There were reports of abuses of religious freedom, including religious prisoners and detainees. The government severely restricted overall religious freedom and reports of government imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on religious beliefs continued during the year. Government rhetoric and actions, particularly since the June 2009 elections, created an increasingly threatening atmosphere for nearly all non-Shia religious groups, most notably for Baha’is, as well as for Sufi Muslims, evangelical Christians, Jews, and Shia groups that did not share the government’s sanctioned religious views. Government-controlled broadcast and print media intensified negative campaigns against religious minorities, particularly the Baha’is, during the year. All non-Shia religious minorities suffered varying degrees of officially sanctioned discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment, education, and housing.
Authorities executed at least one individual on charges of apostasy. The media reported that a man identified as “Ali Ghorabat” was hanged on January 26 in Karoun Prison in Ahvaz for “apostasy.” Ghorabat, who appears to have been Muslim, was charged with apostasy for “claiming to have contact with God and the 12th Shiite Imam.” At least two death sentences for apostasy or evangelism were issued under judicial interpretations of Islamic law in 2010 and the case of at least one of these individuals was on appeal during the year.
In early 2010 the government started convicting and executing reformers and peaceful protesters on the charge of moharebeh (enmity against God). This practice continued during the year, with at least 30 persons reportedly charged, convicted, and sentenced to death for moharebeh since January 2010. According to credible nongovernmental organization (NGO) reports, at least 10 individuals were executed on charges of moharebeh during the year, including brothers Mohammad and Abdollah Fathi on May 17.
Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the government has killed more than 200 Baha’is, although there were no reports of Baha’i executions during the year.
In 2010 Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death, pending confirmation by the Supreme Court. The sentence has yet to be confirmed or carried out after the Supreme Court requested the local court to conduct an investigation into Nadarkhani’s religious history.
The government continued to imprison and detain Baha’is based on their religious beliefs. The government arbitrarily arrested Baha’is and charged them with violating Islamic penal code articles 500 and 698, relating to activities against the state and spreading falsehoods, respectively. Often the charges were not dropped upon release, and those with charges pending against them reportedly feared arrest at any time. Most were released only after paying a large fine or posting high bail. For some, bail was in the form of deeds of property; others gained their release in exchange for personal guarantees from a “guardian” that the offender would appear in court, or the granting of a work license. Government officials reportedly offered Baha’is relief from mistreatment in exchange for recanting their religious affiliation, and if incarcerated, made recanting their religious affiliation a precondition for release.
At least 60 Baha’is were arbitrarily arrested during the year, some of whom were released. At least 95 Baha’is were imprisoned and 416 Baha’i cases were still active with authorities at year’s end, according to human rights groups.
In September, at the conclusion of her four-year sentence, the government released Raha Sabet, one of three Baha’is arrested in 2006 for their involvement in projects focused on teaching literacy and social skills to children. Authorities released her two colleagues in 2010.
In March, after a challenge from the prosecutor general, the government extended to 20 years the sentences of the seven leaders of the Baha’i community: Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Behrouz Tavakkoli, Saeid Rezaie, Vahid Tizfahm, and Mahvash Sabet. Although the courts originally sentenced the leaders to 20 years’ imprisonment in June 2010 for “espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities, and propaganda against the Islamic Republic,” the courts reduced the sentence to 10 years in September 2010. At year’s end, all remained in detention and the government had not allowed any of the seven leaders access to their attorney, Abdolfattah Soltani.
In May authorities detained at least 30 members of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, raided their homes, and took cultural items. Ultimately authorities arrested 16 persons for failing to meet the entrance requirements to the university and for being members of an “illegal cult with anti-human rights activities.” Authorities released nine of the detainees within 10 days of their arrest. In October courts found the other seven--Kamran Mortezaie, Ramin Zibaie, Mahmoud Badavam, Farhad Sedghi, Riaz Sobhani, Vahid Mahmoudi, and Nooshin Khadem--guilty of “membership in the deviant Baha’i sect, with the goal of taking action against the security of the country, in order to further the aims of the deviant sect and those of organizations outside the country,” according to unofficial transcripts of the trial. Courts sentenced them to four to five years in prison. At year’s end, all remained in prison. Their trials were conducted without a senior member of their legal team, Abdolfattah Soltani, who was arrested days before the trials began. On September 10, security agents arrested Soltani without a warrant and took him to an unknown location; at year’s end Soltani reportedly was being held in Ward 209 of Evin Prison in Tehran.
Harassment and arrests of Sufis also continued during the year. In September, 60 Sufis were arrested after confrontations with security forces; authorities released 15 but sent the other 45 to prison with no access to attorneys or family members. During the same confrontations, three Sufis--Ibrahim Fazli, Ashgar Karimi, and Mohammad Ali Saadi--were shot, while a fourth, Vahid Banani, was killed. Authorities later arrested three lawyers--Gholam Reza Shirazi, Amir Islami, and Afshin Kharampour--when they attended meetings with government officials with the intent to negotiate the release of those arrested.
Also in September authorities arrested approximately 15 Sufi webmasters and journalists who reportedly still were being held at year’s end.
In April police rearrested eight Sufis on charges of disrupting public order, for which they already had served sentences of flogging and imprisonment. In March authorities ordered 200 Gonabadi Sufis to appear in court to face allegations of insulting Iranian officials; the outcome of the order was not reported.
At least 300 arrests of Christians were reported during the year. The status of some of these cases was not known at year’s end. Authorities released some Christians almost immediately, while they held others in secret locations without access to attorneys. During the year, authorities also arrested several members of “protected” Christian groups such as Armenian Apostolics and Assyrians.
Three Christian men, Pastor Farhad Sabokrouh, Davood (David) Ali-Jani, and Naser Zamen-Dezfuli, remained in detention after their arrests on December 23. According to media reports, security officials attacked Pastor Sabokrouh’s Assembly of God church in Ahvaz during the weekly prayer service. Security forces arrested all church members present, including children, while plainclothes agents confiscated mobile phones, audio-visual equipment, and copies of Christian books. Authorities released congregants after questioning, but they were not allowed to travel. Charges against Pastor Sabokrouh were not announced, nor were family members permitted to see him. Sabokrough had been arrested previously.
In June 2010 six members of a house church in Shiraz--Pastor Behrouz Sadegh-Khandjani, Mehdi Furutan, Mohammad Beliad, Parviz Khalaj, Nazly Beliad, and Amin Afsharmanesh--were arrested. They were released on bail in February. In March they were found guilty of “crimes against national security,” although the verdict was appealed. In April this sentence reportedly was commuted to one year in prison for “crimes against the Islamic Order,” when prosecutors failed to produce evidence of apostasy. Sadegh-Khandjani reported to prison in November to serve his sentence, along with Khalaj and Beliad.
On May 14, the Revolutionary Court in Bandar Anzali acquitted 12 Protestant Christians on the charge of “forming a society with the intent of disrupting national security.” Among those acquitted was Pastor Abdolreza “Matthias” Haghnejad, who reportedly was re-arrested in August while on a pastoral visit. However, his family had no information on his whereabouts or the charges against him. Haghnejad previously had been arrested in 2006. His condition was unknown at year’s end.
There were numerous incidents during the year of Muslim converts to Christianity facing harassment, arrest, and sentencing. Many arrests took place during police raids on religious gatherings, during which religious property also was confiscated. For example, security officials arrested four Ahvazi Arabs in October for having converted from Islam to Christianity. Likewise, in July authorities arrested Leila Mohammadi at her home outside Tehran and transferred her to Evin Prison. Officials raided her home and seized personal belongings, including Christian literature. Mohammadi was charged with, among other crimes, “insulting sacred figures.” She was released on bail after spending 74 days in Evin Prison.
Following his October 2009 arrest, Youcef Nadarkhani, a pastor of a house church in Gilan, received a death sentence for apostasy. His case was appealed and later reports indicated that officials had offered to release him if he recanted his Christian faith and made a statement about the Prophet Muhammad. According to news sources, Nadarkhani had refused to make such a statement and a final decision on his case had not been made by the year’s end.
Zoroastrians also reported detentions and harassment. In late October ministry of intelligence agents reportedly arrested Yashin Jamshidi, a Zoroastrian in Karaj. According to NGO reports, agents later went to his home and confiscated his personal belongings. There was no information onon his whereabouts at year’s end. Additionally, Zoroastrians Mohsen Sadeghipour, Mojtaba Ahmadi, Pouria Shahpari, and Mohammad Javad (Dariush) Shahpari continued to serve sentences handed down in 2010 on charges related to their work with the Iran Zoroastrian Committee.
There were reports of arrests and harassment of Sunnis. In October courts handed down prison sentences totaling 164 years for 54 Sunni clerics from the provinces of Azerbaijan and Kurdistan. In June a revolutionary court sentenced Sunni cleric Mamousta Sediq Hassani to 14 years in prison on charges of “cooperating with a dissident group.”
Shia religious leaders who did not fully support government policies or the supreme leader’s views also faced intimidation and arrest. For example, in December authorities arrested Hojatoleslam Abdollah Shahani, a religious opposition leader and blogger. Shahani previously had been banned from teaching at a local religious college.
Also in December, ministry of intelligence authorities arrested opposition cleric Hasanali Mostafaei, a disciple of the late reformist cleric Ayatollah Montazeri, at his home. There was no further information on the Shahani or Mostafaei cases or their whereabouts at year’s end.
In November Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other NGOs reported that an unnamed assailant attacked dissident Shia cleric Ayatollah Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi, currently serving an 11-year sentence on unspecified charges in Evin Prison. Family members told HRW a cellmate tried to kill Boroujerdi, who has often been critical of the government, and that prison authorities had denied him proper medical care outside of prison. Boroujerdi, who was attacked twice previously in prison, also suffered from failing eyesight, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and high blood pressure.
In August media in the country reported the rearrest of religious scholar Ahmad Ghabel, who had been sentenced in 2010 for “propaganda against the regime” and released on bail in June. He was being held in Vakilabad Prison at year’s end.
In May the media also reported the arrest of Abbas Amirifar, head of the Preachers Association and the President’s Cultural Council, and a close associate of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Reports indicated his case was referred to the Special Court for the Clergy for his involvement in the production of the film “Appearance is Close!” which revolves around the imminent return of the hidden 12th imam of Shia theology. Authorities reportedly released Amirifar in June.
Officials arrested at least eight persons from July 2010 to February 2011 for criticizing Islam on Internet message boards. Dr. Kamran Ayazi, Dr. Ladan Mostavafi, Hanieh Sane, Hojatollah Nikouyi, Mohammad-Reza Pounaki, Mohammad-Reza Akhlaqi, Sepehr Ibrahimi, and Amir Latifi were charged with various crimes, including “moharebeh” and “insulting sanctities and insulting the leader.” Sentences for these eight ranged from five to nine years in prison.
Women were harassed or punished for failure to adhere to “Islamic dress.” Human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh was fined 621,483 rial (50 U.S. dollars) for failing to wear a headscarf during a videotaped acceptance speech for an awards ceremony in another country that she was unable to attend. There were reports of increased enforcement of dress codes, and those arrested were subject to fines or other punishment, including whipping. In addition, government officials blamed rape victims for inciting their rapes. During the investigation of one case, Hussein Hosseinzadeh, the head of the Isfahan Police Investigative Unit stated “…the women were not properly dressed. If those women had decent outfits, they may have not been sexually assaulted.”
Broad restrictions on Baha’is severely undermined their ability to practice their faith freely, function as a community, or maintain links with coreligionists abroad. Baha’is reported arbitrary arrests, prolonged detention, and confiscation of property. Baha’i groups outside the country reported that government authorities increased harassment and intimidation of members of the Baha’i community during the year. Baha’is often were charged officially with “espionage on behalf of Zionism,” partly because the Baha’i world headquarters is located in Israel. These charges were more acute when Baha’is were found communicating with or sending monetary contributions to the Baha’i headquarters.
In addition to killings, executions, and arrests, Baha’is suffered frequent government harassment and persecution, and their property rights generally were disregarded. The government raided Baha’i homes and businesses and confiscated large amounts of private and commercial property, as well as religious materials belonging to Baha’is. The government reportedly seized numerous Baha’i homes and transferred them to an agency of Supreme Leader Khamenei. The government also seized private homes in which Baha’i youth classes were held, despite the fact that the owners had proper ownership documents.
The government continued to hold many Baha’i properties that were seized following the 1979 revolution, including cemeteries, holy places, historical sites, and administrative centers. Unspecified actors destroyed many of the properties, including cemeteries. Baha’is generally were prevented from burying and honoring their dead in accordance with their religious tradition.
There were reports of authorities forcing Baha’i businesses to close, placing restrictions on their businesses, and asking managers of private companies to dismiss their Baha’i employees. Baha’i groups reported that the government often denied their applications for new or renewed business and trade licenses.
There were reports that the government compiled a list of Baha’is and their trades and employment using information from the Association of Chambers of Commerce and related organizations, which were nominally independent but heavily influenced by the government.
Public and private universities continued to deny admittance to and expelled Baha’i students. Although the government maintained publicly that Baha’is were free to attend university, reports indicated that the implicit policy of preventing Baha’is from obtaining higher education remained in effect during the year. The Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, created in 1987 after Baha’is were barred from attending regular universities, reportedly was declared illegal in May for being a group that presented national security concerns. During the year, at least 30 Baha’is were barred or expelled from universities on political or religious grounds, including Ava Tavakoli, who was expelled after four semesters of study, and Sharheh Ruhani, who scored in the top 1 percent of all students on the country’s university entrance examinations.
The government prevented many Baha’is from leaving the country.
The Baha’i community reported that the government’s seizure of Baha’i personal property and its denial of access to education and employment was eroding the economic base of the community and threatening its survival. Members of the Baha’i community reported that Baha’i children in public schools faced attempts by their teachers and administrators to convert them to Islam.
The government actively denied Christians freedom of religion. Christians, particularly evangelicals, experienced increased harassment and surveillance during the year.
The government enforced its prohibition on proselytizing by closely monitoring the activities of evangelical Christians, discouraging Muslims from entering church premises, closing churches, and arresting Christian converts. Authorities pressured evangelical church leaders to sign pledges that they would not evangelize Muslims or allow Muslims to attend church services. Reports implied authorities regarded allowing Muslims to visit a Christian church as constituting proselytizing. Members of evangelical congregations were required to carry membership cards, photocopies of which had to be provided to the authorities. Worshippers were subject to identity checks by authorities posted outside congregation centers. The government restricted meetings for evangelical services to Sundays, and church officials were ordered to inform the Ministry of Information and Islamic Guidance before admitting new members. Christians of all denominations reported the presence of security cameras outside their churches, allegedly to confirm that no non-Christians participated in services. There were a number of examples of Muslims who converted to Christianity being arrested, detained, or questioned, including the case of Pastor Nadarkhani. The government reportedly confiscated at least 6,500 Bibles during the year.
With some exceptions, there was little government restriction of, or interference with, Jewish religious practice. However, the Jewish community experienced official discrimination. Anti-Semitism remained a problem. Government officials continued to make anti-Semitic statements, organize events designed to deny the Holocaust, and sanction anti-Semitic propaganda. Such propaganda involved official statements, media outlets, publications, and books. The government’s anti-Semitic rhetoric, along with a perception among radical Muslims that all Jewish citizens of the country supported Zionism and the state of Israel, continued to create a hostile atmosphere for Jews. The rhetorical attacks also further blurred the lines between Zionism, Judaism, and Israel and contributed to increased concerns about the future security of the Jewish community in the country. President Ahmadinejad continued his virulent anti-Semitic campaign. He continued to question regularly the existence and the scope of the Holocaust and publically called for the destruction of Israel, which created a more hostile environment for the Jewish community. In an address at Tehran University on August 26, he stated, “The Zionist regime’s establishment was based on numerous deceptions and lies and one of the biggest lies was the Holocaust.”
The Sabean-Mandaean religious community reportedly faced harassment and repression by authorities similar to that faced by other religious minorities. The government often denied members of the Sabean-Mandaean community access to higher education.
There were reports of arrests and harassment of Sunni clerics and congregants. Many Sunnis claimed they were discriminated against; however, it was difficult to distinguish whether the cause of discrimination was religious or ethnic, since most Sunnis are also members of ethnic minorities. Sunnis cited the absence of a mosque for use by Sunnis in Tehran, despite the presence of more than one million adherents in the city, as a prominent example. Sunni leaders reported bans on Sunni religious literature and teachings in public schools, even in predominantly Sunni areas. Sunnis also noted the underrepresentation of Sunnis in government-appointed positions in the provinces where they form a majority, such as Kurdistan and Khuzestan, as well as their inability to obtain senior government positions. Residents of provinces with large Sunni populations, including Kurdistan, Khuzestan, and Sistan-va-Baluchestan, reported discrimination and lack of resources, but it was difficult to determine if this discrimination was based on religion, ethnicity, or both.
Sunni members of the Majles wrote a letter to the supreme leader, dated December 19, asking for an end to discrimination against Sunnis. The members noted the non-implementation of elements of the constitution, including “those principles that refer to religious freedom of the Sunnis.” They emphasized as well that Sunnis had been unable to secure permission to build a mosque in Tehran and were still barred from running in presidential elections.
In November security officials in Tehran and Isfahan arrived at prayer sites belonging to Sunnis and prevented them from holding religious ceremonies marking the Feast of the Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha). Media reports also stated that Sunni Muslims in Tehran were banned from congregating at prayers marking the end of Ramadan.
According to reports, the government in August asked Sunni worshippers in Tehran to have a Shia imam lead their prayers, while security police were deployed to prevent Sunnis from entering houses they rented for religious ceremonies.
In February security forces reportedly raided a Sunni house of worship in Tehran, closed the facility, and detained the prayer leader, Mowlavi Musazadeh, who was released the following month on bail.
The government repressed Sufi communities and their religious practices, including increased harassment and intimidation of prominent Sufi leaders by the intelligence and security services. Government restrictions on Sufi groups and husseiniya (houses of worship) have become more pronounced in recent years. Sufi homes, businesses, and religious sites were damaged or destroyed by government officials during the year.
According to critics, the government used the clerical courts to prosecute certain clerics for expressing controversial political ideas and for participating in nonreligious activities, including journalism. In December Hojjatolislam Seyed Reza Ghods Alavi’s office was sealed by the Internal Security Forces shortly after he was suspended from teaching at the religious college in Qom. Alavi was a representative of Ayatollah Sanei, a supporter of reformists. Also, Ayatollah Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi remained in prison, in the sixth year of an 11-year sentence. Reportedly, his health was declining, and he was denied medical care and protection from threats from other prisoners. The basis for his conviction had not been disclosed by year’s end.
In March the UN Human Rights Council created a new position of special rapporteur for human rights in Iran. Dr. Ahmed Shaheed assumed the mandate in August and issued his first interim report in October, in which he noted his concern regarding targeted violence and discrimination against Iran’s religious minorities, as well as the constraints on freedom of religion and belief.