USCIRF Urges Clinton to Discuss Religious Rights with Iran

( [email protected] ) Oct 15, 2009 04:43 AM EDT

Ahead of world leaders’ talks on Iran’s controversial nuclear program, a religious freedom watchdog has urged U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to discuss the rights of religious minorities in Iran with its leaders.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Clinton, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said, “It is vitally important that Iran be called to account for its deplorable human rights record, including egregious violations of religious freedom.

“While we were pleased to learn that the U.S. delegation raised some human rights issues on the sidelines of the October 1 negotiations, we believe that human rights and religious freedom concerns, beyond the status of American detainees, must be an integral part of the ongoing talks,” read the letter.

USCIRF is a nonpartisan federal agency established in 1998 to monitor global religious freedom to offer independent policy recommendations to senior US officials, including the president and Congress.

The letter said, the Iranian government’s systematic repression extends beyond the Shi’a majority to target religious minorities, particularly Baha’is, as well as Sufi Muslims, Jews, and Evangelical Christians. In the past year, the Iranian government has intensified its targeting of these groups while increasing its anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying rhetoric.

The Iranian government also has “taken steps toward passing a revised penal code that, in clear violation of Iran’s international legal obligations, would codify draconian punishments, including the death penalty, on converts from Islam,” the watchdog said.

Since 1999, the State Department repeatedly has designated Iran a “Country of Particular Concern,” or CPC, due to its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. In its 2009 Annual Report, USCIRF found that religious freedom conditions continue to deteriorate.

“As a CPC, Iran is subject to Presidential Actions, including economic sanctions, under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA).

“Despite being designated a CPC for 10 years, no IRFA-related sanction has been imposed on Iran because of existing sanctions,” the group noted.

Therefore, USCIRF believes that the rapidly deteriorating conditions for religious freedom justify that at long last Presidential Actions be taken and has demanded that the U.S. sanctions against Iran be linked to religious repression and has urged Clinton to “bar from entry into the United States and freeze the assets of Iranian government officials who have engaged in particularly severe religious freedom violations.

It has also urged Clinton to “work with the European allies also to ban from entry and freeze the assets of Iranian officials who have engaged in particularly severe religious freedom violations.”

This comes at the backdrop of the ongoing trials of two female converts in the country. On 7 October, the two converts Maryam Rustampoor, 27, and Marzieh Amirizadeh, 30, were charged after sepding 6 months in prison with apostasy by Revolutionary court for leaving Islam and embracing Christianity. Earlier Iranian officials accused them of “anti-state activities” following their conversion.

In Iran, apostates (Muslims who convert to another religion) often face arbitrary arrest, indefinite detention and a host of other human rights abuses.