Once again, the government of Iran is ranked as one of the worst violators of a crucial and fundamental human right – the right to religious freedom.
In its latest annual report on the state of religious freedom around the world, the U.S. State Department said the government of Iran, like the government of North Korea, seeks "to control religious thought and expression as part of a more comprehensive determination to control all aspects of political and civic life."
In unveiling the report, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted that members of Iran's minority religious communities are especially beleaguered:
"In Iran authorities continue to repress Sufi Muslims, evangelical Christians, Jews, Baha'is, Sunnis, Ahmadis and others who do not share the government's religious views."
Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, spoke in particular of the persecution of Iranian Baha'is:
"There were seven Baha'i leaders who were sentenced to 20 years in jail. The government then reduced it to 10; now they've upped it again to 20 years. They've eight leaders of one of the Baha'i schools of higher education that are being put on trial. Baha'i kids can't go to regular universities."
The report also notes that members of Iran's Sufi community in the city of Gonabad have faced arrest, imprisonment and brutal flogging. Shiites who reject the role of religion in politics, like prominent cleric Ayatollah Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi and 17 of his followers, languish behind bars. Jews endure a hostile environment because of the government's support of a virulent and widespread campaign of anti-Semitic propaganda. Judicial authorities sentenced two Christian pastors to death for apostasy, and more than 160 arrests of Christians were reported during July and December of 2010. At the end of the reporting year, 33 remained in jail, or their whereabouts were unknown.
Assistant Secretary of State Posner said there is a growing realization around the world that respect for religious freedom is a crucial responsibility of governments everywhere. Countries like Iran, whose leaders curtail the religious freedom of their citizens, show that control, and not accountability and governance, is their goal. The United States will continue to shine a spotlight on such repression.