United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Report: Religious Freedom Abuses

            Iran continues to engage in “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused,” according to an annual report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
            Religious freedom conditions have particularly regressed since the disputed 2009 presidential elections. “Killings, arrests, and physical abuse of detainees have increased, including for religious minorities and Muslims who dissent or express views perceived as threatening the legitimacy of the government,” according to the report.
            The State Department first designated Iran as a “country of particular concern” on religious freedom in 1999. The United States has imposed restrictions on imports and exports to Iran under the International Religious Freedom Act since 2011. The following are excerpts from the report, followed by a link to the full text.

            Already poor religious freedom conditions in Iran continue to deteriorate, particularly for religious minorities, especially Baha’is, Christians, and Sufi Muslims, as well as for dissenting Shi’i and Sunni Muslims. Harassment, arrests, and imprisonment intensified, a trend likely to worsen as the June 2013 presidential election approaches.
            The government of Iran continues to engage in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused. Iran is a constitutional, theocratic republic that discriminates against its citizens on the basis of religion or belief. During the past year, the already poor religious freedom conditions continued to deteriorate, especially for religious minorities, in particular for Baha’is as well as Christians and Sufi Muslims. Physical attacks, harassment, detention, arrests, and imprisonment intensified. Even some of the recognized non-Muslim religious minorities protected under Iran’s constitution—Jews, Armenian and Assyrian Christians, and Zoroastrians—face harassment, intimidation, discrimination, arrests, and imprisonment.
            Majority Shi’i and minority Sunni Muslims, including clerics who dissent, were intimidated, harassed, and detained. Dissidents and human rights defenders were increasingly subject to abuse and several were sentenced to death and even executed for the capital crime of “waging war against God.” Heightened anti-Semitism and repeated Holocaust denials by senior government officials and clerics continue to foster a climate of fear among Iran’s Jewish community. Since the 1979 revolution, members of minority religious communities have fled Iran in significant numbers for fear of persecution…
            Since the disputed 2009 elections, religious freedom conditions in Iran have regressed to a point not seen since the early days of the Islamic revolution. Killings, arrests, and physical abuse of detainees have increased, including for religious minorities and Muslims who dissent or express views perceived as threatening the legitimacy of the government. During the reporting period, the government continued to use its religious laws to silence reformers and critics, including women’s rights activists, journalists, and lawyers for exercising their internationally-protected rights to freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief. With the June 2013 presidential election approaching, the Iranian government will likely increase its efforts to crush any form of dissent and scapegoat religious minorities, as it has done in the past.
Click here for the full text.

How Iran Ranks on World Press Freedom Day

            Iran’s crackdown on the press, including detention of 24 journalists, was highlighted by two reports to mark International Press Freedom Day on May 3. Iran ranks among the world’s worst-rated countries on press freedom, according to a new index by Freedom House. The organization assigns countries a numerical rating from 0 (the most free) to 100 (the least free). Iran and Cuba are tied with 92 points.

            Freedom House claims that in the worst-rated countries, “independent media are either nonexistent or barely able to operate, the press acts as a mouthpiece for the regime, citizens’ access to unbiased information is severely limited, and dissent is crushed through imprisonment, torture, and other forms of repression.” The following infographic maps the relative freedom ratings of countries.

            The International Federation of Journalists claims Iran, China, Turkey and Eritrea have the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world. In Iran, at least 24 journalists are imprisoned for allegedly breaking the law, according to the federation's affilitate, the Association of Iranian Journalists.
            Iran has reportedly targeted reformist publications ahead of the June presidential election, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The Iranian Students’ News Agency reported that two monthlies and one weekly were banned in early March.
Click here for the full list of press freedom rankings from Freedom house.


Iran Takes Tough Stance on Chemical Weapons in Syria

            On at least one issue—and at least rhetorically—Iran and the United States agree. Both Tehran and Washington are now on the record in calling the use of chemical weapons “a red line.” Iran’s toughening position may reflect its own experience when Saddam Hussein repeatedly used several types of chemical weapons against Iran during the 1980-1988 war launched by Iraq. The United Nations verified at least seven uses of mustard or nerve gasses in specific operations.
            On April 30, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria is Iran’s “red line.” The United States recently called for a U.N. investigation based on new evidence of sarin gas use in Syria’s civil war. But Salehi reportedly suggested that the rebels might be responsible. Iran accuses Western and Arab countries of fueling the conflict and supporting foreign fighters against President Bashar Assad. The following are excerpted remarks by top leaders on Syria.

Chemical Weapons
            “We have always emphasized that using chemical weapons, by anyone, is our red line… [The United Nations should] identify the main culprit behind the use of chemical weapons in the country before it is too late and the situation gets out of control in Syria… We oppose any type of production, stockpiling and use of weapons of mass destruction, and this stance is the clear message and consistent policy of Iran…” Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi to Iranian news media on April 30

            “Chemical weapons have been used by the Nusra Front and a number of irresponsible armed groups… We have precise information that some foreign parties have supplied terrorists with their needed possibilities in a bid to help them use chemical arms against the Syrian people and the army to… pave the ground for foreign intervention in Syria.” Deputy Foreign minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian to Al Alam TV on April 28

            “Westerners accuse the Syrian government of using chemical weapons while such a claim is very ridiculous and fabricated…” Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabdi to Iranian media on April 29
Western and Arab Involvement
            “The problem that the people of Syria are facing… is an external problem…We know that because of the intervention of other countries specifically Western countries [and] with the cooperation of the Zionist regime [of Israel] and also some reactionary governments in the region, they are fighting against the people of Syria…” Ali Akbar Velayati, senior foreign affairs advisor to the supreme leader, in an April 29 interview with Press TV
            “In Syria, some Arab countries are spending money to make conditions tense, but the nation and government of Syria are resisting…” Revolutionary Guards chief Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani to war veterans on April 16
            “Foreign adversaries such as the US and the Zionists, who are sworn enemies of the [Islamic] Revolution [of Iran], and certain Arab countries as well as Turkey are mounting pressure on Syria to overthrow its government before Iran’s election…” Maj.Gen. Yahya Rahim-Safavi to Iranian media on April 27
            “Mercenaries and non-Syrian armed forces are deepening the Syrian crisis and unfortunately certain countries are supporting them… If other countries stop supporting mercenaries, the situation in Syria will swiftly progress towards stability…” Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi to Iranian news media on March 2
            “The West is trying to “foment discord and turn these movements [Arab uprisings] into bloody sectarian, ethnic and national conflicts. Currently, this plot is being seriously pursued by intelligence services of the West and Zionism with the help of petrodollars and bribed politicians from East Asia to North Africa and particularly in the Arab region…” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the World Conference of Ulama and Islamic Awakening on April 29
            Foreign and “regional players have turned Syria to a haven for extremism and al-Qaida as well as a hub for spreading violence to all the region…” Deputy Foreign minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian to Al Alam TV on April 28
            “Terrorists are seeking to protect the interests of the United States and Zionists in a bid to crush the spirits of the Syrian nation…” Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabdi to Iranian media on April 29
            “Resistance of the Syrian people and government against pressures exerted by the world powers will protect the country against foreigners’ avarice in the future… [Iran] will not allow the [current] foreign conspiracy to undermine the independence and sovereignty of Syria.” Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, to Syria’s ambassador to Iran, Adnan Mahmoud, on April 16
Possible Solutions and the End Game
            “The Syrian problem… should be solved by the people of Syria. Those who are supporting the government, those who are against the government should sit together, talk together to have a peaceful solution… The majority [of rebels] are not Syrian people… they are fighting against the people of Syria…” Ali Akbar Velayati, senior foreign affairs advisor to the supreme leader, in an April 29 interview with Press TV
            “If you really feel sorry about the ongoing situation in Syria, you should force the opposition to sit at the negotiation table with the Syrian government and put an end to bloodshed… Why do you encourage the opposition to continue these acts of violence?” Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi to Iranian news media on March 2
          “A group coming into power through war and conflict will lead to continued war and security problems for a long time…The lack of security in Syria will endanger the security of other countries and will threaten the entire region…” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to an Egyptian delegation on April 28
Ethnic and Religious Conflict
          “Propaganda campaigns of the West and dependent and mercenary media in the region pretend that the destructive war in Syria is a Shia-Sunni conflict, and they create a safety margin for the Zionists and the enemies of resistance in Syria and Lebanon. This is while the two sides of the conflict in Syria are not Shia and Sunni, rather they are the supporters and opponents of anti-Zionist resistance... [T]hey have managed to make use of religious sentiments of simple-minded people to kindle this deadly fire...” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the World Conference of Ulama and Islamic Awakening on April 29

Supreme Leader on Women

      The West has committed an “unforgivable sin” against women by defining them as merely objects of pleasure, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Iran’s National Women’s Day. The supreme leader claimed that Islam grants women equal rights and honor, while Western lifestyle degrades them. He also warned that irreparable damage to family values will lead to the West’s collapse, according to Fars News Agency.

      In his May 1 speech, Khamenei argued that Western women have to serve men to further themselves in society. But Iranian women can participate in “politics, social and jihadi activities, helping people and the Revolution … while preserving her grace, dignity and Islamic hijab,” he claimed in an undated article on his office’s website. The following are excerpted remarks by Khamenei on women.
Women in the West
            “The move that the West's materialistic civilization has done towards women is a big and unforgiveable sin, the consequences of which are absolutely irreparable… In the West, the human being is divided into two parts: men who are considered beneficiaries and women who are exploited and used…
            Once the foundation of a family is shaken, the problems of that society will be internalized and the Western civilization with its vicious sexual laws is doomed to fail and collapse…” May 1, to poets on National Women’s Day
            “The Western world and in the European world claim to be defending women rights – which is almost all a lie – but women did not have the right to vote, could not speak and choose, and did not have the right to possess property until the early decades of the twentieth century.” From an undated article on Khamenei’s website
Women in Sports
            “An athlete promotes the values of a nation with good sportsmanship and piety. The fact that our woman athletes enter sports arenas with hijab (head covering) is very important…
            “In a certain European country, some people dare to kill a woman because she is wearing hijab. And they do it in a court of law and in front of the judge. This is the case. They are not ashamed of it. Under a certain illegitimate law, they harass women who wear hijab in universities, stadiums, parks and on the streets. In such conditions, a woman who wears hijab stands on the medal platform in such countries makes everyone respect her. Is this a minor achievement? This is a very great achievement. Everybody should appreciate from the bottom of their heart the value of women athletes who participate in international arenas with hijab and modesty…” March 11, to veteran athletes and participants from the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics
Women in Iranian Society
            “Today, the Iranian woman can enter the field of science… while preserving the religion, chastity, piety, dignity, grace, personality and reverence of a typical Muslim woman. There are, among you, many female students, professors and scholars. A woman might also enter the field of religious sciences and information without any obstacles. Among you, there are many seminarians, students, instructors and professors of religious sciences who deal with Islamic fiqh and religious insight. Our great Imam [Khomeini] also highly regarded this issue and gave an order to establish this institute of Qom. Today a woman in our country is able to participate in different activities including politics, social and jihadi activities, helping people and the Revolution and appear in different fields while preserving her grace, dignity and Islamic hijab…” From an undated article on Khamenei’s website
Women in Pre-Revolutionary Iran
            “The woman in the society of the evil system of the kingdom was really an oppressive one… A Muslim woman could not easily survive at the universities and educational, scientific and cultural centers with hijab, grace and dignity. Was it possible? A woman could not walk in the streets of Tehran or some other cities with even a partial hijab... Education for women was almost impossible in this country. Of course, there were exceptions. Generally speaking, entering the field of science for women was almost impossible except by giving up hijab, piety and Islamic dignity!
            The same problem was there in terms of political and social activities. Once a woman decided to have a social or political position in Iran, she had to give up hijab, chastity and the dignity of a Muslim woman. Of course, it depended on how her nature and potentialities were…” From an undated article on Khamenei’s website
Women in Islam
            “In Islam, women have the right of allegiance, property possession while their presence in the social and political arenas is something fixed. Women used to come to the Prophet [Mohammad] to pledge their allegiance. The Prophet wanted both men and women to participate in decision-making. Women did not have to follow men. They participate in choosing their government and the social and political system. The Westerners are a 1300  years behind Muslims in this regard. The same is true about the right to have property and other social and political issues…”  From an undated article on Khamenei’s website
Photo Credit: Khamenei.ir via Facebook
Tags: Islam, West, Women

Latest on the Race: Economy Top Election Issue

      The economy is a pivotal issue in Iran’s presidential campaign, since the country now faces its most serious crisis since the 1980-88 war with Iraq. Virtually everyone—including both supporters and critics of the regime—is demanding change. Most candidates are too.
      But the economy has also sparked the widest array of solutions. Campaign slogans often illustrate the political divisions, even though the field of candidates is overwhelmingly conservative. The only thing that unites them is criticism of President Ahmadinejad’s poor economic performance.
            The candidates’ plans vary widely, from weaning Iran off oil revenues to creating jobs for university graduates. Mostafa Kavakebian, a reformist, even calls for improving relations with the United States for sanctions relief ― if Washington softens its tone. Most candidates have not yet detailed how they will achieve their lofty promises. The following are the economic agendas of eight major candidates, according to Iranian news media.
Ali Akbar Velayati, chief foreign policy adviser to the supreme leader
• Wean economy off oil revenues
• Don’t waste public money
• Complete national development plans
• Fix the economy in three years
Mostafa Kavakebian, secretary general of the Democracy Party
• Improve ties with the United States for sanctions relief
• Lower inflation to below 20 percent
• Lower unemployment to below 10 percent
Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, mayor of Tehran
• Stabilize economy in two years
• Create jobs for university graduates through effective management
• Follow the 20-Year Vision Plan, which requires Iran to be a top economic power in the region by 2025
Mohammad Reza Bahonar, deputy speaker of parliament
• Control cash flow and rising prices
• Decrease the inflation rate to a single-digit number
• Revive the Planning and Budget Organization that Ahmadinejad dissolved in 2007
Mohsen Rezaei, Expediency Council secretary and ex-Revolutionary Guards chief
• Tie the currency to non-oil exports and support domestic producers
• Increase household income and support a grassroots economy in towns
• Reduce unemployment
• Give farmers “green” subsidies
•Reduce the inflation rate to a single-digit number
Hassan Rouhani, former head of the Supreme National Security Council
• Lift U.N. and unilateral sanctions on Iran through improving relations with other nations
• Boost domestic production
• Reduce unemployment and employ more academics
Ali Fallahian, Assembly of Experts member and former intelligence minister
• Fight corruption by using more electronic transactions
• Continue subsidy reform
Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabi-Fard, deputy speaker of parliament
• Decrease national expenses to dampen effect of sanctions
• Increase the value of Iran’s currency by boosting domestic production
• Reduce dependence on oil revenues
Sampling of Iranian news sources for this article on the presidential race:


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