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The continuing imprisonment of 7 leaders of Iran's Baha'i community falsely accused of capital crimes, as well as the incarceration of 2 Iranian Christian women who also lack adequate medical care, are 2 of the many cases that contribute to Iran's being regarded by the U.S. as one of the world's worst violators of religious liberty.
According to the State Department's annual International Religious Freedom Report, Iran shares that status with 7 other countries: North Korea, Burma, China, Sudan, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.
The report notes that in Iran over the past year, "respect for religious freedom ... continued to deteriorate. Government rhetoric and actions created a threatening atmosphere for nearly all non-Shi'a religious groups, most notably for Baha'is, evangelical Christians, and members of the Jewish community. Reports of government imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on religious beliefs continued over the reporting period."
Shi'a leaders who differed from the government's view that clerics should play a leading role in politics were also harassed and subject to investigation by Special Clerical Courts, which are not provided for in Iran's constitution, and operate outside the judiciary.
In remarks introducing this year's International Religious Freedom Report, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointed out that the right to profess, practice, and promote one's religious beliefs is one of America's most important founding principles, one which provides a cornerstone for every healthy society:
"It is the first liberty mentioned in our Bill of Rights, and it is a freedom guaranteed to all people in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I want to underscore that, because this is not just an American value. This was agreed to be a universal value."
Iran has ratified both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is time the Iranian government live up to its international obligations and support the right of each individual, to, in Secretary of State Clinton's words, "believe or not believe, as that individual sees fit."