At the release of the State Department’s annual report on international religious freedom, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson decried the lack of religious liberty in many parts of the world:
“Religious persecution and intolerance remain far too prevalent. Almost 80 percent of the global population lives with restrictions on or hostilities to limit their freedom of religion.”
Secretary Tillerson cited a number of the countries whose populations live with such restrictions and hostilities, including Saudi Arabia, China and Pakistan. He noted too that ISIS is responsible for genocide against Yezidis, Christians and Shia Muslims in areas it controls or has controlled. And he spoke of the grave violations of religious freedom in Iran:
“In Iran, Baha’is, Christians, and other minorities are persecuted for their faith. Iran continues to sentence individuals to death under vague apostasy laws. Twenty individuals were executed in 2016 on charges that included, quote, ‘waging war against God.’ Members of the Baha’i community are in prison today simply for abiding by their beliefs.”
The State Department report notes that Iran has been designated a “Country of Particular Concern” for 17 years – most recently in February 2016 – because of the Iranian government’s toleration of or engagement in “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” It cites the human rights NGO United for Iran which says there were 198 political prisoners incarcerated on charges of “waging war against God”, 31 for “insulting Islam” and 12 for “corruption on earth.”
The State Department also noted other abuses of religious freedom in Iran in 2016: among them, the death of a member of the Gonabadi community of Sufi dervishes days after he was detained by plainclothes policemen in Tehran; the arrest of a Sunni Baluchi girl for criticizing religious ceremonies on social media; the ongoing imprisonment of Mohammad Ali Taheri, the founder of a spiritual healing movement; the disproportionate levels of detention for Christians, as well as their severe physical and psychological mistreatment; the continued harassment of the Sabean-Mandaean and Yarsan religious communities.
Secretary of State Tillerson said that “[n]o one should have to live in fear, worship in secret, or face discrimination because of his or her beliefs.” The United States will continue to give voice to all those -- in Iran and worldwide –- who seek to live their lives peacefully in accordance with their conscience.