The conditions for religious freedom in Iran have regressed to a point not seen since the early days of the Islamic Revolution, according to a new report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – a bipartisan federal body that advises Congress, the Secretary of State, and the President.
Religious minorities, like the Baha’is, who continue to be persecuted by the regime, as well as Muslims who dissent or express views perceived as threatening the legitimacy of the Iranian regime, have been subject to physical attacks, harassment, detention, arrests and imprisonment. Even the recognized non-Muslim religious minorities supposedly protected under Iran’s constitution – Jews, Armenian and Assyrian Christians, and Zoroastrians – face increasing repression.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom notes that since June 2010, approximately 300 Christians have been arbitrarily arrested and detained throughout the country. Some have been charged with acting against national security and blasphemy against Islam; some have been detained without charge; others released after being charged or convicted of crimes, in order for authorities to threaten them with re-imprisonment at any time.
In recent months the repression of Christians in Iran has been brought to the attention of the international community by the case of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was sentenced to death for apostasy in November 2010. He has repeatedly refused to recant his faith in return for his freedom, and there is concern that he could be executed at any time.
The report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also notes that Iran’s Jewish community lives in growing fear because of the heightened anti-Semitic rhetoric and repeated Holocaust denials by senior government officials; and that members of the indigenous Zoroastrian community have come under increasing repression and discrimination as well.
The Iranian government’s persecution of its citizens because of their religious convictions violates Iran’s own constitution and the international human rights instruments it has ratified. The U.S. will continue to speak out about the deteriorating religious freedom conditions in Iran, and urge the government of Iran to live up to its commitments, release all prisoners of conscience, and allow the Iranian people the full expression of their human rights, including the right of religious freedom, to which they are entitled.