TEHRAN – Citing decades-long prosecution, a leading international human rights group has urged Iranian government to meet its promises of guaranteeing freedom of worship to its religious minorities, especially Sunni Muslims.
“Iran's Sunnis should be allowed to practice their faith freely, as do their Shiite counterparts,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement published on HRW site on Saturday, November 9.
“Ending religious discrimination should be among President Rouhani's top priorities,” she added.
Sunni Muslims have been targeted in Shiite majority Iran for decades.
Since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979, the government has denied Sunnis in Tehran province permission to construct and operate Sunni mosques, according to Sunni activists.
More than a decade ago, the Sunni Mosques Affairs Council of Tehran, which operates under the supervision of the Gathering to Call and Reform Iran, helped establish a system of namazkhanehs, or provisional prayer sites, to accommodate Sunni worshippers in Tehran province during Friday prayers and `Eid holidays.
Earlier this year, Sadeghiyeh Mosque, one of the largest and most important Sunni prayer sites in Tehran, was the scene for Sunni prosecution.
During `Eid Al-Fitr and `Eid Al-Adha, Sunni Muslims were prevented from praying in the mosque by security forces, without mentioning reasons.
Moreover, Tehran police used to summon Sadeghiyeh mosque board members to warn them of celebrating in public, the Persian-language site Islah Web reported.
After repeated threats, Sadeghiyeh Mosque board members raised complaints to government officials who granted them ‘vocal’ guarantees at that time to allow Sunni to practice their faith freely.
However, security forces in Last August dismissed the vocal assurances and asked for a ‘written’ proof that Sunni prayers had official approval.
Sunni Muslims complains were denied by some government officials who claimed that Iran's mosques are open to all Muslims regardless of sect, calling Sunnis to show unity by participating in Shiites prayers.
Addressing Iran’s newly elected President Hassan Rouhani, HRW urged the Iranian leader to fulfill his promises to provide equal protection to all faiths.
“Rouhani promises to win the trust of religious minorities, but those promises don't mean much if security agents are stopping Sunni Muslims from praying in their own mosques,” said Whitson.
HRW message to Rouhani is not the first.
In an August 1 letter to Rouhani, the then president-elect, Human Rights Watch said, “Millions of people among Iran's ethnic and religious minorities are subjected to legal or effective discrimination in their political participation, employment, and the exercise of their social and cultural rights.”
During his electoral campaign, Rouhani issued a 10-point statement guaranteeing equal protection of the law to all Iranians, regardless of ethnicity and religion.
Yet, nothing has been proved on the ground so far.
The Iranian society is a demographic mosaic that consists of religious minorities, such as Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and Baha’is, sectarian minorities, such as Sunnis, Isma’ili Shiites, Zaidi Shiites, and ethnic minorities, such as Azeris, Baluchis, Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmens.
And there are also the Persian ethnic majority and the Twelver Shiite religious majority.
Sunnis constitute around 20 percent of Iran’s 70 million residents, and they belong to different ethnic groups, such as Kurds, Balushis, Turkemans, Arabs, and Talishis.
Sunnis in Iran can be considered an oppressed minority.
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