Insightful Iranwire report into how the Iranian regime discriminates against Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians. Zoroastrians and Christians are accused of proselytising and all minorities are subject to legal discrimination. Jews are not allowed to reprint religious books and there is no rabbi, as foreign-trained clerics are not allowed to take office in Iran.
Zoroastrians praying at a temple dug into a mountainside
Robert is an Armenian Christian, and he echoes much of what Armaiti says about discrimination. “Many of our Muslim friends ask us about converting to Christianity but in Iran we are not allowed to proselytize,” he says. According to Robert, the official Armenian churches are carefully monitored by security forces to prevent any kind of proselytization.
Maryam is a Christian convert who was baptized in a home-church in the northwestern city of Urmia. “In home-churches they both teach about Christianity and hold prayers and ceremonies like official churches,” she says. “In recent years, holding prayers at home-churches has become very difficult and dangerous. Under the guise of being interested in Christianity, security agents infiltrate home-churches to identify Christian converts and proselytizers.”
According to Maryam, converts are now very cautious about going to home-churches for prayers and ceremonies after many converts were arrested and sentenced to long prison terms. In less than two months in 2017, 11 converts and one priest were sentenced to a total of 125 years in prison.
Robert, however, says that the ban on proselytizing is not the only discrimination minorities face. It extends to many spheres of life. “For example,” he says, “no member of a religious minority can be elected president because, according to Article 115 of the Islamic Republic constitution, the president must be a believer in the official religion of the country — that is, Shi’ism. But this is only one of the most obvious examples. Religious minorities are clearly discriminated against in laws [which prevent them from taking on] government jobs, testimony in court, punishment for murder and so on.”
Members of religious minorities cannot join the armed forces and, according to the 1987 Law of the Islamic Republic Military, this option is reserved only for Muslims. Also, according to the Islamic Penal Code, if the victim of a murder is a Muslim then the murderer is punished by qisas (“retribution”), but if the victim belongs to a religious minority then the murderer has only to pay diya or “blood money.”
What is more, the diya for a murdered Muslim was higher than the blood money for a non-Muslim. But the sixth Islamic Republic Parliament (2000-2004) changed this, and ruled that the diya for both Muslims and non-Muslims must be equal. The Guardian Council, which must approve all laws, rejected this, but the parliamentarians insisted and the Expediency Council overruled the Guardian Council.
Another example of legal discrimination against minorities is testimony in court. Iranian law does not accept the testimony of a non-Muslim against a Muslim — whatever the case.
Pouya Dayanim, President of the Iranian Jewish Public Affairs Committee (IJPAC), tells IranWire about other areas of legal discrimination, including inheritance laws. “In inheritance laws, if one child of a minority family converts to Islam he gets all the inheritance and the rest of the family gets nothing,” he says.
Article 881 B of the Civil Code of the Islamic Republic states: “An infidel does not get inheritance from a Muslim and if there are infidels among the heirs of a deceased infidel, the infidel heirs do not take inheritance even if they are prior to the Muslim as concerns class and degree.”
Iran’s official media also discriminates against minority religions on a regular basis. “The magazine Payam-e Daneshjou compared the Jews to monkeys and the weekly Yalasarat al-Hussein, which belongs to Ansar-e Hezbollah, compared them to mice,” says Dayanim. “Movie actor Akbar Abdi praised Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for rubbing the noses of the Jews in the mud.”
Dayanim believes that the government’s anti-Israeli propaganda over the last 40 years has confused people, many of whom now do not distinguish between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism and, as a result, insult Jews.
“Printing books in Hebrew is not permitted in Iran,” says Dayanim. “Most of the Hebrew and Siddur prayer books are from 40 years ago and reprinting them is not allowed. We are also not allowed to bring religious leaders from among foreign academics into Iran. Iran is the only country with a Jewish community that has no rabbi. A rabbi is a graduate of a Jewish university who returns to lead religious ceremonies. Iran has no rabbi because it has no schools for teaching Judaism and rabbis from other countries are not allowed to come to Iran. So a group of religious individuals who have learned the traditions from their parents teach others.”
Dayanim believes that the Islamic Republic’s inheritance laws are designed to encourage members of religious minorities to convert to Islam. “I know a rich Zoroastrian family whose son converted to Islam to get his hands on all his father’s inheritance,” he says. “His mother, sister and brother took him to court and the court ruled in their favor. Then he wrote a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei, asking him: ‘My family is Zoroastrian and I have converted to Islam, so does the family get the inheritance?’ Ayatollah Khamenei answered that if there is a Muslim inheritor then the infidel will not get the inheritance unless they convert to Islam.”