The United States has published its latest report on the state of religious liberty around the world. According to the U.S. State Department report, the government of Iran is one of the most serious violators of religious freedom. Over the past year, the "extremely poor" situation in Iran has continued to deteriorate. John Hanford, U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, commented on the situation:
"In Iran, the regime is unrelenting in its repression of Baha'is and has created a threatening atmosphere for nearly all non-Shi'a religious groups, including Sufi Muslims, some Christian groups, and members of the Jewish community."
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, they are prohibited from teaching and practicing their faith, and they are barred from university study and government employment. Iranian Baha'is are subjected to arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and confiscation of property. Some Baha'is believe the survival of their community is threatened.
Jews are recognized by the Iranian government as a religious minority. But the Iranian government has been promoting virulent anti-Semitism in official media, creating a hostile atmosphere for Jews. It also hosted a conference denying the Holocaust, the murder of six-million European Jews by Nazi Germany during World War Two.
Iranian Christians, particularly evangelicals, continue to be subject to harassment and surveillance. The Iranian government rigidly enforces a prohibition on proselytizing. Christian churches have been closed, and Christian converts arrested. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has reportedly called for the end of the development of Christianity in Iran.
Sufi Muslims in Iran also face repression. Sufis report constant harassment and intimidation of prominent Sufi leaders by Iran's intelligence and security services, and say that Sufis have been threatened into renouncing their faith. Sunni Muslims, who in large part are also members of Iran's ethnic minorities, report discrimination by the government as well. They point to the absence of a mosque in Tehran, despite the presence of one million adherents there.
"The U.S. government," says the State Department report, "has expressed strongly its objections to the [Iranian] government's harsh and oppressive treatment of religious minorities. . . .The United States calls on other countries with bilateral ties with Iran to use those ties to press Iran on religious freedom and human rights."