Report on the situation of human rights in the Islamic

E/CN.4/2002/42 16 January 2002
Original: ENGLISH

Fifty-eighth session Item
9 of the provisional agenda


Report on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, prepared by the Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights, Mr. Maurice Danby Copithorne, pursuant to Commission resolution 2001/17

B. Religious minorities
1. In recent reports (for example A/56/278 of 10 August 2001) the Special Representative has noted the establishment of the National Committee for the Promotion of the Rights of Religious Minorities. There are many issues this Committee needs to address, including that of diyah (see paras. 34?37) and the refusal to accept the devolution of property by inheritance to non?Muslims, where there are Muslim beneficiaries. The Special Representative awaits a report that this Committee is in fact functioning.


2. In earlier reports, the Special Representative has described the complaints of the Sunnis about the discrimination they face (see for example his interim report to the General Assembly A/56/278, paras. 74?75). He would recall his earlier comment that underdevelopment seems to coincide with those areas of the country in which Sunnis are in the majority.

The Special Representative has now received an allegation of Government control over Sunni theological teaching in Kurdistan through an organization called “Great Islamic Centre in the West”, located in Sanandaj. All Sunni students reportedly have to register with the Centre and the Government determines the place of teaching, the subjects, the number of students and the salaries of the teachers. Such matters should clearly be in the hands of the Sunnis themselves.

3. It has been possible in the past year or so to discern some hopeful signs concerning the treatment of the unrecognized minorities, especially the Baha’is. These signs have included the commutation of death sentences (see annex II), the release of prisoners and the 1999 decision of the Expediency Council declaring that “all Iranians enjoy the rights of citizenship irrespective of their belief”, followed by measures removing the requirement of declaring one’s religious affiliation when registering a marriage or the birth of a child or applying for a passport overseas. The Special Representative also welcomes the statements by Iranian representatives in international forums (the International Labour Organization, June 2000, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child, May 2000), that their Government is concerned to provide for the rights of all citizens, including those who are members of non?recognized minorities.

4. However, no further progress has come to the Special Representative’s attention. He understands that the Baha’i community continues to be subject to harassment and discrimination in the areas of, inter alia, education, employment, travel, housing and the enjoyment of cultural activities. Seven members of the Baha’i community remain in prison, apparently because of their faith, and Baha’i property continues to be subject to confiscation (see annex II).

5. In his interim report to the General Assembly (A/56/278, paras. 76?78), the Special Representative reported that, as a complex has been built over the old Baha’i cemetery in Tehran, the Iranian authorities had allotted other land for this purpose. It is now reported that the land offered is in fact wasteland, with no access to water. Further, the community has been denied permission to mark individual graves or to construct mortuary facilities.

6. Also of concern is the sentence issued by a judge of the Supreme Office of Control and Review, Hamzih Khalili, on 15 September 2001, in the context of an appeal by the Muslim owners of property rented to the Baha’is that was confiscated in 1998. According to an unofficial translation to which the Special Representative has had access, the verdict declares that the “seizure and confiscation of the properties belonging to the misguided sect of Baha’ism is legally and religiously justifiable” and states that “the cultural activities of the misguided sect of Baha’ism ? as prescribed by the order of His Excellency the Supreme Leader ? do need to be seriously opposed”. This would seem to indicate that the 1991 memorandum on “The Baha’i Question”, issued by the Supreme Revolutionary Cultural Council and approved by the Supreme Leader, is still in force and therefore that discrimination against Baha’is continues to be official practice, a situation the Special Representative deeply deplores.

7. The Special Representative wishes to reiterate his appeal to the Government of Iran to implement his outstanding recommendations (A/53/423 of 23 September 1998, para. 45), as well as those of the Special Rapporteur on religious intolerance (see E/CN.4/1996/95/Add.2 of 9 February 1996).


8. It is difficult to obtain a reliable estimate of the number of Christians in Iran. A major complication is the mixing of ethnicity with religious affiliation. Estimates of the non?ethnic Christians, that is, leaving aside the Armenians and Assyrians, vary from several thousand to as high as 15,000. The Armenians and Assyrians are recognized as official religious minorities, that is, as Christians. It is a status that assigns them, along with the Jews and the Zoroastrians, second?class citizenship.

9. However, their lot is considerably better than that of the unrecognized, that is, the non?ethnic Christians. These are those groups of Christians who are for the most part ethnic Persians. Evangelical Christians such as members of the Assemblies of God have been harshly persecuted over the years, apparently on the grounds that they have been or might be proselytizing. Some of them are said to have been convicted of apostasy. Some have been sentenced to death and a few have been executed. The Special Representative has been informed that only three small Persian?speaking churches may remain in operation and that they have had to agree not to evangelize Muslims. The printing of Christian literature is prohibited and Christian bookstores are banned. A number of Christian activists have reportedly fled the country.

10. In the Special Representative’s opinion, the situation of the Christians, particularly the non?ethnic Christians, does not seem to have improved since the 1996 report of the Special Rapporteur on religious intolerance on his visit to Iran (E/CN.4/1996/95/Add.2). The Special Representative again calls on the Government to implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on religious intolerance.


11. In the south of the area inhabited by the Kurds, there is a little known community called variously the Yaresan or “Al Haq”. According to one scholarly writer, the Yaresan are Kurds who practise an apparent form of Zoroastrianism or Yezidism (the only uniquely Kurdish religion), but are labelled Muslems because they adopted several superficial features, including veneration of Ali, the fourth Caliph.

12. The Special Representative has received representations from members of this community concerning local discrimination, both official and social, apparently based on their religion.
13. The Special Representative has received only limited first?hand evidence of the treatment of this community. However, its existence seems to be widely accepted and its treatment to be consistent with the evidence he has received from other non?Shi’ah communities. The Special Representative urges the Government to recognize the existence of the Yaresan, to prevent discriminatory practices against them and to include their representatives in the National Religious Minorities Commission.

C. Ethnic minorities

The Azeris

14. The Azerbaijan Turkic?speaking people of Iran (the Azeris) are recognized as the largest ethnic minority and may indeed be the largest ethnic group in the country. It appears to be accepted that about 12 million of them live in the north?west and that in the country as a whole there may be as many as 30 million. It is asserted that the Azeris have lived on the Iranian plateau for thousands of years and that they predate the entry of Persian tribes to the area.

15. The complaints brought to the Special Representative concern the use of the Azeri language and that the unwelcome prospect of Azeri cultural assimilation is accelerating (see annex III). More particularly, Azeris are asking for the teaching of “proper” Azerbaijani Turkish along side Persian in schools in regions predominantly inhabited by Azeris, production in and the broadcasting of “proper” Azerbaijani Turkish on radio and television, the allocation of one television channel for Turkish language broadcasting, the creation of schools of Azerbaijan Turkish language and literature at universities throughout Iran (it is noted that while Azerbaijani Turkish is not taught at the University of Tabriz, seven other languages are taught) and the facilitation of the creation of Azerbaijani Turkish cultural centres.

16. The representations reaching the Special Representative also refer to harassment and imprisonment of Azeri cultural activists, such as Dr. Mehmud Ali Chehregani, whose circumstances were described by the Special Representative in earlier reports and whose imprisonment was the subject of urgent representations by the Special Representative to the Government. He has since been released. The Special Representative has received copies of open letters to the President signed by various groups of Azeri personalities, such as members of the Majilis and writers and poets, demanding fair treatment for Azeri culture. Their letters have taken the President to task for unimplemented campaign promises on cultural freedom; they complain of “cultural and ethnic insults and humiliation” from government media sources and they invoke article 15 and article 19 of the Constitution.

The Kurds

17. The Special Representative has in several reports discussed the status of the Kurds. He recognizes the difficulty of capturing the real situation in such matters as the treatment of minorities without access to the regions concerned. The challenge of distinguishing local incidents from broader trends may be also more formidable in this context.

18. In his interim report to the General Assembly (A/56/278, paras. 82?84), the Special Representative identified a number of indictors that conditions may be improving for the Kurds. More recent information suggests that on balance, discrimination and repression continue to exist. A number of specific allegations are set out in annex IV.

19. In the political sphere, perhaps the most dramatic event was the attempted, and in the event withdrawn, collective resignation in October 2001 of all six members of the Majilis from the province of Kurdistan. In a letter to the Interior Minister, the six said “unfortunately, Kurdistan province and the Kurds, especially Sunnis, are denied their legitimate rights, and executive officials are turning their backs to calls for justice on the political, economic, cultural and social issues they have brought out”. Late in 2000, a Kurdish member of the Majilis had publicly alleged the existence of “a campaign of repression and serial killings” against the Kurdish community.

Annex III


The following is a list of specific complaints received by the Special Representative:

Denial of cultural autonomy; Harassment and imprisonment of cultural activists;

The banning of the use of the Azeri language in schools;

The use of Farsi?Azeri hybrid, rather than pure Azeri, on television and radio;

Teaching in schools that the birth of the Iranian people came with the arrival of the Persian tribes and that the Azeri people are Iranian Aryans, forced to change their language upon the arrival of the Mongolians;

Changing or distorting Azeri geographical names;

Refusal to register a child with an Azeri name.,,UNCHR,,IRN,,3c8495fc5,0.html