The Iranian government continues to harass, interrogate, and arrest members of religious minorities and impose heavy restrictions on their public and private lives, says the latest U.S. State Department annual religious freedom report for 2016.
Quoting data gathered by the U.S. based NGO; United for Iran, the report adds that at least 103 individuals were currently imprisoned in Iran due to religious activities.
Also,198 political prisoners were incarcerated on charges of “moharebeh” or waging war against God-- and 43 others for “insulting Islam” and “corruption on earth”. The country’s penal code provides death penalty for all three charges.
The Iranian regime often has been using these types of charges in order to suppress its critics. Last year, 20 Sunni Kurds had been executed accused of “moharebeh”.
U.S. State Department’s report mentions Bahais, Christians, Sunni Muslims, Sufis, Sabean-Mandaean and Yarsanis as groups facing difficulties in Iran and accuses the government of denying them permission to perform religious ceremonies in public, building permits for places of worship and also denying them employment and higher educational opportunities, as well as confiscating or restricting their religious materials.
“Especially 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”, State Department says.
Multiple Bahais remained incarcerated, including seven of their leaders who were arrested in 2008 and sentenced to 20 years in prison for “creating illegal organizations and spying for foreigners”. The sentences were later reduced to 10 years.
The government used anti-Semitic and anti-Bahai rhetoric in official statements, as well as promote Holocaust denial.
During 2016, several prayer sites belonging to Sunnis, Sufis, and Christian converts have been subjected to raids by police and security forces. Since the law prohibits Iranians to abandon Islam and convert to another religion, the Christian converts face severe restrictions on practicing their belief. Based on the statistics mentioned in the State Department’s report, 26 Christian converts are currently imprisoned in Iran due to religious activities.
The report also highlights the U.S. government’s support for religious minorities in Iran and previous calls by senior U.S. government officials for the release of prisoners held on religious grounds.
Since 1999, U.S. State Department designated Iran as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for severe violations of religious freedom. On February 29, 2016, the Secretary of State re-designated Iran as a CPC and reiterated the existing travel restrictions on the country based on serious human rights abuses.