Last Updated 24 October 2023

Iran is the second largest nation in the Middle East. It is bordered by Iraq and Turkey to the west, by Azerbaijan and Armenia to the northwest, by the Caspian Sea and Turkmenistan to the north, by Afghanistan and Pakistan to the east, and by the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf to the south.

Iran is home to one of the oldest civilizations. The Islamization of Iran began in the seventh century; Shia Islam became the official religion in the 1500s. Following the revolution of 1979, Iran became an Islamic Republic, an authoritarian theocratic republic with a Shia Islamic political system. The Supreme Leader is the head of state and holds constitutional authority over the judiciary, government-run media, and other key institutions.

Iran has a population of more than 80 million, of which (on paper at least) 99% identify as Muslim. The Muslim majority includes a Shia majority (90%) and 9% Sunni Muslims (Turkmen, Arabs, Baluchis, and Kurds). The remaining 1% of the population identify as Baha’is, Christians, Jews, Sabean-Mandaeans, Zoroastrians, and Yarsanis. A considerable part of the Muslim population practice Sufism.1 There is no record of the proportion of the population that is non-religious, which is an indication of the level of discrimination and persecution that they face.

Amendments made to the Penal Code in 2021 put religious minorities, including the non-religious, at even greater risk of persecution.

Constitution and government Education and children’s rights Family, community, society, religious courts and tribunals Freedom of expression advocacy of humanist values
Grave Violations
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination

Constitution and government

Formation of the Islamic Republic

Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979 after the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty by the Iranian Revolution. Conservative clerical forces led by Ayatollah Khomeini established a theocratic system of government with ultimate political authority vested in a learned religious scholar referred to commonly as the Supreme Leader who, according to the Constitution,2 is accountable only to the Assembly of Experts – an elected 88-member body of clerics.

The current chief of state is Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei (since 4 June 1989). The Supreme Leader holds ultimate authority over all security agencies. Several bodies share responsibility for law enforcement and maintaining order. These are the Ministry of Intelligence and Security and law enforcement under the Interior Ministry, which report to the president, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which reports to the Supreme Leader. The Basij, a volunteer paramilitary group, sometimes acts as an auxiliary law enforcement unit subordinate to the Revolutionary Guard.3


The Constitution defines the country as an Islamic republic and specifies Shia Islam as the official state religion.

From the outset of the text – its preamble – the Constitution emphasizes its basis in “Islamic principles and rules.” As such, almost all rights enshrined in law are subject to the limitation that they are subject to “conformity with Islamic criteria,” which in practice means that many groups – including religious minorities, women and children – face discrimination in law and its application.

This is despite Article 23 of the Constitution which forbids “the investigation of individuals’ beliefs”, stating that “no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.” This guarantee is frequently ignored in practice. Similarly, Article 20 guarantees equality before the law, but qualifies that this equality is subject to “conformity with Islamic criteria.”

Article 177 of the Constitution specifically precludes amendments to the Constitution related to “the Islamic character of the political system; the basis of all the rules and regulations according to Islamic criteria; the religious footing; the objectives of the Islamic Republic of Iran; the democratic character of the government; the wilayat al-‘amr; the Imamate of Ummah; and the administration of the affairs of the country based on national referenda, official religion of Iran and the school [Twelver Ja’fari].”

The Penal Code4 provides for hudud punishments (those mandated by sharia), including amputation, flogging, and stoning, and specifies the death sentence for proselytizing and attempts by non-Muslims to convert Muslims, as well as for moharebeh (“enmity against God”) and sabb al-nabi (“insulting the Prophet or Islam”). According to the Penal Code, the application of the death penalty varies depending on the religion of both the perpetrator and the victim.5

In reality, freedom of religion or belief, and the freedoms of expression, association and assembly in the Islamic Republic of Iran are all severely restricted. Iranian law bars any criticism of Islam or deviation from the ruling Islamic standards. The authorities sometimes use these laws to persecute religious minorities and government critics.

Religious minorities

The Constitution declares that Islam (Ja’afari Shiism) is the state religion. Followers of other Islamic schools are free to act in accordance with their own jurisprudence in the performance of religious rites, religious education, affairs of personal status and related litigation in courts of law (Article 12). However, all religious minority groups, including Sunni Muslims, face harassment, restrictions, and discrimination in employment, education, and housing.

Articles 12 and 13 divide citizens of the Islamic Republic of Iran into four religious categories: Muslims, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians. Article 14 of the Constitution dictates that the government and all Muslims are “duty-bound to treat non-Muslims in conformity with ethical norms and the principles of Islamic justice and equity, and to respect their human rights.” Such respect is only afforded to those who “refrain from engaging in conspiracy or activity against Islam and the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian Iranians are the only recognised religious minorities, according to Article 13 of the Constitution. Legally, they are permitted to perform their religious rites and ceremonies, and to follow their own religious law in matters of personal affairs and religious education. The government considers any citizen who is not a registered member of one of these three groups or who cannot prove his or her family was Christian prior to 1979 to be Muslim.6

Article 64 of the Constitution permits Zoroastrians and Jews to each elect one representative to the Islamic Consultative Assembly; Assyrian and Chaldean Christians jointly elect one representative; and Armenian Christians in the north and those in the south of the country each elect one representative. Members of the Assembly must take an oath of office swearing by their respective holy books.

As a result, the non-religious are effectively left out and precluded from certain legal rights or protections; Iranians must declare their faith in one of the four officially recognized religions in order to be able to claim a number of legal rights, such as the capacity to apply for the general examination to enter any university in Iran. By law, non-Muslims may not serve in the judiciary, the security services, or as public school principals.

The Baha’i faith is not recognized and is routinely described by authorities as a heretical variant on Islam, against the self-identification of the Baha’i community as a distinct religion which encompasses multiple traditions. Its members face immense discrimination. Members of the Baha’i community are generally prevented from burying their dead according to their traditions and many Baha’i cemeteries have been destroyed. Their community is prohibited from officially assembling. Authorities often prevent Baha’is from leaving the country and disregard their property rights. Some religious leaders state publicly that Baha’is are “unclean” and that conducting business with them is forbidden. The members of the Baha’i minority face substantial societal discrimination.7

Sufism is similarly denounced by Shia clerics in public statements. Security services harass and intimidate prominent Sufi leaders and the government restricts Sufi activities.8

Religious powers

Article 110 of the Constitution lists all the powers granted to the Supreme Leader, appointed by his peers for an unlimited duration. Among others, the Supreme Leader exercises control over the judiciary, the army, the police, the radio, the television, but also over the President and the Parliament – institutions elected by the people. Article 91 of the Constitution establishes a body known as the “Guardian Council” whose function is to examine the compatibility of all legislation enacted by the Islamic Consultative Assembly with “the criteria of Islam and the Constitution” and who can therefore veto any and all legislation. Half of the members of the Guardian Council are appointed by the Supreme Leader and the other half are elected by the Islamic Consultative Assembly from among the Muslim jurists nominated by the Head of the Judicial Power (who is, himself, appointed by the Supreme Leader).

The Guardian Council exercises a double control of any draft legislation, with two different procedures: conformity with the Constitution (all 12 elected members vote, a simple majority recognizes the constitutionality) and conformity with Islam (only the six religious leaders elected personally by the Supreme Leader vote, and a simple majority is required to declare the compatibility of a draft legislation with Islam). Consequently, four religious leaders may block all draft legislation enacted by the Parliament. The Guardian Council and the Supreme Leader thus centralize all powers in Iran.

Only Muslims are able to take part in the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and to conduct public affairs at a high level. According to the Constitution, non-Muslims cannot hold the following key decision-making positions: President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who must be a Shia Muslim (Article 1156); Commanders in the Islamic Army (Article 1447); judges, at any level (Article 163 and the law of 1983 on the selection of judges).9;

According to the US State Department:10

“Officials screen candidates for elected offices and applicants for public sector employment based on their adherence to and knowledge of Islam and loyalty to the Islamic Republic (‘gozinesh’ review requirements), although members of recognized religious minorities may serve in the lower ranks of government if they meet these loyalty requirements. Government workers who do not observe Islamic principles and rules are subject to penalties and may be fired or barred from work in a particular sector.”

As a result, employment in the public sector for members of unrecognized religious minorities such as the non-religious or Baha’is is impossible.

Although the Constitution states that the judiciary is an “independent power,” in practice the Supreme Leader appoints – and can dismiss – the Chief Justice, bringing the autonomy of the judiciary into question.11 In addition, there are significant concerns regarding due process, including the use of torture to extract confessions.12

Iran operates a harsh form of sharia—Islamic law—under which a wide range of political, social and moral offenses may be punishable with flogging, amputation, or execution. Amendments to Iran’s Penal Code in 2013 eliminated execution by stoning. However, Iran still carries out executions by hanging every year.13;

Education and children’s rights

Article 3 of the Constitution makes clear that the object of education is to fulfill the objectives of Article 2, namely to ensure Iranian citizens live a life according to Islamic values.

Religious instruction is mandatory in public schools. All recognized religious minority groups are allowed to open private schools. However, the directors of the schools must be, with a few exceptions, Muslims, and the content of school books and curricula must be approved by the government.14

According to the US State Department, all school curricula, public and private, must include a course on Shia Islamic teachings, and all pupils must pass this course to advance to the next educational level, through university.15

Christians and Jews are allowed to teach in Hebrew, but the distribution of Hebrew books is limited, making it difficult to teach the language. All languages have to be translated into Persian, in order to be approved by the authorities and impose significant translation fees on the religious minority groups. By 2014, the government had eliminated almost all Persian-language church services, restricting them to Assyrian and Armenian languages.16;;  The teaching of languages has therefore become important for religious minority groups.

Sunni Muslims are not allowed to build new schools and report bans on teachings in public schools and on religious literature, even in predominantly Sunni Muslim areas.17 Baha’is are actively prevented from attending universities as they have to identify with a recognized religious minority group in order to enroll at a university. A government order requires that Baha’is must be expelled from universities if their religious affiliation becomes known and Baha’is are sometimes required to sign a statement at university, which states that they will not attend any Baha’i religious activity.18; Further, the order states that “Baha’i children should be enrolled in Shia Islamic schools with a strong and imposing religious ideology”.

Child Marriage

Article 1041 of the country’s civil code19 allows for the marriage of girls under the age of 13 and boys under 15, with the “consent of the guardian” and the “expediency” of a judge. Children can also marry at younger ages if a judge authorizes the marriage.

Clerics, conservative lawmakers, and other state officials continue to block attempts to raise the minimum marriageable age in Iran. Each year, tens of thousands of girls under the age of 15 are married off by their families each year in Iran, according to state statistics.20;;; Child marriages leave women, in particular, vulnerable to life-long consequences, including health problems associated with early childbearing, as well as at risk of domestic violence.

Article 302 of Iran’s Penal Code allows a man to kill a person who has committed a crime that is punishable by death under sharia law, such as extramarital sex. The law enables the perpetration of so-called “honor killings” with impunity. It is estimated that between 375 and 450 women and girls are killed in “honor” killings each year.21 They include a 17-year-old girl who was decapitated by her husband in February 2022. The husband reportedly paraded her head in the street. Footage of the incident was aired by the state-owned Rokna News Agency before it was later banned from distribution.

In August 2019, a video emerged of an 11-year-old girl marrying her 22-year-old cousin in a ceremony led by a mullah in rural Iran. The video sparked widespread outrage and led the public prosecutor, two days after the ceremony, to declare the wedding null and indict the mullah and the girl’s parents for an illegal underage marriage.

Violence against children perpetrated by security forces

School students have played a prominent role in the ongoing nationwide demonstrations. In response, authorities have increased repression of student activists by launching a series of raids on schools across the country;22; several students have reportedly been handed down prison terms or threatened with being barred from continuing their education – a punishment the government is using for the first time to curtail and punish peaceful student activism.

In October 2022, a student died of her injuries after refusing to sing a pro-regime song during a school trip to a site linked to protests against the murder of Mahsa Amini (see ‘Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values’ below). She was one of several children of Shahed High School to be beaten by security forces as punishment for failure to sing.23

On 17 October 2022, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child reported that at least 23 children, including an 11-year-old boy, were killed by Iranian security forces and hundreds more were injured, detained, and tortured during recent peaceful protests.24 Many families reported that, despite grieving for the loss of a child, they were pressured to absolve security forces by declaring that their children had committed suicide and making false confessions.

In March 2023, Amnesty International reported that Iran’s intelligence and security forces have been committing acts of torture – including beatings, floggings, the administration of electric shocks, rape and other sexual violence – against child protesters as young as 12 in order to end their involvement in nationwide protests.25

Family, community and society

No civil or secular family law

The legal interpretation of Islam forces all citizens, with no regard to their faith, to follow strict rules based on religion.

Family law is derived exclusively from religious law: for Shia Muslims it is the sharia based on Shia interpretation and for other recognized religious groups, Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, they can relate to their own norms. Sunni Muslims can apply their laws in marriage, divorce and inheritance matters. Baha’i marriages and divorces are officially not recognised, but the government allows a civil attestation of marriage to serve as a marriage certificate. The legal age of marriage is 13 years for girls and 15 for boys and is the same for all sectarian groups. Generally both spouses have to agree to a marriage. However women are discriminated against in law and practice.

Discrimination against women

Women are considered to be under male guardianship. Article 1105 of the civil code26 states that men are the exclusive head of the family and women do not have the same rights as men regarding child custody. Further, women are discriminated against in inheritance law, and inherit less than their male relatives. Women can rarely obtain a divorce, even with the Islamic principle of “khula”, where a woman obtains a divorce and forfeits all future financial support from her husband, she still needs the consent of her husband.

There is no specific law criminalizing domestic violence. Rape is not recognized as a distinct offence, but rather as adultery, and a rape victim must present four male eyewitnesses in order to prove the crime. The testimony of female witnesses is worth only half of male witnesses.27 Spousal rape is not recognized.

Men have the right to sign a temporary marriage contract (sigheh) according to Shia interpretation of religious law. Adultery is considered a crime punishable with the death sentence. Polygyny is allowed, meaning that Muslim men can marry up to four wives. Married women need the written permission of their male guardian in order to obtain a passport and to travel abroad and they need their husband’s permission to work outside the home.

Gender segregation is enforced throughout the country. Women are required to cover their hair and fully cover their body in loose clothing. “Un-Islamic” dress is periodically punished by the authorities. Refusal to wear a hijab in public is a criminal act punishable by flogging, imprisonment, or a fine according to Article 638 of the Penal Code.

On 16 July 2022, writer and artist Sepideh Rashno was arrested for not complying with compulsory hijab laws.28 She later appeared on state TV apologizing.29 The Iranian Human Rights Activists News Agency, the media outlet for Human Rights Activists in Iran, alleged that Rashno may have been beaten before she confessed.30 In December, Iranian Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRA) reported that Rashno had been handed down a five-year suspended prison sentence.31

According to Human Rights Watch, Iran’s parliament passed a population law that limits the realization of sexual and reproductive health rights, including by outlawing sterilization and the free distribution of contraceptives in the public healthcare system unless the pregnancy threatens the woman’s health, and further limited access to safe abortion in November 2021. The move was explained as a means to ensure population growth.32

Discrimination against the LGBTI+ community

Same-sex relationships are illegal for women and men. Punishments include flogging and death according to the country’s Penal Code. Men have been executed for alleged crimes of lavāt (“sodomy”).33

In September 2022, human rights defenders Zahra Sedighi-Hamadani and Elham Choubdar were convicted on charges of “spreading corruption on earth” and “trafficking” and sentenced to death by the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Urumieh. The charges were reportedly connected to their support of LGBTI+ individuals who face discrimination in Iran because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The trafficking charge reportedly related to their efforts to assist individuals at risk to leave Iran.34

The State endorses the use of “conversion therapies”. In addition, gender non-conforming individuals risk criminalization unless they undergo legal gender change, which requires gender reassignment surgery and sterilization.35

All materials related to LGBTI+ issues are generally censored by the government. Authorities particularly block websites or content within sites that discuss LGBTI+ issues, including the censorship of Wikipedia pages defining LGBTI+ and other related topics.36

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The Iranian authorities severely restrict the freedoms of expression, and assembly, utilizing the legal framework in order to suppress criticism of the State.

Freedom of association and assembly

The Constitution provides for the establishment of political parties, professional and political associations, and Islamic and recognized religious minority organizations, as long as such groups do not violate the principles of freedom, sovereignty, national unity, or Islamic criteria, or question Islam as the basis of the country’s system of government.

Freedom of association and assembly are severely limited in Iran. The constitutional prohibition against public demonstrations that “are detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam” is used to ban any demonstration that the authorities may not like. The government condones violent groups of vigilantes, and extra-legal paramilitary groups—such as the Basij and Ansar-i Hezbollah—that are used to break up demonstrations by assaulting the protestors, often resulting in serious, permanent injuries and even death. Even peaceful, non-political protests are put down with brutal force.37

In a June 2022 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Javaid Rehman stated he was “gravely concerned at the unprecedented use of excessive force” against peaceful protesters in the country and noted a “trend…of suppressing the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression and assembly.”38

Violent crackdown against civil society in Iran

Between September and December 2022, Iranian citizens in at least 160 cities nationwide took to the streets to protest the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, beaten to death in the custody of the “morality police” for wearing her hijab “improperly.” Amini’s death became symbolic of the repression of civil and political freedoms in Iran, galvanizing broad swathes of society to openly question the strict imposition of sharia law.39;

The authorities responded with excessive use of force against protesters, including the use of live ammunition, the mass arbitrary arrest of citizens, lawyers, activists, human rights defenders, and journalists, sentencing many to death on charges of moharebeh (taking up arms to take lives or property or to create fear in the public), efsad-e fil-arz (spreading corruption on earth) and baghy (armed rebellion).40 Public figures, including artists, singers, and athletes, who have publicly supported the protests have also been arrested, interrogated, and jailed, and their passports confiscated.41

The response is characteristic of the tactics of repression employed by the state to curb dissenting voices.42

Harassment civil society organizations and human rights defenders

Civil society organizations operating in Iran and human rights activists often face accusations of espionage or collaboration with “hostile” regimes.43

On 26 May 2022, a Court of Appeal upheld a decision to dissolve the country’s largest NGO – the Imam Ali Popular Students Relief Society, which did extensive work on poverty alleviation – on the basis that the organization had “deviated” from its original mission and “insulted religious beliefs”.44

The government restricts the work of domestic activists and often responds to their inquiries and reports with harassment, arrests, online hacking, and monitoring of individual activists and organization workplaces.45 Activists, journalists, and academics are often prevented from traveling abroad. The authorities are also known to harass the families of human rights defenders in order to secure their silence, particularly if the defender in question is living abroad.46 For example, in July 2020 the authorities reportedly arrested the mother of then-imprisoned human rights defender Soheil Arabi (see ‘highlighted cases’ below); she was sentenced to 18 months in prison on charges of “meeting and plotting against national security” and spreading anti-government propaganda, presumably due to her advocacy to secure the release of her son.47

Internet and protest

The government is known to disrupt mobile and internet connections in order to quash protest movements.48;

According to Human Rights Watch, in March 2022, the Iranian parliament moved to ratify the outlines of the “Regulatory System for Cyberspace Services Bill,” which has been criticized by human rights organizations as violating an array of human rights.49


Conversion from Islam is generally considered ‘apostasy’ under sharia law, which is punishable by death, and sharia judgments are permitted and encouraged under the law. The only recognized form of conversion is from recognized minority religions to Islam.50

While the Iranian Constitution does not itself include any provision criminalizing ‘apostasy’, there are several legal provisions that give judges the discretion to find defendants guilty of ‘apostasy.’ According to Article 167 of the Constitution:

“The judge is bound to endeavor to judge each case on the basis of the codified law. In case of the absence of any such law, he has to deliver his judgment on the basis of authoritative Islamic sources and authentic fatwa. He, on the pretext of the silence of or deficiency of law in the matter, or its brevity or contradictory nature, cannot refrain from admitting and examining cases and delivering his judgment.”

Likewise, a child born to a Muslim father is automatically considered to be Muslim. Proselytizing to Muslims may also be a capital crime in some circumstances. In January 2021, the authorities amended the Penal Code to include the offense of committing “any deviant educational or proselytizing activity that contradicts or interferes with the sacred law of Islam.”

Citizens who do not belong to a recognized religious minority are legally forbidden from engaging in public religious expression or wearing religious symbols.51

“Enmity against God” and ‘blasphemy’

The government jails and periodically executes dozens of individuals on charges of “enmity against God” (moharebeh). Although this crime is framed as a religious offense, and may be used against atheists and other religious dissenters, it is most often used as a punishment for political acts that challenge the regime (on the basis that to oppose the theocratic regime is to oppose Allah).

According to Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, insulting the prophet is punishable by death, although a clause states if the accused states the insults were the result of a mistake or were made in anger, the sentence can be reduced to 74 lashes. The usual method of execution in Iran is hanging.

In 2021, parliament amended the Penal Code to include an additional offense of insulting “divine religions or Islamic schools of thought”.

Alleged “blasphemers” are usually charged with “spreading corruption on earth” (mofsed-e-filarz), which can also be applied to political crimes. The law against ‘blasphemy’ complements laws against criticizing the Islamic regime, insulting Islam, and publishing materials that deviate from Islamic standards.

In 2016, Dr Ahmadreza Djalali – a Swedish-Iranian professor who worked for the Free University in Brussels – was arrested and charged while he was in Iran attending a series of academic workshops. During his imprisonment, he has been subjected to intense psychological torture and forced to sign statements under threats of execution. He has also repeatedly been denied access to his lawyer. In 2017, he was convicted on false charges of espionage and “spreading corruption on earth” and sentenced to death.52

In October 2016, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee – an Iranian writer, accountant and human rights defender – was sentenced to six years in prison for “insulting the sacred” and “propaganda against the state,” for an unpublished story she wrote in her private notebook, which critiqued the practice of stoning women accused of “adultery”, sanctioned under Iran’s Penal Code. She was briefly released in 2019 before being re-arrested and detained on politically motivated charges later in the year.53 In April 2023, it was reported that Iraee had been sentenced to six years in prison for “assembly and collusion against the regime” and one year in prison for “propaganda against the regime.”54

In May 2023, the Iranian state executed two men convicted of “insulting Islamic sanctities” (Art. 513 IPC) and “insulting the Prophet” (Art. 262 IPC). The men – Yousef Merhdad and Seyyed Sadrullah Fazeli Zare – were reportedly arrested in May 2020 on suspicion of being members of a Telegram channel entitled “Critique of Superstition and Religion,” in which members were alleged to have insulted the Prophet.55; Some media reports indicate that the men were also accused of having promoted atheism in the Telegram channel.56

Policing morality

According to Article 24 of the Constitution, publications and the press have freedom of expression subject to the limitation that it should not be detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of others.

Under the Constitution, private broadcasting is illegal. The government directly controls all television and radio broadcasting, and outlaws the reception of independent media, for example by making it illegal to own a satellite dish. Cooperation with Persian-language satellite news channels based abroad is banned.

Under the Constitution, the Supreme Leader appoints the head of the Audiovisual Policy Agency, a council composed of representatives of the president, judiciary, and parliament.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (MCIG) reviews all potential publications, including foreign printed materials, prior to their domestic release and may deem books unpublishable, remove text, or require word substitutions for terms deemed inappropriate.57;; Music and film is also subject to censorship.58;

The Press Court has extensive powers to prosecute journalists and control print media. It uses this power to prevent publication of anything that could be seen as critical of the regime or contrary to its strict interpretation of Shia Islam.

Highlighted cases

In 2014, blogger and photojournalist Soheil Arabi was sentenced to death for ‘blasphemy’ by allegedly “insulting the Prophet” in Facebook posts (this was commuted to 7.5 years imprisonment in 2015). In November 2021, he was released after the expiry of his sentence, but is now being required to spend an additional 2 years in internal exile. Humanists International is concerned by reports that Arabi was arbitrarily detained in January 2023 as part of a crackdown on protests.59

In January 2017, 21 year old Sina Dehghan was sentenced to death for insulting Islam. Dehghan had been sentenced to death by Iranian authorities for ‘insulting Islam’ through messages he had sent on an instant messaging app. Reports claim that he was ‘tricked into signing his own death warrant’ after he was forced to confess to a breach of Islamic law, with the promise of release if he did so. However, authorities dropped the agreement after his confession and sentenced him to death in January 2017. Human rights groups in Iran have since been fighting to save Dehghan from his hanging. The Centre for Human Rights in Iran reports that prosecutors asked Dehghan be sentenced to death for “insulting the prophet” as well as to 16 months in prison for “insulting the Supreme Leader”. It was also reported that co-defendants Sahar Eliasi and Mohammad Nouri were convicted of posting anti-Islamic material on social media. Nouri was issued a death sentence, and Eliasi had his seven-year prison sentence reduced to three on appeal. However it is unknown if the supreme court has given its final


“I only came out as an atheist with my closest friends. Being an atheist and saying this in public is considered as big crime and is being sentenced to death [“apostasy” may be a capital crime under sharia law]. Nobody says that he or she is an atheist so easily in Iran, although the majority of the population is in fact. That’s the reason I never had to fear bad consequences in my family and with my friends. They all think like me. It would even be more disturbing to them if I say I am a believer.”
— Sepideh

“As a non-believer who has lived under the Islamic Republic regime, my family and – as most of the population are non-religious and non-believers – almost all people I see in the society have been affected by the consequences of the existence of the regime to some degree, everyone in a different way. I only briefly mention some of them in my case.

“When filling out forms for identity documents, there is always a question included which asks for your religion. As I remember, the options are typically Islam with 2 options Shia and Sunni, and sometimes another option which is “other”. Most of the time I left this question unanswered, however sometimes they would pressure me to answer it. In that case, I ticked the option Shia just to get identity documents.

“In informal and even sometimes in formal occasions, I didn’t conceal my opinions (except when I was not asked), if I was asked, I clearly expressed that I don’t believe in religion. Sometimes people used to say that I should not reveal that, but we (not only me but other peers as well) didn’t care about the warnings. I always tried to respect those religious ones and never criticized the religion or said something bad about it until I felt they were bullying me or wanted to harm me, or want to impose their sick ideas like covering my body in the way they want or forcing me to think and behave in their favor.

“In 2021, when I was jogging in our neighborhood, an old man with his wife with black “Chador” wanted to run me over with their car. I was about to fall down in an open hole (the sewage system in Iran) when I tried to change my direction to avoid the accident . Then I turned my face to them and I saw that they are very calm and they were looking at me. I asked ‘what the hell are you doing?’ The woman said: ‘wear your headscarf,’ and her husband called me names and then they left. I took their plate which was a red official plate (belong to the IRGC staff I think, not sure exactly) with a number from another city and I went after them to find them, I found their car empty at the end of the same street, I waited for 20 minutes, the woman came back from shopping. I asked her, ‘how dare they do that?, what if they had killed me?’ Then she said: “why are you complaining to me? I am not responsible because I was not driving, go tell my husband!” I did, when he came outside of the store, I asked him what his intention was, to kill me? He denied any answer and ignored me, then I started to loudly tell the story to people there, it was crowded and people were listening to me. He kept silent all the time and just smiled at me and that scary smile drove me even more crazy. Then they turned their faces back and ignored me. I was screaming and saying: “This couple is ISIS, they wanted to run me over with their car because my headscarf had fallen on my shoulder and now they are keeping silent and are hiding their evil intention. These 2 persons are dangerous and sick and should not be allowed to freely be in society because they may go after another girl soon.”

“Both the man and woman had very calm faces and were silent. A young worker who perhaps worked in one of the stores there, approached me and told me that all my body is shaking and I better keep calm and he brought me a glass of water and said: “Don’t take these monsters seriously!” People told me, to the couple’s face, that people like this couple are worthless and I should not pay attention to them. The couple then left and I drank some water and then started walking again. I kept looking around me for the next few days whenever I wanted to leave home as I knew they were from one of the IRGC organizations and they may send someone to find me in that neighborhood for retaliation.

“Sometimes, I encountered young men (religious or just picked up the title of “religious” to implement the regime’s ideologies and take a personal advantage of that, but of course with a very modern appearance), who literally felt they are superior and that I am open to accept any harm from their side just because they had somehow found out (either from my appearance/ behavior or I openly told them)) that I don’t believe in the religion or I don’t pray/ fast (again I never tried to incite them, only when I had to assert myself to somehow protect myself, I have to openly express my thoughts. For example if someone religious was surprised that I don’t pray or that I drink alcohol) and if they disrespected or threatened me afterward, I usually became very straightforward about my personal thoughts and told them back that they must stop threatening and disgusting behaviors.

“In that case, they were mainly from religious cities or they were connected to officials and they mainly tried to be tolerant, but sometimes they used to threaten indirectly or they tried to get my personal info to secretly do something (surveillance for example or maybe depriving me from my citizen rights if I was a student for example, or depriving me from memberships of clubs or services, etc.) However, today I see not only there is no law to protect women from such people, but mullas have started to feed these people with extremist ideas and trigger their egos in a subtle way to harm women and remove them from the society.

“The first time that I felt my rights as a woman were being violated was the first day of first grade. I had to wear a hijab and a uniform which was uncomfortable. We asked questions of our teachers and parents: “What is this?” “Why should we wear head scarves when we don’t wear them anywhere else other than school?” It looked strange and we felt uncomfortable. There were no reasonable answers and almost all kids used to take it off right after leaving school until we arrived at an age where we had to wear it in public too; however, there were no strict rules for teenagers.

“I was about 8 years old when we went to play badminton with my father in the park in our neighborhood when, suddenly, a member of the Basiji militia approached me with an angry face and started shouting at me and complaining why I’m wearing a skirt. My father who was some meters away behind a tree showed up quickly before the guy got closer to me. When the guy learned I’m not alone, he stepped back and started arguing with my father and my father argued back, telling him that his behavior is not human and that I’m only a kid and there is no rule to let that person harass a kid. The guy left.

“By the time we were taught that women must wear head scarves for their “safety”, however, this safety was violated by nobody other than the regime forces. This violation included warning, arresting or physical attack, and in recent years in some religious cities, acid attacks against women.

“The morality police were there to commit the violations. The first time I got arrested by “police” – and not even morality police (I think there were no morality police at that time) – I was 13 years old. We met with my cousin to go gaming in a shopping center close to our home. As we met, a police car stopped and told me: “What is this scarf, it’s so thin and doesn’t cover your ears!” I didn’t understand what he meant, then he pointed out to my cousin who had braided hair and said: “What is this weird hairstyle?” We were both silent and shocked, at that time we didn’t know there was a police force that could arrest women because of their way of dressing. He told us to get in the car and we did. They refused to tell us where we were going; we didn’t understand what was going on. When we arrived at the police station, a young lady with IRGC uniform and Chador approached us with an anxious face and asked: “Who are you and what are you doing here?” When we told her we were there because the police arrested us for hijab, she told us to fill out a form and call our parents to come and take us home, she didn’t want us to be there as we were children.

“The next time, I was 16 years old and I had just stepped out from language school. The police car stopped and this time there was a woman wearing a Chador with them. She pointed out my haircut (I always had a fringe when I was a child and teenager) and said: “This hairstyle is not appropriate,” and told me to sit in the car and fill out a form. I sat in the back seat while I had my feet outside the car, she then pushed me and forced me to open space for her and she got in. The car started and the same story. This time they put me in a small waiting room for an hour; next to me was an adult woman who was telling them to speed up the process because she must go and pick up her daughter from school. When a door opened in that waiting room, I learned that behind the door were criminal prisoners, and not those who were arrested for Hijab or political reasons. Before my mom arrived, they told me to leave the waiting room and wait in the garden. When my mother arrived, she started arguing with them that they were acting illegally and inhumanely, and that I’m only a child. “How could you do this to girls? To arrest a child because of her hairstyle? Don’t you have mothers, daughters and sisters?,” my mother said to them. The guy threatened my mom and said, “if you want your daughter, keep silent.” She kept silent, and after a few hours they let us go. This arrest for hijab repeated 3 or 4 more times over the next 6-7 years.

“Every time we were arrested we were kept in the police station for a few hours and were then released.
One of our friends got arrested with her newborn in her arms while she was spending time with her friends in a cafe! A van of police had come and arrested all of the women in that cafe because of “improper hijab”. The cafe was sealed for a while and only after paying a high price could it open again.

“Police also randomly visit cafes and restaurants, which are the only places for gathering or socializing for both girls and boys. From time to time, they arrest youths because of hijab or partying and drinking alcohol, or just thinking and dressing differently and in a way that looks “inappropriate” to police and clerics.

“Police have recently intensified surveillance on citizens, especially women; from time to time they randomly send text messages to citizens and threaten them for lack of improper or lack of hijab. They use cameras in the streets for that purpose. I received such messages 2 times while driving. Once our car went missing from the parking lot. After investigating and calling police to report a car thief, we learned that the car was taken away by police because of improper hijab; they took it away while in the parking lot without prior notice! After a few days, they gave the car back.

“During my university days, we were intimidated by Basij forces in the university; they used to threaten girls simply because they were girls or didn’t look weak and were knowledgeable. Also, from time to time, they canceled youth programs and groups of the university without giving a reason for it. In many cases hijab was not the reason at all, they themselves used to tell us: “because it’s not allowed based on rules” and no more explanation. If someone wanted to go and research the rules and reasons, that person would be arrested or threatened or harassed for sure.

“Also I would like to mention that I was indirectly threatened with rape and torture several times after I criticized the regime forces for killing youth and children protesters on social media. The first threat happened when I posted an RIP message on social media to the family of “Navid Afkari” who was executed by the regime in 2019 right after protests in Shiraz, just to convey the message to youth and spread fear among them: “This is the response for those who are opposed to the regime and express their opinion”.”

Anonymous, 2023


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