Iranians are proud, and rightly so, of their millennia-long history of diverse religious communities and religious tolerance, said Scott Weiner, policy analyst for the Middle East at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in a recent webinar on Iran. Unfortunately, the actions of the current Iranian regime stand in sharp contrast to the country’s history and traditions.
Mr. Weiner says the government’s repression of religious minorities is continuing and is likely to increase, as it tries to coerce and scare members of these groups to acquiesce to government policies.
Gonabadi Sufis, Christians, Baha’is and secularists face a range of abuse, including self-censorship, arrest, economic and educational discrimination, imprisonment and execution.
Sunni Muslims also face discrimination on religious grounds, as do Shia who do not follow the government’s interpretation of Ja’afri Shia Islam. Under the government’s interpretation, the rights of women are restricted as well; and non-heterosexual Iranians are pressured into sex reassignment surgery, or, in some cases, given a death sentence.
Part of the mandate of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, or USCIRF, is to make policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress.
In the face of Iran’s egregious and systematic violations of religious liberty, Mr. Weiner enumerated USCIRF’s recommendations to U.S. policy makers. They include identifying Iranian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom, freezing those individuals’ assets, and barring their entry into the United States; developing and utilizing new technologies to counter censorship and facilitate the free flow of information in and out of Iran; pressing for and working to secure the release of all prisoners of conscience; and reauthorizing and ensuring implementation of the Lautenberg Amendment, which aids persecuted Iranian religious minorities seeking refugee status in the United States.
USCIRF Commissioner Johnnie Moore said that these are specific ways that the United States can help create better conditions for religious freedom in Iran, and that “this administration intends to make religious freedom a top priority in its foreign policy, and especially its policy toward Iran.”