| Religious Freedom Ranking:
1 out of 5 stars: Serious Violations
Islam and the doctrine Jafari Shi’ism (12th Imam) constitute the state religion. The situation of non-Shi’ite Muslims and non-Muslims has been deteriorating year by year since the Islamic government was established in 1979. Proselytizing to Muslims is strictly forbidden. In February 2008 a revision to the penal code was drafted for approval by the legislature whereby apostasy, specifically conversion from Islam, would be punishable by death. Any child born to a Muslim father automatically is considered a Muslim by the government.
Non-Muslims may not engage even in public religious expression—let alone persuasion, or preaching among Muslims—and there are also restrictions on published religious materials. Punishments for proselytizing and spreading non-Muslim religious beliefs are severe. Religious police and male citizens have been reported to “punish” women who are not considered “modest.”
The Iranian government promotes and condones anti-Semitism in state media. Furthermore, the belief that all Jews support Zionism and Israel creates a hostile atmosphere for Jewish people. The president frequently speaks out in favor of the destruction of Israel and denies the existence of the Holocaust.
All religious activities are closely monitored and must adhere to the strict Islamic tradition of the current government. Only Shi’ites are allowed in sensitive leadership positions in the government, military and schools, with the exception that five of a total 290 seats in the majles (parliament) are reserved for religious minorities. (This system existed before the Islamic revolution in January 1979.) Three of these seats are reserved for members of Christian religious groups, including two seats for Armenian Christians and one for Assyrian Christians, one seat to represent Jews, and one to represent Zoroastrians. While Sunnis do not have reserved seats in the majles, they are allowed to serve in the body. Baha’is may not serve in any government, military or school position at all.
An estimated 98 percent of Iran’s population of 67 million is Muslim. About 89 percent are Shi’ites and 9 percent Sunnis. A substantial number practice some form of Sufism as well. There are also three “protected” religions – Zoroastrianism (30,000-60,000), Judaism (20,000 to 30,000) and Christianity (300,000 mostly ethnic Armenian and Assyrian; only 10,000-20,000 are from a few small Protestant groups). Other groups are the illegal Baha’i, considered to be apostates and defined as a political ‘sect’ (illegal because it came into existence after the “last and greatest Prophet, Mohammad”). About 300,000 to 350,000 Baha’is remain in the country. In addition, there are some 5,000-10,000 Sabean-Mandaeans, and some alienated Shi’ite groups who do not agree with the current Islamic regime. The small Unificationist community was nearly destroyed in the aftermath of the 1979 Revolution but a small group persists underground.
The state of religious freedom has continued to deteriorate in recent times. All members of the recognized minority religious groups reported incidents of government imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, fines and discrimination based on their religious beliefs. The non-recognized groups suffered much more with confiscation of goods, homes and death of some of their members. This is by far the most extreme situation for non-Muslims in the Middle East with the exception of Saudi Arabia where no religious freedom exists.
University applicants are required to pass an examination for enrollment in Islamic, Christian, or Jewish theology, but there was no test for the Baha'i theology. Significant numbers of members of minority religious communities have fled Iran since the 1979 revolution for fear of persecution.
The regime’s ultra-legalistic interpretation of Shi’a Islam has effectively deprived women of many rights granted to men. A Muslim man may have four legal wives and as many “temporary” wives as he desires, the only guideline being that each one be cared for. Regardless of religion, gender segregation is enforced generally throughout the country. All women are expected to adhere to Islamic dress in public, regardless of religion.
The age for girls to marry still remains disturbingly young, some as young as nine years of age. The husband, usually much older, is supposed to wait until the girl has her first menses before consummating the marriage. The government's 12-point contract model for marriage and divorce limits the rights accorded to women by custom and traditional interpretations of Islamic law. Children belong to the father, and women receive little support after divorce. “Honor killings” [an ancient tradition still sometimes observed; a male member of the family kills a female relative for tarnishing the family image] are not uncommon.
Violence against non-Muslims has increased in the past year. There is no legal recourse for any non-Muslim regardless of whether they are one of the “protected” religions or not. The Baha’is have suffered the most from intimidation, imprisonment, harassment, desecration of cemeteries and death increasing during this period. Over 50 Baha’is were arbitrarily arrested and detained. Baha'i blood is considered “mobah,” meaning it can be spilled with impunity.
In early 2010 the government started convicting and executing reformers and peaceful protestors on the charge of “moharebeh” (understood as ‘enmity against God’). Several were bloggers. Although not specifically a religious crime, reportedly more than 10 individuals have been charged, convicted, and sentenced to death for moharebeh. At least three are known to have been executed during the past year.
One man, a Christian pastor, was sentenced to death in 2009. He was accused of questioning the Muslim teachings that his children were receiving in school, but then was also accused of illegally converting from Islam to Christianity. Many Christians have been killed, but this case has received international attention. The outcome is still unknown but many view this as a way for Iran to show that religions other than Islam will not be tolerated.
In addition to the persecution of Christians, Baha’is also complain about persecution. Several currently sit on death row, convicted of espionage, propaganda, and “spreading corruption.”
2010 State Department International Religious Freedom Report on Iran
Iran - New World Encyclopedia
Iran Country Profile- BBC News
World Waking up to Iran's Religious Persecution - The Foundry
Baha’i on Trial in Iran Worries Brother From Afar- NYTIMES.com