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10/9/04 - IRAN AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM - 2004-10-04

In the latest U.S. State Department report on religious freedom, Iran is again listed as one of the most serious violators. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says the report singles out eight countries of particular concern:

"We are re-designating five countries that, in our judgment, continue to violate their citizens' religious liberty: Burma, China, Iran, North Korea, and Sudan. We are also adding three additional countries to this list: Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam."

According to the report, Iran is guilty of "severe violations of religious freedom." These include "imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination" based on religious belief. The report says that in Iran "all religious minorities suffer varying degrees of officially sanctioned discrimination particularly in the areas of employment, education, and housing." Those minorities include Sunni and Sufi Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Baha'is. Conversion of a Muslim to a non-Muslim religion is punishable by death.

The Baha'is are the largest non-Muslim minority in Iran with an estimated three-hundred-fifty-thousand adherents. And they are special targets of abuse. Baha'is are not permitted to teach or practice their religion, obtain government jobs, or attend Iranian universities. Their property has been seized and they are victims of arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. Several Baha'i sites of great religious significance have been destroyed by Iranian authorities.

Christians in Iran must carry identity cards, and church officials are required to inform the government before admitting new members. Official discrimination against Jews in Iran is common, and the Iranian Jewish community has been reduced to less than half of what it was before the Islamic Revolution. Prominent Sufi leaders are harassed, and Sunni Muslims likewise face discrimination.

President George W. Bush says, "We believe that when all Middle Eastern peoples are finally allowed to live and think and work and worship as free men and women, they will reclaim the greatness of their own heritage. . . . That's why we're working to advance liberty in the greater Middle East. . . . We believe that inherently in the soul of men and women is this desire to live in free societies."