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Rights Denied: Violations against ethnic and religious minorities in Iran

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While the repression and human rights violations of the Iranian government are well documented, less attention is paid to the specific situation of its ethnic and religious minorities. From hate speech and police intimidation to denial of fundamental rights and opportunities, Iran’s minorities are routinely denied equal access to education, employment and political participation.

While Iran’s Constitution guarantees religious freedoms, it only extends these rights to Islam and three other recognized religions – Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism – leaving practitioners of other faiths, including Bahá’í, Sabean-Mandaeans and Yarsanis, with no guaranteed protections. At the extreme end, members of religious minorities – in particular, Iran’s sizeable Bahá’í community – have been vilified, arrested and even executed on account of their beliefs. They are frequently punished harshly with broad charges of threatening public morality or national security, resulting in long prison terms and even death sentences.

Ethnic minorities, including Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks and Baluchis, have been treated as second-class citizens, targeted on the basis of their identity and sidelined from education, health care and other basic services. Minority-populated regions such as Khuzestan, Kurdistan and Sistan-Baluchestan remain underdeveloped and excluded, with higher poverty levels and poorer health outcomes. These inequalities have contributed to profound discontent and resentment, reflected in the arrests of thousands of peaceful demonstrators in these regions. Prison data shows that at least three quarters of Iran’s political prisoners are from ethnic minorities.

Despite some limited gestures of conciliation since the election of Hassan Rouhani in 2013, hopes of a more inclusive and rights-based approach to Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities have yet to be realized. For this to be achieved, Iranian authorities will need to embark on a more comprehensive process of reform: this should include equitable economic development and political representation for minorities, as well as the lifting of all restrictions on their religious and cultural rights.

This report recommends:

  • The release of all minority activists imprisoned for their peaceful advocacy of human rights.
  • Extending the constitutional and legal recognition afforded to Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians to include all religious minorities.
  • Taking measures to increase the representation of minorities in high-ranking political positions, especially in areas in which they form the majority.
  • The introduction of mother tongue education for minority languages at the primary school level.

The allocation of sufficient budgetary resources to alleviate poverty and improve infrastructure in peripheral provinces.

Filed Under: Iran