Analysis: Why Iran’s failure to protect religious minorities doesn't bode well for nuclear deal

Report raises disturbing questions about Iranian compliance with any nuclear agreement in light of failure to respect its citizens’ basic human rights.

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May 24, 2015 23:37
2 minute read.
Jakarta

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani arrives to attend the closing statement for the Asian-African Conference in Jakarta April 23, 2015. . (photo credit: REUTERS)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s tenure has been marked by intensified persecution and incarceration of Baha’is, Jews, Christians and Sunni Muslims, according to a new report from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

“Since Hassan Rouhani assumed office in August 2013, the number of individuals from religious communities who are in prison because of their beliefs has increased,” it said.

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The report raises disturbing questions about Iranian compliance with any nuclear agreement in light of the Islamic Republic’s failure to honor pledges to respect its citizens’ basic human rights. Rouhani in 2013 committed himself to a concrete guarantee of human rights. His country’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, stressed in May that “we don’t jail people for their opinions.”

The Commission on International Religious Freedom report states, “non-Muslim minorities – Jews, Armenian and Assyrian Christians, and Zoroastrians – face harassment, intimidation, discrimination, arrests and imprisonment.” The small number of Jews remaining in Iran “can’t hold high office or teach in universities,” Shahrzad Elghanayan, an Iranian Jew from a distinguished family, who fled the Islamic Republic and now lives in Israel and the US and other countries, said in a Washington Post commentary.

The Islamic Republic’s revolutionary founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini executed Elghanayan’s grandfather Habib Elghanian, one of the country’s leading industrialists.

She wrote, “My grandfather was executed after a 20-minute trial on trumped-up charges that included being a ‘Zionist spy.’” Congressman Ted Deutch (D-Florida) told The Jerusalem Post, “The United States and the international community must continue to condemn Iran’s persecution of religious minorities, including those of the Baha’i faith, the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Iran. That’s why I recently introduced a bipartisan resolution that calls out the Iranian regime for its horrific treatment of the Baha’i community, from confiscating private property to denying students access to higher education.”

Deutch continued, “Regardless of what happens on the nuclear file, sanctions against those responsible for the regime’s most egregious human rights abuses cannot be lifted and if anything should continue to increase.”

On May 14, 2008, Iran arrested seven Baha’i leaders merely for being Baha’is. The regime alleged they provided assistance to Israel and engaged in “spreading corruption on earth.”

Shirin Ebadi, founded of the Tehran-based Defenders of Human Rights Center and the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, told CNN that Iran should release the Baha’i leaders.

“In the files, in the case basically, there is nothing, no reason that basically convicts them,” she said.

The regime sentenced them to 20 years in prison each.

Writing on his blog last week, Elliott Abrams, a former senior US diplomat, said: “The truth about life in the Islamic Republic is revealed not by the smooth diplomats it sends abroad for international negotiations, but by the suffering of these peaceful and vulnerable citizens.”

Ebadi, an interview with the US-based Pacifica radio in late April, said the only difference between the allegedly moderate Rouhani and his hardcore anti-Western predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is that “Rouhani smiles more.”

The US, France, UK, Germany, China and Russia have invested considerable energy in crafting an enormously complex deal to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons. While human rights considerations have played no role, the pattern of the regime’s broken promises may have much to tell us about whether Tehran will honor any accord.

Benjamin Weinthal reports on Iranian human rights and is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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