Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2018, 08:43 GMT

USCIRF Annual Report 2004 - Iran

Publisher United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
Publication Date 1 May 2004
Cite as United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, USCIRF Annual Report 2004 - Iran, 1 May 2004, available at: [accessed 17 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The government of Iran engages 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. Since 1999, the State Department has designated Iran as a "country of particular concern," or CPC. The Commission continues to recommend that Iran be designated a CPC.

The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran proclaims Islam, particularly the doctrine of the Twelver (Shi'a) Jaafari School, to be the official religion of the country. It stipulates that all laws and regulations, including the Constitution itself, be based on Islamic criteria. The Head of State, Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i, is the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution and has direct control over the armed forces, the internal security forces, and the judiciary. The Council of Guardians, half of whose members are appointed by the Supreme Leader, reviews all legislation passed by the Majles (parliament) for adherence to Islamic and constitutional principles. The Constitution grants the Council of Guardians the power to screen and disqualify candidates for elective offices based on an ill-defined set of requirements, including candidates' ideological and religious beliefs. In recent years, dozens of prominent Muslim activists and dissidents advocating political reform have been sentenced by the Revolutionary Court to up to 10 years in prison, ostensibly on charges of seeking to overthrow the Islamic system in Iran; others have been arrested and detained for blasphemy and criticizing the nature of the Islamic regime.

Iranian Sunni leaders have reported widespread abuses and restrictions on their religious practice, including detentions and torture of Sunni clerics and bans on Sunni teachings in public schools and Sunni religious literature, even in predominantly Sunni areas. Sunni and Sufi Muslims also report widespread official discrimination. Even Shi'a clerics are affected. A number of senior Shi'a religious leaders who have opposed various religious and/or political tenets and practices of the Iranian government have also reportedly been targets of state repression, including house arrest, detention without charge, unfair trials, torture, and other forms of ill treatment.

The primacy of Islam and Islamic laws and institutions also adversely affects the rights and status of non-Muslims. While all religious minorities reportedly suffer, severe violations are principally directed towards the 300,000 to 350,000 followers of the Baha'i faith in Iran. Baha'is are often viewed as "heretics," 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 houses of worship, schools, or any independent religious associations. In addition, Baha'is are denied government jobs and pensions as well as the right to inherit property, and their marriages and divorces are not recognized. Their cemeteries, holy places, and community properties are often seized and some have been destroyed. Members of the Baha'i faith are not allowed to attend university. Despite some reported improvements in 2000 and 2001, according to the State Department, restrictions on the Baha'i community intensified after the UN Commission on Human Rights ended formal monitoring of the human rights situation in the country in the spring of 2002. Though several Baha'i prisoners have recently been released, Baha'is in Iran continue to face harsh treatment.

The Constitution of Iran formally recognizes Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians as protected religious minorities who may worship freely and have autonomy over their own matters of personal status (e.g. marriage, divorce, and inheritance). However, members of these groups are subject to legal and other forms of discrimination, particularly in education, government, and the armed services. Over the past 15 years, at least eight evangelical Christians have reportedly been killed at the hands of government authorities and between 15 and 23 are reported missing or "disappeared." According to the 2001 report of the UN Special Representative on Iran, some are said to have been convicted of apostasy. In addition, evangelical Christians in Iran continue to be subject to harassment and close surveillance; many are reported to have fled the country. Jews have reportedly been singled out on the basis of their "ties to Israel," whether real or perceived. The July 2000 conviction of 10 Jews on widely disputed charges of espionage in secret revolutionary (closed) courts that did not afford minimal due process guarantees raised concerns in the international community about the future of the Iranian Jewish community. By February 2003, all had been released after having served reduced sentences or being pardoned, although in some cases the releases may have been conditional. Non-Muslims may not engage in public religious expression and persuasion among Muslims; some also face restrictions on publishing religious material in Persian.

The government's monopoly on and enforcement of the official interpretation of Islam, as well as other abuses of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, or belief, negatively affect the fundamental rights of women in Iran, including their right to freedom of movement, association, religion, and freedom from coercion.

In 2003, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security began to deny increasing numbers of Iranian Christians and Jews refugee status, arguing that their treatment in Iran did not rise to the level of persecution. Concerned by its growing population of Iranian religious minorities denied refugee status by the United States, the Austrian government stopped issuing visas to Iranian Christians. Senator Arlen Specter proposed legislative language that would assist such applicants by extending the "Lautenberg Amendment" to cover their cases. The Lautenberg Amendment has eased the burden of proof for Jewish and Christian refugee applicants from the former Soviet Union since 1989. In September 2003, when the Specter language was in danger of being withdrawn due to State Department objections, the Commission recommended passage of the language proposed by Specter and made its decision known to the White House and the State Department. The State Department withdrew its opposition and the language passed the Senate and became law in January 2004 (P.L. 108-199, Division E, Title II, Sec. 213).

In October 2003, both the Senate and the House introduced resolutions (S.Con.Res. 78 and H.Con.Res. 319, respectively) expressing concern regarding the continued repression of the Baha'i community in Iran by the Iranian government.

In January 2004, the Commission held a meeting with members of the Iranian American community in Los Angeles to discuss religious freedom and human rights conditions in Iran and implications for U.S. policy.

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