Iran escalating the persecution of Sunni Muslims

Two Sunni prisoners of conscience from Iran’s Baloch minority were executed last November in Zahedan Central prison, Sistan-Baluchestan province of Iran. According to the report of Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), 22-year old Vahid Shah Bakhsh and 23-year old Mahmoud Shah Bakhsh were hanged on charges of ‘Moharabeh [enmity against God] and acting against national security’.

Both men had been subjected to severe torture whilst being held at the Ministry of Intelligence Detention Center in Zahedan. Vahid Shah Bakhsh (also known as Abdol Rahman, the son of Ghous Uddin) and Mahmoud Shah Bakhsh (also known as Junaid, the son of Dur Mohammad) were arrested in Zahedan in April 2012. Vahid Shah Bakhsh had been active in criticizing the Iranian government and speaking out against the oppression faced by the Sunni Baloch minority in Iran.

This case is quoted in Peter Tatchell’s article in the International Business Times on 22 January. He writes:

“In recent months, there has been a wave of arrests of Sunni Muslims. Dozens are currently on death row and at risk of death by the sadistic Iranian method of hoisting on cranes and slow strangulation by hanging. How can this be?

Iran is a Shia Muslim state. Muslims who don’t adhere to the Shia interpretation of Islam are regarded with official distrust and disrespect. They often suffer discrimination – and sometimes much worse.

While Iran officially claims to defend the rights of Islamic minorities – their freedom of faith is enshrined in the constitution – the reality is very different. Followers of non-Shia Islamic sects are deemed not true Muslims. They are seen as potential enemies of the state and of God, which is a capital office. This is particularly the case with Sunni Muslims. The Shia-dominated Tehran regime regards them as their main religious rivals – and a threat.

In everyday life, Sunni Islam is tolerated up to a point. But whenever it gains converts or influence, the state cracks down – particularly in the ethnic minority Kurdish, Arab and Baluch regions of Iran.”

The Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation (ABF), confirms that the repression of Sunni Muslims has been intensifying since late 2012 when six young Kurdish Sunni activists were hanged in Rajai Shahr Prison. ABF observes: “Sunni Muslims are estimated to constitute about 10% of Iran’s total population. According to Article 12 of the Islamic Republic’s Constitution, they can practice their faith freely. In practice, however, the Shia rulers of Iran have subjected Sunnis to discrimination and have denied them political, civil, economic, social, and cultural rights, through restrictions in access to government positions, employment, education, and places of worship.”

In 2014, a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran stated that at least 150 Sunni Muslims are currently “detained for reportedly organising religious meetings and activities or after trials that allegedly often failed to meet international standards.”

These failures include being denied access to their lawyer and the right to call evidence and witnesses in their defence; as well as subjecting the accused to 10-minute summary trials while shackled and blindfolded.

Many Sunnis believe their persecution is aimed at stopping them from promoting their own interpretation of Islam, raising awareness about the unjust treatment of Sunnis and exposing the misuse of religion by the state.