Aliakbar Gorji Azandaryani’s comments were published in two separate articles on a government website over the past two days.
Firstly, yesterday, he asked the governor of East Azerbaijan Province to look into why the Assyrian church in Tabriz was forcibly closed last month and its cross removed from the church’s high tower.
And today he also questioned the legality of the move by Iran’s Social Welfare Organisation, also last month, to ban religious-minority teachers from working in nursery schools.
Of the Tabriz church closure, Mr. Azandaryani said he had “serious doubts about the legality”, referring to Articles 9, 19, 20, 26, 36 and particularly 13 of Iran’s constitution, which states that religious minorities are recognised and free to perform their religious ceremonies.
“Therefore such an order is a clear violation of the constitution and the rights of the recognised religious minority,” he said.
He added that the move also went against several of the provisions of Iran’s Charter of Citizens’ Rights, which President Rouhani launched in 2016, and called upon the governor of East Azerbaijan Province to “do all he can to find out about the details of this case, including the background reasons for the seizure of the church and the authority that issued the order” – in this case EIKO (Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order), presided over by the Supreme Leader himself.
Mr. Azandaryani gave the minority-teacher ban similarly short shrift, also referencing several articles of both the Iranian Constitution and Charter of Citizens’ Rights in saying he considered it illegal.
He particularly made note of the constitution providing all citizens with the right to have “employment of their own choice, without prejudice or discrimination”.
Therefore, he said “it is expected that the statement will be withdrawn and the public made aware of actions taken” against those responsible.
Article18’s Advocacy Director, Mansour Borji, welcomed the statements but noted that they “don’t carry much weight unless backed by the president himself”, and that, in the case of the Tabriz church, “the ruling has been made by the revolutionary court in favour of EIKO, which is overseen by the Supreme Leader, so even the president may not be able to do much”.
But Borji said that it was still “important that a senior legal adviser has recognised the illegality of these actions”.
“Now, officials from both legislative and executive bodies have raised serious objections to the recent moves against the rights of religious minorities,” he noted.