In 2021, religious freedom conditions in Iran remained poor. In February, then President Hassan Rouhani signed amendments to articles 499 and 500 of Iran’s penal code imposing prison time on those guilty of “insulting Islam” and conducting “deviant activity” that “contradicts or interferes with the sacred law of Islam.” In June, three Christians were arrested, charged, and sentenced to five years in prison each on the basis of these amendments. Iran also continued using charges of “corruption on Earth,” “enmity against God,” and national security-related charges to persecute religious minorities. In April, the Arak Criminal Court sentenced two men to death for “insulting the Prophet,” and upheld the sentence on appeal in August. Iran’s government also continued to arrest, charge, sentence, and jail scores of Christians on charges including “propaganda against the regime.” Christian converts from Islam faced particular targeting for persecution. Despite the prevalence of COVID-19 in Iran’s prisons, scores of religious minorities, including Christians, Baha’is, and Sunnis, were called to begin prison sentences. Iran also continued to spread antisemitism. It released the results of its third Holocaust denial cartoon contest in January. Several submissions critical of Israel contained explicitly antisemitic tropes. In December, a state media outlet criticized a Shab-e Yalda display reminiscent of a Jewish Sukkah as a “distortion.” Smaller religious communities, including nontheists, also faced severe persecution. While Iran’s government considers followers of the Yarsan faith to be Shi’a Muslims who practice Sufism, members identify as a distinct and separate religion and are estimated to number up to two million. The Yarsani community’s January bid to gain recognition under Iran’s constitution failed, and Iran’s National Defense University published an article in Spring 2021 calling the community a “security threat.” Iran continues to detain those calling for greater religious freedom, including USCIRF Religious Prisoners of Conscience Golrokh Iraee and Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. On April 12, 2021, Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced Iraee in abstentia to an additional year in prison, a two-year travel ban, and a two-year ban on participating in political organizations. Authorities arrested Iraee in 2016 for “insulting Islamic sanctities” after discovering an unpublished short story in her home criticizing the religiously-grounded practice of stoning adulterous women to death. Iran continues to harass and imprison women who protest religious headscarf laws. In July, officials in Mashhad arrested five people for not observing “Shari’a criteria” after women modeled at a fabric store’s opening event without headscarves. Iran also continued detaining lawyer Nasrin Soutudeh despite serious health problems requiring multiple prison furloughs to receive medical treatment throughout the year. The Iranian government also targets and fails to protect members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, and intersex (LGBTI) community. Iran actively executes people who engage in same-sex relations, citing religious grounds. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arrested a lesbian woman in November on charges including “supporting homosexuality.” In May, authorities failed to fully prosecute the honor killing of a 20 year-old gay nonbinary person.
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