The All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group (PHRG) and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief held a panel event on “The Persecution of Ethnic and Religious Minorities in Iran”, on 27 February, with the following speakers:
- Ahmed Shaheed (AS1), current UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran;
- Mosa Zahed (MZ), Executive Director, Middle East Forum for Development (MEFD), and speaking on behalf of family of imprisoned Iranian spiritual teacher, Mohammad Ali Taheri;
- Amir Saedi (AS2), Representative, Ahwaz Human Rights Organisation UK (UK branch of international human rights advocacy organisation for the Ahwazi Arabs and other ethnic and religious minorities in Iran);
- NC (NC), Director of Operations, Middle East Concern (MEC) – which promotes freedom of religion for Christians in the Middle East and North Africa;
- Paulo Casaca (PC), Executive Director, Alliance to Renew Co-operation among Humankind.
The APPGs would like to thank the MEFD for their assistance in organising this event.
The main points raised were as follows:
- Iran is a nightmare for minorities because there is no intention to treat everyone fairly; anyone who does not conform to the official state religion can be discriminated against, persecuted and even prosecuted for the national security crime of being “anti-system”. (AS1)
- As well as discrimination, there is considerable economic marginalisation of minority communities. The provision of all instruction in Persian also undermines equality, and has resulted in a high drop-out rate of students from ethnic minorities. (AS1)
- The issue of minorities can be a sensitive one, not only in Iran, and result in accusations of generating social discord and promoting territorial disintegration. (AS1)
- No matter who is power in Iran following the Presidential election, it is important to continue to engage with Iran; engagement can produce positive results. An issue that should be highlighted is impunity. (AS1)
- Taheri, detained since 2011 for establishing an alternative spiritual doctrine and group, remains in prison although his sentence was completed in February 2016. His family is calling for his immediate and unconditional release and has asked the UK Government to do so also. It is believed Iranian authorities were trying to charge him with other offences to keep him in prison. To get Mr. Taheri to end his latest hunger strike, the authorities said his case would be reviewed and a hearing was due to be held today. (MZ)
- The EU has made representations to the Iranian authorities about the case and stressed the need for necessary medical care to be provided to Mr. Taheri. The MEFD has called on the UK Government to ensure that the deepening of relations with Iran are contingent on an improvement in the human rights situation. (MZ)
- Iran is the most diverse country in the region, with six major nationalities and no one group having a numerical majority, yet the Persian language is the official language and Jafari Shia the main official religion. (AS2)
- Arabs in Iran, many of whom reside in Khuzestan province in the southwest of Iran where much of the oil wealth is located, are among the most oppressed minorities and subjected to racism because of historical animosities. They have no involvement in running their local affairs. The illiteracy rate of Ahwazi Arabs is four times the national average, and unemployment six times the national average. More generally, the regime changes the local demographics to the detriment of Arabs, by forcefully moving Arabs out and moving non-Arabs into the province. (AS2)
- Christian churches in Iran are monitored, and Persian speakers not allowed, only Assyrians and Armenians. Churches have been closed and church property seized. House church leaders are harassed and can be arrested; Christian converts are persecuted. The right under international law to hold a religious belief should not be subject to restrictions, and the international community should help ensure Iranian authorities respect that. (NC)
- The anti-drugs policy in Iran is an absolute fraud; it serves to contribute to massive human rights violations and increase the power of the Revolutionary Guards. Much of the anti-drugs policy is focused on small-scale drug smuggling, which impacts on minority communities as many live near border areas. All Parliaments should ask for detailed accountability for funds provided by the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) to Iran. (PC)
- One of those in attendance expressed concerns about reports that relevant Iranian authorities have ordered Sunni prisoners convicted of drug smuggling to be executed as soon as possible so the latter do not benefit from a Parliamentary bill proposing the elimination of the death penalty for prisoners convicted of drug-related offenses.
- Another person in attendance called on the UK Government to engage more robustly with Iran on human rights issues, particularly given that thousands of lives in Iran had been shattered as a result of the violations committed by the Iranian regime.
The PHRG will continue working with minority groups in Iran, to bring them together to raise greater awareness of their plight, and to raise related matters with relevant interlocutors, such as Iranian authorities and the UK Government.