Iranian Sunnis complain of discrimination

Iranian Sunnis complain of discrimination
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In a recent speech made in Iran's southern city of Bandar Abbas, President Hassan Rouhani asserted that his government has promised equal rights to Shia and Sunni Iranians.

But human rights groups claim that Sunni Muslims' rights are being systematically violated in Iran. New York-based Human Rights Watch has said Iran's authorities discriminate against Muslim minorities, including Sunnis, limiting their political participation and employment and banning them from building mosques in major cities.

In October 2012, Sunni activists wrote a public letter to Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, calling for an end to discriminatory policies and their lack of civil rights. But the letter went unanswered.

Since his election, Rouhani has claimed to make efforts to improve the situation of Iran's Sunni Muslims, making a statement dedicated to minorities' rights and charging a special assistant to investigate the issue.

Sunni scholar Molavi Abdolhamid Ismaeelzahi told Al Jazeera: "Sunni Muslims in Iran hope for an end to discrimination. Everybody is hopeful Rouhani can fulfil his promises and also implement the constitution and stop illegalities and stop the discrimination."

Rouhani likely had heavy Sunni support in last year's presidential elections. About 85 percent of people living in Sunni areas of Iran participated [Pr] in the polls, and Rouhani received especially high shares of the vote in Sistan and Baluchistan (73.3 percent) and Kurdistan (70.8 percent) - provinces where a large number of Iran's Sunnis live.

Ismaeelzahi said Rouhani's speeches made Sunni Muslims believe they would no longer be treated as second-class citizens. "The most important discrimination against Sunni Muslims in Iran is discrimination in assigning responsibilities to them and employment. Sunni Muslims in Iran have faced this problem since the Iran’s revolution."

Approximately 10 percent of Iranians are Sunni, many living in the provinces of Sistan and Baluchistan, Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Khorasan and Khuzestan. It is also estimated that about one million Sunni Muslims live in Tehran.

But few have government jobs. Mohammad Hussein Gorgi, the Sunni imam of Azadshahr in northern Iran, told Al Jazeera: "Until now, in the ministries and embassies of the Islamic Republic's government, no Sunnis are employed, and they haven't taken any important positions like governor or administrator... it doesn't mean that there's no competent, principled or resourceful people among Sunnis. Rather, it shows the lack of trust towards them."

He added: "But since this government is the government of prudence and hope, we are hopeful that Sunnis will be assigned to important positions."

Iran's Sunnis are also underrepresented on Islamic TV programs. Iranian Sunnis' public letter to Khamenei stated: "After Iran's Islamic revolution, Sunnis are not allowed to broadcast and express their opinion... even in one TV program or one provincial media center. Instead, national media have been free to desecrate... and offend Sunni Muslims."


Iranian Sunni Muslims sit prior to performing their Eid al-Adha prayer, at the Jame Mosque in the city of Agh Ghala, in a Sunni area of Iran, on Nov. 7, 2011.

Source: Aljazeera

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