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Analysis: Are Iranian revolutionary guards monitoring Christians in the West?

20 July 2017

In Iran, Christians are monitored closely and their activities filmed. When the authorities decide to crack down on Christians they are beaten up, arrested or sometimes they just disappear. One of the main organisations responsible for this is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The Iranian constitution gives the IRGC a specific responsibility for protecting the Islamic revolution ideology in Iran and exporting it to other countries. Closely associated with the IRGC is the Basij, which has a similar ideological basis but whose members, recruited from school age, hold other full-time jobs. As one Iranian Christian who fled to Europe observed a few years ago, one of the key roles of the Basij is to spy on Christians and,“If your name comes up anywhere, anywhere that it shouldn’t, then they will keep watching you”.

However, there is now growing evidence suggesting that this monitoring of Iranian Christians by the IRGC and Basij is now being extended to those living in the West.

1. In the last year, reports have emerged from European refugee camps of Iranian government agents monitoring Iranian Christians, the majority of whom had fled from Tehran and Shiraz to escape harassment and persecution by the Iranian authorities. Those who have converted from Islam appear to be a particular target.

2. A number of senior members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have recently made statements indicating that they were planning to extend their activities to the USA and Europe. For example, last November, Salar Abnoush, the IRGC’s Vice Coordinator was reported to have claimed, “So all the world must know that soon Revolutionary Guards forces will be formed in the U.S. and Europe.”

3. The latest development is the arrest and deportation by US Border officials of an Iranian academic who had been granted a visa for a postdoctoral post at a US hospital. However, when news of his deportation broke last week, Iranian opposition activists quickly recognised his name and posted claims on social media that he was the head of the Basij at Tehran's Sharif University.

Radio Free Europe quoted a number of former students at the university who now live in North America as making similar claims. Although none were prepared to be identified for fear of reprisals from the Iranian regime, one stated, "He was among [the Basiji] who would photograph students protesting inside or outside the university. Then a few days later, those students would be arrested."

The Washington Free Beacon quoted Saeed Ghasseminejad, a prominent Iranian dissident and regional expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, as saying, “Here are the facts: Mr. Dehnavi is a high-ranking member of IRGC’s Basij, has been involved in the IRGC’s military research programs, has played a key role in oppressing dissidents, and Iran’s Supreme Leader has given him his own keffiyeh [traditional Middle Eastern headscarf] as a gift.”

Given Dr Dehnavi’s role in charge of monitoring dissidents, including Christians, at Tehran University, the question must now urgently be asked, what he had been sent to the USA to do?

It should go without saying, that it is imperative that the US and European governments provide adequate protection to Christians who flee persecution in countries such as Iran to claim asylum in the West.