US gov't action could lead to deportation of 100 Iranian Christians stranded in Vienna

The U.S. government could send out a notice this week refusing entry to around 100 mostly Christian refugees currently stranded in Vienna and deport them back to Iran, where they could face persecution, said human rights activists.

(REUTERS / Murad Sezer)Alireza, an Iranian refugee living in Turkey, holds his passport in Istanbul, Turkey, November 15, 2017.

Speaking to the Washington Free Beacon, Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom director Nina Shea warned that the Iranian Christian refugees could be deported this week regardless of the Trump administration's support for the Iranians' ongoing protest against the government in Tehran. The international human rights lawyer added that the potential deportation comes amidst an ongoing crackdown on Christians and other minorities, who could be handed a death sentence by the government.

If the U.S. government issues notices denying entry to the Iranian refugees, Austria will be forced to deport them.

Activists slammed the timing of the deportation threat, given that the State Department only recently released a list of 10 countries "of particular concern" for religious freedom violations, which included Iran.

"These deportations, during a human-rights crackdown in Iran no less, could be a death sentence for these persecuted Christians and other minorities," Shea explained to the Washington Free Beacon. "They would undermine the important statements against Iran's repression by President Trump, Vice President Pence and U.N. Ambassador [Nikki Haley]."

Shea added: "The administration needs to act fast to stop this travesty."

Meanwhile, the Armenian Orthodox Bishop of Tehran has been criticized for saying that Christians in the country were not persecuted and that they were enjoying "complete freedom of religion." Mohabat News also pointed out that being prohibited from evangelizing does not constitute complete religious freedom.

Bishop Sibo Sarkisian notably told Spanish news agency EFE that the government of Iran allows Christians to observe Christmas and other religious feasts, but the Islamic law forbids them from sharing their faith publicly. He also said he does not approve of evangelism.

Mohabat News explained that evangelism was an integral component of the Christian faith because Jesus Christ commanded his followers to share their faith, as written in Matthew 28:19-20. Bishop Sarkisian, on the other hand, did not give a Biblical basis for why he disapproved of evangelism.