State Department: Iran Imprisoning, Torturing, Killing Religious Minorities

AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi
AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi

Non-Muslims in Iran suffer persecution at the hands of the government, including imprisonment, torture, and execution, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2019 Report on International Religious Freedom.

The State Department published its annual report detailing the status of religious rights in every country this week.

Iran’s constitution openly offers rights to Muslims only and threatens religious minorities.

“The constitution defines the country as an Islamic republic and specifies Twelver Ja’afari Shia Islam as the official state religion,” the report stated. “It states all laws and regulations must be based on ‘Islamic criteria’ and an official interpretation of sharia.”

“The constitution states citizens shall enjoy human, political, economic, and other rights, ‘in conformity with Islamic criteria,’” the report detailed. “The penal code specifies the death sentence for proselytizing and attempts by non-Muslims to convert Muslims, as well as for moharebeh (enmity against God) and sabb al-nabi (insulting the Prophet).”

“The constitution states Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians, excluding converts from Islam, are the only recognized religious minorities permitted to worship and form religious societies ‘within the limits of the law,’” the report read.

In reality, all religious minorities suffer persecution in Iran. “Enmity against God” is a crime punishable by death, used to target non-Muslims. Non-Shia Muslims, like Sunnis and Sufis, accused of non-religious crimes also face a disproportionately large number of executions, particularly Kurds, Baluchis, and Arabs.

Those not killed, human rights group warned, face “torture, beatings in custody, forced confessions, poor prison conditions, and denials of access to legal counsel.”

Among the religious minorities targeted for their faith overtly, those of the Baha’i faith are particularly targeted, according to the State Department report.

“According to multiple sources, non-Shia Muslims and those affiliated with a religion other than Islam, especially members of the Baha’i community, continued to face societal discrimination and harassment, while employers experienced social pressures not to hire Baha’is or to dismiss them from their private-sector jobs,” the report noted. “Baha’is reported there was continued destruction and vandalism of their cemeteries.”

“The Baha’i International Community (BIC) reported Baha’is remained barred from government employment at the local, provincial, and national levels, not only in the civil service but also in such fields as education and law,” the report stated.

“The website IranWire reported that between March and October judiciary officials engaged in a wave of increased summons, detentions, and trials of Baha’is, and during this six-month period, at least 65 Baha’is stood trial in various cities across the country, “ the report stated.

“The law bars Baha’is from founding or operating their own educational institutions,” the report read. “A Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology order requires universities to exclude Baha’is from access to higher education or to expel them if their religious affiliation becomes known. Government regulation states Baha’is are only permitted to enroll in universities if they do not identify themselves as Baha’is.”

The report states that there are about 300,000 members of the Baha’i faith in Iran.

According to World Christian Database statistics, there are an estimated 547,000 Christians in Iran. Elam Ministries, a Christian organization, estimates there could be as many as one million.

Despite the lack of diplomatic ties, the State Department report reveals that the United States continues to put pressure on Iran to improve its religious freedom practices:

The U.S. government used public statements, sanctions, and diplomatic initiatives in international forums to condemn the government’s abuses and restrictions on worship by religious minorities. Senior U.S. government officials publicly reiterated calls for the release of prisoners held on religious grounds. At the July Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C., the United States and seven other governments issued a statement on Iran that said, “We strongly oppose the Iranian government’s severe violations and abuses of religious freedom…We call on the Iranian government to release all prisoners of conscience and vacate all charges inconsistent with the universal human right of religious freedom. We urge Iran to ensure fair trial guarantees, in accordance with its human rights obligations, and afford all detainees access to medical care. We stand with Iranians of all beliefs, and hope someday soon they will be free to follow their consciences in peace.”

America has designated Iran a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act since 1999 for “having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”

On December 18, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo redesignated Iran as a CPC. The following sanction accompanied the designation — the existing ongoing travel restrictions based on serious human rights abuses under the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012.

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