Iran: Religious and Ethnic Minorities

Discrimination in Law and Practice

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The situation of religious and ethnic minorities is a neglected aspect of the human rights picture in Iran. With the exception of the persecution of the Baha'i religious minority, little has been written about human rights problems experienced by minorities. Yet, as this report shows, ethnic and religious differences underlie some of the most persistent and serious human rights problems in Iran today. Gathering information about the situation in parts of Iran that are particularly inaccessible to the international media and human rights researchers, such as the Kurdish region of the northwest or the Baluchi region of the southeast, presented particular problems when preparing this report. Information provided by political opposition groups active in these regions is often difficult to verify. Some minority religious communities, apparently out of fear, tend to prefer not to call attention to discrimination against them, making information harder to collect. This appears to be the case with Jews and Zoroastrians. Even activists living abroad are reticent in providing specific information because they fear that if they are identified as the source, they or their relatives still living in Iran will become the target of government reprisals, or that reprisals may be taken against their relatives still living in Iran. Iranian government attacks against its opponents overseas continue to justify such fears. For this reason, several of the activists who provided information to Human Rights Watch are, at their own request, not identified in the report. Human Rights Watch visited Iran at the invitation of the government in January 1996. While in Iran, it heard unverified reports of human rights violations directed against Sunni Muslim Baluchi activists. In April 1997, Human Rights Watch wrote to the government requesting permission to visit Iran in order to research the status of minorities. This letter also requested answers to specific questions about cases of alleged violations of human rights relating to religious and ethnic minorities. The government has not responded to the letter.
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