Washington, DC – “Government rhetoric and actions created a threatening atmosphere for nearly all non-Shia religious groups, most notably for Bahais, as well as for Sufi Muslims, evangelical Christians, Jews, and Shia groups not sharing the [Iranian] government’s official religious views,” says a report issued by the State Department.
Secretary of State John Kerry announced the release of the annual International Religious Freedom Report this week, which describes the status of religious freedom in every country.
The Iran country report describes a deterioration of respect for religious freedom by Iran’s government, including through harassment, imprisonment, and discrimination of religious practices and minorities.
Iran is one of eight countries that have been listed as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC), along with Burma, China, Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.
The Islamic Republic recognizes three non-Islamic religions as protected under the constitution – Christians, Jews, and Zorastrians. Bahai’s are considered to be a “political sect” and apostates by the government.
A number of religious minority groups have faced continued arrests, detention, and property confiscation, according to the report. “The government continued to increase convictions and executions of dissidents, political reformists, and peaceful protesters on the charge of moharebeh (enmity against God) and anti-Islamic propaganda.”
Christian pastors such as Youcef Nadarkhani and Iranian-American Saeed Abedini have been imprisoned, and the report states that physical and psychological abuse as well as a lack of consular and medical care has occurred in Abedini’s case.
The report confirms that, “All religious minorities suffered varying degrees of officially sanctioned discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment, education, and housing,” yet there have also been specific efforts to target certain religious groups. “The government prohibits Bahais from teaching and practicing their faith and subjects them to many forms of discrimination not faced by members of other religious groups.” Since 1991, Bahais have been banned from universities if they openly declare their faith.
In addition to large amounts of arbitrary arrests, the report describes anti-Semitic rhetoric among government officials, religious leaders, and the media. The report references comments made by President Ahmadinejad questioning the Holocaust and by Vice President Mohammed-Reza Rahimi blaming “Zionists” for the international drug trade.
Not only are non-Islamic religions being targeted and threatened, but non-Shia groups have also faced religious discrimination according to the report. Sunni literature has been reported as banned, as have building of new Sunni schools and mosques. Sunnis cite that there is no Sunni Mosque in Tehran even though there are reported to be more than one million Sunnis in the capital.
As the report makes clear that most abuses have come from government rhetoric and action, the report says elements of society have become less receptive and more threatening to religious minorities. This “atmosphere of impunity” is not a positive trend as respect for religious freedom has continued to decline.