Religious freedom ‘under assault’ in Iran, Cuba, says government report

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In Iran, religious freedom is “deteriorating,” according to a new government report.

Religious minorities are subject to arrest, torture and even execution “based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote in a report issued Monday.

{mosads}The population of Iran is 99 percent Muslim, made up mostly of Shi’a Muslims. According to the report, the government discriminates against people of other faiths — such as Sunni Muslims and Christians — who are facing “increasing religious freedom abuses.”

“Since President Hassan Rouhani was elected president in 2013, the number of individuals from religious minority communities who are in prison because of their beliefs has increased,” the report noted.

The group’s paper casts a shadow on more than 30 countries where it said religious freedom violations are egregious, including China, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, North Korea, Iran and Cuba.

This comes as the Obama administration faces criticism for engaging in nuclear talks with Iran and restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba, despite human rights concerns in those countries.

The report urged the Obama administration to use these negotiations as leverage to press for stronger religious freedom protections in these countries.

In Iran, the report encouraged the Obama administration to “ensure that violations of freedom of religion or belief and related human rights are part of multilateral or bilateral discussions with the Iranian government whenever possible, and continue to work closely with European and other allies to apply pressure through a combination of advocacy, diplomacy, and targeted sanctions.”

The report was also critical of the Cuban government, which it said “continues to harass religious leaders” and interfere with church matters.

“As part of the U.S.-Cuba ongoing discussions, the U.S. government should take significant action to convey that the change in policy does not diminish the Cuban government’s need to improve religious freedom conditions on the island,” the report noted.  

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