The Human Truth Foundation

Human Rights and Freedom in Iran

By Vexen Crabtree 2018

#bahá'í_faith #gender_equality #iran #iran_women #islam #judaism #prejudice #religion_in_iran #women #zoroastrianism

Islamic Republic of Iran

[Country Profile Page]
StatusIndependent State
Social and Moral Index126th best
LocationAsia, The Middle East
Life Expectancy73.87yrs (2017)2

Iran is amongst the worst places in the world at ensuring human rights and freedom, and it has severe cultural issues when it comes to tolerance and equality. Iran does worse than average in the rate of gender bias (from 7 indicators)3, speed of uptake of HR treaties4, opposing gender inequality5, LGBT equality6 and in its nominal commitment to Human Rights7. And finally, it sits amongst the bottom 20 for its success in fighting anti-semitic prejudice8, commentary in Human Rights Watch reports9 (one of the worst in Asia), supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms10 (one of the worst in Asia), supporting press freedom11 (one of the highest in Asia) and in freethought12. "Authorities [in 2017] continued to target journalists, online media activists, and human rights defenders in an ongoing crackdown"13. There is no religious freedom, or freedom of thought, in Iran14,13,15 , with minorities being heavily persecuted, and broadcasted attacks on all religious groups that are not Shia Muslim, "with the Bahá'ís and Jews being the most frequent targets"16.

1. Iran's Human Rights, Equality & Tolerance

#equality #gender_equality #human_rights #morals #politics #prejudice #tolerance

Compared to Asia (2020)17
Pos.Lower is better
Avg Rank17
1Hong Kong24.3
43Myanmar (Burma)128.5
46Saudi Arabia134.5
50N. Korea146.5
Asia Avg99.9
Human Rights, Equality & Tolerance (2020)17
Pos.Lower is better
Avg Rank17
177Marshall Islands134.2
179Saudi Arabia134.5
World Avg87.9

The best countries in the world at ensuring human rights, fostering equality and promoting tolerance, are Sweden, Norway and Denmark18. These countries are displaying the best traits that humanity has to offer. The worst countries are The Solomon Islands, Somalia and Tuvalu18.

The data sets used to calculate points for each country are statistics on commentary in Human Rights Watch reports, its nominal commitment to Human Rights, speed of uptake of HR treaties, supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms, supporting press freedom, eliminating modern slavery, opposing gender inequality, the rate of gender bias (from 7 indicators), the year from which women could participate in democracy, its success in fighting anti-semitic prejudice, LGBT equality and freethought. The regions with the best average results per country are Scandinavia, Baltic States and Europe18, whereas the worst are Melanesia, Micronesia and Australasia18.

For more, see:

Amnesty International's 2023-23 summary on human rights in Iran stated:

Iran was rocked by an unprecedented popular uprising against the Islamic Republic system. Security forces unlawfully fired live ammunition and metal pellets to crush protests, killing hundreds of men, women and children and injuring thousands. Thousands of people were arbitrarily detained and/or unfairly prosecuted solely for peacefully exercising their human rights. Women, LGBTI people, and ethnic and religious minorities suffered intensified discrimination and violence. Enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment, including through the deliberate denial of medical care, were widespread and systematic. Cruel and inhuman punishments, including flogging, amputation and blinding, were imposed and/or carried out. The use of the death penalty increased and public executions resumed. Trials remained systematically unfair. Systemic impunity prevailed for past and ongoing crimes against humanity relating to prison massacres in 1988 and other crimes under international law.

"The State of the World's Human Rights 2022/23" by Amnesty International (2023)19

Although in August 2017, a legal change "raises the bar" for what results in a mandatory death sentence for drug offenses, the rate of executions remained high, and it is unclear how much of an effect the change will have:

The judiciary continued to execute individuals at a high rate, particularly for drug offenses. Human rights groups reported that Iran executed at least 476 individuals as of November 27, 2017, including five individuals who were sentenced to death for crimes they allegedly committed as children. [...]

Iranian courts, and particularly revolutionary courts, regularly fell short of providing fair trials and used confessions obtained under torture as evidence in court. Authorities routinely restrict detainees´ access to legal counsel, particularly during the investigation period. [...]

Authorities continued to restrict freedoms of expression, association, and assembly and prosecuted dozens of journalists, online media activists, and trade unionists on charges of “acting against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” and “assembly and collusion to disrupt national security,” merely for exercising their legitimate rights. [...]

Former presidential election candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, as well as Mousavi´s wife Zahra Rahnavard, who is a scholar, have remained under house arrest without charge or trial since February 2011. [...]

Iran continues to provide the Syrian government with military assistance and plays an influential role alongside Russia and Turkey in the Syria negotiations currently taking place in Astana, Kazakhstan. Human Rights Watch has documented a pattern of deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)13

2. Human Rights & Tolerance

2.1. Human Rights Watch Comments


Human Rights Watch Comments
Higher is better9
115=N. Korea-10
Asia Avg-5.0
World Avg-1.9
Iran comes worst in the world regarding commentary in Human Rights Watch reports.

Human Rights Watch comments concentrate mostly on negative issues, however, they also make positive comments for those countries that engage in human rights defence around the world, or who make improvements at home. By adding up positive and negative comments (including double-points for negatives that involve large scales and crimes against humanity), the Social and Moral Index turns HRW commentary into quantified values. Some countries may be unfairly penalized because HRW have not examined them, and, some countries "get away" with abuses if they manage to hide it, or if it goes unnoticed - a negative point has been given for those countries in which HRW specifically state that access to investigators has been barred. The points were limited to a minimum of -10 because there are some points at which things are so bad, with abuses affecting so many, it is difficult to be more specific about the depths of the issues.

2.2. Nominal Commitment to HR


Nominal Commitment to HR
Higher is better7
2=Costa Rica23
166=Papua New Guinea9
166=St Kitts & Nevis9
166=Cook Islands9
Asia Avg12.7
World Avg15.1
Iran comes 164th in the world regarding its nominal commitment to Human Rights.

There are many international agreements on human rights, and, many mechanisms by which countries can be brought to account for their actions. Together, these have been the biggest historical movement in the fight against oppression and inhumanity. Or, putting it another way: these are rejected mostly by those who wish to oppress inhumanely. None of them are perfect and many people object to various components and wordings, but, no-one has come up with, and enforced, better methods of controlling the occasional desires that states and peoples have of causing angst for other states and peoples in a violent, unjust or inhumane way. Points are awarded for the number of human rights agreements ratified by the country, plus the acceptance of the petition mechanisms for disputes. The maximum possible score in 2009 was 24.

2.3. HR Treaties Lag

#human_rights #international_law #micronesia #politics #small_islands

HR Treaties Lag
Lower is better4
Avg Yrs/Treaty4
Asia Avg10.97
World Avg10.02
Regarding speed of uptake of HR treaties, Iran is 105th in the world.

Human Rights (HR) Treaties Lag is a count of how long it took each country to sign each of 11 key HR treaties. From the date of the first signatory of each treaty, all other countries have one point added to their score for each day they delayed in signing. Results are presented as average time in years to sign each one. The lower a country's score, the more enthusiastically it has taken on international Human Rights Treaties - which are, of course, minimal standards of good governance. The slowest are the countries of Micronesia, Melanesia, Australasia and Polynesia all lagged by over 12 years per treaty. The best regions are The Americas, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean.

For more, see:

2.4. Personal, Civil & Economic Freedom

#freedom #politics

Personal, Civil & Economic Freedom
Lower is better10
1Hong Kong1
3New Zealand3
153Myanmar (Burma)153
155Central African Rep.155
Asia Avg94.6
World Avg79.7
Iran comes 3rd-worst in the world regarding supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms.

The Human Freedom Index published by the Fraser Institute is...

... a broad measure of human freedom, understood as the absence of coercive constraint. It uses 79 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom in the following areas: Rule of Law, Security and Safety, Movement, Religion, Association, Assembly, and Civil Society, Expression, Relationships, Size of Government, Legal System and Property Rights, Access to Sound Money, Freedom to Trade Internationally, Regulation of Credit, Labor, and Business. [...]

The highest levels of freedom are in Western Europe, Northern Europe, and North America (Canada and the United States. The lowest levels are in the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. [...]

Countries in the top quartile of freedom enjoy a significant higher per capita income ($37,147) [compared with] the least-free quartile [at] $8,700). The HFI finds a strong correlation between human freedom and democracy.

"The Human Freedom Index" by The Fraser Institute (2016)20

2.5. Press Freedom

#democracy #freedom #Freedom_of_Speech #Good_Governance #mass_media #politics #UK

Press Freedom
Lower is better11
177N. Korea8390
Asia Avg4378
World Avg3249
Iran comes 6th-worst in the world regarding supporting press freedom.

The freedom to investigate, publish information, and have access to others' opinion is a fundamental part of today's information-driven world, and is linked with Freedom of Speech and Good Governance. Scores on the Press Freedom Index are calculated according to indicators including pluralism - the degree to which opinions are represented in the media, media independence of authorities, self-censorship, legislation, transparency and the infrastructure that supports news and information, and, the level of violence against journalists which includes lengths of imprisonments. The index "does not take direct account of the kind of political system but it is clear that democracies provide better protection for the freedom to produce and circulate accurate news and information than countries where human rights are flouted". The rankings are used as one of the datasets of the Social and Moral Development Index21

It must be noted that press freedom is not an indicator of press quality and the press itself can be abusive; the UK suffers in particular from a popular brand of nasty reporting that infuses several of its newspapers who are particularly prone to running destructive and often untrue campaigns against victims. The Press Freedom Index notes that "the index should in no way be taken as an indicator of the quality of the media in the countries concerned".

2.6. Slavery

#burundi #eritrea #france #human_rights #indonesia #slavery

Lower is better
% Victims22
156Congo, DR1.37
161S. Sudan2.05
Asia Avg0.79
World Avg0.65
Iran comes 10th-worst in the world in terms of eliminating modern slavery.

The taking of slaves has been an unwholesome feature of Human cultures since prehistory23. Private households and national endeavours have frequently been augmented with the use of slaves. The Egyptian and Roman empires both thrived on them for both purposes. Aside from labourers they are often abused sexually by their owners and their owners' friends24. The era of colonialism and the beginnings of globalisation changed nothing: the imprisonment and forced movements of labour continued to destroy many lives except that new justifications were invented based on Christian doctrine and the effort to convert non-Christians. By 1786 over 12 million slaves had been extracted from Africa and sent to colonial labour camps, with a truly atrocious condition of life25. But they were not the only ones to blame; in Africa internal nations such as the Asantes sold and bought tens of thousands of slaves26.

The abolition of the slave trade was a long and slow process. Until a relatively modern time, even philosophers, religious leaders and those concerned with ethics justified, or ignored, the problem of slavery27. The first abolitionists were always the slaves themselves. Their protests and rebellions caused the industry to become too expensive to continue. After that, it was the economic costs of maintain slave colonies that led the British to reject and then oppose the slave trade globally. Finally, the enlightenment-era thinkers of France encouraged moral and ethical thinking including the declaration of the inherent value of human life and human dignity28. A long-overdue wave of compassionate and conscientious movements swept across the West, eliminating public support for slavery, until the industries and churches that supported it had no choice but to back down.

'Modern slavery' includes forced labour (often of the under-age), debt bondage (especially generational), sexual slavery, chattel slavery and other forms of abuse, some of which can be surprisingly difficult to detect, but often target those fleeing from warzones and the vulnerable.29. Some industries (diamond, clothing, coal) from some countries (Burundi30, Eritrea30, Indonesia31) are a particular concern. The Walk Free Foundation, say that in 2016, 40.3 million people were living in modern slavery32.

For more, see:

"In 2017, Human Rights Watch documented that Iran´s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) had recruited Afghan children residing in Iran to fight as combatants in Syria in its Fatemiyoun division"13.

3. Gender Equality

Iran is an unequal country, with male rights dominating those of women. Cultural Islamic beliefs are squarely to blame for this.

In Iran, women are subjugated under men. Permission from husbands must be sought in order for officials to process paperwork including passports and marriage13, and husband have dictatorial control over home lives.


3.1. Gender Inequality

#gender #gender_equality #human_rights #misogyny #women

Gender Inequality
Lower is better
122Sao Tome & Principe0.52
Asia Avg0.36
World Avg0.36
Iran comes 118th in the world in terms of opposing gender inequality.

The UN Human Development Reports include statistics on gender equality which take into account things like maternal mortality, access to political power (seats in parliament) and differences between male and female education rates. Gender inequality is not a necessary part of early human development. Although a separation of roles is almost universal due to different strengths between the genders, this does not have to mean that women are subdued, and, such patriarchalism is not universal in ancient history. Those cultures and peoples who shed, or never developed, the idea that mankind ought to dominate womankind, are better cultures and peoples than those who, even today, cling violently to those mores.

For more, see:

3.2. Gender Biases

#gender #gender_equality #prejudice #women

Gender Biases
Lower is better
2New Zealand34.434
Asia Avg94.24
World Avg83.93
Iran ranks 54th in the world in terms of the rate of gender bias (from 7 indicators).

The Gender Social Norms Index (GSNI) looks at gender biases across seven criteria; the % given here is for the total people who are biased across any of those criteria. By subtracting the value from 100%, you can see that those who do well on this index, you are seeing a count of those who do not appear to be biased against women in any of the criteria, and so, doing well on this index is a very positive sign for any country.

The data was included in UN (2022) with full results in Annex table AS6.7.1; their data stems for ranges between 2005 and 2022, depending on the country in question.

3.3. Year Women Can Vote

#christianity #gender_equality #human_rights #politics #women

Year Women Can Vote
Lower is better
1New Zealand1893
140=Equatorial Guinea1963
Asia Avg1907
World Avg1930
Iran comes 139th in the world with regard to the year from which women could participate in democracy.

Women now have equal rights in the vast majority of countries across the world. Although academic literature oftens talks of when a country "grants women the right to vote", this enforces a backwards way of thinking. Women always had the right to vote, however, they were frequently denied that right. The opposition to women's ability to vote in equality with man was most consistently and powerfully opposed by the Catholic Church, other Christian organisations, Islamic authorities and some other religious and secular traditionalists.

For more, see:

4. Prejudice

4.1. Anti-Semite Opinions

#antisemitism #christianity #germany #indonesia #israel #jordan #judaism #laos #morocco #netherlands #pakistan #philippines #religion #religious_violence #saudi_arabia #spain #sweden #turkey #UK #vietnam

Anti-Semite Opinions
Lower is better
80=S. Korea53
Asia Avg48.2
World Avg36.8
Iran comes 20th-worst in the world regarding its success in fighting anti-semitic prejudice.

Anti-Semitism is the world given to irrational racism against Jews. It is not the same as anti-Judaism (involving arguments against the religion) nor the same as anti-Zionism (arguments against Israel). In history, influential Christian theologians concocted the arguments against Jews that led, very early on, to widespread Christian action against Jews36,37,38,39. As Christianity rose to power in the West and presided over the Dark Ages, there were widespread violent outbursts against Jews of the most persistent and horrible kind. The Crusades were frequently aimed at them and the feared Spanish Inquisition paid Jews particular attention. The horror of the holocaust instigated by German Nazis in the 1940s was followed (finally) by the era of European human rights and a movement against racism in general.

The places that are the least anti-Semitical are a few countries of south-east Asia (Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam) and some of the secular liberal democracies of Europe (Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK). The worst countries for antisemitism are Islamic states of the Middle East40, which are undergoing their own Dark Age. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey see the most oppressive and violent actions towards Jews41,42. Jews in Muslim countries face a host of restrictions and "ceaseless humiliation and regular pogroms"43. In 2004 the European Union Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia reported on violent anti-Jew crimes in the EU and found that that largest group of perpetrators were young Muslim males44.

For more, see:

4.2. LGBT Equality

#equality #homosexuality #human_rights #ICCPR #intolerance #sexuality #tolerance

LGBT Equality
Higher is better
Asia Avg-02.1
World Avg12.6
Iran comes 153rd in the world when it comes to LGBT equality.

Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) folk is rife across the world. Legal restrictions co-exist alongside social stigmatisation and physical violence45. LGBT tolerance and equal rights have been fought for country-by-country across the world, often against tightly entrenched cultural and religious opposition. Adult consensual sexual activity is a Human Right, protected by privacy laws46. Despite this, homosexual activity is outlawed in around 80 countries45. The Social & Moral LGBT Equality Index was created to compare countries and regions, granting points to each country for a variety of factors including how long gay sex has been criminalized and the extent of LGBT legal rights. Graded negative points are given for criminality of homosexuality, unequal ages of consent, legal punishments and for not signing international accords on LGBT tolerance. The signs in many developed countries are positive, and things are gradually improving. Europe is by far the least prejudiced region (Scandinavia in particular being exemplary). The Middle East and then Africa are the least morally developed, where cultural bias goes hand-in-hand with state intolerance, all too often including physical violence.

For more, see:

Iranian law proscribes 100 lashes for a homosexual act (Article 12113)14, and can include the death penalty13, in particular the law targets the "active party" if they are non-Muslim and the other Muslim: the non-Muslim is subject to the death penalty.14

4.3. Freedom of Thought

#europe #freedom_of_belief #freethought #human_rights #netherlands #religion #religious_tolerance #secularism #the_enlightenment

Freedom of Thought
Lower is better
194=Saudi Arabia5.0
194=N. Korea5.0
Asia Avg3.7
World Avg3.0
Iran comes 8th-worst in the world with regard to freethought.

Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Belief are upheld in Article 18 the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights47. It affirms that it is a basic human right that all people are free to change their beliefs and religion as they wish48. No countries voted against this (although eight abstained). This right was first recognized clearly in the policies of religious toleration of the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe in the post-enlightenment era49 of the 19th century. In democratic countries, freedom of belief and religion is now taken for granted50. In 2016 a study found that over 180 countries in the world had come to guarantee freedom of religion and belief51. The best countries at doing so are Taiwan, Belgium and The Netherlands12,52 and the worst: Afghanistan, N. Korea, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia12,53.

Long-term studies have shown that religious violence and persecution both decrease in cultures where religious freedom is guaranteed54. Despite this, there still are many who are strongly against freedom of belief48, including entire cultures and many individual communities of religious believers. Their alternative is that you are not free to believe what you want and they often state that you cannot change religion without being punished (often including the death penalty): this is bemoaned as one of the most dangerous elements of religion55 and "the denial of religious freedoms is inevitably intertwined with the denial of other freedoms"56 and the solution is, everywhere, to allow religious freedom and the freedom of belief.

For more, see:

There is no religious freedom or freedom of thought in Iran14,13,15. It is illegal to criticize Islam or to fail to obey Islamic law15. Sociologists Grim & Finke place Iran into the worst possible persecution category, along with 13 other countries. Severe restrictions on religious freedom and freedom of belief stem simultaneously from top-down pressure from government, from institutionalized Islam, and from bottom-up grassroots movements that often go even further than the government in harassing those who do not believe the right things (2011)57. The targets are anyone who is not Shia Muslim, "with the Bahá'ís and Jews being the most frequent targets"16,15.

Apostasy - choosing to leave a religion - is not by name a criminal offence in Iran, but judges use a variety of legal provisions to find apostates guilty and punish them15.

The vague crime of moharebeh ("enmity against God"), is used by the government to execute and jail dozens of people, often for political acts or for criticisms of the government, because they use the logic that the theocratic government of Iran is itself a representative of God15. "Iranian writer and human rights defender, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, and blogger Soheil Arabi, are two individuals who have been imprisoned for long periods on these grounds"15.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union in 2012 documented the worst-possible forms of bias and prejudice, stemming from religious dogma and governmental intolerance of dissent.

The result has been a mass exodus of religious minorities since the 1970s and persecution for those who remain. The number of Jews has plummeted from 75,000-80,000 in the 1970s to fewer than 20,000 today. Christians and most other religious groups have shown a similar decline. [..] The Bahá'ís have faced the most violent, systematic, and virulent persecution.

"The Price of Freedom Denied" by Brian J. Grim and Roger Finke (2011)58

The International Humanist and Ethical Union produced a report in 2012 entitled "Freedom of Thought" (2012)14, in which they document bias and prejudice at the national level that is based on religion, belief and/or lack of belief. Their entry for Iran states:

There is no freedom of religion or belief in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iranian law bars any criticism of Islam or deviation from the ruling Islamic standards. Government leaders use these laws to persecute religious minorities and dissidents.

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

The Guardian council exercises a double control of any draft legislation, with two different procedures:

  • conformity with the Constitution (all 12 elected members vote, a simple majority recognizes the constitutionality)
  • conformity with Islam (only the six religious leaders elected personally by the Spiritual leader vote, and a simple majority is required to declare the compatibility of a draft legislation with Islam).

Consequently, four religious leaders may block all draft legislation enacted by the Parliament. The Guardian Council and the Supreme Leader therefore and in practice centralize all powers in Iran.

Articles 12 and 13 of the Constitution divides citizens of the Islamic Republic of Iran into four categories: Muslims, Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians. Nonbelievers are effectively left out and aren't afforded any rights or protections. They must declare their faith in one of the four officially recognized religions in order to be able to claim a number of legal rights, such as the possibility to apply for the general examination to enter any university in Iran. Other belief groups outside of the four recognized religions, such as Bahá'ís, also suffer from this discrimination and are actively prevented from attending university.

Only Muslims are able to take part in the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and to conduct public affairs at a high level. According to the Constitution, non-Muslims cannot hold the following key decision-making positions:

  • President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who must be a Shi'a Muslim (Article 1156)
  • Commanders in the Islamic Army (Article 1447)
  • Judges, at any level (Article 163 and law of 1983 on the selection of judges 8)

Moreover, non-Muslims are not eligible to become members of the Parliament (the Islamic Consultative Assembly) through the general elections. Finally, non-Muslims cannot become members of the very influential Guardian Council.

A study of the Penal Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran reveals that, for a number of offences, the punishment differs in function of the religion of the victim and/or the religion of the offender. The fate of Muslim victims and offenders is systematically more favorable than that of non-Muslims, showing that the life and physical integrity of Muslims is given a much higher value than that of non-Muslims. This institutionalized discrimination is particularly blatant for the following crimes:

  1. Adultery: The sanctions for adultery vary widely according to the religion of both members of the couple. A Muslim man who commits adultery with a Muslim woman is punished by 100 lashes (Article 8811). However, a non-Muslim man who commits adultery with a Muslim woman is subject to the death penalty (Article 82-c12). If a Muslim man commits adultery with a non-Muslim woman, the Penal Code does not specify any penalty.
  2. [Homosexuality ...]
  3. Crimes against the Deceased: Article 49418 stipulates penalties for crimes against a deceased Muslim but the Penal Code does not edict any penalties for the violation of the corpse of a non-Muslim.

"Freedom of Thought" by IHEU (2012)14