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Iran: Deteriorating Conditions for Religious Freedom


March 18, 2015 | USCIRF

Washington, D.C. – As the Iranian government prepares to respond on March 19 to recommendations made during the UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) calls attention to deteriorating conditions for freedom of religion and belief in Iran.  

“Since assuming office in 2013, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has not delivered on his promises to improve conditions for religious minority communities,” said USCIRF Chair Katrina Lantos Swett. “In fact, the Iranian government has imprisoned more than 350 people, including 150 Sunni Muslims, 100 Baha’is, 90 Christians, and at least a dozen Sufi Muslims, for their beliefs. The number of Christians imprisoned has nearly doubled over the past year. The United States and international community should call for the release of all prisoners of conscience in Iran, including: Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor and U.S. citizen; Ayatollah Mohammed Kazemeini Boroujerdi, a Shi’a Muslim cleric; and Mahvash Sabet, a Baha’i leader held since 2008.  These brave people, among many others, are suffering solely for exercising their fundamental right to freedom of conscience or belief.”

The recent report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, concluded that conditions for human rights, including religious freedom, have declined since President Rouhani took office.  In addition, a report by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon found that religious minority communities “continue to face persecution, including arrest and imprisonment, the denial of economic opportunities, expulsion from educational institutions, deprivation of the right to work, and closure of businesses and the destruction of religious sites, such as cemeteries and prayer centers.”

As part of the UPR process, governments made 291 recommendations to the Iranian government for human rights improvements, with 26 focused on freedom of religion or belief, particularly the plight of religious minorities. On Thursday, March 19 Iran will specify which of the recommendations it will accept.  In the past, Iran has accepted very few UPR recommendations related to religious freedom and has implemented ever fewer.  

Since 1999, USCIRF has recommended and the State Department has designated Iran as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) for the Iranian government’s systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.

See USCIRF’s work on Iran here. See more on prisoners of conscience in Iran and worldwide who are part of the Defending Freedoms Project here.  The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, in conjunction with USCIRF and Amnesty International USA, created this initiative.  

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at media@uscirf.gov or 202-786-0613