Human Rights

A dark picture of religious freedom in Iran

In Brief: 
  • The US State Department’s annual report on International Religious Freedom was sharply critical of Iran for its wide-ranging restrictions on virtually every religious minority in the country.
  • All religious minorities suffered varying degrees of officially sanctioned discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment, education, and housing. Bahá’ís continued to experience expulsions from, or denial of admission to, universities, said the report.

WASHINGTON — The United States painted a dark picture of religious freedom in Iran in a new report released in July, documenting how the government there oppresses the followers of virtually every religious minority in the country, restricting their religious activities, limiting their economic prospects, and imprisoning them when they tell others about their beliefs.

“Government rhetoric and actions created a threatening atmosphere for nearly all non-Shia religious groups, most notably for Bahá’ís, as well as for Sufi Muslims, evangelical Christians, Jews, and Shia groups that did not share the government’s official religious views,” said the 2011 annual US Department of State’s report on International Religious Freedom in its section on Iran, which was released on 30 July 2012.

“Bahá’í and Christian groups reported arbitrary arrests, prolonged detentions, and confiscation of property. During the year, government-controlled broadcast and print media intensified negative campaigns against religious minorities, particularly Bahá’ís.

“All religious minorities suffered varying degrees of officially sanctioned discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment, education, and housing. Bahá’ís continued to experience expulsions from, or denial of admission to, universities,” the report said.

Introducing the report at a press conference at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said religious freedom is fundamental to human dignity — and a bellwether for all human rights.

“Religious freedom is not just about religion,” said Secretary Clinton. “It’s not just about the right of Roman Catholics to organize a Mass, or Muslims to hold a religious funeral, or Bahá’ís to meet in each others’ homes for prayer, or Jews to celebrate High Holy Days together — as important as those rituals are. Religious freedom is also about the right of people to think what they want, say what they think, and come together in fellowship without the state looking over their shoulder.”

Issued annually since 2001, the report analyzes the status of religious freedom around the world, examining progress or regression in every nation outside the US.

The report gave special attention this year to the impact of political and demographic transitions on religious minorities, the effects of conflict on religious freedom, and “the rising tide of anti-Semitism.”

The section on Iran was especially critical, stating that the “government’s respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom continued to deteriorate.”

“The legal system fosters religious abuse and discrimination,” said the report, noting that the “constitution and other laws and policies severely restrict freedom of religion.”

The report found that virtually all religious groups outside the Shia Muslim majority faced discrimination. It noted some 60 Sufis had been arrested last year, that some 6,500 Christian Bibles had been confiscated, and that Zoroastrians also reported detentions and harassment.

Situation of Bahá’ís highlighted

The situation of Iran’s Bahá’í community was highlighted prominently throughout the report. Among other things, the report noted that Bahá’ís are precluded from enrollment in state-run universities, banned from the social pension system, and prohibited from “officially assembling or maintaining administrative institutions.”

The report also stated clearly that Bahá’ís are persecuted because of their religious beliefs.

“The government arbitrarily arrested Bahá’ís and charged them with violating Islamic penal code articles 500 and 698, relating to activities against the state and spreading falsehoods, respectively,” said the report, noting that 95 Bahá’ís were imprisoned and 416 had active cases in the judicial system at the end of 2011.

Share