FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 3, 2015
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) this week marks the two-year anniversary of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s assumption of office by repeating its call to improve conditions for freedom of religion or belief in Iran. USCIRF also condemns the detention of prisoners of conscience, and calls for their immediate release.
“Two years have passed since President Rouhani assumed office, and for two years he has failed on his promise to improve the climate for religious freedom, particularly for religious minority communities. In fact, the situation for religious minority groups – including Baha’is, Christians, and Sufi Muslims – remains dire, as it does for dissenting Shi’a and Sunni Muslims. The Iranian government aggressively persecutes Baha’is, whom it considers heretics not worthy of legal protections. Authorities recently closed dozens of Baha’i-owned businesses, further impoverishing this marginalized and persecuted community. In addition, Christian church services continue to be raided and worshippers arrested, and dissenting Muslims continue to be imprisoned and tortured,” said USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George.
At least 350 religious prisoners of conscience remain in Iranian prisons, including about 150 Sunni Muslims, more than 100 Baha’is, some 90 Christians, and a dozen Sufis. These include: Pastor Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor and U.S. citizen; Behnam Irani, an evangelical Christian leader; Ayatollah Mohammed Kazemeini Boroujerdi, a dissident Shi’a Muslim cleric; and members of the Baha’i community, including the Baha’i Seven (Afif Naemimi, Behrouz Tavakkoli, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Vahid Tizfahm, Fariba Kamalabadi, Mahvash Sabet, and Saeid Rezaie). These individuals are included in the Defending Freedoms Project, an initiative of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, in conjunction with USCIRF and Amnesty International USA. Through this project, Members of Congress advocate in support of prisoners of conscience, shine a light on the laws and policies that have led to their imprisonment, and help hold governments accountable.
“Since August 2013, an increasing number of members of religious minority communities languish in prison solely because of their beliefs,” said George. “The United States and other governments must continue to speak out publicly and frequently at the highest levels about the severe religious freedom abuses in Iran and hold accountable those Iranian government agencies and officials who are culpable for severe violations of religious freedom by continuing to freeze their assets and refuse them visas.”
USCIRF has recommended, and the State Department has designated, Iran as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) since 1999 for the Iranian government’s systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom. For more recommendations, see USCIRF’s 2015 Annual Report.
To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-786-0613.