Legal Status of Non-Muslims in Iran

This article surveys the roots and consequences of religious apartheid in the Islamic Republic of Iran which by far exceeds the limitations placed upon the rights and freedoms of the Iranian society at large.  Since the Islamic Revolution, the inalienable human rights of the non-Muslim communities in the country, including their right to life, have been systematically abused and abrogated. In strictly legal terms, the Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocracy based not on the legal equality of citizens but on the supremacy of a specific Islamic sect and the inequality of Iranians based on their gender and religion.

Although “national solidarity” has been specified as one of the guiding objectives of the constitution of the Islamic Republic, the non-Muslim communities have legally been denied the right to participate in the realization of this objective. Indeed, the ruling clerics have long unequivocally rejected the notion of the principle of equality of diverse religious groups before the law. In their belief, the Iranian “nation,” which is the focus of the rights and freedoms specified in the constitution of the Islamic republic, is in fact comprised exclusively of the shiite Iranians.

Apart from the pervasive discriminatory nature of the present Iranian constitution, the laws and regulations enacted since the establishment of the Islamic republic have institutionalized legal discrimination against non-Muslim communities. Thus, Iran’s civil, criminal and commercial codes, inter alia, have substantially restricted the rights and freedoms of non-Muslim Iranians in ways that has been unprecedented since the constitutional revolution of 1906. Clearly, Iranian society will not have abided by the universally recognized principles of human rights until and unless the basic rights and freedoms of all Iranians regardless of their race, color, gender and religion enjoy constitutional and legal protection.

Abdol-Karim Lahidji
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