U.S. Report: Ethnic & Religious Discrimination in Iran

Iran discriminated against ethnic and religious minorities in 2023, the State Department reported. For example, the death penalty was “disproportionately applied against members of the Baluchi and Kurdish ethnic minorities,” Ambassador Robert Gilchrist, the Senior Official in the Bureau of Democracy Human Rights and Labor, said on April 22, 2024. The central government – dominated by ethnic Persians – often diverted natural resources, including water, from areas with high concentrations of ethnic minorities and failed to invest in those provinces. 

Iran’s population is predominantly Shiite Muslim, and Shiism is the official religion of the state. Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism are the only recognized religions, while the Baha’i are considered heretics. Baha’i were “routinely imprisoned for practicing their religion and were denied basic rights, including land and business ownership, equal access to employment, equal access to education, and equal burial rights,” the State Department reported citing the Center for Human Rights in Iran. The government—notably the judiciary and security forces—persecuted members of recognized faiths as well as unrecognized faiths. The following are excerpts from the State Department’s annual report on human rights.



The constitution provided for equal rights to all ethnic minorities, allowing minority languages to be used in media. The law provided for the right of citizens to learn, use, and teach their own languages and dialects. Nonetheless, the government discriminated against minorities.

Human rights organizations observed that the government’s application of the death penalty and extended pretrial detention disproportionately affected ethnic minorities. Authorities reportedly subjected members of minority ethnicities and religious groups in pretrial detention to more severe physical punishment, including torture, than other prisoners, regardless of the crime of which they were accused. These ethnic minority groups reported political and socioeconomic discrimination, particularly in their access to economic aid, business licenses, university admissions, job opportunities, permission to publish books, and housing and land rights.

Ethnic minority groups, particularly Ahwazis, Azeris, and Lors, complained regularly that the government diverted and mismanaged natural resources, primarily water, from regions occupied by minorities, often for the benefit of IRGC-affiliated contractors. According to international media and human rights groups, these practices devastated the local environment on which farmers and others depended for their livelihoods and well-being, resulting in forced migration and further marginalization of these communities.

The law required religious screening and allegiance to the Shia concept of “governance by the jurist,” not found in Sunni Islam, which impaired the ability of Sunni Muslims (many of whom were also Baloch, Ahwazi, Kurdish, or Turkmen) to integrate into civic life and to work in certain fields.

The estimated eight million ethnic Kurds in the country frequently called for greater regional autonomy. The government arrested and prosecuted Kurds for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association. The government reportedly banned some Kurdish-language newspapers, journals, and books and punished publishers, journalists, and writers for criticizing government policies. Authorities suppressed the activities of Kurdish NGOs by denying them registration permits or bringing security charges against persons working with such organizations. Authorities did not universally prohibit the use of the Kurdish language.

International human rights observers, including the IHRDC, stated that the country’s estimated two million Ahwazi Arabs, representing 110 tribes, faced continued oppression and discrimination. Ahwazi rights activists reported the government confiscated Ahwazi property to use for government development projects, refusing to recognize property titles issued during the prerevolutionary era.

Ethnic Azeris, who numbered more than 18 million, or approximately 24 percent of the population, were more integrated into government and society than other ethnic minority groups. Supreme Leader Khamenei was an ethnic Azeri. Azeris reported the government discriminated against them by harassing activists or organizers and prevented some parents from giving Turkic names to their children.

Local and international human rights groups alleged discrimination against the Baloch ethnic minority, estimated at between 1.5 and two million persons. Areas with large Balochi populations were severely underdeveloped and had limited access to education, employment, health care, and housing. In 2021, Balochi activists reported that more than 70 percent of the population lived below the poverty line. According to activist reports, the law limited Sunni Balochi and Turkmen employment opportunities and political participation.



The law recognized Jews as a religious minority and provided for their representation in parliament. According to the Tehran Jewish Committee, the country’s population included an estimated 9,000 Jews. Members of the Jewish community were reportedly subjected to government restrictions and discrimination. Government officials, including the supreme leader, president, and other top officials, routinely engaged in egregious antisemitic rhetoric and Holocaust denial and distortion. Supreme Leader Khamenei’s social media accounts repeatedly contained antisemitic attacks and tropes. State-run media routinely claimed “Zionists” influenced Western nations on topics affecting Iran and blamed “Zionists,” among others, for fomenting unrest in the country.

According to NGO reports, school textbooks included content that incited hatred against Jews as part of the state curricula for history, religion, and social studies.

For further information on incidents in the country of antisemitism, whether or not those incidents were motivated by religion, and for reporting on the ability of Jews to exercise freedom of religion or belief, please see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.



Despite government programs to treat and provide financial and other assistance to persons with HIV or AIDS, international news sources and organizations reported that individuals known to be infected with HIV or AIDS faced widespread societal discrimination. Individuals with HIV or AIDS, for example, were denied employment as teachers.

According to CHRI, followers of the Baha’i faith in the country were routinely imprisoned for practicing their religion and were denied basic rights, including land and business ownership, equal access to employment, equal access to education, and equal burial rights. Persecution of the Baha’i community escalated between April and November with increased raids, confiscation of property, arrests, and convictions. According to the U.S. Baha’i National Center, 70 to 90 Bahai’s were in prison during the year, with more than half of them women. Baha’i International Community (BIC) reported authorities arrested or imprisoned 60 Baha’is from mid-July to mid-August and closed 59 Baha’i-owned shops and businesses.

In December 2022, the government announced the sentencing of Mahvash Sabet and Fariba Kamalabadi to 10 years in prison on national security charges, working to undermine Islam, and furthering the interests of dominant foreign countries. Fellow prisoner Faezeh Hashemi reported that Sabet’s kneecaps were broken by her interrogator while in custody. According to BIC, Sabet did not receive medical treatment for this injury. Sabet and Kamalabadi were members of the informal leadership group of the Baha’is of Iran until their incarceration in 2008 and the dissolution of their group.

In several localities, including Tehran, the government blocked Baha’is from carrying out burials of their deceased. Several burials were taken over by authorities, who buried the deceased without Baha’i rites. Three Baha’is were arrested for managing Baha’i burials within the Baha’i section of Khavaran Cemetery in Tehran, and another was arrested for repeatedly appealing to authorities to permit her to bury her grandmother in the cemetery. On May 31, the four Baha’is – Shadi Shahidzadeh, Ataullah Zafar, Valiollah Aghdamian, and Mansour Amini – were sentenced to five years in prison for membership in groups opposed to the regime and for illegal acts with the aim of disrupting the security of the country.

According to the U.S. Baha’i National Center, X (formerly Twitter) accounts linked to the IRGC continued a campaign of disinformation against the Baha’i community with tens of thousands of posts calling for violence and persecution of Baha’is.

According to CHRI, Sunni religious leaders in the Sistan-Balochistan Province and in Kurdish-majority provinces were increasingly targeted by authorities for persecution, arrest, and imprisonment in retaliation for their criticism of the government. In June, the Friday prayer leader of Zahedan and de facto Sunni leader of the Balochi community, Molavi Abdolhamid, was allegedly the target of an attempt to kill him, according to Haalvash. In June and July, security forces detained at least seven close associates of Abdolhamid, including his grandson. Dozens of other Balochi Sunni clerics and religious teachers who criticized the government were arrested, and several received harsh prison sentences.