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Parliamentary Bill Targets Minorities in Iran, Warns HR Organization

IRAN -- Iranian parliament speaker Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf (C) chairs a closed session to investigate the killing of Iran's top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in Tehran, November 29, 2020

A human rights organization, ARTICLE 19, has expressed concern over an Iranian parliamentary motion to add two articles to the country's Penal Code for "insulting legally-recognized religions and Iranian ethnicities."

ARTICLE 19 warns that the draft motion passes, it will further erode citizens' rights to freedoms of expression and religion.

"Instead of bringing the Penal Code in line with international human rights law, Iranian lawmakers have taken steps to further cement and solidify discrimination against religious minorities and restrictions on freedom of speech in the country's legislative framework," said Saloua Ghazouani, the director of ARTICLE 19's Middle East and North Africa program.

According to Saloua Ghazouani, the director of ARTICLE 19's Middle East and North Africa program,"the draft [bill] is effectively a green light granted to Iran's law enforcement and prosecutorial and judicial authorities. t

Ghazouani speculated that the law will "solidify discrimination against religious minorities and restrictions on freedom of speech."

Iran's parliament initially passed the motion in May 2020, before the Guardian Council, reviewed it and sent it back to the parliament with some objections in June.

In November 2020, the parliament implemented several amendments to the draft bill to address the Council's objections.

ARTICLE 19 is concerned that it will disproportionately impact individuals belonging to ethnic, religious, and faith-based minorities.

"Persecuted religious and belief-based minority groups, such as Baha'is, Yaresan, Mandaeans, Dervishes, Christian converts, and atheists, are feared to face heightened levels of repression and persecution if the [parliamentary]Bill passes in its current form," the human rights organization claimed.

Article 1 of the draft motion, set to be added to Iran's Penal Code, imposes harsh punishments on "anyone who insults Iranian ethnicities with the intent to cause discord, violence, or tensions in the society or with the knowledge that such [consequences] will follow or, with the same intention or knowledge, directs explicit swears at divine religions recognized under the Islamic Republic's Constitution."

The motion suggests a sentence between two and five years in prison and/or a monetary fine when prohibited conduct leads to violence or tensions.

However, the draft motion merely refers to "religions" and "ethnicities" in general terms without specifying the groups concerned.

ARTICLE 19 claims that the motion will be used to further prosecute individuals for following and exercising other beliefs, such as followers of Erfan-e Halqeh, or Inter-Universalism. Generally described by the Iranian state as a "perverse sect," followers of such spiritual groups often face accusations of "psychological domination" and "indoctrination."

"These draconian proposals confirm yet again the Iranian authorities' utter disregard for their international human rights obligations. They must urgently withdraw the draft [parliamentary] Bill in its entirety and take immediate action to amend the existing legal framework to ensure that the rights to freedom of expression, religion, and belief are fully guaranteed in line with international law and standards," said Ghazouani.