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Eleven Human Rights Organizations Condemn the Destruction of Sunni Place of Worship in Tehran

Eleven human rights organizations have condemned the destruction of a Sunni place of worship in Tehran in a statement and called on international organizations and Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), to react to these actions by the Iranian government.

The government of the IRI has been in place for over three decades, but Sunni citizens still have no mosques in Tehran in which to worship. Although Article 12 of the Constitution of the IRI states that, “Other Islamic schools, including the Hanafi, Shafi'i, Maliki, Hanbali, and Zaydi, are to be accorded full respect”, policies discriminating against Sunnis have increased so much in recent years that the rented houses which they use as “places of worship” are being closed or destroyed by extrajudicial means.

In one significant example, on the morning of Wednesday, July 29, 2015, municipal authorities of the city of Tehran backed by the police and other security forces destroyed a large part of a Sunni place of worship in the Punak neighborhood of Tehran.

Several points merit attention in this regard:

1. It is estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of Sunnis in Tehran, however they have not been allowed a mosque in the Iranian capital. Tehran is the only capital of Islamic country where there is no Sunni mosque.

2. Because of the tremendous and increasing pressure on the Sunni population of Tehran, other Sunni places of worship are also not official. They are in fact rented houses being used as places of worship.

3. The Sunnis’ central place of worship in Tehran was the one in the Punak neighborhood, which was being used as a place for daily, Friday and Eid prayers by Sunnis. It has already been closed several times.

4. On January 17, 2015, the municipal and police forces closed this place of worship. A week before, on January 10, during the “Islamic Unity Conference” in Tehran the security forces prevented Molavi Abdolhamid Ismailzehi, the Sunni Friday prayer leader of Zahedan, from holding prayers in this house.

5. After sustained activism by Sunni imams the house was reopened after some time but worshippers were nonetheless prevented from holding Friday and Eid prayers at the location.

6. Notwithstanding these restrictions, some parts of the ground floor and the cellar which was used as the rest room were destroyed last month.

The restrictions on daily, Friday and Eid prayers and destruction of places of worship and the limitations on freedom of worship violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), to which Iran is a party, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a signatory. As the destruction of the Punak place of worship and other occurrences highlighted above constitute a clear violation of the freedoms of thought, conscience, and religion, the organizations below condemn these actions and demand that the opening of judicial investigations into the above, and likewise demand that the perpetrators be held accountable. This act was illegal under domestic law, and in contravention of Article 12 of the Constitution of IRI itself. We call on Iranian authorities to reconstruct the house and take the required steps to ensure that the right to worship of the Sunni population of Tehran is respected and that the authorities put an end to all discrimination against Sunni citizens of the IRI.

We also call on Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran to respond to these actions by Iranian government and for Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion to express their official objections to these violations of the fundamental rights of the Sunni population in Iran.

United for Iran

Human Rights and Democracy Association for Iran – Hamburg

Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation

The Association to Defend Human Rights and Democracy – Sweden

Iran Human Rights

Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan

Südwind

The Baloch Activists Campaign

Human Rights Committee of the Association of Iranian Researchers

Human Rights Activists in Iran

Iran Human Rights Documentation Center

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Freedom of Religion