Iran Country Profile

Iran, also called Persia, but officially the Islamic Republic of Iran is a country in Western Asia. With a population of 82 million, it is the second largest country in the Middle East. Its location gives it geostrategic importance.

Iran is home to one of the oldest civilisations. Arab Muslims conquered the Empire in the seventh century, and the subsequent Islamization of Iran led to the decline of the once dominant Zoroastrian religion.

Iran is a theocracy. Prior to the formation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the country was ruled by the Shah (monarch), Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, who was well-known for his secular attitudes. In 1979, following a revolution, the Shah was overthrown and Ayatollah Khomeini became the leader of Iran’s new Islamic State, implementing a political system based on traditional Islamic beliefs.

Why are people leaving Iran?

In the last months of 2019, the Government once again brutally suppressed peaceful protests amid deteriorating economic conditions in response to hikes in the price of fuel. The Government killed hundreds of people, arrested thousands, and shut down the internet, leaving asylum seekers and refugees in Lancaster unable to contact their loved ones back home.

At the end of 2018 Amnesty International reported,

‘The human rights situation in Iran severely deteriorated. The authorities suppressed the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, as well as freedom of religion and belief, and imprisoned hundreds of people who voiced dissent. Trials were systematically unfair. Torture and other ill-treatment were widespread and committed with impunity. Floggings, amputations and other cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments were carried out. The authorities sanctioned pervasive discrimination and violence based on gender, political opinion, religious belief, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability. Executions took place, sometimes in public, and thousands remained on death row. They included people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime.’

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch reported in 2018 that

  • since protests first occurred in December 2017, the authorities have systematically violated the right of citizens to peaceful assembly, arbitrarily arresting thousands of protesters and killing 21 people during the December – January protests
  • while many human rights defenders and political activists remain behind bars for their peaceful activism, the authorities increased their targeting of human rights defenders and activists, including arresting and detaining environmentalists, and women’s rights activists peacefully opposing compulsory hijab laws and for teaching workshops for women on realizing equal rights in marriage.
  • Hundreds of people have been executed by the authorities (in the past also for drugs offences), including those who allegedly committed crimes as children. This also includes three Kurdish men convicted in unfair trials (following torture) of participating in armed struggle against the government.
  • People are tried unfairly, often using confessions obtained under torture
  • Women face severe discrimination in personal status matters related to marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody. For example, a married woman may not obtain a passport or travel outside the country without the written permission of her husband
  • Iranian law denies freedom of religion to Baha’is and discriminates against them (eg by not allowing them to attend university). At least 79 Baha’is were held in Iran’s prisons.
  • The government also discriminates against other religious minorities, including Sunni Muslims, and restricts cultural and political activities among the country’s Azeri, Kurdish, Arab, (see below) and Baluch ethnic minorities.
  • Iran has sentenced 37 Christians who converted from Muslim backgrounds to imprisonment for “missionary work.”
  • Since May 2018, revolutionary courts have sentenced at least 208 members of the Dervish Muslim religious minority to prison terms and other punishments in trials that violate their basic rights.

Further, Human Rights Watch report, ‘Iranian law considers acts such as “insulting the prophet,” “apostasy,” same-sex relations, adultery, and certain non-violent drug-related offenses as crimes punishable by death. The law also prescribes the inhumane punishment of flogging for more than 100 offenses, including drinking alcoholic beverages and extramarital sex, which are prohibited in Iran.’

References: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, The Guardian newspaper

The Ahwazi Arabs in Iran

Ahwazi Arabs in Iran face discrimination and arbitrary restrictions on their access to education, employment, adequate housing, and their enjoyment of their cultural and linguistic rights. They have repeatedly voiced concerns about their inability to learn, promote and use their own language, in private and in public, freely and without interference or discrimination

According to Amnesty International, Ahwazi Arabs face discrimination by the authorities concerning politics, employment and cultural rights, whereas Iran completely rejects such accusations, and considers such charges exaggerated. There have also been many arrests of Ahwazi Arabs who have converted to Sunni Islam, which is considered a crime in Iran according to the British daily newspaper The Guardian. Meanwhile, according to the Islamic Republic of Iran, there is no such crime or penalty in its law for converting to Sunni.

The rise in conversion to Sunni Islam is partly a result of anti-Arab discrimination, the perceived crackdown on the Arab identity of the region and the view that Sunni Islam is closer to the Arab roots of the Ahwazi Arabs. According to the International Campaign for Sunni Prisoners in Iran (ICSPI), the crackdown is due to the Iranian government's alarm at "the rise of Sunni Islam among the Ahwazi Arabs in the traditionally Shia-majority Khuzestan province." As a result of these conversions, Sunni Arabs across the Middle East have increasingly shown support for the Ahwazi cause.

Amnesty International
International Campaign for Sunni Prisoners in Iran
The Guardian newspaper

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