Iran’s religious freedom failings laid bare at UN

Iran’s religious freedom failings laid bare at UN

The Iranian delegation to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last week, led by Mohammad-Javad Larijani (centre).

UN member states have urged Iran to provide freedom of religion or belief for all citizens, including members of both recognised and unrecognised religious minorities.

The member states adopted a resolution yesterday, expressing “serious concern” about “ongoing severe limitations” to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief for minorities “including Christians alongside Gonabadi Dervishes, Jews, Sufi Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Yarsanis, Zoroastrians and members of the Baha’i faith”.

The resolution calls on Iran to “end widespread and serious restrictions, in law and in practice, on the right to freedom of expression and opinion … and the right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, and to end its harassment, intimidation and persecution of … persons belonging to recognized and unrecognized religious minorities and their families, wherever it may occur”.

It also instructs Iran to “cease monitoring individuals on account of their religious identity, to release all religious practitioners imprisoned for their membership in or activities on behalf of a recognized or unrecognized minority religious group and to ensure that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of their choice, in accordance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”.

The resolution also calls on Iran to stop “incitement to hatred” against members of religious minorities, and denial of education; to rescind “unduly harsh sentences … including long-term internal exile”; and for all defendants to be provided with “legal representation of one’s choice”.

Just this week Christian convert Ebrahim Firouzi was sent into internal exile following six years in prison, while Article18 has also highlighted the proliferation of hate speech against Christians in Iran; the denial of education to the children of imprisoned Christian convert Yousef Nadarkhani; Iran’s harassment of family members of Christian converts; and how earlier this year five Christian converts had their bail amounts increased tenfold when they insisted on their own choice of lawyer.

The resolution also asks Iran to provide access to the country to the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, who has been highly critical of Iran’s mistreatment of its religious minorities, including Christian converts


Article18 joined with two fellow advocacy organisations, CSW and Middle East Concern, in submitting recommendations on Iran ahead of its latest Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last week. 

Iran’s human rights record was the subject of a three-hour-long hearing on 8 November, during which the representatives of over 30 countries expressed concern over Iran’s mistreatment of religious minorities and failure to ensure religious freedom. 

The plight of Christians was raised by the representatives of Bahrain, Haiti, the UK and the USA – who called for the release of prisoners of conscience including Yousef Nadarkhani – while the representatives of Norway and the Netherlands made special mention of the problems faced by Christian converts.

Among the other issues raised by UN representatives were Iran’s failure to ensure fair trials for defendants; denial of medical care to prisoners; and the use of torture in obtaining forced confessions.

The Iranian delegation, led by Mohammad-Javad Larijani, did not respond specifically to the problems faced by Christians in Iran, though Mr Larijani did remark on the situation of the Baha’is, saying that although they were not a recognised religious minority, they are “supported and shielded by the government” and that the “issue made of them outside [Iran]” is very different from the “reality on the field”.

Meanwhile, the Jewish representative to the parliament, Siamak Moreh Sedgh, said Iranians had “total religious freedom” and that he was “sure that all of the problems of religious minorities can be solved within the framework of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its constitutional law”.

Mr Larijani also responded, at length, to the repeated questions regarding denial of access to the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran.

He said that “while we don’t have any hostility with the gentleman … we think that his appointment is both unjustified and unwarranted” as “Iran is the most important and greatest democracy in the west of Asia” and shouldn’t have been “singled out for special reporting” when there were “nearby countries” where “even the women cannot drive the car ” – a thinly veiled attack on Saudi Arabia.

He also accused Mr Rehman of “indulging in media manipulation … moving from one side of television to another, and engaging in propaganda against Iran”. 

Mr Larijani said Mr Rehman had created a list of “more than 1,000 accusations” against Iran by using “scissor and paste from the media”, and that it was “not feasible” for the rapporteur to “see whether this list of 1,000 accusations is correct or not” during a three-day visit.

He further blamed Mr Rehman’s reports on “the views that he gets from the MKO”, which he said were “put in the mouth of the special rapporteur” in [the MKO’s] “safe havens” in Berlin, London and the USA.

This was one of several attacks made by the Iranian delegation against the US – and its “cruel economic sanctions” – and European nations, whose recommendations Mr Larijani said “we didn’t appreciate”.

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