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Iranian Religious Minorities Suffer

Dome of Light, Baha'i Temple, North of Chicago, Illinois, USA

The Iranian government continues to oppress members of Iran's minority religious communities, who seek only to practice their faith.

The Iranian government continues to persecute those who demonstrate for freedom in Iran's public squares in the face of bullets and batons. It also continues to oppress members of Iran's minority religious communities, who seek only to practice their faith.

For example, seven Baha'i religious leaders imprisoned since 2008, were recently transferred to the part of Gohardasht [go-har-dasht] prison that houses the most dangerous and violent criminals. The five men and two women were falsely convicted of espionage in August 2010 and are serving a ten-year prison term. Amnesty International considers them prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely because of their religious beliefs.

These men and women endure dangerously overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in which inmates are forced to sleep on concrete floors. An epidemic of swine flu killed several inmates in December. In the face of these challenges, the Baha'i leaders have developed close supporters among other prisoners.

Baha'is make up the largest non-Muslim minority religious community in Iran, and have been the target of persecution by the Iranian government for decades – including arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention, expulsion from universities and confiscation of property.

The Christian minority in Iran is also targeted by the government. Human rights monitors report that thirty Christians remain in prison in Iran, after the government released some of those who were arrested in a wave of detentions in December.

Many of them are members of so-called "house churches," where people gather in homes to read the Bible and pray because they are unable to obtain recognition from the Iranian government in order to build places of worship. Yousef Nadarkhani, the pastor of a house church community in the city of Rasht, is currently in prison while he appeals a death sentence on the charge of apostasy.

Sufi practitioners also face significant violations of their religious freedoms in Iran. Hundreds of Sufi practitioners have been jailed over the past three years and many languish in detention and suffer punishments of flogging. In the last two years, the government has demolished Sufi places of worship, as well as closed nursing homes, hospitals and libraries open to the public.

Religious freedom is a fundamental and universal value -- a basic right, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Iran ratified more than sixty years ago. Iranian leaders must live up to their obligations to let their pluralistic citizenry worship as they choose in peace and security.