Iran: UN expert says ethnic, religious minorities face discrimination

NEW YORK October 22, 2019 – Ethnic and religious minorities in Iran face significant challenges to the realisation of their rights, particularly against the backdrop of a worsening economic situation, Javaid Rehman, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, says in a report to be presented to the UN General Assembly.

Iranians face rising inflation, late or unpaid wages, and lack of access to work, food, health care, and water, among other challenges, which have been exacerbated by the re-imposition of sanctions. Those most vulnerable, including minorities, are seriously affected by this deterioration.

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Rehman expressed concerns that ethnic and religious minorities represent a disproportionate number of individuals who are executed on national security-related charges, and a disproportionate number of political prisoners in the country.

“I am concerned about the issue of incitement and hatred against minorities, and that the national legal framework does not provide adequate protections to ensure that such individuals do not face discrimination,” he said in his annual report to be presented on Wednesday.

Rehman said that simply taking part in advocacy for the use of minority languages, organising or taking part in peaceful protests, and affiliation with opposition parties may all be grounds for arrest and detention by the authorities. Human rights activists from ethnic minority communities including Arab Ahwazis, the Azerbaijani Turks, and the Kurds have been arrested for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly to call for their basic rights.

“I have observed an ongoing curtailment of the enjoyment of the right to freedom of assembly and association over the year, and the impact of this has been felt most keenly by workers, teachers, students, minorities and women,” he said. “Measures which stifle exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, particularly when employed against those calling for the realisation of their most basic rights, are of grave concern.”

The situation of economic, social, and cultural rights among minorities is similarly dire. Many face significant socio-economic challenges due to the forced closure of businesses, discriminatory practices and denial of employment, restrictions on access to education and other basic services and a lack of economic development. In regions populated by ethnic minorities, such as the Sistan and Baluchistan province where most ethnic Balochis live, the vast majority of the population lives below the national poverty line, Rehman said.

Left outside the national legal framework, unrecognised religious minorities such as Baha’is, Christian converts, Sufis, including the Gonabadi order, Yarsanis and the Sabean-Mandaeans, are the targets of discriminatory legislation and practices.  They have faced arrest and arbitrary detention for their beliefs, as well as discrimination in employment and education, the UN expert said. Even for recognised religious minorities such as Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians, a number of rights granted under the Constitution remain highly restrictive.

Rehman also expressed concerns about broader human rights issues, including the continued use of the death penalty, noting that so far this year at least 173 people had been executed, two of whom were children (aged 17).

The Rapporteur further highlighted the situation of women’s rights in the country, raising concerns that individuals – both men and women – protesting the compulsory hijab have been arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. “Although the recent allowance by the Government for women to attend a football match is most welcome, it is but one step, and I would note that broad discrimination against women persists in law and practice,” he said.