s officials repeatedly claim that they give
equal rights and protection to non-Muslims in Iran today. You are very
familiar with the current regime’s official laws on religious minority
status in Iran, are their claims accurate?
From the very start, the Islamic Republic of Iran implemented policies
aimed at “cleansing” their newly acquired territory– the country of
Iran, of all non-Muslims, by reducing their rights to second or third
class citizens and even non-citizens with no rights, in the case of the
“non- protected infidels”, such as the Baha’i’s.
Some new laws which tolerated advantages to non-Muslim minorities in
case of their population increase, were scrapped from the Constitution.
Finally, pressures were gradually increased, properties were confiscated
and even legal freedoms were limited, succeeding in ousting over two
thirds of non-Muslims from their country. Non-Muslims were them placed
under close scrutiny by the Intelligence Ministry and other
institutions, in order to make sure they did not increase numerically
and they stayed submissive to Islamic laws and Muslims in their
vicinity. However, with Islamic pressures affecting most of the Muslim
population in many other ways, the new Muslim Iranian generation began
to seek other ways to get out of the humiliating and tightly controlled
religious spaces and limitations imposed on them.
KM: Can you please discuss how the rights of religious minorities
living in the Iranian regime today such as Christians, Jews or
Zoroastrians are unequal to those of Muslims?
As the law stands today, the value of life of a Muslim, also called
“Blood Value” is much higher than others. This is the compensation due
the victim or his “owners” in case of loss of life and limb. By the way,
even in the case of Muslim women, their life value is officially half
of a Muslim man’s life. The penalty for murdering non-Muslims by Muslims
is also much less, and can simply be bought by financial compensation,
whereas the other way around, carries a possible death penalty.
Traditionally, except for the brief historical period of the Pahlavi
Dynasty, inheritance rights had been an important opportunity to gain
Muslim converts. Such inhumane Shariah laws have now been revived in
Iran. For example, the Iranian regime’s “Civil Code 881” states that an
‘infidel, or non-Muslim cannot inherit from a Muslim’. This is part of
an age old Shariah legal code, which says that as soon as a non- Muslim,
even a submissive Dhimmi Infidel—meaning if Jews, Christians and
Zoroastrians convert to Islam, he or she will inherit all of the assets
of the deceased parent. It has even been interpreted that the same
applies to the larger family as well, like when inheriting a
grandfather’s assets. This ongoing problem, is a nasty source of family
devastation during inheritance fights which is not uncommon, and is in
fact imposed and implemented precisely for that reason: the devastation
of non-Muslim families, and the conversion of the greediest ones and
their descendants into Islam.
KM: And what about the rights of Baha’is in Iran?
The Baha’is in Iran do not have even Dhimmi rights– or some limited
personal and civil rights for “recognized” religious minorities such as
Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians under Islamic law. This means the
Baha’is have no right to life and property in Iran, which is why their
killers have been set free in the past, because legally, they have
murdered people who had no right to life and property in an “Islamic
land” in the first place.
KM: What is the situation and status of Jews living in Iran today?
The Iranian president Rouhani and Foreign Minister come to Western TV
programs and claimed the lives of Jews in Iran are supposedly rosy. They
even allowed a Jewish journalist from the Jewish “Forward” newspaper a
visa to visit Iran and write about the situation of the Jews in the
Well, as they used to say during the Cold War– “refugees vote with
their feet”. Ninety percent of the Iranian Jews, have left their country
of 2,700 years and have settled in the United States, Israel, and some
European countries. No bought off journalist, or duped self-deluding
ideologue, can cover this up! When they mention the brutal but common
pro-Iranian regime propaganda expression that “Iran has still the
biggest number of Jews among all Middle Eastern countries”, they are
knowingly hiding the fact that 90% of the Jews are gone, the rest are
still in the process of leaving and that until the number of Jews has
dwindled to perhaps 12 individuals, Iran will still be considered as the
one with the “BIGGEST” number of Jews!
KM: Do some Jews convert to Islam in Iran today to escape the persecution?
An important fact that the Iranian regime’s officials are hiding is
that many Iranian Jews in Iran have had to convert to Islam in order to
either secure their businesses, or to be able to marry Muslim women they
loved, without the danger of being arrested and possibly killed for
“adultery” – the legal definition of the act of marriage between a
non-Muslim man and a Muslim woman, but not the other way around- a small
detail about which no sell out journalist ever asks their Jewish
subjects when they are in Iran. This is besides the fact that even the
Islamist Turkey already surpasses Iran in Jewish numbers, which are
sadly, also decreasing there.
In any case, the Jewish minority is under the constant threat of losing
everything, due to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which is the
closest emotional issue in Iran, and is often affecting Iranian Jews
even in court rooms. In particular, during military conflicts between
Israel and the Palestinians or the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah – which has
more rights and privileges, than Jewish citizens – Iranian Jews are in
serious danger until the conflict subsides.
Over all, the Iranian government uses the remaining Jews in Iran both
as propaganda subjects – like when Goebbels filmed Jewish Theresienstadt
concentration camp inmates to show how well the Jews were treated in
the Reich – and hostages, reminding Israel that the “biggest number of
Jews in the Middle East” can be harmed in a second, if the Iranian
regime decides to do it. In fact, this Jewish vulnerability has been
openly mentioned to Iranian Jewish representatives outside Iran, over
and over by the Islamic Republic representatives who were trying to shut
up the Jewish voice abroad and forcing them to be silent on
anti-Semitic events in Iran.
KM: The Western news media outlets larger claim Rouhani is a
“moderate”, but since his supposed election to the presidency in Iran,
has the situation for religious minorities in Iran today improved or
gotten worse in your estimation?
Rouhani has not changes anything in Iran, much less in Minority Rights.
What he promised to do during his candidacy and his “Western charm”
offensive a couple of years ago, was against the Constitution as well as
the Shariah, and he knew it too, because he is an Islamic jurist as
well as a lawyer in Iran.