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SilencedHow Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide$

Paul Marshall and Nina Shea

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199812264

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199812264.001.0001

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(p.35) 3 Iran

Paul Marshall

Nina Shea

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Since its 1979 revolution, Iran has suppressed its population in the name of enforcing the state's religious orthodoxy. Private attacks on those deemed religiously deviant are relatively scarce, but the regime itself targets Baha’is, Jews, converts, Sufis and Sunnis, and increasingly, anyone seen as a political threat. Those deemed possibly dangerous to the regime include human rights and women's activists and, especially, Shia intellectuals and clergy who criticize the regime. Since the government claims that Shia Islam is its source of authority, it is particularly susceptible to critiques based on alternative interpretations of Islam. For example, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a theological architects of Iran's ruling system, was detained for six years for his religious criticism of the structure he helped create. In giving rulings on blasphemy and apostasy, Iran's judges frequently reference their own interpretations of sharia. With little consistency, they may convict people on undefined charges such as “friendship with the enemies of God,” “dissension from religious dogma,” or “propagation of spiritual liberalism.” Punishments include amputation, burning, starvation, and execution. Under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency, conditions have deteriorated further.

Keywords:   Iran, Baha’is, converts, Ayatollahs, Sharia, reformers

Hojjatoleslam Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari was trained as a cleric in the religious center of Qom. He has been published widely in scientific and religious periodicals, served as Director of the Ali Shariati Research Center, and was contributing editor of now-banned newspaper Iran-e Farda, a contributor to the Great Encyclopedia of Islam, and editor of the Encyclopedia of Shi’a.1 Eshkevari participated in the 2000 Heinrich Böll Institute conference in Berlin, and, before attending, in an interview with Iran Press Service he criticized compulsory veiling for women and said that mixing religion and politics “spoils, corrupts and empties both of their substance” and that no leader should have powers above those of the constitution. At the conference itself, he spoke on the topic of dictatorship and its history, and his speech was criticized publicly by conservative clerics in Iran, including the Supreme Leader Khamenei. Critics compared his statements on separation of state from religion and unveiling of women to Salman Rushdie's “anti-Islamic” statements.2

Eshkevari went from Berlin to Paris for medical treatment and was arrested on his return to Iran in August 2000. In October of that year, he was tried behind closed doors by the Iranian Special Court of the Clergy on charges of apostasy, corruption on earth, waging war against God, conduct unbecoming a clergyman, insulting Islamic sanctities, and spreading lies, and, on October 17, he was sentenced to death. He appealed, and in May 2001, the appeals court overturned the death sentence but upheld a seven-year sentence—four years for “insulting Islamic sanctities,” in particular, for his comments about veils, one year for attending the conference, and two years for speaking against the Islamic Republic and “spreading lies.” He was released on February 6, 2005, having served two-thirds of his sentence: he was prohibited from wearing cleric's robes, as one condition of his release.3

Zabihollah Mahrami was called before the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Yazd on September 6, 1995, and questioned about his Baha’i faith as part of an unsuccessful attempt to persuade him to renounce his beliefs. On January 2, 1996, he was put on trial for apostasy, and the prosecutor argued that, based on a 1983 newspaper announcement and another 1985 document, Mahrami had renounced the Baha’i faith and declared himself a Muslim. The court minutes read: “Mr. Mahrami…followed the wayward Baha’i sect until the year 1981…when he recanted Bahá’ísm in a widely distributed newspaper and announced his acceptance of the true religion of Islam.…” The court asked him again what his religion was, and Mahrami affirmed that he was a Baha’i. He was then sentenced to death—a verdict based not on any statute but on quotations from the writings of Ayatollah Khomeini. On appeal, the (p.36) Supreme Court confirmed the death sentence. In December 1999, due to a presidential amnesty on the eve of the birth of Prophet Muhammad, Mahrami's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. On December 19, 2005, he was reported dead in prison, purportedly from a heart attack; however, before his death he was believed to have been in good health.

On June 3, 2008, twenty-eight-year-old Tina Rad, a Christian, was arrested for committing “activities against the holy religion of Islam,” while her husband, thirty-one-year-old Makan Arya, also a Christian, was charged with “activities against national security.” Rad was accused of attempting to convert Muslims by reading the Bible together with them in her residence. Security officials seized personal belongings, including all of the couple's videos, CDs, DVDs, and books, in addition to their computer and television set. They were jailed for four days, leaving their four-year-old daughter, Odzhan, alone. Tina Rad was tortured so severely that she was unable to walk when she was released. Security officials also told the couple that in the future they would be charged with apostasy and that Odzhan would be taken away from them and put in an institution. One officer told Rad that authorities could frame her and her husband as drug smugglers, a charge that can lead to the death penalty. The family's shop windows have been smashed, and they have received repeated threats from the surrounding community and anonymous phone calls. In June 2009, the family fled from Iran.4

Country Overview

Iran's population is around seventy million. Comprising 89 percent Shia Muslims, 9 percent Sunni Muslims, 0.5 percent Baha’is, and 0.5 percent Christians, as well as small and diminishing numbers of Jews, Zoroastrians, and Mandaeans, the Iranian state is intertwined with Shia religion. That relationship was intensified when, in 1979, the Pahlavi monarchy was toppled and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini led a revolution producing a regime controlled by Shia Islamic jurists.5

According to Khomeini's revolutionary doctrine, state institutions that embody the establishment of Shia Islam include: (1) the Vali Faqih, or Supreme Leader (initially Khomeini, who declared himself to be the representative of Imam Mehdi, the “hidden Twelfth Imam” of traditional Shia belief); (2) the Majles-e Khobregan, Council of Experts, comprising eighty-three clerics who choose the successor to the Vali Faqih if he dies in office; (3) the Shura-ye Negahban, Council of Guardians, made up of six clerical jurists chosen by the Supreme Leader and six other Muslim jurists, which ensures that legislation is compatible with Islamic precepts and (p.37) must approve all presidential and parliamentary candidates; and (4) the Shura-ye Tashkhis-e Maslahat-e Nezam, Committee to Determine the Expediency of the Islamic Order, or the Expediency Council, comprising senior state leaders, which arbitrates legal and theological disputes in the legislative process.

Iran combines republican and theocratic elements, but the latter far outweigh the former. The Guardian Council “screens” candidates who seek to run for Parliament, the Presidency, or the Council of Experts. By disqualifying all the candidates it deems insufficiently Islamic, which are most of them, the Guardian Council undercuts democratic choice. In addition, the elected bodies have limited power, and their decisions can be vetoed by the unelected ones. Ali Afshari aptly calls this a “vicious cycle”: the Supreme Leader appoints all six clerical voting members of the Guardian Council (the six nonclerical members are advisors who cannot vote); the Guardian Council assesses the qualifications of all Assembly of Experts’ candidates; and, to close the loop, the Assembly of Experts approves the Supreme Leader and is the only body that can impeach him.6 Khomeini announced that government rule stemmed from the “absolute dominion of the Prophet of God” and stood above “all ordinances that were derived or directly commanded by Allah.”7

Iran's June 2009 elections seemed to bring the Islamic state's authority into question. A popular uprising filled the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities with tens of thousands of dissenters—in a movement popularly called the “Green Revolution”—who protested the purported landslide reelection of President Ahmadinejad over Mir Hussein Mousavi, election results that were eventually confirmed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Since then, despite brutal crackdowns within the country, outspoken dissatisfaction with the regime's hard-line rulers has continued. There are signs of divisions within the regime, but, at the time of this writing, it is not clear what effect the upheaval will have on Ayatollah Khomeini's 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Blasphemy and Apostasy

Questioning the theological doctrines that undergird the regime may be understood as blasphemy and apostasy. Iranian legislation does distinguish the terms; however, in practice, the authorities often use them interchangeably, and sometimes in an apparently ad hoc fashion, to punish those who challenge the regime or to repress those, such as Baha’is, whose very existence is held to be a violation.

The Iranian penal code defines blasphemy as a serious crime, and Article 513 states, “Anyone who insults the Islamic sanctities or any of the imams or her Excellency Sadigheh Tahereh [a respectful adjective to describe Prophet Muhammad's daughter Fatima] should be executed if his insult equals to speaking disparagingly of Prophet Muhammad. Otherwise, he should be imprisoned from one to five years.”8

(p.38) In all of the Penal Code's 729 articles, none specifically define, regulate, or criminalize apostasy. The word itself is mentioned only in Article 95 on adultery and Article 180 on the consumption of alcohol, and then indirectly: “[I]f a person is to be punished according to Haad [for adultery or intoxication] the punishment will not be revoked even if he is insane or apostate.”

However, there is mention of apostasy in other legal provisions, which function as de facto apostasy laws. Article 167 of the constitution, Article 214 of the Criminal Procedure Act, Article 8 of the Modified Act on Establishment of General and Revolutionary Courts, and Article 42 of the Regulations Governing Special Court for the Clergy are used to convict and punish apostasy. In addition, Article 26 of the Press Law states, “[W]hoever insults Islam and its sanctities through the press and his/her guilt amounts to apostasy, shall be sentenced as an apostate and should his/her offense fall short of apostasy he/she shall be subject to the Islamic penal code.” Article 29 of the Councils Law states, “[T]hose who are convicted of apostasy by competent courts are deprived of being candidates in elections.”9

In practice, the principal article used to punish apostasy is Article 167 of the constitution, which states that if there is no codified law, the judge “has to deliver his judgment on the basis of authoritative Islamic sources and authentic fatwa.”10 It is important to understand that the “judges” and “courts” in such cases have sweeping powers. Many Iranians charged with undermining national security, apostasy, blasphemy, or other “crimes” described in this chapter were tried by Islamic revolutionary courts.

These courts, created immediately after the 1979 revolution, are notorious for lack of due process, use of torture either as punishment or to obtain confessions, and other gross violations of human rights. There are no juries, and the judges, who are religious figures, also function as prosecutors and sometimes as investigators. Defendants have no legal representation, “trials” may last only a few minutes, and verdicts cannot be overturned or appealed. The judges are believed to know the “right path” (serate mostaqim) and have accepted every means—including beating, lashing, solitary confinement, amputation, rape, sexual abuse, burning, starvation, and strangulation—to force defendants to follow it. The enforcement mechanism of these “divine” laws is the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security, also known as SAWAMA, the Revolutionary Guards, the Basiji paramilitary groups, and the pseudo-official Partisans of the Party of God (Ansar-e Hezbollah). This apparatus works under the command of the Supreme Leader.11

In this system, even if there is no codified offense, a judge can punish apostasy if there is a relevant fatwa. One source of such fatwas is Ayatollah Khomeini himself, an “authoritative Islamic source” whose writings are frequently used by Iranian judges to justify executions. Khomeini's Tahrir-al-Vasileh is probably the main source used to address apostasy, and in it he says, “A national apostate will be caused to repent and in case of refusing to repent will be executed. And it is preferable to give a three-day reprieve and to execute him on the fourth day if he refused.”12 This use of noncodified law has two consequences. First, when engaged (p.39) in dialogue with the international community, the government can always claim that there is no such crime as apostasy and that no one in Iran has been ever prosecuted for this crime.13 Second, judges have very large discretion in whether to describe something as apostasy and how it will be punished.

In only a few cases has the regime executed anyone on an explicit charge of apostasy. In most instances, the regime uses a selective interpretation of possible surrogates of apostasy and blasphemy to prosecute those who might challenge its “divine” authority. Dissidents may be charged with inter alia, “friendship with the enemies of God,” “hostility towards friends of God,” “corruption on earth,” “fighting against God,” “obstructing the way of God and the way towards happiness for all the disinherited people in the world,” “spreading lies,” “insulting the Prophet,” “acting against the national security,” “distributing propaganda against the government of Islamic Republic of Iran,” “attracting individuals to the misguided sect of Baha’ism,” “insulting Islam,” “calling into question the Islamic foundations of the Republic,” or even “creating anxiety in the minds of the public and those of Iranian officials.” It often appears that, when there is nothing else handy with which to charge a person, the Islamic government brings charges of apostasy, which has the added convenience of carrying the death penalty.

There are also indications that the legal situation may worsen. In February 2008, a draft of a new proposed Islamic penal code was presented for discussion in the Iranian parliament (Majlis) that, for the first time, would make the death penalty for apostasy and heresy a legal stipulation in the criminal code.14 Because the proposed law uses the word Hadd, it would make the death penalty for apostasy mandatory and bar any reduction or annulment of this sentence. This law would be a special danger to liberal thinkers, to those who leave Islam, and to Baha’is. Any adherent of a non-Muslim religion with one parent who was Muslim when he or she was conceived would also be declared apostate under the proposed law.

Following is a translation, made by the Baha’i community, of relevant sections of the proposed law:15

Section Five: Apostasy, Heresy, and Witchcraft

Article 225–1: Any Muslim who clearly announces that he/she has left Islam and declares blasphemy is an apostate.

Article 225–2: Serious and earnest intention is the condition for certainty in apostasy. Therefore, if the accused claims that his/her statement had been made with reluctance or ignorance, or in error, or while drunk, or through a slip of the tongue or without understanding the meaning of the words, or repeating words of others; or his/her real intentions had been something else, he/she is not considered an apostate.…

(p.40) Article 225–3: There are two kinds of apostates: innate (Fetri) and parental (Melli).16

Article 225–4: Innate Apostate is someone whose parent (at least one) was a Muslim at the time of conception, and who declares him/herself a Muslim after the age of maturity, and leaves Islam afterwards.

Article 225–5: Parental Apostate is one whose parents (both) had been non-Muslims at the time of conception, and who has become a Muslim after the age of maturity, and later leaves Islam and returns to blasphemy.

Article 225–6: If someone has at least one Muslim parent at the time of conception but after the age of maturity, without pretending to be a Muslim, chooses blasphemy is considered a Parental Apostate.

Article 225–7: Punishment17 for an Innate Apostate is death.

Article 225–8: Punishment for a Parental Apostate is death, but after the final sentencing for three days he/she would be guided to the right path and encouraged to recant his/her belief and if he/she refused, the death penalty would be carried out.

Article 225–9: In the case of a Parental Apostate, whenever there appears to be a possibility of recanting, sufficient time would be provided.

Article 225–10: Punishment for women, whether Innate or Parental, is life imprisonment and during the sentence, under the guidance of the court, hardship will be exercised on her, and she will be guided to the right path and encouraged to recant, and if she recants she will be freed immediately.

Article 225–11: Whoever claims to be a Prophet is sentenced to death, and any Muslim who invents a heresy in the religion and creates a sect based on that which is contrary to the obligations and necessities of Islam, is considered an apostate. [This article seems to be particularly directed at Baha’is.]

Article 225–12: Any Muslim who deals with witchcraft and promotes it as a profession or sect in the community is sentenced to death.

Article 225–13: Assistance to the crimes in this chapter, in case there is no other punishment assigned to it by law, is punishable by up to 74 lashes in proportion with the crime and the criminal.

Article 112's extension of the punishment for “threatening Iranian national security” to those outside of Iran's border is especially dangerous in a government whose former “Supreme Leader” passed a death sentence on Salman Rushdie, has dispatched agents overseas to murder its opponents, and whose members have (p.41) called for the death of Scandinavian editors and cartoonists, among others.18 On September 9, 2008, the Iranian parliament passed the bill by 196 votes for, seven against, and two abstentions. It then went to committee for review.19 In February 2010, Amnesty International reported that the provisions on apostasy had been removed from the bill in committee but that they could be reintroduced.20


The Baha’i religion began in Iran in the nineteenth century and originated from another religious movement, the Babis. The Babi movement began in 1844 with the Bab, Seyyed Ali Muhammad, a merchant from Shiraz, and gained many followers. However, it soon encountered hostility, especially from the Shia clergy. Officials ordered the imprisonment, torture, and death of thousands of adherents. After being imprisoned for a time, the Bab was executed in 1850. In 1863, Baha’u’llah, Hossein Ali Nouri, one of the followers of the Bab, announced that he was “Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest.” He was immediately imprisoned and subsequently banished to Iraq, Turkey, and Israel, which were all part of the Ottoman Empire. He passed away in 1892 in exile in what is now Israel.21

Many Muslims consider Baha’is apostates because they are held to believe that Baha’u’llah is a true prophet and that the Bab is the return of the Twelfth Shia Imam, contradicting the Muslim belief that there is no valid religious revelation after Muhammad. Baha’is also believe that each of the world's major religions represents an evolution in God's message to mankind, hence that Islam is not the last and most complete religion. The Iranian Islamic regime also claims that, because the Baha’i World Center is located in Israel, Baha’is are Zionist spies and a threat to national security. In May 1996, the Head of the Judiciary called Baha’is “an organized espionage ring.”22

Since the Islamic Revolution, the regime has killed more than 200 Baha’is merely because of their religious beliefs. Another fifteen have disappeared and are presumed dead, and more than 10,000 have been removed from posts in universities and government. Baha’i properties, including cemeteries, houses of worships, schools, libraries, private houses, real estate, businesses, and even furniture, have been confiscated by the regime. Members of Baha’i Local Spiritual Assemblies and the National Spiritual Assembly have been summoned to the notorious revolutionary courts and executed after summary closed-door “trials.” Nine members of the National Spiritual Assembly were abducted and executed, and their families were refused access to their bodies.23

Article 297 of the penal code, which previously stipulated that a lesser amount of “blood money” (diyeh) be paid to families for the deaths of non-Muslims than for Muslims, was amended in 2004 to allow equal payment in each case. However, this change does not apply to Baha’is; their blood is held to be Mobah, which means that they may be killed with impunity.

(p.42) Since Baha’is are banned from attending university, they opened their own underground university, the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education. Classes are conducted in private homes. In September 1998, the government began a nationwide attack against the university, and in at least fourteen different cities, thirty-six faculty members were arrested and had property destroyed or confiscated. In March 1999, four of the arrested professors, Sina Hakiman, Farzad Khajeh Sharifabadi, Habibullah Ferdosian Najafabadi, and Ziaullah Mirzapanah, were sentenced to between three and ten years under Article 498 of the penal code. The court verdict said they had established a “secret organization” engaged in “teaching against Islam, and teaching against the regime of the Islamic Republic.”24

From 2006 on, the Iranian government has used new tactics to block Baha’is from university. In June 2006, 500 of the 900 Baha’i students who took the university entrance exam for the coming academic year received a passing score. Two hundred successfully enrolled, but most were expelled when university authorities became aware they were Baha’is. Officials also told almost 800 of the more than 1,000 Baha’is who completed the exam in June 2007 that their files were “incomplete,” thus preventing their enrollment.25 Many non-Baha’i students object to this discrimination. In December 2008, twenty-six students at Goldasht College in Kelardasht refused to take their first-term final examination to protest the dismissal of one of their classmates, Ameed Saadat.26

Baha’is are also forbidden to teach their faith to their children. Security forces have attacked houses where classes are held, arrested the adults, and confiscated books and anything related to Baha’i identity. Religious teachers have been imprisoned or executed by the regime. Mona Mahmudnizhad, a sixteen-year-old, and nine other women were hanged in 1983 for teaching Baha’i religious classes to Baha’i children. The government has forbidden Baha’is to have any official assembly or administrative institutions, and so they are forced to conduct their prayers and monthly ceremonies by rotating among private houses. Security forces routinely raid houses in which they believe there is a gathering, arrest family members, imprison them without charge for weeks or months, then release them with threats that if caught again they will face more serious consequences.27

Since Ahmadinejad's Election

The persecution of Baha’is has increased since Ahmadinejad's election in 2005. On October 29, 2005, a letter allegedly written on instructions from Ayatollah Khamenei by the Chairman of the Armed Forces Command, Major General Seyyed Hossein Firuzabadi, instructed officials including the Ministry of Information and the Commanders of the Army, Police and Revolutionary Guards, to provide the command with information for “a comprehensive and complete report of all the activities of [Baha’is and Babists] for the purpose of identifying all the individuals of these misguided sects.”28 The regime has also intensified its propaganda. There has been growing condemnation of Baha’is on radio and television pro (p.43) grams, and even weekly anti-Baha’i broadcasts specifically aimed at evoking hatred of the community. This has led to increased social harassment, including threats and physical attacks.

On February 16 and 17, 2007, there were similar attacks by a masked intruder on the homes of two elderly Baha’is. Eighty-five-year-old Behnam Saltanat Akhzari was killed in the assault, while seventy-seven-year-old Baha’i Shah Beygom Dehghani died several weeks later.29 In the eight months leading up to January 2007, sixty-three Baha’is were arrested. October and November 2008 saw an additional wave of arrests.30 On January 26 and 27, 2009, eight Baha’is were arrested in Tehran and Mash-Had. Of the Tehran detainees, a judiciary spokesman said, “These people were not arrested for their faith. The six Baha’is are accused of insulting religious sanctities.…”31

The government has also specifically targeted the Baha’i leadership and, in May 2008, arrested six members of the ad hoc national leadership group, Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm. Intelligence agents entered and searched their homes before taking the occupants away. The seventh member of the leadership group, Mrs. Mahvash Sabet, had been arrested in early March after receiving a summons from the Ministry of Intelligence in Mashhad on the pretext of questioning her about a burial in a Baha’i cemetery.32 When Nobel Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi agreed to defend the seven leaders, she was immediately and vociferously attacked in the government-controlled news media as well as denied access to her clients’ files.33 Iranian-Japanese-American journalist Roxana Saberi, held in Evin prison for a month on espionage charges before her release under international pressure, reported that Mrs. Kamalabadi and Mrs. Sabet were being held there in a shared, four-by-five-meter cell, where they had to sleep on the floor, after both having previously been in solitary confinement. Ms. Saberi stated, “We have already seen infringements of their rights from the very beginning, including being held incommunicado, being interrogated while blindfolded, and having no access to a lawyer for months and months.”34 Charges against the seven include espionage for Israel, “insulting religious sanctities,” “spreading corruption on earth,” and “propaganda against the state.”

After postponements in 2009, a trial took place on June 12–14, 2010, and the seven Baha’i leaders were then sentenced to twenty years imprisonment. On September 15, 2010, after an appeals court revoked three of the charges against them, the sentences were reduced to ten years.35 However, in March 2011, the seven were informed by prison authorities without explanation that their term of incarceration had now reverted to the lower court's original ruling of twenty years.36

The U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the European Union, and a concurrent House of Representatives and Senate resolution condemned the prisoners’ plight.37 In a rare open letter to Iran's Prosecutor General, the Baha’i International Community has said that “what is at stake is the very cause of freedom of conscience for all the peoples of your nation.”38 (p.44) However, the Prosecutor General, Ghorbanali Dari-Najafabadi, has said, “The corrupt cult of the Baha’i organization in all its rankings is illegal and is not recognized officially—their dependence on Israel, their anti-Islam posture and opposition to the regime of the Islamic Republic is corrosive and the danger it poses to national security is evident and documented.”39 In February 2009, more than 200 Iranian intellectuals signed an open letter of apology for their country's treatment of the Baha’i community.40 The Baha’i community has historical reason to be concerned about their leaders’ arrests and sentencing: Bani Dugal, principal UN representative of the Baha’i community, notes that “this latest sweep recalls the wholesale arrest or abduction of the members of two national Iranian Baha’i governing councils in the early 1980s—which led to the disappearance or execution of 17 individuals.”41

Days before the trial was set to commence, Iranian authorities arrested another thirteen Baha’is, allegedly in connection with antiregime protests on the holy day of Ashura, and claimed to have discovered weapons and ammunition in their homes. They were taken to a detention center to sign a document prohibiting them from future demonstrating—though none had taken part in demonstrations. This group included relatives of some of the leaders previously arrested. As of January 2010, forty-eight Baha’is were imprisoned in Iran, with sixty arrested since March 2009.42 A second group of thirteen Baha’is, again including a relative of the arrested leaders, was placed under arrest on February 10 and 11, while ten of those arrested in January remained in detention.43 The regime is also trying to stigmatize protesters through association with Baha’is; Kayhan, a regime-linked paper, declared in a January 5, 2010, headline, “The So-Called God-Loving Mousavi's Men Turned Out to Be Baha’is and Terrorists.” There have also been photographs of pro-government demonstrators carrying signs asserting that opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi is a Baha’i.44 Examples of the many persecuted Baha’is include the following:

Musa Talibi

Four months after his arrest in Isfahan in June 1994, Musa Talibi was sentenced to a ten-year prison term on charges of “acting against the internal security of the Islamic Republic of Iran” and “attracting individuals to the misguided sect of Baha’ism.” He appealed. After retrial in February 1995, his sentence was changed to eighteen months beginning on the date of his arrest. However, prosecutors objected to this reduction, saying the court had not considered the fact that Talibi, a practicing Baha’i, had claimed, while detained in 1981–1982, to have converted to Islam and was therefore an apostate. Based on this allegation, he was subjected to a further trial, and, on August 18, 1996, the Islamic Revolutionary Court, Branch Number 31, sentenced him to death. On January 28, 1997, on appeal, the Iranian Supreme Court of Iran upheld the death sentence. A February 1997 report by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), the Iranian news agency asserted that Talibi had been found guilty of espionage, but his death sentence was in fact (p.45) based on an apostasy charge. As noted above, apostasy was not then listed as a crime under the Iranian Penal Code. On May 28, 2003, he was released, but without any documentation from the authorities as to his legal status.45

Ruhollah Rowhani

In 1985, Ruhollah Rowhani was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, with an additional year of internal exile in the village of Najafabad, because of his Baha’i faith. Rowhani, by this time a fifty-two-year-old father of four, was imprisoned in September 1997 and kept in solitary confinement for the rest of his shortened life. He was charged with apostasy for allegedly converting a Muslim to the Baha’i faith, a “crime” that even Khomeini had not called apostasy. In addition, the woman whom he was accused of converting asserted that she had not converted and that she had been raised a Baha’i. She was never arrested or charged. Rowhani was denied a lawyer and any legal proceeding at all. On July 20, 1998, his family was told that they could see him for one hour, the first time that he had breathed fresh air in three months. The next day, they were called to the prison to collect his body. Despite their appeal for more time to enable other relatives to attend the funeral, they were given only one hour to bury him. From the rope marks on his neck, it appeared that he had been hanged—the first Baha’i executed since March 1992.46

Baha’i Open Letter to President Khatami

In November 2004, for the first time, the Baha’i community wrote an open letter to then-President Khatami calling for an end to their persecution. It criticized government measures aimed at keeping Baha’is out of universities, including the false registration of Baha’i students as Muslims. It also highlighted passages in the Qur’an and Islamic law forbidding violence and supporting religious freedom and pointed out that Iran is bound to respect freedom of religion under the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and associated covenants, to which it is a signatory. It concluded with a call for “immediate action to ensure the emancipation of the Iranian Baha’i community.”47

The Baha’i community in Yazd submitted a copy to government authorities. Shortly thereafter, the government attacked Baha’is throughout the country and launched a campaign of vilification in the media. On March 8, 2005, one Baha’i who had distributed the letter received a three-year prison sentence; another was tried in absentia and given a one-year sentence.48 Authorities also arrested Baha’is who distributed copies in other cities. On May 16, 2005, nine Baha’is “were charged with ‘creating anxiety in the minds of the public and those of the Iranian officials.’ ”49

Attacks on Baha’is have also spilled over onto those who defend them. In March 2006, Shirin Ebadi, an outspoken human rights lawyer, who was awarded the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for her work promoting women's and children's rights in Iran, received death threats in a letter signed by an extremist group, the dysphemistic “Association Hostile to Apostate Baha’is.” The association told her, “We are (p.46) warning you for the last time, if you continue, you will pay for committing treason against your country and Islam.”50

Christian Converts

Christianity has a long history in Iran: the Church of St. Mary in the northwest is considered by some historians to be the world's second oldest surviving church. Today, there are over 300,000 Christians, most ethnic Armenians: the Armenian Apostolic Church has 110,000 to 300,000 adherents, the Assyrian Church of the East about 11,000, the Chaldean Catholic Church about 7,000. Protestants include Presbyterians, Anglicans, the Assyrian Evangelical Church, and the Assemblies of God.51 Despite this long history, and the Iranian constitution's recognition of Christian minority rights, the Islamic Republic often portrays Christianity as sympathetic to the West, and thus the regime interferes with and discourages Christian religious practices.

Since the beginning of 1979, the government has persecuted Protestants with close surveillance, forced exile, and even the prosecution, execution, or murder of converts and church leaders, especially if they are thought to be connected to conversion. Church leaders have been pressured to sign pledges to refrain from evangelizing Muslims and even to prevent Muslims from attending church. Reportedly, leaders of the Assyrian, Armenian Orthodox, and Presbyterian churches have signed the statement. The Assemblies of God and Brethren churches have refused.52 Authorities keep copies of membership cards for evangelical congregations, which participants must carry, and conduct identity checks outside congregational centers. Church leaders must inform the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance before admitting new church members, and worship services are permitted by the government only on Sundays.53 In the mid-1990s, authorities, especially agents of SAWAMA, closed down the 160-year-old Iranian Bible Society and all Christian bookshops; prohibited the printing of Bibles or other Christian literature in the Farsi language; banned Christian conferences; shut down Protestant churches in Gorgan, Mashhad, Saari, and Ahvaz; and targeted converts.

In the 1990s, many evangelical, especially Pentecostal, church leaders were targeted in a campaign to destroy their leadership, and several of those more recently targeted by the regime have been their children. Pastor Hossein Soodmand was hanged on December 3, 1991, after two months of imprisonment and torture. He left behind his wife, Mahtab, who was blind and four children ages ten to fifteen. The authorities did not allow her a final visit with her husband, and she suffered a complete breakdown.54 Presbyterian elder Robert Manaserian and Reverend Edmun Sergisian, of the Presbyterian Church in Tabriz, were tortured, as was Soodmand's successor in Mashad, Mohammad Sepehr.55 On August 21, 2008, Soodmand's thirty-five -year-old son, Ramtin Soodmand, was arrested, as were four other Christians.56 Reverend Mehdi Dibaj was arrested in 1979 and (p.47) 1983 and, without trial or charges, spent ten years in prison, several of them in solitary confinement, and was tortured and faced mock executions.57 His wife, who was threatened with death by stoning unless she denied her faith, divorced Dibaj and married a fundamentalist Muslim.58 Dibaj was released on January 16, 1994, due to international pressure and internal lobbying. However, on July 5, 1994, his body was found in a forest west of Tehran, and his family's request for an independent autopsy was rejected. Twelve years after Dibaj's murder, on September 26, 2006, authorities arrested his daughter, Fereshteh Dibaj, and her husband, Reza Montazami, at their home in Mashhad, where they operated an independent church.59

Just three days after Dibaj's release, his friend Haik Hovsepian Mehr, secretary-general of the Assemblies of God and Chairman of the Council of Protestant Ministers of Iran, disappeared in Tehran. The police subsequently claimed that they discovered his body in the street and, being unable to identify it, buried him immediately in a Muslim cemetery.60 In 2001, it was revealed that Saeed Emami, Vice Minister at the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (SAWAMA), had ordered Mehr's murder along with other activists and authors.61 Mehr's positions were taken over by Rev. Tateos Mikaelian, who disappeared on June 29, 1994. His body was found shot in the head execution-style.62

Recent Cases Involving Christian Converts

As with other religious minorities, persecution of converts has increased in recent years.63 In May 2008, there were ten arrests in connection with converts, including Mohsen Namvar, who had been arrested in 2007 and tortured for baptizing Muslim converts. He was arrested again in May 2008 and so severely tortured that he continued to suffer fever, severe back pain, high blood pressure, uncontrollable shaking of his limbs, and short-term memory loss. He and his family have subsequently found refuge in Turkey. Eight other converts were also arrested that month in Shiraz and later released.64

On July 26, 2008, Ministry of Intelligence and National Security agents attacked a house-church in the town of Malak, in the suburbs of Isfahan, arresting eight men, six women, and two children. The detainees included a couple in their sixties, who were savagely beaten and had to be taken to intensive care in Shariati Hospital in Isfahan. They died shortly thereafter. On August 9, 2008, a Christian Kurd, Shahin Zanboori, was arrested in the southwestern city of Arak. To obtain information on other converts, Zanboori says police hung him from the ceiling and beat his feet. His arm and leg were broken during interrogations.65 One young woman convert, who used the pseudonym Caty, was beaten so severely by her family that she is at risk of permanent disability from spinal injury.66

In recent years, arrests of Christian converts seem to have accelerated. In the wake of ten Christians’ arrests in Tehran in January 2009, one source in that city said that “there are more arrests, of Christians as well as Baha’i, in the last several (p.48) months among them than in maybe the whole 30 years before.”67 According to one Tehran pastor, arrests follow a predictable pattern of leaders being thrown in prison, beaten in order to obtain information on other converts, and then released after a few weeks.68 The summer of 2009 saw a wave of arrests of Christians. Ten Christian converts were arrested in Shiraz in June 2009, eight were arrested in Rasht on July 29 and 30, and twenty-four were arrested in Amameh on July 31. Seven of the latter group were jailed in Evin prison until September 2, when they posted deeds to their houses as bail and were released.69

On March 5, two Christian converts, Maryam Rostampour, 27, and Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad, 30, were jailed in Evin prison on charges of “acting against state security” and “taking part in illegal gatherings.” On August 9, they appeared in court, where the judge asked them to return to Islam and, when they refused, ordered that they be returned to their prison cells “to think about it.” Authorities failed to provide needed medical care for Esmaeilabad, who suffers from spinal pain, an infected tooth, and severe headaches. The two women were acquitted of “anti-state activities” on October 7, but charges of apostasy and propagating Christianity, to be handled by a different court, remained pending. They were released without bail, an unusual development in such a case, on November 18, 2009 and, in May 2010, were acquitted of all charges. However, they were told that if they continued with Christian activities, they would be punished, and, on May 22, they fled the country.70

The crackdown continued into 2010. Seven Christians were arrested in Shiraz on January 11, 2010, and, with the exception of one not born Muslim, told they had committed apostasy.71 On February 2, 2010, Pastor Wilson Eisavi of the Assyrian Evangelical Church in Kermanshah, was arrested, tortured, and charged with baptizing Muslims. He was released temporarily, but his church has been compelled to close.72 In mid 2011, evangelical pastor Yousef Nadarkhani was sentenced to death for apostasy.

The Jewish Community

Jewish history in Iran dates back to the Babylonian Exile, but after the establishment of Israel in 1948, many Iranian Jews immigrated to Israel. As of 1979, about 80,000 remained, but of those, around 20,000 emigrated within months of the Islamic Revolution. By the late 1980s, the population was estimated to be about 20,000 to 30,000. Although the Iranian constitution in principle recognizes Jews as a legitimate religious minority and grants them the right to practice their faith freely, since the revolution, they have been one of Iran's most persecuted minorities.

Since the Islamic Revolution, about thirteen Jews have been executed, most accused of spying for Israel or the United States. Another fourteen have disappeared, allegedly while in the custody of the Revolutionary Guards, and at least (p.49) four have been murdered, probably by groups such as Ansar. The government has never seriously pursued the perpetrators of these murders. Hundreds of other Jews have been arrested on vague charges and live under constant surveillance. The regime has often killed or imprisoned Jews based on accusations that they have supported or engaged in espionage for Israel. Zionism is a crime, and Zionists are treated as traitors and criminals.73 The regime has long promoted anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.74 Ahmadinejad has also, famously, called for Israel itself to be “wiped off the map.”75 The Islamic regime has created conditions in which the Jewish community and its representative in Parliament practice self-censorship and are extremely reluctant to speak about their situation.

While few Jews have been charged explicitly with blasphemy or apostasy, the regime's loose use of these and related terms indicates that Jews are persecuted, in part, as guilty or potentially guilty of religious crimes. In the case of Habib Elqanian, this was made explicit. Elqanian, a Jewish community leader, was executed on May 9, 1979. Apart from espionage and support for Israel, the charges against him included: “(1) Friendship with the enemies of God; hostility towards the friends of God.…(4) Spending funds and benefits which have been derived from the exploitation of Iranians to construct belligerent usurper Israel, which is against Islam and God. (5) Corruption on earth in the form of destroying society's human resources. (6) Fighting against God, the Prophet, the Representative of the Twelfth Imam, and against our disinherited people. (7) Obstructing the way of God and the way towards happiness for all the disinherited people in the world. Obstructing Islamic and human values. (8) Corruption on earth.…” Amnesty International notes that the charges include the only instance known “of a non-Muslim being charged with a Qur’anic offence. Part Three of the indictment against him reads: ‘Taking into consideration [the text of parts one and two of the indictment] and applying specified and unspecified verses of the Holy Qur’an…and other words transmitted by the Tradition of the saints it is requested that the defendant be sentenced to death and that his property and that of his family be confiscated.’” The government Tribunal ordered the confiscation of the defendant's property and that of his immediate family, and he was executed within hours of being sentenced.76


Though Khamenei has referred to them as kaffers (infidels), Iran's Zoroastrians are recognized as a religious minority under Article 13 of the 1979 (amended 1989) constitution; and, as a “people of the book,” a “heavenly religion,” with secondary dhimmi status, they have some protection and receive somewhat better treatment than some other religious minorities. Also, since Zoroastrians usually do not seek converts, they generally do not suffer from the individual and communal repression that the regime visits on people suspected of “proselytising” (p.50) Muslims.77 However, in 1978, Khomeini described the Shah's regime as an “anti-Islamic regime that wishes to revive Zoroastrianism.”78 They, too, are regarded as unclean; have fewer legal rights than Muslims; are barred from the higher ranks of the executive, legal, or judicial branches of government, as well as, of course, groups such as the Council of Guardians; and must take exams in Islamic theology in order to gain higher education. Government agents frequently plaster their temples and schools with portraits of Shia dignitaries in place of depictions of the Zoroastrian prophet, Zarathustra, even though Zoroastrian monuments are often protected because of their place in Iran's cultural heritage.79

In November 2005, when members of Iran's minority religious communities were pushing discreetly for less discrimination against their members, Khamenei's aide, Ayatollah Ahmed Jannati, Chairman of the Council of Guardians and an advisor to Ahmadinejad, denounced non-Muslims as “animals who roam the Earth and engage in corruption.” In response, Kourosh Niknam, the Zoroastrian member of the legislature, rebuked him, saying, “Non-Muslims not only are not beasts, but if Iran has a glorious past and a civilization to be proud of then all Iranians owe those to the people whose ancestors lived here before the advent of Islam.…Those who sully the Earth are humans who do not show respect for the other creatures of God.” Niknam was ordered to be tried by a tribunal of the Revolutionary Courts on charges of failing to show respect toward Iran's leaders and of disseminating false information. He escaped with a warning that this time Muslims were being tolerant but that they might not be so in the future.80

Sunni Muslims

Sunni Muslims, totaling approximately six million, compose the largest religious minority in Iran and pose a problem for the authorities, since the government maintains that Shia Islam is the basis of the regime and, indeed, of all human relationships. The regime generally does not use the same repressive tactics against Sunnis that it uses against other minorities, since this might harm Iran's relations with other Islamic countries. However, Shia zealots who practice widespread discrimination against Sunnis have not been restrained, nor has anti-Sunni violence been punished. On April 27, 2010, the government banned Sunnis from holding prayers at state universities and military camps and earlier forbade communal Friday prayers held in homes in Isfahan, Shiraz, Kerman, and Yazd.81 The situation of Sunni minorities is further complicated by the fact that they tend to be ethnic minorities such as Turkmen, Arabs, Baluchs, and Kurds, living in the southwest, southeast, and northwest. The line between ethnic persecution and religious persecution can be blurred, and so-called ethnic attacks may include forms of religious repression and vice versa.82

After Ahmadinejad became president in 2005, a number of mass demonstrations and uprisings took place among Sunni minorities, and all were severely sup (p.51) pressed by security forces. Arab Iranians in Khuzestan demonstrated peacefully between September 2005 and January 2006 to protest economic deprivation and discrimination. Seven were killed when security forces repressed the demonstrations, and thirteen were executed after a one-day trial on charges of having taken part in bombings.83 On July 6, 2005, Kurdish activist Shivan Qaderi was killed in Mahabad by security forces. He had been dragged behind a car, and, when photographs of his mutilated body were spread on the Internet in August 2005, there were massive demonstrations and rioting in Iranian Kurdistan. Protesters demanded that Qaderi's murderers be arrested and tried; at least seventeen people died when government forces responded by firing live ammunition. Authorities also detained other prominent Kurdish journalists and activists.84

In the predominantly Sunni province of Sistan-Baluchistan, the moderate and Sunni cleric Moulavi (a Sunni religious title) Ahmad Narouee was arrested in October 2008. An advocate of peaceful dialogue with Shia Iran, in spite of the killings of nearly 400 members of his clan since 1979, Narouee has been held incommunicado. Two other Sunni clerics, Moulavis Muhammad Yousof Sohrabi and Abdoulghodus Mallazahi, were executed in 2008 following a televised confession that they had been deliberately and actively causing Sunni–Shia divisions. More than 130 people in the Sistan-Baluchistan province, primarily Sunnis, have been executed or killed for similar charges since 2004.85


Sufism has a long history in Iran and, depending on how restrictively it is defined, has up to five million practitioners, amongst both Shia and Sunni. Sufi meditative and mystical approaches arouse deep antagonism among the country's clerical rulers, who often regard them as heretics. After Ahmadinejad came to power, the demonization and persecution of Sufis increased significantly. One of the largest attacks took place in early 2006 in Qom, the center of Shia learning in Iran.86

In September 2005, Ayatollah Hossein Nouri-Hamedani, an Islamic scholar in Qom, labeled Sufis a “danger to Islam,” and, in February 2006, security forces cracked down on them. Government-controlled newspapers ran articles attacking Sufis, the governor of Qom charged them with foreign ties, and leaflets describing them as enemies of Islam were spread by paramilitaries. Clashes broke out for two days after police attempted to shut down a husseinieh, or Sufi house of worship, on February 13. Human rights groups report that Sufis, including women and children, were protesting peacefully when the police, aided by members of the conservative Islamic organizations Fatemiyon and Hojjatiyeh, attacked those in the building. In addition to beating the protesters, police used tear gas and explosives, injuring hundreds.

On February 14, 2006, after the newspaper Kayhan quoted senior clerics in Qom saying that Sufism should be eradicated from the city, government forces razed the husseinieh and surrounding houses, and arrested more than 1,000 people. Over (p.52) 170 were held in Fajr prison and reportedly tortured to obtain confessions to be read on national television. Authorities released some detainees only after they had signed agreements promising to report to intelligences offices and not attend Sufi meetings in Qom. On May 4, 2006, fifty-two Sufis were sentenced to a year's imprisonment and seventy-four lashes, as were their lawyers, Farshid Yadollahi and Omid Behrouzi, who additionally received a five-year prohibition on practicing law.87

On October 10, 2006, the residence of Sufi leader Nurali Tabandeh in Gonabad, in Khorasan province, was surrounded by approximately 300 security personnel.88 Commentators suggest that the government wanted to avoid any large gathering of Sufis, since dervishes from throughout the country travel annually to Gonabad to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, with Tabandeh.89 He was arrested on May 21, 2007, apparently without formal charges.

In November 2007, many Shia clerics complained because Iranian state television had covered the Rumi International Congress, which celebrated the 800th anniversary of the birth of Rumi, a Persian poet and mystic. Deputy Culture Minister Mohsen Parviz then responded with a statement implying that Sufism should not be promoted in Iran. A week later, following a confrontation in the Western city of Borujerd between members of a Sufi lodge and Shias from a nearby mosque, police and Special Forces used tear gas to storm the lodge, injuring dozens, and made arrests. Government forces also partially demolished a Sufi monastery, called Hossaini-ye Nematollahi Gonabadi, in the same city.90

A dervish hosseinieh was demolished in Isfahan on February 18, 2009.91 On the following day in the same city, forty dervishes were arrested by agents from the Ministry of Intelligence.92 According to one report, more than 800 were arrested in Tehran on February 22, 2009, and charged with public order and security offenses after gathering to protest the demolition. Of these, 100 were sent to Evin prison for interrogation and fifteen kept in solitary confinement over the course of three months. As one dervish says, “Anyone who stands up to the current regime is charged with waging a war against God or trying to overthrow the Islamic establishment.”93

Shia Reformers

The regime's suppression of religious views is not limited to religious minorities. Any Shia Muslim who questions doctrine, or the unrestricted power of the clergy and the supreme leader, or questions any part of the religious establishment, can be accused of some version of “insulting Islam.” Many Shia religious leaders, including clergy, human rights activists, women's rights activists, journalists, writers, and lawyers have been charged with blasphemy or even apostasy because they have dared to question or criticize any of the regime's “divine” rules. Apart from Hojjatoleslam Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari, discussed above, the following are some of the more prominent cases. (p.53)

Abdolkarim Soroush

Abdolkarim Soroush, or Souroush, born Husayn Haj Farajullah Dabbagh, is a world-famous Muslim intellectual who argues for the reconciliation of Islamic and democratic traditions, most especially in Iran, his birthplace. In 1980, he was invited by the regime to return from the United Kingdom, where he was teaching, to help incorporate Islamic studies into the nation's higher education. While eager to educate his fellow Iranians about Islam and its heritage, Soroush quickly became disillusioned by the regime's coercive nature. He began to argue for the need to interpret religious practices, though not “essences,” according to the needs of each time in history. In 1983, he stopped working for the government and began teaching at the University of Tehran and publishing articles challenging the Mullahs’ rule and their mixing political power with religion. The prominent Iranian journalist and political dissident Akbar Ganji was one of his students.94

Soroush's open criticism of the regime resulted in his arrest on May 10, 1996, and interrogation by the Ministry of Information. Ministry officials warned him not to lecture at the university or to travel abroad. At other public lectures, thugs have attacked him with clubs and knives—apparently with the approval of the regime. Both Tehran and Isfahan universities barred him from holding or attending public programs on their campus. He was then summarily dismissed from his job and prohibited from teaching and routinely threatened with death.95 Due to these pressures, he left Iran in 2000 and has since been a visiting scholar at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, the Free University of Amsterdam, Berlin's Wissenschaftskolleg, and Georgetown University. In 2004, he received the prestigious Erasmus Prize and, in 2005, was named by Time magazine as one of the world's leading 100 public intellectuals. In July 2004, despite threats against his life, he returned for a time to Iran.96

During a 2008 interview, Soroush stated directly that he believed the Qur’an represented a “prophetic experience.” Thus, he has explained, Muhammad “was at the same time the receiver and the producer of the Koran,” and the “words, images, rules and regulations” of the Muslim Holy Book came from a human mind “imbued with divinity and inspired by God” rather than represented a word-for-word transcription of God's revelation. While his statements drew accusations of heresy from some Iranian clerics, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei surprisingly interjected that such statements should be refuted using “religious truths” rather than “by declaring apostasy and anger.”97

Ayatollah Sayed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi

Ayatollah Boroujerdi has emphasized that “there is no compulsion in religion” and advocates the separation of religion and state. Since 1996, he has been repeatedly summoned before the Special Court for the Clergy and imprisoned. However, he has continued to lead and teach his followers. On June 30, 2006, he led a large Islamic ceremony at Tehran's Shahid Keshvari Stadium. In subsequent months, (p.54) security agents twice attempted to arrest him but were unable to do so. They did arrest members of his family, as well as some of his religious students. On September 7, 2006, he was summoned to appear before the prosecutor for the Special Court for the Clergy. Fearing what might happen, he wrote urgent appeals to Pope John Paul II, Javier Solana, who was head of the Council of Europe, and Kofi Annan, then UN Secretary General, telling them his life would be in danger if he appeared before the court. On September 28, security forces arrested about forty of Boroujerdi's followers and took them to the notorious Evin prison, run by the Ministry of Intelligence. One was held in solitary confinement for twenty-two days, and another was tortured and had to be transferred to the Taleqani hospital with a presumed heart attack.98

On October 8, security forces arrested Boroujerdi, as well as about 300 of his followers, at his residence in what became a violent confrontation. More of his family, reportedly including his eighty-six-year-old mother, were arrested and taken to prison with him. Some followers have been released, and others rearrested, while Boroujerdi continues to be held at Evin prison, suffering from Parkinson's disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney and heart problems, some of which are due to previous imprisonments and torture. His health has significantly worsened in prison, and he has been denied medical attention. Due in part to this refusal, on July 22, 2007, Boroujerdi started a hunger strike and was transferred to a hospital; he had reportedly lost sixty-six pounds since his arrest and had been tortured.99 In December 2008, he was transferred to a prison in the city of Yazd, which seems to have exacerbated his health problems. His visitation rights have been gradually reduced to the point that daily contacts with the outside world have been denied and weekly visits reduced to one every forty-five days.100 On August 19, 2009, perhaps due to health problems, Boroujerdi was transferred to Evin prison.101 The thirty charges against him include “waging war against God,” which carries the death penalty, “publicly calling political leadership by clergy unlawful,” and publicly using the term “religious dictatorship” instead of “Islamic Republic.”102

Mohsen Kadivar

Shia legal and religious scholar Mohsen Kadivar has been frequently disparaged by many other clerics for his criticism of the regime and his attempts to reconcile Islam and modern democracy. The fact that Kadivar, who was educated in a Shia seminary in Qom, argues carefully on the basis of Islam makes him one of the most formidable critics of the Islamic Republic. In 1999, his criticism resulted in his conviction and sentencing to eighteen months by the Special Court for the Clergy for “propagating against the sacred system of the Islamic Republic of Iran” and “publishing untruths and disturbing public minds.”103 He subsequently moved to the United States and has taught at Duke University.

(p.55) The conservative clerical establishment's hostility to Kadivar is rooted in his analytical writings, going as far back as 1994, on Shia religious theories of government. Particularly incensing to many clerics was his critique of Velayat-e Faqih, the theory of political doctrine instituted by Khomeini in 1979 that places both temporal and spiritual power in the hands of a Shia cleric. Though critiques have been articulated by various scholars, Kadivar remains the most prominent and thorough in questioning the religious authenticity of this effective dictatorship. His three-volume The Theories of the State in Shiite Jurisprudence is a comprehensive attack on the principle of government by divine mandate. Kadivar examines the four sources that comprise the basis for the Velayat-e Faqih—the Qur’an, tradition (Sonnat), consensus of the Ulama, and reason (Aghl)—and he systematically undermines Khomeini's doctrine. Ultimately, he concludes: “The principle of Velayat e-Faqih is neither intuitively obvious nor rationally necessary. It is neither a requirement of religion nor a necessity for denomination. It is neither a part of Shiite general principles nor a component of detailed observances. It is, by near consensus of the Shiite Ulama, nothing more than a jurisprudential minor hypothesis.” Kadivar goes on to say that, because the principle is expounded by clerics rather than by Allah, it is neither sacred nor infallible. He then insists that, as long as clerics possess no divine right to rule, Muslims are free to select their government in a democratic republic.104 His writings attempt to resolve contradictions between traditional Islamic teachings and a modern understanding of human rights. While he advocates neither a “modern Islam” nor an “Islamic modernity,” he has identified his writings as a search for “some interpretation of Islam [that is] compatible with a version of Modernity.”105

Though not required to wear clerical robes, and despite numerous attempts by Iran's clerical courts to defrock him, he insists on wearing his clerical robes while teaching, speaking and writing about democracy. In this way, he aims to exemplify a dedication both to the spiritual message of Islam and to the possibility of an Islamic democracy.106 In an interview with Spiegel during the summer of 2009, Kadivar called instead for “a truly Islamic and democratic state, a state that respects human dignity and does not refuse the rights of women, a state where people can freely elect their religious and secular leaders.”107

Hashem Aghajari

Hashem Aghajari is a veteran of the Iran–Iraq war, a former political activist with the Warriors of the Islamic Revolution, and a former history professor at Tarbiat Modares University in Tehran. On June 19, 2002, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of philosopher Ali Shariati, he delivered a speech entitled “Islamic Protestantism” to students in the western Iranian city of Hamedan. As one of Shariati's followers, he argued that the clergy should not be seen as mediators between God and mankind, and he questioned the Shia doctrine of emulation in his oft-quoted words, “Muslims are not monkeys to blindly follow the clerics.” He (p.56) went on to say: “Religion has performed badly when it has gone along with power.…Those who believe Islamic jurisprudence is a kind of divinity on earth, that it cannot be criticized, or judged by the law, must enter debates with Islamic thinkers and let voters choose.…Governments that suppress thinking under the name of religion are not only not religious governments but are not even humane governments.…It is time for the institution of religion to become separated from the institution of government.”108 Aghajari's speech threatened hard-line clerics; he was arrested on August 8 on charges of “insulting Islam” and, in November 2002, sentenced to death for blasphemy and apostasy.109 This verdict led to widespread student protests and calls to reconsider the case and revoke the death sentence. Partly as a result, in January 2003, the Supreme Court annulled the verdict and sent it for retrial. However, the case was sent back to the same trial court, and, in May 2004, the court once again sentenced Aghajari to death. In June, the Supreme Court annulled this once more and assigned the case to branch 1083 of the Public Court of Tehran.

The third trial began on July 10, 2004, with a crowd of fanatics gathered at the court entrance chanting, “Aghajari deserves death penalty.” The court charged him with four new offenses: “insulting religion and religious authorities” (articles 513, 514), “propaganda against the Islamic regime” (Article 500), and “publishing lies” for the purpose of inciting public opinion (Article 698). None carried the death penalty. In the course of the trial, Aghajari asserted that he was being tried for the “sin of thinking” and that “the Islam I believe in is an Islam which defends human rights, freedom, and democracy.”

On July 20, the court found him not guilty of “propaganda against Islam” and “publishing lies,” but guilty of “insulting religion.” Under Article 513 he was sentenced to five years imprisonment, the maximum punishment for blasphemy, with two years off for time previously served. He was also suspended from all social services for an additional five years. On July 31, 2004, he was released on bail of one billion rials (more than $100,000), raised by friends. He returned to his teaching position but rarely speaks in public.

Abdollah Nouri

Abdollah Nouri was the Minister of the Interior for a total of four years in both President Rafsanjani's and President Khatami's first-term cabinets, serving until 1998. He was also one of the highest-ranking clergy to support the leading dissident cleric, Ayatollah Hussain Ali Montazeri, described below, and founded Khordad, a paper that allowed discussion of taboo subjects such as the limits on the Supreme Leader's powers, the rights of unorthodox clerics and groups to air their views, the right of women to divorce, and even whether laughing or clapping were un-Islamic. Soroush was one of its contributors.110

Nouri was arrested and put on trial on November 27, 1999, on charges including using his newspaper to insult the prophet Muhammad and his direct descendants, (p.57) insulting Ayatollah Khomeini, backing political parties wanting a secular Iran, and seeking friendly ties with the United States and Israel. The prosecutor cited articles in Khordad that stated people should be allowed to clap, whistle, and cheer at concerts and political rallies, that criticized divorce laws and the Islamic legal precept of qisas (retaliation), and that said of the clergy that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Nouri refused to back down, and he criticized regime clerics for reneging on promises of democracy and for defending a repressive system, which he believed violated Qur’anic precepts. He also declared, “I totally reject the court, its membership, and its competence to conduct this trial…what has happened to us, to our revolution, to our faith…that one group of clerics can make allegations against another like this?” Nouri's challenge of the court's legitimacy also questioned Khomeini's legacy. Khomeini had established the clergy court by personal decree to deal with rising resistance to Islamic rule, and Nouri, citing the 1980 constitution, said that not even “the leader”—a reference to Khomeini—could establish courts outside the framework of the constitution.111

The Special Court for the Clergy reached its verdict on the same day as Nouri's arrest and trial. It found him guilty on fifteen counts, including publishing sacrilegious articles, opposing the teachings of the founder of the Islamic Republic, antireligious propaganda, insults against Khomeini, destabilization of public opinion, and advocating relations with the United States. Under the vagaries of Iranian legal practice, these charges could amount to heresy, with an attendant death penalty, but he was instead sentenced to five years’ imprisonment and fined fifteen million rials. However, in October 2002, he was released after his brother, Alireza Nouri, a member of Parliament, was killed in a car accident. Mehdi Karroubi, the Speaker of the Parliament, wrote to the Supreme Leader asking that Nouri be freed out of consideration for his grieving father.112

Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri and Mojtaba Lotfi

After religious student and blogger Mojtaba Lotfi posted on the Internet a sermon from the oppositionist Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, he was arrested in the city of Qom on October 8, 2004, and charged with “spreading false information about the Supreme Guide.” Montazeri's son-in-law, Mojtaba Feiz, also had his home searched but he was not detained.113 Three days after the arrest, the pro-regime newspaper Jomhouri Eslami said that Lotfi was “one of the carriers of false information via the anti-revolutionary media.”114 This was not Lotfi's first arrest. In 2004, shortly after posting an article titled “Respect for Human Rights in Cases Involving the Clergy,” he was arrested and sentenced to three years and ten months in prison, though he was released on bail, pending an appeal hearing that was never scheduled.115

Many commentators believe that the real target of the arrest was Montazeri, a prominent religious critic of the regime who also met with political reformers and encouraged them to unite to challenge Ahmadinejad in the then-upcoming (p.58) elections. Montazeri had major religious stature, being a grand marja, a source of emulation, and, until 1989, was believed to be the designated successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini. However, a falling-out with Khomeini over Montazeri's criticism of the regime's restrictions on freedom and human rights ended that possibility. Montazeri strenuously objected to the mass executions that took place in the period leading up to Khomeini's death and stated after the 1989 fatwa against Salman Rushdie that “[p]eople in the world are getting the idea that our business in Iran is just murdering people.” He also taught that apostates should not be subject to earthly punishments.116 He was placed under house arrest in October 1997, and his religious school was forcibly closed. However, in part through use of the Internet, he continued to criticize the regime and issue dissenting religious fatwas, including one demanding equal rights for Baha’is.117

Due to Montazeri's religious stature, advanced age (born 1922), and large following, the regime remained cautious about targeting him directly and so tried to intimidate and silence him by attacking those, such as Lotfi, who posted his sermons. The sermon Lotfi posted called Ahmadinejad to task for calling Iran “the world's freest country.” It challenged Ahmadinejad: “Why do your words not match your deeds inside the country? You call Iran the freest country in the world when you are outside, but inside Iran you deprive us of our basic and legal rights.” He went on to say that even he, a key participant in the Islamic Revolution of 1979, had had his property confiscated and his speech censored and, if this could happen to him, how much worse it must be for the average people of Iran.

Lotfi was held for six months and unofficially released on August 28, 2005. Because of the nature of his release, the regime did not confirm the completion of his sentence, and so the original charges and sentence remained in force. Due to the poor conditions under which he was held, as well as prior medical problems, Lotfi's health deteriorated in prison, and he was seriously ill at the time of his release.118 In late 2008, he was rearrested, spent fifty days in solitary confinement, and was eventually sentenced to four years in prison and five years of exile. Charges included spreading the views of Ayatollah Montazeri. He was ordered to cease any activities related to cultural issues and not to publish his works.119

On September 14, 2009, following the disputed Iranian elections, Montazeri wrote on his website that Iran had become a “military regime” rather than an Islamic government: “The regime has savagely suppressed million-strong protestors who were legally objecting to the election outcome. A large number were arrested, and an unknown number were martyred in notorious jails.” He called upon senior clergy to stand in solidarity with the Iranian people and urged them to speak out: “The grand ayatollahs are well aware of their influence on the regime.…Their silence may give the wrong impression to people that the grand ayatollahs approve of whatever is underway.”120

Montazeri's death from a heart condition on December 20, 2009, sparked student protests, while thousands flocked to Qom to pay their respects. Other grand ayatollahs visited his home. A number of travelers to Qom were arrested before (p.59) reaching the city, and mourners there clashed with the Basij after what was perceived as insulting behavior by the latter.121 In the wake of his death, fellow Grand Ayatollah Youssef Sanei, also a source of emulation, sent a condolence telegram interpreted by Al-Ahram as a sign that Sanei hoped to take Montazeri's place as a spiritual leader of the reformists. Shortly thereafter, the pro-government Qom Theological Lecturers Association ruled that Ayatollah Sanei's religious pronouncements should no longer carry weight, although other clerical bodies quickly opposed the move. Sanei's residence in Qom also came under attack by pro-government demonstrators.122

Post-Election Opposition Protesters

After the renewal of protests in Iran in December 2009, Ayatollah Khamenei and government loyalists called for protesters to be arrested and put to death for offending God and the prophet, as well as for insulting Ayatollah Khomeini.123 As part of this effort, the government charged opposition members with religious crimes, especially mohareb, or “making war against God and His Prophet.” As early as June, a regional prosecutor issued a warning to “the few elements controlled by foreigners who try to disrupt domestic security” that “the Islamic penal code for such individuals waging war against God is execution.”124 Hard-line General Muhammad-Ali Aziz Jaafari has been quoted as saying, “Those who demonstrate against the system are waging war on Allah,” and cleric Abbas Vaez-Tabasi has asserted that “[t]hose who are behind the current sedition in the country…are mohareb [enemies of God] and the law is very clear about punishment of a mohareb.”125

The charge of mohareb has also been raised in a number of cases involving protesters but in some cases has been thrown out by the courts. Several members of a group of sixteen protesters, arrested over their involvement with demonstrations on the holy day of Ashura in 2010, were charged with mohareb, a decision that drew protest in an open letter from sixty Iranian intellectuals, largely expatriates. Their letter asserted, “[I]f protesting is making war against God, then we are all warriors.” Exiled Iranian former president Abolhassan Bani Sadr also criticized the regime for abusing the term “enemy of God.”126 Nonetheless, a twenty-year-old university student connected with the Ashura protests was charged with mohareb, among other offenses, on February 3. The prosecutor claimed that part of the student's crime consisted in his participating in a prayer service at which former President Rafsanjani gave a sermon.127 At least two oppositionists had been executed for mohareb by this time, and at least ten death sentences for mohareb had been issued by February 10.128 On March 4, 2010, mohareb was among the list of charges leveled against another group, this time of nine people, sentenced for their involvement with the Ashura demonstrations. Eight of those accused were sentenced to prison terms, and the ninth to death.129 (p.60)


The Iranian regime uses accusations such as apostasy, blasphemy, heresy, and even sorcery in a profligate and inconsistent manner to punish those individuals it sees as a threat to its rule, including religious reformists, intellectuals, student activists, religious minorities, and women's rights activists.130 When expedient, it adds other charges not defined in statute such as “propagandists against the government of Islamic Republic of Iran,” “friendship with the enemies of God,” “hostility towards friends of God,” “corruption on earth,” “fighting against God,” “obstructing the way of God and the way towards happiness for all the disinherited people in the world,” “dissension from religious dogma,” “spreading lies,” “insulting the Prophet,” “distributing propaganda against the government of Islamic Republic of Iran,” “attracting individuals to the misguided sect of Baha’ism,” “insulting Islam,” “propagation of spiritual liberalism,” “promoting pluralism,” “calling into question the Islamic foundations of the Republic,” and even, our personal favorite, “creating anxiety in the minds of the public and those of Iranian officials.” Court reasoning in such cases may be taken from the writings of Khomeini or others considered authoritative, and the resulting punishments include beating, lashing, solitary confinement, amputation, life or lengthy imprisonment, execution, and extrajudicial punishments such as rape, sexual abuse, burning, starvation, and strangulation.

As noted above, this inconsistency suggests that, when there is nothing else with which to charge a person, the regime uses some variant of apostasy, which conveniently can carry the death penalty. The targeted undesirables can be Baha’is, whose very existence is treated as a crime, converts to Christianity, Jews, Sunnis, Sufis, or Shia religious or political reformists whom the state punishes for speaking their minds. Those charged with “apostasy” include Mahrami, who was never a Muslim; the Soodmans, father and son, who chose a religion other than Islam; Talibi, because he allegedly signed a document that stated his religion as Islam; and Rowhani, because he allegedly converted a Muslim woman to the Baha’i religion. Mekhoubad was executed because he spoke to relatives in Israel and America, and Hovsepian Mehr was murdered because he preached Christianity. Aghajari was charged because of speeches in which he challenged some Islamic practices. The only apparent consistency is the use of these laws to persecute and silence religious minorities and Muslim dissidents.

Under the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, conditions have deteriorated, and the increased demonization of Baha’is, Jews, and Sufis indicates darker days ahead. This is especially so in light of proposed reforms to the penal code that would give the regime a sharper tool with which to eradicate its undesirables. Although Ahmadinejad's victory in the June 2009 elections remains disputed in the eyes of many reformers, and although the massive demonstrations in its wake may have revealed fractures in the regime's political support system, the Islamic Republic of Iran's iron grip is likely to remain firm against dissenters, and may even tighten, as long as clerical rule survives.


(1.) “PEN American Center, “Hojjatoleslam Hasan Yousefi Eshkevari,” http://www.pen.org/page.php/prmID/422.

(2.) “Iranian Reformists Condemn Hardline Clerical Court,” CNN.com, October 19, 2000, http://www.cnn.com/2000/WORLD/meast/10/19/iran.court/.

(3.) “2005 Report on International Religious Freedom,” International Religious Freedom Report 2005, U.S. State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2005/; “Stifling Dissent: The Human Rights Consequences of Inter-Factional Struggle in Iran,” Human Rights Watch May 2001, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/iran/Iran0501-05.htm; “Iran Court Lifts Death Verdict on Dissident Cleric,” Gulf News, May 20, 2001, http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/general/iran-court-lifts-death-verdict-on-dissident-cleric-1.417071; “Mr. Yusefi-Eshkevari Is Tried Behind Closed Doors by Special Court,” Iran Press Service, October 9, 2000, http://www.iran-press-service.com/articles_2000/oct_2000/eshkevari_trial_91000.htm; “Cleared of Heaviest Charges, Eshkevari Faces Long Term Jail,” Iran Press Service, October 23, 2000, http://www.iran-press service.com/articles_2000/oct_2000/eshkevari_reactions_231000.htm; PEN American Center, “Hojjatoleslam Hasan Yousefi Eshkevari.”

(4.) “Convert Couple Arrested, Tortured, Threatened,” Compass Direct News, June 25, 2008, http://archive.compassdirect.org/en/display.php?page=news&idelement=5448&lang=en&length=short&backpage=archives&critere=&countryname=Iran&rowcur=0; also “New Law in Iran: Death Penalty for ‘Online Crimes,’” Jerusalem Post, July 8, 2008, http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1215330897449&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull; “Safe at Last, by Grace of God, but They Still Need Your Prayers,” Open Doors, July 7, 2009, http://www.opendoors.org.nz/article/67/safe-at-last-by-grace-of-god-but-they-still-need-your-prayers. (p.341)

(5.) Mehrangiz Kar, “Shari’a Law in Iran,” in Radical Islam's Rules: The Worldwide Spread of Extreme Sharia Law, ed. Paul Marshall (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005), 46; on religious minorities in Iran, see Eliz Sanasarian, Religious Minorities in Iran (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Jamsheed K. Chosky, “Despite Shahs and Mollas: Minority Sociopolitics in Premodern and Modern Iran,” Journal of Asian History 40, no 2 (2006): 129–84.

(6.) Ladan Boroumand, “Iran's Resilient Civil Society: The Untold Story of the Fight for Human Rights,” Journal of Democracy 18, no. 4 (October 1, 2007): 66, http://www.journalofdemocracy.org/articles/gratis/Boroumand-18–4.pdf.

(7.) Asghar Schirazi, The Constitution of Iran: Politics and State in the Islamic Republic, trans. John O’Kane (London: I.B. Tauris, 1997), 35.

(8.) “Islamic Penal Code of Iran,” trans. Mission for Establishment of Human Rights in Iran (MEHR IRAN), http://mehr.org/Islamic_Penal_Code_of_Iran.pdf.

(9.) Saeed Doroudi, “Apostasy in the Legal System of Iran,” Iran Morning Daily 8, no. 2032 (January 22, 2002): 6.

(10.) “Iran—Constitution,” http://www.servat.unibe.ch/icl/ir00000_.html. Article 167: “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 fatawa. 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.”

(11.) Ayatollah Khomeini's book, Tahrir ul-Vassileh (http://www.melliblog.blogfa.com/post-301.aspx), was a central source of the penal codes from the time of the Islamic Revolution, in addition to the new draft bill that would amend the code.

(12.) “Dhabihullah Mahrami: Prisoner of Conscience,” Amnesty International, October 1, 1996, http://web.amnesty.org/library/print/ENGMDE130341996. A “public” or “national” apostate is someone born non-Muslim who first converts into Islam and then leaves the faith. A “natural” apostate is someone born into a Muslim family who converts to a different religion.

(13.) The Islamic regime uses the absence of a codified law on apostasy to deny that it punishes apostasy. When the UN Special Rapporteur visited Iran in December 1995, government officials assured him that “under the Civil Code, conversion was not a crime and that no one had been punished for converting”; see “Dhabihullah Mahrami: Prisoner of Conscience.”

(14.) For the full text in Persian, see http://www.dadkhahi.net/law/Ghavanin/Ghavanin_Jazaee/layehe_gh_mojazat_eslami.htm. An English translation is available at http://rezaei.typepad.com/hassan_rezaei/2008/02/index.html. On the development of the proposed law on apostasy, which was first introduced under Khatami, see Amir Taheri, The Persian Night: Iran Under the Khomeinist Revolution (New York: Encounter, 2009), 343–45.

(15.) “Draft Iranian Law Threatens Gross Human Rights Violations,” Bahai World News Service, February 22, 2008, http://news.bahai.org/story/606; “Draft Iranian Penal Code Legislates Death Penalty for Apostasy,” http://www.maavanews.ir/NewsPrint/tabid/602/Code/1726/Default.aspx.

(16.) The word Melli in this case means “of parents.”

(17.) Hadd in Islamic penal law applies to fixed penalties—not to be changed, reduced, or annulled.

(18.) “Draft Iranian Law Threatens Rights Violations,” Bahai World News Service.

(19.) “Iran Parliament Requires Death for “Apostates” as Crackdown Continues,” Compass Direct News, September 30, 2008; “ ‘Apostasy’ Bill Appears Likely to Become Law: International Pressure Sought Against Mandatory Death Penalty for ‘Apostates,’ ” Compass Direct News, September 23, 2008; “USCIRF Concerned over Apostasy Death Penalty Threat to Christians, Baha’is, Muslim Dissenters; Calls for Release of Prisoners,” United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, September 17, 2008.

(20.) Amnesty International's Comments on the National Report by the Islamic Republic of Iran for the Universal Periodic Review, February 12, 2010, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE13/021/2010/en. (p.342)

(21.) “A Faith Denied: The Persecution of the Baha’is of Iran,” Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, 2006, 3, http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/publications/reports/3149-a-faith-denied-the-persecution-of-the-baha-is-of-iran.html; Ervand Abrahamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982), 17; Moojan Momen, ed., The Babi and Baha’i Religions (Oxford: George Ronald, 1981); Abbas Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989).

(22.) “A Faith Denied,” Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, 3; Abrahamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions, 17; Momen, The Babi and Baha’i Religions, 4; Reza Afshari, Human Rights in Iran: The Abuse of Cultural Relativism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 16, 120.

(23.) See “Baha’is Killed Since 1978,” (which covers until 1998), Appendix I of “The Baha’i Question: Cultural in Iran,” Baha’i International Community, http://question.bahai.org/index.php; U.S. Department of State, International Religious Freedom Report 2007,” http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2007/90210.htm.]; “The Student Movement in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Journal of Iranian Research and Analysis 15, no. 2 (November 1999); Abdolkarim Soroush's official Web site, http://www.drsoroush.com/English/On_DrSoroush/E-CMO-19991100–1.html; “USCIRF Concerned over Apostasy Death Penalty Threat to Christians, Baha’is, Muslim Dissenters; Calls for Release of Prisoners,” United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, September 17, 2008; Afshari, Human Rights in Iran (n. 22 above), 16, 121.

(24.) International Religious Freedom Report 2001, U.S. State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2001/; U.S. State Department, International Religious Freedom Report 2006, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2006/71421.htm.

(25.) See “Confidential Memo from Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology to Expel Bahá’í Students from Universities,” One Country, October–December 2007, http://www.onecountry.org/e191/e19108as_Iran_Denial_document_story.html; also “Iranian Bahá’ís Face New Attacks—and Also Gain Increased Support,” One Country, July–September 2008, http://www.onecountry.org/e194idx.html.

(26.) “Muslim Students Protest Baha’i Expelled from Iranian University,” December 1, 2008, http://iran.bahai.us/2008/12/01/muslim-students-protest-baha%E2%80%99i-expelled-from-iranian-university/.

(27.) International Religious Freedom Report 2007.

(28.) “Iran: Amnesty International Seeking Clarification of Official Letter about Baha’i Minority,” Amnesty International, July 24, 2006, http://www.amnesty.ca/resource_centre/news/view.php?load=arcview&article=3620&c=Resource+Centre+News.

(29.) International Religious Freedom Report 2007.

(30.) “Release Baha’is Detained in Mazandaran,” International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, December 12, 2008, http://www.iranhumanrights.org/2008/12/release-baha%E2%80%99is-detained-in-mazandaran/; “Detention of Bahais Continues,” Iran Human Rights Voice, November 19, 2008, http://www.ihrv.org/inf/?p=1296.

(31.) “Six Bahais, Christian Arrested in Iran: Judiciary,” Agence France Presse (AFP), January 27, 2009, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gx82ftet4H2W9CQ3S1gj8arJnmSA.

(32.) International Religious Freedom Report 2007; “Six Bahá’í Leaders Arrested in Iran; Pattern Matches Deadly Sweeps of Early 1980s,” Bahai World News Service, May 15, 2008, http://news.bahai.org/story/632.

(33.) “Iranian Bahá’ís Face New Attacks,” 7; also, Freedom House, “Baha’i ‘Spying’ Case Strikes New Blow Against Religious Freedom in Iran,” February 12, 2009, http://newsblaze.com/story/20090213102310zzzz.nb/topstory.html.

(34.) “A Glimpse of Conditions Faced by Baha’i Prisoners Inside Iran's Evin Prison,” One Country, July-November 2009, http://www.onecountry.org/e203/e20308as_Roxana_Saberi_Interview.html. (p.343)

(35.) “Prison Sentences for Iran's Baha’i Leaders Reportedly Reduced to 10 Years,” Baha’i World News Service, September 16, 2010, http://news.bahai.org/story/793.

(36.) “Governments Condemn Iran's Reversal on Jail Terms,” Baha’i World News Service, April 6, 2011, http://www.news.bahai.org/story/815.

(37.) “Iran Accuses 7 Jailed Leaders of Bahai Faith of Espionage,” The Washington Post, February 18, 2009, A9; “Tehran Puts 7 Bahai's on Trial for Spying,” AFP, January 9, 2010. Also, U.S. Department of State, “Persecution of Religious Minorities in Iran,” February 13, 2009; House Resolution 175, “Condemning the Government of Iran for Its State-sponsored Persecution of Its Bahai Minority and Its Continued Violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights,” http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d111:h.res.00175; Iran Visual News Corps, “Iran to Try Seven Baha’is for ‘Spying’ for Israel,” February 11, 2009, http://www.iranvnc.com/floater_article1.aspx?lang=en&t=1&id=7819; Human Rights Without Frontiers, “EU concerned by arrests of Baha’i in Iran,” May 21, 2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSL2187451220080521; and U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, “Iran: USCIRF Calls for Justice for Baha’i Prisoners,” February 13, 2009, http://www.uscirf.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2347&Itemid=1; Senate Resolution 71, “Condemning the Government of Iran for Its State-sponsored Persecution of Its Bahai Minority and Its Continued Violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights,” http://iran.bahai.us/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/s-res-71.pdf.

(38.) “Bahá’i International Community Sends Letter to Iran's Prosecutor General,” March 6, 2009, http://iran.bahai.us/2009/03/06/bahai-international-community-sends-letter-to-irans-prosecutor-general/.

(39.) “Pressure on Iranian Baha’i Community, Which Has Not Been Officially Recognized as a Minority Religious Group by the Islamic Republic, Has Been Steadily Increasing,” Iran Human Rights Voice, March 5, 2009, http://www.ihrv.org/inf/?p=1957.

(40.) Open Letter to the Baha’i Community, February 4, 2009, http://www.iranian.com/main/2009/feb/we-are-ashamed.

(41.) “Iran's Arrest of Baha’is Condemned,” Human Rights Without Frontiers, May 19, 2008, http://www.hrwf.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=124#_Toc207425156.

(42.) “Baha’i International Community Rejects Allegations That Arrested Baha’is Had Weapons in Their Homes,” Bahai World News Service, January 9, 2010, http://news.bahai.org/story/747; “Baha’is Arrested in Iran After Protests,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, January 6, 2010, http://www.rferl.org/content/Bahais_Arrested_In_Iran_After_Protests/1922834.html; “Trial of Seven Baha’i Leaders in Iran Looms,” Bahai World News Service, January 5, 2010, http://news.bahai.org/story/745; “Citizens Speak up for Baha’is in Iran,” DNA, January 8, 2010, http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report_citizens-speak-up-for-baha-is-in-iran_1332211.

(43.) “Next Court Date for Baha’i Leaders Will Be 11 April,” Bahai World News Service, February 19, 2010, http://news.bahai.org/story/759; “Iranian Crackdown on Baha’is, Opposition Activists, Journalists Continues,” VOA News, February 14, 2010, http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/middle-east/Iranian-Crackdown-on-Bahais-Opposition-Activists-Journalists-Continues-84347022.html; “Iranian Police Arrest Baha’is Ahead of Protests,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, February 11, 2010, http://www.rferl.org/content/Iranian_Police_Arrest_Bahais_Ahead_Of_Protests/1955669.html; “Iran: End Persecution of Baha’is,” Human Rights Watch, February 23, 2010, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/02/23/iran-end-persecution-baha.

(44.) Headline translated from Kayhan by Michael Rubin, in “Religious Freedom Also Taking a Hit in Iran,” National Review Online, The Corner Blog, January 6, 2010, http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=MWM0NDFhMmYzNWM2NzA0YTQ5YWNjMmJhMGM1MmEyOTA. Firuz Kazemzadeh has provided us with a photograph of a progovernment demonstrator with a placard reading “Baha’i Mousavi should be put to death” (e-mail to the authors, January 2, 2010). (p.344)

(45.) “State Injustice: Unfair Trials in the Middle East & North Africa—Appeals Cases,” Amnesty International, March 1, 1998, http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engmde010031998.

(46.) “Background Information on Recent Event in the Ongoing Persecution of the Baha’is in Iran,” Baha’i Community of the USA, July 31, 1998, http://www.bahaindex.com/en/news/human-rights/271-mrruhollah-rowhani-executed-in-iran-21-july-1998. Sirus Zabihi-Moghaddam and Hadayat Kashefi-Najafabadi were tried alongside Rowhani. A revolutionary court in Mashad later gave death sentences, lowered in 2000 to seven- and five-year prison terms, respectively. Authorities released Kashefi-Najafabadi in October 2001 and Zabihi-Moghaddam the following June.

(47.) “The Bahá’í Community of Iran Speaks for Itself,” The Bahai Question: Cultural Cleansing in Iran, November 15, 2004, http://question.bahai.org/003_3.php.

(48.) International Religious Freedom Report 2006.

(49.) International Religious Freedom Report 2005.

(50.) “Iran Nobel Laureate Faces Death Threats,” AFP, March 16, 2006. In the 2009 presidential election, parliamentarian Mahmoud Ahmadi Bi-Ghash attacked candidate Mehdi Karrubi for supporting “the Bahai sect,” IRNA, May 27, 2009, http://www.irna.ir/View/FullStory/ ?NewsId=497035.

(51.) International Religious Freedom Report 2007.

(52.) International Religious Freedom Report 1999, U.S. State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, excerpt on Iran, Jewish Virtual Library, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/reliran99.html.

(53.) International Religious Freedom Report 2001.

(54.) Chris Woehr, “Leading Protestant Pastor Executed in Iran, Growing Repression for Iranian Church,” News Network International, January 11, 1991, 9. SAWAMA, also known as VEVAK, is an acronym for Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (Sazman-e Ettela’at va Amniat-e Melli-e Iran), which replaced the Shah's SAVAK; Barbara Baker, “Iranian Christians in Mashhad Suffering Intense Persecution,” News Network International, June 30, 1993, 5.

(55.) “Evangelicals Targeted in Iranian Crackdown,” News Network International, May 7, 1991, 31; Elisabeth Farrell, “Iranian Pastors Call for Letter Writing Campaign,” News Network International, January 29, 1993, 23; Barbara Baker, “Iranian Christians in Mashhad Suffering Intense Persecution,” News Network International, June 30, 1993, 5.

(56.) “‘Apostasy’ Bill Appears Likely to Become Law,” Compass Direct News, September 23, 2008, http://archive.compassdirect.org/en/display.php?page=news&idelement=5599&lang=en&length=short&backpage=archives&critere=&countryname=Iran&rowcur=0; “Hanged for Being a Christian in Iran,” Daily Telegraph, October 11, 2008, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/3179465/Hanged-for-being-a-Christian-in-Iran.html.

(57.) “Testimony and Life of Rev. Dibaj in His Own Voice,” Farsi Net, http://www.farsinet.com/dibaj/; Diana Scimone, “Iranian Church Growing Despite Hardships,” News Network International, March 27, 1992, 26; “Impassioned Letter from Imprisoned Iranian Pastor Reaches West,” News Network International, July 21, 1992, 25.

(58.) “The Written Defense of the Rev. Mehdi Dibaj Delivered to the Sari Court of Justice,” Farsi Net, December 3, 1993, http://www.farsinet.com/dibaj/; “Evangelicals Targeted in Iranian Crackdown,” 31; Scimone, “Iranian Church Growing Despite Hardships,” 26; “Impassioned Letter from Imprisoned Iranian Pastor Reaches West,” 25.

(60.) Human Rights Watch 1997 Report, http://www.hrw.org/reports/1997/iran/Iran-06.htm.

(61.) In late 1999, the press revealed that Emami, former Vice Minister of Intelligence, was directly responsible for the “Serial Murders” in the 1980s and 1990s; see Iran Terror Database, July 19, 2005, http://www.iranterror.com/content/view/33/52/.

(62.) Human Rights Watch 1997 Report.

(63.) Hamid Pourmand, a Naval officer charged with hiding his conversion from his superiors, received a three-year prison term, since, according to Iranian law, only Muslims can be (p.345) military officers. “Iran: Authorities Quietly Release Convert Christian Prisoner,” Compass Direct News, September 12, 2006, http://archive.compassdirect.org/en/display.php?page=news&idelement=4533&lang=en&length=short&backpage=archives&critere=&countryname=Iran&rowcur=25. For other cases, see Ghorban Tourani, “Iran: US Accepts Iranian Christians for Resettlement,” Compass Direct News, December 6, 2005, http://archive.compassdirect.org/en/display.php?page=news&idelement=4100&lang=en&length=short&backpage=archives&critere=&countryname=Iran&rowcur=25; “Iran: Christian Couple Released on Bail,” Compass Direct News, October 5, 2006, http://archive.compassdirect.org/en/display.php?page=news&idelement=4571&lang=en&length=short&backpage=archives&critere=&countryname=Iran&rowcur=25. On further cases, including that of Issa Motamedi Mojdehi, see Compass Direct News, December 14, 2006, http://archive.compassdirect.org/en/display.php?page=news&idelement=4685&lang=en&length=short&backpage=archives&critere=&countryname=Iran&rowcur=0; and Compass Direct News, December 4, 2006, http://www.compassdirect.org/en/display.php?page=lead&lang=en&length=long&idelement=4515.

(64.) “Iran: Further Information on Fear of Torture and Ill-treatment/Possible Prisoners of Conscience,” Amnesty International, http://www.iranrights.org/english/document-454–973.php; “Iranian Christian Arrested Without Charges,” Compass Direct News, June 9, 2008, http://archive.compassdirect.org/en/display.php?page=news&idelement=5421&lang=en&length=short&backpage=archives&critere=&countryname=Iran&rowcur=0; Farsi Christian News Network, “Court Issues Verdict on 3 Farsi-speaking Christians,” March 25, 2009, http://www.fcnn.com//index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3006&Itemid=63.

(65.) BosNewsLife, “Iranian Christians Face Death Penalty in Iran,” September 11, 2008, http://www.rferl.org/content/Two_Iranian_Christians_May_Face_Execution_For_Apostasy /1779217.html; “Iranian Church Leader Released—Son of Hanged Pastor Bailed on Charges of Anti-govt Behavior,” Release International, October 23, 2008, http://www.releaseinternational.org/pages/posts/iranian-church-leader-released—son-of-hanged-pastor-bailed-on-charges-of-anti-govt-activity451.php. For additional cases, see “Tortured Christian Flees,” Compass Direct News, July 21, 2008, http://archive.compassdirect.org/en/display.php?page=news&idelement=5478&lang=en&length=short&backpage=archives&critere=&countryname=Iran&rowcur=0; “Christian Couple Dies from Police Attack,” Compass Direct News, August 6, 2008, http://archive.compassdirect.org/en/display.php?page=news&idelement=5508&lang=en&length=short&backpage=archives&critere=&countryname=Iran&rowcur=0; “Prosecutor Charges Two Christians with Apostasy,” Iran Human Rights Voice, September 11, 2008, http://www.ihrv.org/inf/?p=884; “Matin Azad and Arash Basirat, Two Christians Charged with Heresy, Are Freed,” Iran Human Rights Voice, October 4, 2008, http://www.ihrv.org/inf/?p=1060; “Court Finds Way to Acquit Christians of ‘Apostasy,’” Compass Direct News, October 30, 2008, http://archive.compassdirect.org/en/display.php?page=news&idelement=5664&lang=en&length=short&backpage=archives&critere=&countryname=Iran&rowcur=0; “Assyrian Iranian Minister Arrested in Urumieh by Security Agents,” Farsi Christian News Network, October 1, 2008, http://www.fcnn.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1760&Itemid=63.

(66.) Human Rights Without Frontiers, “The Calvary of a Female Convert to Christianity,” June 9, 2009, in HRWF country report at http://www.hrwf.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=105:news-2008-catalogued-by-country&catid=38:freedom-of-religion-and-belief&Itemid=90.

(67.) “Iran: Three Iranian Christians Arrested from Homes in Tehran,” Compass Direct News, March 22, 2011, http://archive.compassdirect.org/en/display.php?page=news&idelement=5776&lang=en&length=short&backpage=archives&critere=&countryname=Iran&rowcur=0; “Wave of Arrests of Christians in Iran,” Middle East Concern, January 27, 2009. http://www.givengain.com/cgi-bin/giga.cgi?cmd=cause_dir_news_item&cause_id=1489&news_id=59190&cat_id=434.

(69.) “Authorities Tighten Grip on Christians As Unrest Roils,” Compass Direct News, August 11, 2009, http://archive.compassdirect.org/en/display.php?page=news&idelement=6057&lang=en&length=short&backpage=archives&critere=&countryname=Iran&rowcur=0; “Iran Temporarily Releases Christians on Bail,” ICC, September 15, 2009/HRWF, September 16, 2009.

(70.) “Authorities Tighten Grip on Christians as Unrest Roils”; Damaris Kremida, “Iran Releases Two Christian Women from Evin Prison,” Compass Direct News, November 19, 2009, http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/iran/11805/; “Iran Detains Christians Without Legal Counsel,” Compass Direct News, January 28, 2010, http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/iran/14572; “Iran: Maryam and Marzieh Acquitted,” Middle East Concern, May 24, 2010. For additional cases, see “Iranian Authorities Pressure Father of Convert,” Compass Direct News, May 20, 2009, http://archive.compassdirect.org/en/display.php?page=news&idelement=5932&lang=en&length=short&backpage=archives&critere=&countryname=Iran&rowcur=0.

(71.) “Iran Detains Christians Without Legal Counsel.”

(72.) “Christian Priest and Wife Arrested in Iran,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, March 4, 2010, http://www.rferl.org/content/Christian_Priest_And_Wife_Arrested_In_Iran/1974682 .html; “Torture of Wilson Eisavi, Priest in Assyrian Church,” Iran Human Rights Voice, March 9, 2010, http://www.ihrv.org/inf/?p=3878; “The Worrying Condition of Rev. ‘Wilson Issavi’ in Prison,” Farsi Christian News Network, http://www.fcnn.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=812:the-worrying-condition-of-rev-qwilson-issaviq-in-prison&catid=127:iranian-christian&Itemid=593. On additional cases, see “Trend Continues Against Churches Previously Protected by Iranian Government,” Assyrian International News Agency, February 24, 2010, http://www.aina.org/news/20100224011107.htm; Ethan Cole, “Jailed Iranian Pastor Temporarily Freed, in ‘Good Spirits,’” Christian Post, March 31, 2010, http://www.christianpost.com/article/20100331/jailed-iranian-pastor-temporarily-freed-in-good-spirits/index.html.

(73.) “Backgrounder: The Trial of 13 Iranian Jews,” Anti-Defamation League, March 2003, http://www.adl.org/backgrounders/Iranian_Jews.asp; “Report on Current Condition for Jews in Iran, Human Rights and Torture,” Iranian American Jewish Federation, 2006, 18.

(74.) In December 2004, the Iranian TV station Sahar 1 began showing a weekly series set in Israel and the West Bank, with the title “For You, Palestine,” or “Zahra's Blue Eyes.” It portrayed a Jewish eye surgeon who searched for the most attractive Muslim children, paying particular attention to their eyes. Once he found what he was looking for, he deceived the children into having eye surgery and removed their eyes, which were then used as implants for Israeli children. Anti-Semitism has increased significantly since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's accession to the presidency. He has publicly questioned the existence and scale of the Holocaust. On December 11 and 12, 2006, the government sponsored a conference entitled “Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision” that provided a forum for those who deny the Holocaust. On August 14, 2006, a government-sponsored exhibition of Holocaust cartoons, solicited earlier in the year by the newspaper Hamshahri as an international contest, took place in Tehran; see International Religious Freedom Report 2005 and 2007.

(75.) Nazila Fathi, “Wipe Israel ‘off the Map’ Iranian Says,” The New York Times, October 27, 2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/26/world/africa/26iht-iran.html.

(76.) “One Person's Story: Mr. Habib Elqanian,” Omid: A Memorial in Defense of Human Rights, http://www.abfiran.org/english/english/person—2861.php.

(77.) On Iran's Zoroastrians, see Jamsheed K. Chosky, “Despite Shahs and Mollas”; Jamsheed K. Chosky, “Heritage, Faith and Minority Identity: Zoroastrians in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” in Negotiating Identity Amongst the Religious Minorities of Asia, ed. M. A. Ehrlich (Leiden: E.J. Brill, forthcoming 2011). On Zoroastrians as kaffers, see Chosky, “Despite Shāhs and Mollās,” 165.

(78.) Chosky, “Despite Shahs and Mollas,” 161.

(79.) Chosky, “Heritage, Faith and Minority Identity: Zoroastrians in Iran,” 5.

(80.) Chosky, “Despite Shahs and Mollas,” 182–83.

(81.) Khaled Mahmoud, “Iran: Government Bans Sunnis from Praying in State Universities,” Asharq Al-Awsat, April 28, 2010, http://aawsat.com/english/news.asp?section=1& id=20756. (p.347)

(82.) Reza Afshari recounts three government killings of Sunni religious leaders. See Afshari, Human Rights in Iran: The Abuse of Cultural Relativism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 129, 130.

(83.) Ladan Boroumand, Journal of Democracy, October 2007, http://www.journalofdemocracy.org/articles/gratis/Boroumand-18-4.pdf.

(85.) Nir Boms and Shayan Arya, “On Annan, Robinson, Religion and Hypocrisy,” The Jerusalem Post, November 10, 2008, http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1225910085758&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull.

(86.) Ron Synovitz, “Clashes Highlight ‘Demonization’ of Sufi Muslims,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, November 16, 2007, http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2007/11/DEB2FA43–077F-4B8D-9079–97A1EC610C67.html.

(87.) International Religious Freedom Report 2006.

(88.) The Nematollahi Gonabadi is a Sufi order with traditions similar in several respects to those of Shia.

(89.) Golnaz Esfandiari, “Local Authorities Try to Evict Sufi Leader,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, October 12, 2006, http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2006/10/81C671EA-C25A-46DB-AB07–328838F1AD99.html; “Security Forces Attack Again Prayer Areas of the Nematollahi Gonabadi Sufis,” Iran Now Network, November 10, 2006, http://iran-now.net/$202612.

(90.) “Dozens Injured in Clash Between Sufi Mystics, Iran Paramilitary,” The Jerusalem Post, November 11, 2007, http://www.jpost.com/IranianThreat/News/Article.aspx?id=81619; Synovitz, “Clashes Highlight ‘Demonization’ of Sufi Muslims.” See also “The New Round of Harrasments (sic) Against Gonabadi Daravish,” Iran Human Rights Voice, September 17, 2008, http://www.ihrv.org/inf/?p=944#more-944.

(91.) “Iranian Authorities Destroy Sufi Holy Site in Isfehan,” Payvand News, February 19, 2009, http://www.payvand.com/news/09/feb/1220.html.

(92.) Iran Human Rights Voice, “Scuffle with Gonabadi Dervishes in Isfehan Resulted in Forty Arrests,” February 22, 2009, http://www.ihrv.org/inf/?p=1904.

(93.) “A Dervish's Dream for Iran,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, February 22, 2010, http://www.rferl.org/content/A_Dervishs_Dream_For_Iran/1964987.html; Stephen Schwartz, “Iran: ‘Thugs in Clerical Dress’ vs. the Sufis,” Hudson Institute New York, March 15, 2010, http://www.hudsonny.org/2010/03/iran-thugs-in-clerical-dress-vs-the-sufis.php.

(94.) Laura Secor, “The Democrat: Iran's Leading Reformist Intellectual Tries to Reconcile Religious Duties and Human Rights,” Boston Globe, March 14, 2004, http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2004/03/14/the_democrat/. A good introduction to Akbar Ganji's work is Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam: Essential Writings of Abdolkarim Soroush (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002). On Akbar Ganji, see “Iranian Journalist, in Court, Says Security Forces Tortured Him,” New York Times, November 10, 2000, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B00E5DB1438F933A25752C1A9669C8B63&scp=6&sq=akbar+ganji&st=nyt; Shirin Ebadi, Iran Awakening (New York: Random House, 2006), 193; Nazila Fathi, “Iranian Writer Released After Serving 6-Year Prison Term,” New York Times, March 19, 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/19/international/middleeast/19iran.html?scp=18&sq=akbar+ganji&st=nyt; “Journalist Tortured to Renounce Writings,” Human Rights Watch, November 2, 2005, http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2005/11/02/iran11958.htm; Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2005, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2005/61688.htm; Akbar Ganji, “Money Can’t Buy Us Democracy,” New York Times, August 1, 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/01/opinion/01ganji.html?scp=9&sq=akbar+ganji&st=nyt.

(95.) Official Web site of Abdolkarim Soroush, http://www.drsoroush.com/English/News_Archive/E-NWS-19960531–1.html; “Let the Occasional Chalice Break: Abdolkarim Souroush and Islamic Liberation Theology,” The Iranian, October 26, 1998, http://www.iranian.com/Opinion/Oct98/Soroush/index.html. (p.348)

(96.) “Islam, Catholicism, and the Secular: A Conversation with Jose Casanova and Abdolkarim Soroush,” Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, http://ikhwanweb.com/Article.asp?ID=15280&SectionID=83; official Web site of the Erasmus Prize, http://www.erasmusprijs.org/eng/index.cfm?paginaID=34&item_ID=12; Scott Macleod, “Abdokarim Souroush, Iran's Democratic Voice,” Time, April 18, 2005, http://www.time.com/time/subscriber/2005/time100/scientists/100soroush.html; http://www.drsoroush.com/English/News_Archive/E-NWS-20040702-Dr.Soroush_is_Back_in_Tehran.html; Laura Secor, “The Democrat: Iran's Leading Reformist Intellectual.”

(97.) Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar, “Who Wrote the Koran?” New York Times Magazine, December 5, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/07/magazine/07wwln-essay-t.html.

(98.) “At Least 40 Followers of Ayatollah Sayed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi Arrested,” Amnesty International report, posted by Payvand News, October 3, 2006, http://www.payvand.com/news/06/oct/1016.html.

(99.) Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, http://www.abfiran.org/english/document-298–699.php?searchtext=Ym9yb3VqZXJkaQ%3D%3D; “News/Imprisoned Cleric's Life in Danger/Ayatollah Boroujerdi in Need of Urgent Medical Care,” June 1, 2008. http://mardaninews.de/Deutsch/?p=178.

(100.) “A Brief Report on the Latest Condition of Ayatullah Borojerdi in Zazd Prison,” Iran Human Rights Voice, www.ihrv.org/inf/?p=1420.

(101.) “Unexpected Transfer of Ayatullah Borojerdi to Evin Prison,” Iran Human Rights Voice, August 26, 2009.

(102.) Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation.

(103.) Yasuyuki Matsunaga, “Mohsen Kadivar, an Advocate of Postrevivalist Islam in Iran,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, December 2007, http://www.kadivar.com/Data/Remote/0/Data/Resources/Medias/Kadivar,%20an%20Advocate%20(matsunaga).pdf; Human Rights Watch, World Report 2001, Appendix, http://www.hrw.org/legacy/wr2k1/appendix/index.html.

(104.) Scott Macleod and Nahid Siamdoust, “The Critical Cleric,” Time, May 5, 2004, http://www.time.com/time/2004/innovators/200405/kadivar.html; Bret Stephens, “Religion of Peace in Iran, a Theological State Is Challenged on Theological Grounds,” Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2009, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124571492981739137.html#mod=djemEditorialPage.

(105.) Mohsen Kadivar, “The Principles of Compatibility of Islam and Modernity,” October 7, 2004, http://www.kadivar.com/Index.asp?DocId=831&AC=1&AF=1&ASB=1&AGM=1&AL=1&DT=dtv. See also Mohsen Kadivar, “Freedom of Religion and Belief in Islam,” in The New Voices of Islam: Rethinking Politics and Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 119–42.

(106.) Macleod and Siamdoust, “The Critical Cleric”

(107.) “This Iranian Form of Theocracy Has Failed,” interview with Mohsen Kadivar by Erich Follath and Gabor Steingart, Spiegel Online, July 1, 2009, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,633517,00.html.

(108.) “Reformists in Iran, Despite Pressure, Speak Out More Boldly,” New York Times, August 4, 2000, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B03E5D8173CF937A3575BC0A9669C8B63&scp=5&sq=MOhsen+Kadivar&st=nyt.

(109.) “Amnesty Highlights the Case of Hashem Aghajari,” Iran Mania, November 08, 2002, http://www.iranmania.com/news/ArticleView/Default.asp?NewsCode=12888&NewsKind=CurrentAffairs.

(110.) Sadeq Saba, “Profile of Abdollah Nouri,” BBC News, November 27, 1999, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/539470.stm; “Abdollah Nouri, Prisoner of Conscience,” Amnesty International, June 27, 2002, http://asiapacific.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGMDE130102002?open&of=ENG-IRN.

(111.) John Burns, “With Iran's Reforms at Stake, a Moderate Digs In,” New York Times, October 24, 1999, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A0DEEDB1F39F937A15753C1A96F958260; John Burns, “Cleric's Trial Becomes Flash Point of Iran's Political Fate,” New York Times, October 31, 1999, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D01E4DA173BF932A05753C1A96F958260. (p.349)

(112.) “Iran Annual Report 2002,” Reporters Without Borders, http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=1438; Said Amir Arjomand, “Civil Society and the Rule of Law in the Constitutional Politics of Iran Under Khatami,” Social Research, June 22, 2000, at Encyclopedia.com, http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-63787333.html.

(114.) Jomhouri Elsami's official Web site, http://www.jomhourieslami.com; Reporters Without Borders, as listed on International Freedom Exchange Network (IFEX), http://www.ifex.org/en/layout/set/print/content/view/full/60511/.

(116.) “Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri: ‘Not Every Conversion is Apostasy,’” (in Persian), BBC Persian, http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/iran/story/2005/02/050202_mj-montzari-renegade.shtml.

(117.) Robin Wright, “Iran's Opposition Loses a Mentor but Gains a Martyr,” Time, December 21, 2009, http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1949048,00.html; Abbas Milani, “Mourning Montazeri,” The New Republic, December 21, 2009, http://www.tnr.com/article/mourning-montazeri; Richard Spencer, “Grand Ayatollah Montazeri Death Sparks Protests,” Telegraph, December 20, 2009, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/6851224/Grand-Ayatollah-Montazeri-death-sparks-protests.html.

(119.) “The Office of Ayatullah Montazeri Condemns Imprisonment of Mojtaba Lotfi, Calling It Illegal and Unfair,” Iran Human Rights Voice, December 9, 2008, http://www.ihrv.org/inf/?p=1397.

(121.) Wright, “Iran's Opposition Loses a Mentor but Gains a Martyr”; Spencer, “Montazeri Death Sparks Protests”; Milani, “Mourning Montazeri,” The New Republic, December 21, 2009, http://www.tnr.com/article/mourning-montazeri; Violent Aftermath: The 2009 Election and Suppression of Dissent in Iran, Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, 2010, 35–36, http://www.iranhrdc.org/httpdocs/English/pdfs/Reports/Violent%20Aftermath.pdf.

(122.) Iason Athanasiadis, “Iran Move to Defrock Dissident Ayatollah Opens Rifts in Theocracy,” Christian Science Monitor, January 6, 2010, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2010/0106/Iran-move-to-defrock-dissident-ayatollah-opens-rifts-in-theocracy; “Website Says Iran Militia Attack Pro-Reform Cleric's Home,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, December 22, 2009, http://www.rferl.org/content/Website_Says_Iran_Militia_Attack_Clerics_Home/1911071.html?page=1&x=1#relatedInfoContainer; Mustafa El-Labbad, “The Iranian Triangle,” Al-Ahram, January 14–20, 2010, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2010/981/re10.htm. For the cases of Mojtaba Saminejad, Ehsan Mansouri, Majid Tavakoli, Ahmad Ghassaban, and Hadi Ghabel, see Source: Reporters Without Borders, as listed on International Freedom Exchange (IFEX) Web site, http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/66707; International Freedom of Expression eXchange, “Blogger Mojtaba Saminejad Gets Two-year Prison Sentence,” June 8, 2005, http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/67227; “Jailed Students Abused to Obtain Forced Confessions,” http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/85193/. The government also blocks over five million Web sites deemed to contain immoral or antisocial material: “Iran Blocks Access to over Five Million Websites,” AFP, November 19, 2008, http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=081119173359.0m09kn48&show_article=1. See also Gozaar: A Forum on Human Rights and Democracy in Iran, http://www.gozaar.org/template1.php?id=782&language=english.

(123.) Hiedeh Farmani, “Iran's Khamenei Issues Stern Warning to Opposition,” AFP, December 13, 2009; Anne Barker, “Iran Arrests Hundreds of Dissidents,” ABC.net, December 30, 2009, http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/12/30/2782418.htm.

(124.) Nazila Fathi, “Protestors Defy Iranian Efforts to Cloak Unrest,” New York Times, June 17, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/18/world/middleeast/18iran.html?_r=1. (p.350)

(125.) Amir Taheri, “Regime on the Brink,” New York Post, February 13, 2010, http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/regime_on_the_brink_xhGnMOyqyk9vQOl4aWpGfO; “Iran Opposition Leaders Face Execution: Khameini Aide,” Reuters, December 29, 2009, http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSLDE5BQ06J20091229.

(126.) Nazila Fathi, “Iran Accuses Five of Warring Against God,” The New York Times, January 8, 2010; Edward Yeranian, “Iran Demonstrators Facing Death Sentence,” Voice of America, January 17, 2010, http://www.voanews.com/english/news/middle-east/Iran-Demonstrators-Facing-Death-Sentence-81930617.html; “Citizens Speak Up for Baha’is in Iran,” DNA, January 8, 2010, http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report_citizens-speak-up-for-baha-is-in-iran_1332211; House Resolution 175, “Condemning the Government of Iran for Its State-sponsored Persecution of Its Baha’i Minority and Its Continued Violation of Its International Covenants on Human Rights, 111th Cong., 1st Session (introduced February 13, 2009).

(127.) The service in question was likely the July 17 Friday prayer, during which Rafsanjani called for an end to arrests and censorship; see Violent Aftermath: The 2009 Election and Suppression of Dissent in Iran, Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, 2010, 29, http://www.iranhrdc.org/httpdocs/English/pdfs/Reports/Violent%20Aftermath.pdf.

(128.) “Twenty Year-Old Student Accused of Moharebeh (Waging War),” Iran Human Rights Voice, February 6, 2010, http://www.ihrv.org/inf/?p=3696; “USCIRF Condemns Thirty-One Years of Religious Abuse in Iran,” U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, February 10, 2010, http://www.uscirf.gov/index2.php?option=com_content&do_pdf=1&id=2973.

(129.) “One of the Nine Accused of Ashura Protest Sentenced to Death,” Iran Human Rights Voice, March 4, 2010, http://www.ihrv.org/inf/?p=3846#more-3846.

(130.) Payman Fatahi, the leader of the hard-to-classify AleYasin society, a self-described “contemplative community,” was held in Evin prison for six months and charged with, inter alia, “dissension from religious dogma,” “promoting pluralism,” and “religious breakdown by attempting to link Islam, Christianity and Judaism.” “Report about Crackdown Against AleYasin Community,” Iran Human Rights Voice, February 2, 2009, http://www.ihrv.org/inf/?p=1763; Elyasin News blog, http://elyasinnews.blogspot.com/.