Iran: Bishop Concerned About Human Rights After Visit
September 14, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- As a former dissident, Vaclav Maly was once a
victim of political repression. Under the Czechoslovak communist regime, he
spent several months in prison and his license to work as a Catholic priest was
revoked. He was then forced to work odd jobs, including as a heating
Now auxiliary bishop of
Prague and a respected human rights defender who played an important role in the
1989 Velvet Revolution, Maly travels to countries where people face similar
conditions to what he faced and show them his support.
In recent years he has been to places such
as Belarus and Chechnya to inform the public about human rights violations
there. His recent trip to Iran was also an attempt to bring attention to the
human rights situation in the Islamic Republic.
The charismatic Bishop Maly spent some days in
the capital, Tehran, and the cities of Shiraz and Isfahan during his two-week
trip. He says he was "discreetly" watched by security agents.
RFE/RL that he was informed about a clampdown on activists, discrimination
against women, and the plight of political prisoners. "I was told that the
regime is more repressive now, any larger demonstration or gathering of people
is being dispersed and some protesters always end up in detention," he says. "I
was also told that there is brutality in these interventions."
no exact figures about the number of political prisoners in Iran. Estimates vary
from 200 to several hundred. In the past two months, two have died in prison
following a hunger strike. Maly says many of them face difficult conditions in
"The conditions, as I was told, are very cruel; there is a lack of
medical care and a lack of hygiene," Maly says. "There is also psychological
harassment [and] sometimes detainees spend more than a year in solitary
confinement. There is helplessness, the families have very rare contacts with
the detainees, they don't have access to a lawyer, and sometimes the judiciary
doesn't even tell [family members] where their relative is being
Christians Leaving Iran
During his stay in Iran,
Bishop Maly was also informed about the situation for
Christians are, in general, free to practice their faith in
Iran. However, those who convert from Islam to Christianity can face the death
penalty. Such conversions are reportedly increasing and the government has taken
measures to curb proselytizing by Christians.
Maly says he was told that some protesters are always
detained at demonstrations (epa file photo)
many of the estimated 200,000 Christians are leaving Iran because of social,
cultural, and religious restrictions.
"[They are leaving] mainly because
they live in an environment where they cannot fully live their lives as
Christians," he says. "They are not prosecuted for being Christians but in
certain issues they are not considered equal; sometimes they are treated as
second-class citizens, for example they cannot be in commanding positions in the
Maly describes the immigration of Christians as a serious problem
that could result in a great loss for Iran. "There is a danger that Christians
could completely disappear from Iran, which would be a great spiritual and
cultural pity because Christians were on Iranian territory before Islam was and
there are very old churches there whose history goes back to the first century
of Christianity," he says.
Differences In Iran
One of the
highlights of the Prague bishop's visit was a meeting with reformist cleric
Mohsen Kadivar, who in 1999 was jailed for 18 months because of his ideas.
Kadivar had been critical of the doctrine of Velayat-e Faqih (the rule
of the supreme jurisprudence), which gives nearly absolute power to clerics. He
has also written about the need for religion to be adapted to modern
Maly says it was important for him to hear that such issues are
being debated within Iran's religious circles. "I was very happy to hear from
Mr. Kadivar that human rights do not contradict the Koran's teachings and that
the Koran needs an interpretation that is free of ideological thoughts; Islam
should react to modernity, it doesn't mean it should adapt itself to all trends
but they should be taken seriously and ways should be found to present it in
this changing society," he says.
Maly was also addressed by ordinary
citizens curious about the outside world. Several asked Maly about life in
He says some Iranians expressed concern about possible
UN sanctions as a result of Tehran's refusal to give up sensitive nuclear
"Some talked about it themselves with the fear that sanctions could
further isolate [Iran] so [the sanctions] should be really carefully
considered," he says. "At the same time, I didn't have the impression that all
are united in their support for the nuclear program, that it is the central
point of life in Iran. So it is important to leave a door open and not to limit
the life of a society based on the comments of some officials."
Maly says Iranians surprised him with their friendliness, openness, and pride in
their ancient history.
Copyright (c) 2006 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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