The Obama administration said Tuesday it is "deeply concerned" after reports that four Christians in Iran were sentenced to 80 lashes for drinking communion wine.
“We have seen the reports of the sentencing of four Christians to 80 lashes for consuming alcohol during a communion ceremony,” White House National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan told TheBlaze. “We remain deeply concerned about Iran's continuing violations of religious freedom.”
“The government continues to disregard the rights of its citizens, including Christians, Bahais, Sufis, Jews and members of other minority religious groups,” Meehan said. “Members of religious minorities are frequently subject to harassment, arbitrary detention and death. We again call for the Iranian government to urgently release all prisoners of conscience, including those detained for practicing their religion.”
An Iranian court convicted Behzad Taalipasand, Mehdi Reza Omidi (Youhan), Mehdi Dadkhah (Danial) and Amir Hatemi (Youhanna) on Oct. 20 of drinking alcohol and possessing a receiver and a satellite antenna, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a religious freedom organization. The names in parentheses are the biblical names each man has taken.
President Barack Obama announced last month that he had spoken with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the first such communication between U.S. and Iranian leaders since 1979, about seeing the long-time state sponsor of terrorism do away with its nuclear ambitions. Rouhani came into office hailed as a "moderate" and reformer.
A new United Nations report said that at least 20 Christians were in custody in Iran in July 2013, and that there are continuing reports of Christians having their rights violated.
"More than 300 Christians have been arrested since 2010, and dozens of church leaders and active community members have reportedly been convicted of national security crimes in connection with church activities, such as organizing prayer groups, proselytizing and attending Christian seminars abroad," wrote Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N.'s special rapporteur for human rights in Iran.
Iran said in response that Shaheed did not pay "sufficient notice to Iran’s legal system and Islamic culture and considers whatever he sees in the West as an international standard for the entire world.”