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Advocates for a group of nearly 90 Christian and other religious-minority refugees from Iran are praising a ruling by a federal judge in California earlier this week that forces the Trump administration to reconsider their asylum requests after issuing a blanket denial of all of them earlier this year.
(Mohabat News) The refugees and U.S. human rights activists representing their interests say the decision is a break-through in a troubling case that has left the group of Iranians marooned in Vienna and has earned the sympathy and attention of a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress, as well as high-level Trump administration officials.
Since the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) denied their asylum applications en masse in February, the group has been left in limbo in Vienna, unable either to return to Iran out of fear of further persecution and possible death or to reunite with family members or other sponsors in the U.S.
“It’s a step in the right direction, and we’re happy that the court recognizes that the government can’t just use whatever terms it wants [to deny these applicants]. It has to follow what Congress intended this program to be—to give heightened protections to these Iranian Christians and Mandaeans and other religious minorities,” Mariko Hirose, who serves as the litigation director for International Refugee Assistance Project in New York, told the Washington Free Beacon.
The Iranian individuals and their family members applied for refugee resettlement in the United States under the Lautenberg Amendment, a law Congress first passed in 1989 to facilitate refugee admission of Jews fleeing the former Soviet Union. Lawmakers expanded the program in 2004 to include religious minorities in Iran.
The Iranians had traveled to Vienna from Tehran at the invitation of the U.S. government to complete their applications as part of this unique Lautenberg refugee program.
The program has quietly admitted an estimated 30,000 persecuted Iranians, mainly Jews and Christians, but also Mandaeans, Zoroastrians, and Baha’is, over the last decade at a near 100 percent acceptance rate without incident, according to U.S. lawmakers familiar with the acceptance record.
However, the Obama administration first started imposing a new vetting process for all asylum applicants in 2016, the first roadblocks for the group of nearly 90 Iranians.
Then in February, after the individuals had already spent nearly a year waiting at an intermediary vetting facility in Vienna—the same facility used for years for the Lautenberg program without incident—the DHS flatly denied the group without providing the reasons behind the decision.
The DHS denials said only that the applicants were being barred from resettling in the U.S. as “a matter of discretion.”
A State Department spokeswoman earlier this year did not elaborate on why DHS had denied the group of Iranians, saying only the “safety and security of the American people are paramount,” and that “Iranian refugee applicants under this program are subject to the same security vetting processes that apply to refugee applicants of other nationalities considered for admission to the United States of America.”
U.S. District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman on Tuesday ordered DHS to disclose individual reasons for the denials within 14 days of her ruling, which allows the claimants to appeal. The refugees have 90 days to file their appeals, which could reopen their cases.
If they are once again denied, DHS would have to follow their own regulations and provide a substantive reason for the denials, according to Hirose.
In addressing the unique aspects of the Lautenberg Amendment, which governs this group’s applications, Freeman wrote that DHS “retains an enormous amount of authority and discretion to adjudicate refugee applications, but they do not have the discretion to violate the law.”
The vague DHS denial notices, the judge said, leaves the applicants in an untenable position.
“Without a reason for the denial, the applicants are left to guess at which factors and circumstances DHS considered,” she said. “Any meaningful review of the denials becomes impossible because plaintiffs are effectively shadowboxing against themselves.”
Evidence that applications of at least 38 of the individuals denied admission in February received “identical notices of ineligibility raises the inference that the denials were not, in fact, individualized,” she continued.
Hirose says Congress was very clear when it passed the Lautenberg Amendment that if the U.S. government denies an asylum claim, it must provide a reason “to the maximum extent feasible.”
The mass denials were such a devastating blow because the group of Iranians had already uprooted from their home country, leaving jobs and selling possessions and expected a smooth transition to the United States.
After previous asylum seekers left Iran, they were able to travel onward to the United States in just a few months, Hirose said.
“That’s how this program used to be, and it was really a surprise and completely unprecedented when these mass denials happened in February,” she said.
The group’s plight has attracted the attention and support of key lawmakers in Congress who called on Vice President Pence to intervene on their behalf in late January.
Reps. Randy Hultgren (R., Ill.) and James McGovern (D., Mass.), co-chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Congress, sent a letter to Pence arguing that the Lautenberg Amendment requires DHS to presume that all Iranian religious minorities are eligible for refugee status in the United States.
“DHS and State must make every effort to continue to accept thousands of Iranian religious minorities currently waiting in Iran and take steps to prioritize and expedite any relevant security checks,” they added.
They also highlighted Pence’s and other Trump administration officials’ repeated promises to come to the defense of persecuted Christians in Iran and throughout the Middle East.
“You have made clear that the Trump administration will take the lead in helping to end these persecutions,” they wrote. “In Vienna, Austria, there are 100 victims of persecution waiting for the United States to act. Thank you for doing what you can to move DHS and State to accept these refugees.”
A White House official told the Free Beacon in January that the administration is paying “careful attention to the issue” and was working to find a solution.
“High-level administration officials are monitoring the progress,” the official said. “Certain complexities exist that the administration has to work through, including human-rights concerns and national security. But the administration is certainly engaged.”/The Washington free beacon
United States President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday, May 8th that the US was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. Trump called the deal “defective at its core” and vowed to reimpose economic sanctions on Iran.
Mohabat News _ International reactions have been strong and varied. French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson expressed their commitment to still try to keep the Iran nuclear deal afloat and even attempted to convince Trump not to pull out of the deal signed by his predecessor, Barack Obama.
On the other hand, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump’s decision to pull the US from the Iran nuclear deal. In a presentation on Monday, Netanyahu said Iran had lied about its nuclear ambitions and secretly still had plans to build atomic warheads.
Mike Ansari with Heart4Iran says, as a pattern, “Iran definitely does break the rules. Iran is one of those rowdy boys that sits at the table and promises all different things and then breaks it because they really want to have influence in the region.”
The fallout of US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal is still ongoing. However, a few effects are already projected to occur.
“The repercussions of what would come out of that would affect potentially the Iranian government in increasing and hiking the price of petroleum which would, at the end of the day, affect the amount of money each one of us in the West pays out of pocket for filling up our gas tanks,” explains Ansari.
“Beyond that, there is a lot of political repercussion. Geographically in the Middle East, in the neighboring countries, Iran has a lot of influence over Yemen still, in Syria fighting ISIS, in Lebanon, and in other areas. So Iran is definitely going to maintain a posture of strength and defy anything that would jeopardize its current position and status in this deal.”
Additionally, there will likely be negative effects within the country of Iran. Minorities and Christians in Iran are often used as scapegoats, accused of sabotaging Iranian interests and spying for the West.
“We have seen repeatedly in the past that whenever international sanctions are put on Iran, the Iranian government usually turns up the heat on its minority — on the Baha’is, on the Christians, on the Jewish population — and they use them as a scapegoat to lash out on them. It becomes a specifically difficult time for the Christian population in Iran.”
The combination of the broken nuclear deal and approaching Ramadan means hostilities towards Christians could increase, Ansari said. “As the Body of Christ, I would urge all of us to continue to keep the Christians and the minorities, the Baha’is and other minorities in Iran in prayer so that God’s glory will be seen.”
He also adds, “I would ask the Body of Christ, the other believers across the world to come together and pray for the Church to be rebuilt in that region. It was a Church that was once very powerful and had a lot of influence. So let us pray that God would restore His Church as He is doing to the fullness of His glory.”/MNN online
(World Watch Monitor) Activists and representatives of the Croatian Baptist Church are urging the state not to deport Christian asylum-seekers to Iran, saying they could face serious consequences because of their faith, reports Balkan Insight.
Iran is known to be a country where living as a Christian is difficult, especially for those who have converted from Islam. It is ranked eighth on Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Late last year, Iranian and European human-rights and religious-rights organisations urged the international community to hold the Iranian government to account over its treatment of Christian converts. In their letter, they detailed what they described as “a pattern” of treatment by the Iranian authorities that included arrests, interrogations, detention, raids on churches and harassment by security agents. They also mentioned the ongoing trial of four converts – including Youcef Nadarkhani, a church leader previously sentenced to death for apostasy.
Croatia is one of the nations that saw thousands of refugees and migrants cross its borders in 2015/2016 and remains a transit country, according to Amnesty International. Most refugees and migrants have set their eyes on going further West. And it is in the migrant camps of Europe, like the so-called former “Jungle” camp near Calais, where the Christian presence hidden in Iran is becoming visible.
Mohabat News – A while ago, a UNESCO representative praised the Islamic Republic of Iran for including a few Armenian Historical church buildings on the list of national heritage sites. The St. Mary Church in Tehran was among the newly registered churches.
Some reports quoted Robert Biglarian, the Armenian member of the Iranian parliament, as saying “Recently, a group of extremist Muslims destroyed an Armenian church in Sava near Marivan County. Armenians have voiced their concern over this issue and officials are investigating to find those responsible.”
This is not an isolated incident. On May 12, 2016, another church called St. Mary in Salmas County in Urumia province was destroyed as well.
Some Iranian news services reported that a mal-intended group entered the church property stealthily, breaking into the church building through its roof and began destroying the cross inside the building using sledgehammers and axes. They also broke the statues of Mary and tore the pictures on the wall.
Destroying church buildings has a long record in the history of the Islamic regime of Iran.
In the spring of 2012, reports indicated that another church near Salmas County is on the verge of destruction.
A year before that in the summer of 2011, judicial authorities in Kerman issued a ruling for a historical church building in their city to be brought down, even though a few years earlier this church had been registered as a national heritage site.
On April 5, 2012, a historic Christian cemetery, more than 200 years old, was destroyed by a group of extremists. No one has been arrested so far in connection with the incident.
A historical evangelical church building in Mashhad that had been registered as a national heritage site in 2005, was destroyed a few years ago.
Currently, there are around five hundred registered church buildings in Iran, with many of them abandoned or on the verge of destruction.
Mohabat News – Iranian Christian prisoner, Maryam Naghash Zargaran, who is imprisoned in the notorious Evin prison for her Christian faith, was sentenced to an additional 45 days in prison upon her return to prison on Tuesday, December 6, 2016 from a medical leave.
Prison authorities say she received 45 extra days in prison as punishment for her delay in returning to prison from her leave. She was originally granted a five day leave, which was later extended by a court ruling.
Her family confirmed that while she was on leave, court officials told her to remain out of prison until they reviewed her plea for conditional release. Her plea was eventually rejected and when she returned to prison, prison authorities sentenced her to an extra 45 days in prison for not returning to prison on time from her leave.
Ms. Maryam Zargaran has been in prison for almost three years and four months in the women’s ward of the notorious Evin prison. During her time in prison she has gone on a number of hunger strikes, mainly to demand a conditional release from prison.
Since her imprisonment on July 19, 2013, her family has exhausted all of their options for her release with no success.
Maryam Naghash Zargaran suffers from a number of health problems, including a heart condition known as atrial septal defect (ASD), for which she underwent surgery years ago.
Conditions in prison have further deteriorated Ms. Zargaran’s health. Mental, as well as physical pressure in prison has caused chronic joint pain in her hands, feet and spinal cord. Medical doctors in prison have diagnosed her with osteoporosis, arthritis and lumbar disc disease.
Further updates reveal that Christian convert prisoner, Amin Afshar Naderi is still being held in Evin prison, despite earlier reports about his release.
Mohabat News – On October 19, 2016, a report came out of Iran that three of the five Christians arrested earlier in Firouz-kouh county, had been released. However, follow-up efforts have revealed that one of the three Christians previously thought to have been released, Amin Afshar Naderi, is still being held in prison.
Knowledgeable sources told Mohabat News that the other two Christians, Mohammad Dehnavi and Ramil Bet-Tamraz, son of Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz were in fact released on bail, while their fellow believer, Amin Afshar Naderi still remains in prison.
As previously reported, the two Christians who were in fact released, had to post very heavy bails. They will be released until the day of their trial. As of now, three of the five believers still in prison are Amin Afshar Naderi, Amir Saman Dashti and Hadi Asgari, none of whom are officially charged yet. There are no further updates on their case and how long they will be held in prison in uncertainty.
Keeping political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in prison without any official charge is a known tactic of the Iranian government in order to pressure such prisoners.
These five Christian prisoners had been arrested on August 26, 2016 in a raid on a family gathering in Firouz-kouh county.
Reports from that incident state the plain-clothed security authorities beat a number of those attending the family gathering and after arresting five of them, they left their families with no news on the whereabouts of their loved ones. Their families said they checked with many prisons across the country but they were told such names are not registered as official prisoners in their system.
As many Iranians have shown incredible interest in Christianity in recent years, the Iranian Islamic regime has ramped up its campaign to crack down on Iranian Christian converts and prevent the spread of house church gatherings. Iran falsely sees its citizens’ conversion to Christianity as a threat to its existence and national security.
The U.S. State Department’s 2016 report on International Religious Freedom lists Iran as a country where religious and ethnic persecution is on the rise. In a response to this report, the Iranian government called it unreal and non-constructive./ FARSI
Over 80 Muslim refugees from Iran and Afghanistan have converted to Christianity and been baptized in Hamburg, Germany.
Mohabat News _ Albert Babajan, the pastor who conducted the mass baptism, said that the converts were dissatisfied with Islam and were looking for something more. “The motive for the change of faith is the same for many: they are disappointed with Islam.”
Shima, one Christian convert who was recently baptized, shared about her conversion:
“I’ve been looking all my life for peace and happiness, but in Islam, I have not found it,” she said. “To be a Christian means happiness to me.”
Another convert, Somaz, said: “In Islam, we always lived in fear. Fear God, fear of sin, fear of punishment. However, Christ is a God of love.”
Babajan conducted the baptism ceremony in Hamburg city park.
Many refugees have converted to Christianity since coming to Germany. Babajan says he is aware that some refugees will convert not out of true conviction, but because Christian converts are generally given added protection since they would face death should they return to their home countries.
In order to determine who the true converts are, Babajan says he asks them how Christ has changed their lives.
“Because the Christian faith changed the way of thinking, the world view. If someone told me that at night he can sleep again or an old enemy could forgive, then I know that in his heart he is a Christian.”
“There are maybe 20 or 30 percent who really want to hear the gospel. For those who want to have a license, I must face the door… It is very easy, whoever does not believe will not be baptised,” he added.