Human Rights in Iran: The Abuse of Cultural Relativism

By Reza Afshari | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
The Right to Freedom of Conscience,
Thought, and Religion

Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

—Article 19 of the ICCPR

In fact, in its general comment 22 (48) of 20 July 1993, the Human
Rights Committee observed that the freedom to “have or to adopt” a
religion or belief necessarily entailed the freedom to choose a religion
or belief, including the right to replace one’s current religion or belief
with another or to adopt atheistic views, as well as the right to retain
one’s religion or belief. Article 18, paragraph 2, of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights bars coercion that would impair
the right to have or adopt a religion or belief, including the use of
threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-
believers to adhere to religious beliefs and congregations, to recant
their religion or belief or to convert.

—UN Thematic Special Rapporteur Abdelfattah Amor, 1996

The architects of the Islamic Republic were the first religious-political activists to take over a Western-style authoritarian state and transform it into a theocracy. Once in control of the state’s coercive apparatus, they introduced an all-encompassing project to re-Islamicize the society. Inflicting a particular curse of the religious state, the Islamic Republic parted ways here with other authoritarian states. Persuasion, education, propaganda, intimidation, arrest, torture, and execution were the means to achieve the goals of re-Islamization. This chapter uses the information contained in prison memoirs to illustrate how the new rulers carried out Islamization in prisons with the intent of rehabilitating the incarcerated dissidents, violating their right to freedom of conscience, or physically eliminating them. The relative calm before the storm and the prison massacre of 1988 will be discussed in Chapter 8, which is an extension of this discussion on the right to freedom of conscience.

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