Update: Rouhani canceled his planned trip to Italy and France following the Paris attacks of Nov 13.
(London) – Pope Francis should press President Hassan Rouhani on the need to advance religious freedom in Iran, Human Rights Watch said today in a joint letter to Pope Francis from 10 civil society organizations from around the globe. President Rouhani will meet the Pope on November 14, 2015, at the Vatican as part of an official trip to Italy.
“This landmark opportunity to encourage religious freedom in Iran should not be wasted,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director. “We urge Pope Francis to call for the Iranian president to protect these fundamental rights that Iranians of all faiths deserve to enjoy.”
Iran has a record of restricting religious freedom, and the pattern of religious discrimination has continued under the current Rouhani administration. The government denies freedom of religion to Baha’is, Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority, and has jailed and harassed Christian converts. Sunni Muslims in Iran face restrictions in political participation as well as limitations on constructing and operating their own mosques. The Iranian government has also discriminated against other religious minorities, including Iranian Jews, Zoroastrians, and Yarasans.
Members of Iran’s Shia majority are not immune from repression. While members of the Sufi group, Nematollahi Gonabadis, consider themselves followers of Twelver Shia Islam, the official state religion in Iran, the Iranian government considers them members of a “deviant group,” and has increasingly harassed, arrested, and prosecuted them. The authorities have also imprisoned and otherwise persecuted dissident clerics for challenging the government’s official interpretation of Shia Islam.