2011 Report: U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

The following are excerpts from the annual report released April 28, 2011:

        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, religious freedom conditions continued to deteriorate, especially for religious minorities such as Baha'is, Christians, and Sufi Muslims, and physical attacks, harassment, detention, arrests, and imprisonment intensified. Even the recognized non-Muslim religious minorities protected under Iran's constitution – Jews, Armenian and Assyrian Christians, and Zoroastrians – faced increasing discrimination and repression. Majority Shi'a 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 have increased fear among Iran's Jewish community. Since the 1979 Iranian revolution, members of minority religious communities have fled Iran in significant numbers for fear of persecution.
         Since the disputed June 12, 2009 elections, human rights and 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.
Sunni Muslims: Some Iranian Sunni leaders have reported widespread abuses and restrictions on their religious practice, including detentions and abuse of Sunni clerics, as well as bans on Sunni teachings in public schools and Sunni religious literature, even in predominantly Sunni areas. The Sunni community still has not been able to build a mosque in Tehran and, in recent years, Sunni mosques were destroyed in eastern Iran near Zabol, Sistan-Baluchistan, and Mashhad. In January 2010, there were reports that 19 Sunni clerics had been arrested for spreading Sunni teachings in several parts of the country.
Sufi MuslimsDuring the past year, arrests and harassment of Sufi Muslims increased significantly. If the religious identity of a Sufi Muslim student was made known, the university generally expelled him or her. Sufi Muslims have faced growing government repression of their communities and religious practices, including increased harassment and imprisonment of prominent Sufi leaders by the intelligence and security services and destruction of prayer centers and hussainiyas (places of worship).
Baha'is: The Baha'i community has long been subject to particularly severe religious freedom violations in Iran. Baha'is, who number at least 300,000, are viewed as "heretics" by Iranian authorities and may face repression on the grounds of apostasy. Since 1979, Iranian government authorities have killed more than 200 Baha'i leaders in Iran, and more than 10,000 have been dismissed from government and university jobs. Baha'is may not establish places of worship, schools, or any independent religious associations in Iran. In addition, Baha'is are barred from the military and denied government jobs and pensions as well as the right to inherit property. Their marriages and divorces also are not recognized, and they have difficulty obtaining death certificates.
Christians: The number of incidents of Iranian authorities raiding church services, harassing and threatening church members, and arresting, convicting, and imprisoning worshippers and church leaders has increased significantly. Christians, particularly Evangelical and other Protestants, are subject to harassment, arrests, close surveillance, and imprisonment; many are reported to have fled the country. Indigenous Assyrian and Armenian Christian religious leaders also have been targeted. Since becoming president, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for an end to the development of Christianity in Iran.
Rhetoric from political and religious leaders demonizing and insulting the Christian community also has increased significantly. For example, in January 2011, the governor of Tehran, Morteza Tamaddon, publicly referred to detained Christians as "deviant" and "corrupt" and vowed to identify and detain more. He likened Evangelical Christians to the Taliban and accused them of placing "themselves within the religion of Islam like a pest and under the cover of Christianity and with the support of England they have designed a movement."
Jews and Anti-Semitism: In recent years, official policies promoting anti-Semitism have risen sharply in Iran, and members of the Jewish community have been targeted on the basis of real or perceived "ties to Israel." President Ahmadinejad and other top political and clerical leaders have made public remarks during the reporting period actively denying the Holocaust and calling for the elimination of the state of Israel. In 2010, there continued to be officially-sanctioned anti-Semitic propaganda, involving official statements, media outlets, publications, and books. In recent years, in line with a stepped-up state-sponsored campaign, numerous programs broadcast on state-run television advanced anti-Semitic messages, a prominent newspaper held a Holocaust denial editorial cartoon contest, and the Iranian government sponsored a Holocaust denial conference. Anti-Semitic editorial cartoons depicting demonic and stereotypical images of Jews, along with Jewish symbols, also were published in the past year.
Official government discrimination against Jews continues to be pervasive, fostering a threatening atmosphere for the approximately 25,000-30,000 member Jewish community. According to the State Department, despite minimal restrictions on Jewish religious practice education of Jewish children has become increasingly difficult in recent years, and distribution of Hebrew religious texts is strongly discouraged.

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