Once again, Iran has been listed as a “country of particular concern” in the U.S. State Department’s annual report on religious freedom. The designation means that Iran -- along with countries like Burma, North Korea, Sudan, China, and Saudi Arabia -- is considered one of the worst violators of its citizens’ religious liberty.
John Hanford, U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, commented on the Iranian government’s abuse of this fundamental human right:
“The Iranian regime continued to harass and persecute non-Shi’a religious groups – most significantly among the Bah’is – but Sufi Muslims, some Christian groups, and members of the Jewish community also suffered.”
In May, two Iranian Christians, Mahmoud Matin and Arash Basirat, were arrested in the city of Shiraz and accused of apostasy, a crime punishable by death. There are recent reports that the two men were found not guilty and have been released. Also arrested in May in Shiraz were Christian convert Mojtaba Hussein, and three members of his family. In April in the city of Amol, a man and a pregnant woman, believed to be Christian converts, were arrested. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reportedly has called for an end to the development of Christianity in Iran.
The State Department report notes that over the past year the Baha’i community, the largest non-Muslim religious group in Iran, experienced increasing persecution. Baha’is were not allowed to teach or practice their faith, and their religious tenets were condemned on government-controlled radio and television broadcasts. More than seventy Baha’is were arrested and more than two dozen are still in prison. Public and private universities continued to deny admittance to or expel Baha’i students. In addition, the Iranian government repeatedly pressured Baha’is to accept relief from mistreatment in exchange for recanting their religious beliefs.
Iran’s Sufi Muslims also suffered from increased government repression, including harassment and intimidation of prominent Sufi leaders by the intelligence and security services. And while there was little government restriction of Jewish religious practice, according to the report, officially sanctioned anti-Semitic rhetoric continued to create a hostile atmosphere for Jews.
The United States calls on all governments to press Iran to end its violations of the right to religious liberty. As the State Department report notes, “The right to believe or not to believe, without fear of government interference or restriction, is essential to human dignity.”