Christian children in Iran are being told to either study Islam or leave school, report claims

(Wikimedia Commons/In fact)Holy Mary Church in Hamadan, Iran in 2014.

Christian students in two Iranian towns have been told that they must either learn about Shia Islam or leave school, according to a report from a Christian persecution watchdog.

Families belonging to the Church of Iran denomination in the cities of Rasht and Shiraz have previously been able to present a signed letter from the church that exempted them from studying Islam, but the authorities are now saying that the students should either study Islam or go home.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the officials are rejecting the letter on the grounds that the church is an "illegal organization."

Under the Iranian Constitution, Christians are allowed to have access to religious instruction designed by members of the Christian community and approved by the Ministry of education.

Article 30 of the Constitution states that the government is obligated to provide free education to all children until they complete secondary school. CSW noted that the policy adopted by the authorities in Rasht and Shiraz effectively deprives the Christian students of education unless they agree to religious instruction that is not consistent with their own faith.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas expressed concern that the education of the Christian children, most of whom are second generation believers, "will be unduly interrupted until their parents agree for them to study a religion different to their own."

"Education is a basic right which Iran has undertaken to guarantee to all of its citizens. Children should not be victimised in an effort to penalise their parents for exercising the right to adopt a religion of their choice," Thomas said in a statement.

Iran is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which holds that covenant states must grant parents the right to provide their own children with religious and moral education in line with their own convictions.

The Islamic country has also ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which commits signatories to ensure access to primary, secondary and tertiary education.

"Since education is the responsibility of central government, we urge the Special Rapporteur on the right to education and other key international human rights experts to make urgent representations with President Rouhani, with a view to ensuring the country fulfils its national and international obligations to respect the right of the child to education, and particularly to religious education commensurate with the convictions and beliefs of their parents," said Thomas.

Iran has been ranked in the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List as the eighth worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution.

Last month, as many as 500 Christian converts have reportedly fled the country and are now living as refugees in Turkey because of the fear of persecution from Iranian authorities.

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