People practicing faiths other than Shia Islam continued to face discrimination and harassment in Iran in 2017, says the U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report released May 29.
“According to multiple sources, non-Shia Muslims and those affiliated with a religion other than Islam, especially members of the Bahai community, continued to face societal discrimination and harassment, and employers experienced social pressures not to hire Bahais or to dismiss them from their private sector jobs. Bahais reported there were continued incidents of destruction or vandalism of their cemeteries,” the U.S. State Department’s annual assessment read.
The report noted that the Iranian government continued to execute individuals on charges of moharebeh, or waging war against God, including four prisoners at Rajai Shahr Prison on December 20, 2017, and four men charged with that “crime” in the Kerman Province last September.
The Iranian penal code “specifies the death sentence for proselytizing and attempts by non-Muslims to convert Muslims, as well as for moharebeh and sabb al-nabi (insulting the prophet),” the report explained.
Based on these laws, the Islamic Republic has convicted an executed dozens of dissidents, political reformers, and peaceful protesters.
Quoting the Iran Prison Atlas compiled by US-based NGO United for Iran, the report said that during 2017 “at least 102 members of minority religious groups remained imprisoned for their religious activities, 174 individuals on charges of moharebeh, 23 on charges of ‘insulting Islam’ and 21 for ‘corruption on earth.’”
The report also observed that former UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran highlighted in her March and August 2017 reports the large number of executions of the largely Sunni Kurdish prisoners on moharebeh charges.
Meanwhile, the Council of Sunni Theologians of Iran (CSTI), which represents Sunni clerics based in the northwestern Kurdish-populated provinces, suspended its operations on July 13 in response to ongoing intimidation from the Intelligence Ministry, said the report, citing the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
Furthermore, the Iranian government reportedly denied building permits for places of worship for members of religious minorities and confiscated or restricted their access to religious texts. “Security officials continued to raid underground Sunni prayer sites and prevent the construction of new ones,” the report said.
The report reviewed the long list of violation of religious freedom rights by the Iranian government highlighting harassment of Christians and Sufis.
An Iranian Christian news websites reported in October that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had arrested several Christians in Tehran, Rey, and Pardis, and Sufi websites published extensive reports on the harassment and violent treatment of Gonabadi dervishes in Iran, the report observed.
According to the report, although “the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with the country, and therefore did not have regular opportunities to raise concerns directly with the government over its religious freedom abuses and restrictions, the U.S. government continued to call for Iran to respect religious freedom and continued to condemn its abuses of religious minorities in a variety of ways and in different international forums. This included public statements by senior U.S. government officials and reports issued by U.S. government agencies.”
Mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the International Religious Freedom Report details the status of religious freedom in nearly 200 foreign countries and describes U.S. actions and policies in support of religious freedom worldwide.