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4/17/04 - RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION IN IRAN - 2004-04-19


The constitution of Iran establishes Islam, especially Ja’fari Shi’ism, as the country’s official religion. It also recognizes other branches of Islam, as well as Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians. Followers of these recognized minority religions can be the victims of harassment and intimidation. But members of unrecognized minority faiths, particularly the Baha’is, are subject to varying degrees of officially sanctioned discrimination in such areas as employment, education, and housing.

The Baha’is are required by their religion to be obedient to their government and to avoid partisan politics, subversive activities, and violence. Nevertheless, the Iranian government defines the Baha’is as a political sect, with what the government calls counterrevolutionary intentions. The Baha’is have been the target of systematic mistreatment by the Iranian government since 1979.

According to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the U.S., more than two-hundred members of the Baha’i faith have been killed in Iran since 1979. Iran has also continued to keep a small number of Baha’is arbitrarily imprisoned, some at risk of execution.

Explicit government policies exist to harass and disenfranchise Baha’is. One policy directs government officials to restrict Baha’i educational opportunities by expelling them from public and private universities.

The U.S. has designated Iran as a “country of particular concern” because of its denial of religious freedom. The list also includes China, Burma, North Korea, and Sudan. President George W. Bush says support for religious liberty -- and all human rights -- is the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy:

“The policy of the American government is to stand for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity, the rule of law, the limits on the power of the state, free speech, freedom of worship, equal justice, respect for women, religious and ethnic tolerance, and protections for private property.”

As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes clear, “Everyone has the right. . .in public or private, to manifest his religion in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.” People in Iran -- no less than people everywhere else -- should be allowed to practice their religion freely.

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