- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2006

Man of peace?

The Washington National Cathedral risks being duped this week by hosting an appearance of the former president of Iran at a time when the government of the brutal theocracy is persecuting religious minorities and pursuing nuclear weapons, a top U.S. religious rights panel warned.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom urged the cathedral’s Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation to ensure that guests at the lecture on Thursday evening have a chance to challenge Mohammed Khatami for his failure to promote human rights during his presidency from 1997 to 2005 and for the Iranian government’s continued violations of religious rights.

Mr. Khatami, regarded as a reformer when he was elected, is scheduled to speak on the need for dialogue among Christians, Jews and Muslims because they trace the origins of their faiths to the prophet Abraham.

The cathedral’s dean, the Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III,called Mr. Khatami “a man of peace” and praised his “commitment to a dialogue between civilizations and cultures.”

However, commission Chairwoman Felice D. Gaer complained in a letter to the Rev. Canon John Peterson, director of the reconciliation center, that Mr. Khatami’s scheduled appearance is a “troubling irony.”

“In his own country, Mr. Khatami presided as president while religious minorities — including Jews, Christians, Sunni and Sufi Muslims, Baha’is, dissident Shia Muslims and others — faced systematic harassment, discrimination, imprisonment, torture and even execution based on their religious beliefs,” Ms. Gaer said.

She noted that Mr. Khatami’s government reacted with “severe repression” against student protests in 1998 and that a “series of extrajudicial murders of dissidents followed in the years thereafter.”

“Mr. Khatami’s address at the cathedral on this very topic of ‘dialogue’ could easily be manipulated to make it appear that the cathedral is conferring the moral high ground to Iran on these critical issues,” Ms. Gaer said.

“To be candid, it appears that the cathedral is providing a public platform to an individual who was responsible for implementing and administering policies that resulted in the severe persecution of religious minorities as well as dissident voices within Iran’s own Shi’ite community.

“Chief among those victimized groups are the very Abrahamic faiths he will discuss in his address.”

Vietnam’s PR game

Rep. Christopher H. Smith was suspicious when he heard that Vietnam’s communist government planned to release political dissidents over the weekend to mark its Sept. 2 national day.

The day after Vietnam’s most prominent prisoner, Dr. Pham Hong Son, and others were released from jail, news broke of the arrest of another top dissident, a Vietnamese-born U.S. citizen. Cong Thanh Do, a computer engineer from California, was arrested Aug. 14 and accused of planning a terrorist attack against the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. Mr. Do, who was visiting relatives in Vietnam, is a senior member of the banned People’s Democratic Party.

“The Vietnamese government must learn that recognition of human rights is not merely a public relations game,” said Mr. Smith, New Jersey Republican and chairman of the House International Relations subcommittee on Africa, global human rights and international operations.

Mr. Smith, who sponsored a bill that demanded freedom for all political prisoners in Vietnam, said he appreciated the release of Dr. Son after five years behind bars for distributing information on democracy. Dr. Son faces three more years of house arrest.

“It is encouraging that the government of Vietnam is finally responding to the concerns of the United States Congress and human rights advocates around the world,” Mr. Smith said.

“However, there is reason for skepticism, given the ongoing harassment and surveillance of political prisoners in the past.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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