September 1997 Vol. 9, No. 7(E)



Discrimination in Law And Practice


Recommendations 4



Articles of Legislation Discriminatory to Non-Muslims 8

The Penal Code 8

Legislation Affecting Freedom of Religion 10


The Baha'i Community 10

Christians 15

Protestant Churches 15

Orthodox Churches 19

Jews 19

Sunni Muslims 20


Kurds 24

Azaris 27

Baluchis 29

Arabs 31



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.

This report was researched and written by Elahé S. Hicks of Human Rights Watch/Middle East. The report was edited by Jeri Laber, senior advisor to Human Rights Watch, and Eric Goldstein, acting executive director of Human Right Watch/Middle East. Awali Samara, associate with Human Rights Watch/Middle East prepared the report for publication.

Human Rights Watch/Middle East wishes to express its gratitude to the many individuals and organizations in Iran and outside Iran whose cooperation and information made this report possible. Many of these must remain anonymous. For the chapter on the legal framework, the writer relied extensively on History and Documentation of Human Rights in Iran, written by Shirin Ebadi, a private lawyer in Tehran, and published in Iran in 1994. The writer would also like to thank Mahmoud Rafie and Abdol-Karim Lahidji of the League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran, in Germany and France respectively, for their invaluable advice and assistance.