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Iran and Prisoners of Conscience


Evin prison in Tehran, Iran.

“Freedom to profess and practice one’s faith, to believe or not to believe, or to change one’s beliefs, that is a birthright of every human being.”

It has been two years since Iranian authorities detained Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini on a visit to Iran. He has since been sentenced to eight years in prison on charges related to his religious beliefs and has suffered severe beatings because of his refusal to recant his faith.

Authorities have also targeted Iranian pastors such as Behnam Irani. Mr. Irani, who has been serving a six year prison term, was reportedly informed recently of a new charge against him -- “spreading corruption on earth” – which can carry the death penalty. Pastor Farshid Fathi, arrested in 2010, is serving six years in prison on supposed security-related crimes. Mr. Fathi was one of the prisoners of conscience beaten and injured by guards during the Evin prison raid on April 17.

Iran’s Baha’is are the most persecuted religious community in Iran, facing relentless government- sponsored harassment, discrimination, arrest and detention. There are an estimated one hundred Baha’is in prison, jailed solely because of their religious beliefs.

Muslims who diverge from the regime’s interpretation of Islam are also persecuted. Human rights monitors report that Mohsen Amir-Aslani was executed in September after being found guilty of heresy for offering his own interpretation of the Koran.

Prominent dissident Shiite cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Kazamani Boroujerdi, who is serving an 11 year sentence and is gravely ill, was recently threatened with execution by Iran’s Prosecutor of the Special Clerical Court. Several Gonabadi dervishes in Iran have been arrested and are currently serving long prison terms. Amnesty International reports that a group of nine dervishes are on hunger strike in protest for their brutal treatment in prison.

As Secretary of State John Kerry has said, the “freedom to profess and practice one’s faith, to believe or not to believe, or to change one’s beliefs, that is a birthright of every human being.”

That birthright is recognized in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, to which Iran is a party. The United States continues to urge the Iranian government to release all prisoners of conscience and live up to its commitment to allow the free exercise of this fundamental human right.

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