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Religious Persecution Persists in Iran


Iranian Bahai leaders

Iranian Bahai leaders

Behrouz Tavakkoli, an elderly former Baha'i community leader who has spent nearly nine years in prison for his faith, suffers from heart disease and is in urgent need of an operation and care he cannot get in prison.

In December, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani signed a “Charter of Citizen’s Rights,” supposedly to serve as a guide for the government “in observance and advancement of the fundamental rights of the nation of Iran.”

In it, the government pledged, among other provisions, non-discrimination and equality before the law “irrespective…of religion.”

In recent days, that pledge appears to have been broken repeatedly.

The New York based Center for Human Rights in Iran reports that one of the seven Baha’i leaders who were arrested in 2008 and are serving a ten year prison sentence because of their faith, has not been accorded the early release he is entitled to under the law. His family says that Behrouz Tavakkoli, an elderly former Baha'i community leader who has spent nearly nine years in prison for his faith, suffers from heart disease and is in urgent need of an operation and care he cannot get in prison. Prisoners of conscience are often denied medical care in Iran, and Baha’is remain one of the most persecuted religious minorities in the country.

In late February, Mohabat News reports that the IRGC arrested two Christian converts –- a mother and her son, Anousheh Rezabakhsh and Soheil Zargarzadeh Sani -- in the city of Urmia. Their Bibles and other religious literature were seized in the raid. UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran Asma Jahangir expressed concern in her recent report over “the targeting and harsh treatment of Iranian Christians from Muslim backgrounds, as well as members of various Sufi groups...considered ‘deviant faiths.’”

In yet another case, the Center for Human rights in Iran notes that Mohammad Ali Taheri, founder of a spiritual arts and healing group, who was supposed to be released from prison in May 2016 after serving a five year sentence for “insulting the sacred,” has again been tried on a charge for which he had previously been acquitted – “corruption on earth” – - which could result in the death penalty.

President Donald Trump has noted that religious freedom, like all fundamental human rights, “is not a gift from government”:

“Freedom of religion is a sacred right, but it is also a right under threat all around us, and the world is under serious, serious threat in so many different ways.”

It is past time the Iranian government lives up to its “Charter of Civil Rights,” as well as its long standing international obligations to respect the religious freedom of the Iranian people.

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