WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom commended President Obama for issuing sanctions against Iranian government leaders involved in violations of religious freedom and other human rights.
The White House announced Sept. 29 the president’s executive order authorizing sanctions against eight senior officials in Iran’s Islamic regime who, based on credible evidence, participated in “serious human rights abuses” before or during that country’s 2009 presidential election.
Obama’s order means those cited will be subject to economic and visa penalties. He took action under the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act, which became law in July.
“These targeted sanctions are the first of their kind and send a very strong message to Tehran,” said Leonard Leo, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). “The announcement today by the United States is an important step in addressing Iran’s abysmal human rights and religious freedom record.”
In May, USCIRF cited six of the eight Iranians named in Obama’s order as officials who were responsible for “egregious religious freedom violations in Iran,” Leo said. “We applaud this action and urge President Obama to engage our European Union counterparts to impose similar measures.”
The commission urged Obama to extend sanctions to three other Iranian authorities it identified as human rights violators. The White House said the list of those penalized will grow as it gains more evidence.
Iran is one of eight “countries of particular concern,” a designation reserved by the State Department for the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.
USCIRF said Iran’s regime has abused human rights for more than three decades, and its weak record on religious liberty has declined further in the last year. This has been true especially in regard to minorities such as Baha’is, Christians and Sufi Muslims. “[P]hysical attacks, harassment, detention, arrests, and imprisonment [have] intensified,” according to the commission. “Even the recognized non-Muslim religious minorities — Jews, Armenian and Assyrian Christians, and Zoroastrians — protected under Iran’s constitution faced increasing discrimination and repression,” USCIRF reported.
On Sept. 23, a coalition of Christian leaders, including several Southern Baptists, urged Obama to enforce sanctions to help stop Iran from producing a nuclear weapon, something it has been making progress toward achieving. The letter from Christian Leaders for a Nuclear Free Iran also called on the president to inform Americans of the threat an Iranian nuclear weapons program would pose to the United States and the world, and make certain United Nations members strictly invoke sanctions.
Signers of the letter with Southern Baptist connections were Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC); former SBC President Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas; Barrett Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy and research; Jay Dennis, pastor of Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Fla.; conservative resurgence leader Paul Pressler of Texas; and former North American Mission Board President Robert E. Reccord, now president of Total Life Impact Ministries.
Land is one of USCIRF’s nine commissioners.
The eight Iranian officials whom Obama authorized sanctions against are Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; Sadeq Mahsouli, minister of Welfare and Social Security; Qolam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, prosecutor-general; Saeed Mortazavi, head of the Anti-smuggling Task Force, Heydar Moslehi, minister of Intelligence; Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, minister of the Interior and deputy commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces for Law Enforcement; Ahmad-Reza Radan, deputy chief of the National Police; and Hossein Taeb, deputy Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander for Intelligence.
The three authorities cited by USCIRF but not penalized yet by a presidential order are Sadegh Ardeshir Larijani, head of the Judiciary; Mohammad Reza Naghdi, head of the Basij Militia; and Esmail Ahmadi-Moqaddam, head of the National Police.
The Senate approved the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act in a voice vote in January, while the House of Representatives approved its version of the legislation with a 412-12 roll call in December.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.