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Religious Freedom: Iran's Litmus Test


September 23, 2013 | By USCIRF

Religious Freedom: Iran's Litmus Test

Washington, D.C. - On the eve of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's first ever address to the United Nations General Assembly, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) urges him to prioritize freedom of religion or belief. Doing so will help make Iran a more tolerant society and ensure that the Iranian government is more respectful of the rights of its citizens, including religious minorities and dissidents.

The Iranian government last week unexpectedly freed more than a dozen political and religious prisoners, including noted human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, and Maryam Jalili and Mitra Zahmati, two Christian converts. "Despite these positive actions, religious minorities and other prisoners of conscience in Iran continue to suffer for their beliefs, including more than 100 imprisoned members of the Baha'i community and its leadership,” said USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George.

For the first time in 15 years, a Baha'i, Ataollah Rezvani, was shot to death because of his faith. Despite the religiously-motivated killing, there has yet to be an official investigation into the events surrounding his murder.

"The Iranian government must conduct a swift and thorough investigation of Mr. Rezvani's death, and bring the perpetrators to justice. Otherwise killing Baha'is could become an everyday occurrence and impunity an endorsement for murder. How Iran treats its citizens at home is an important indicator of how the government will deal with other people and nations,” continued USCIRF Chairman George.

A renewed crackdown on Protestant Christians in recent weeks has led to numerous arrests. Of those Christians already imprisoned, Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini continues to languish in Evin prison while his eight-year sentence was upheld just last month. This Thursday, September 26, will mark the one- year anniversary of Abedini's imprisonment - vigils will be held throughout the United States and the world to draw attention to his plight and demand his immediate release.

"President Rouhani should follow through with his election campaign promises and implement genuine reforms that will improve the status of religious freedom and human rights for all Iranian citizens. Last week's release of more than a dozen political and religious prisoners was a welcome gesture. It is our hope there will be more and we will be watching to see if all prisoners of conscience are released - including Pastor Saeed Abedini and the seven Baha'i leaders,” USCIRF Chairman George stated.

USCIRF again recommended in 2013 that Iran  be designated as a Tier 1 Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused.

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