At a news conference in Washington, D.C., President George W. Bush spoke about his admiration and hopes for the Iranian people:
"We respect their history, we respect their traditions. We respect the right for people to worship freely. We would hope that people would be able to express themselves in the public square."
The latest report by the U.S. State Department gauging religious freedom around the world shows that Mr. Bush's hopes that the Iranian people can practice their religion freely, remain unrealized. According to the State Department report, over the past year in Iran, "[t]here was a further deterioration of the extremely poor status of respect for religious freedom. . . .most notably for Baha'is and Sufi Muslims. . . .Zoroastrians, evangelical Christians, and the small Jewish community were also targets of government harassment."
The Baha'is are the largest non-Muslim religious group in Iran, with more than three hundred thousand adherents. Regarded as heretics by the government, Baha'is are prohibited from teaching and practicing their faith. They face discrimination in the workplace, education, and are barred from government and military posts.
Since the Islamic revolution of 1979, the government has confiscated large numbers of private and business properties belonging to Baha'is. Last March, a series of Baha'i arrests and imprisonments began throughout the country.
According to the U.S. State Department report, Iran's Sufi Muslims, unofficially estimated to be between two and five million people, also experienced increased government repression. That repression included "constant harassment and intimidation of prominent Sufi leaders by the intelligence and security services" as well as "government restrictions on Sufi groups and houses of worship."
In February 2006, security forces in the city of Qom demolished a Sufi religious establishment after using tear gas and explosives against men, women and children who were occupying the building. Five hundred people were hospitalized after the attacks, and over one thousand people were arrested. More than a hundred were imprisoned and reportedly tortured to renounce their faith.
"The U.S. government," the report states, "makes clear its objections to the [Iranian] government's harsh and oppressive treatment of religious minorities." John Hanford, U.S. Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom, dedicated the report "to the courageous men, women and children. . . . who are suffering because of their faith."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.