U.S. watchdog for international religious freedom seeks additional sanctions on Iran

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom called on the U.S. government May 6 to implement additional sanctions on Iranian authorities and security officials amid their increased crackdown on women and girls for “defying” that country’s mandatory hijab laws.

The bipartisan commission acknowledged sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies on Iran over its military and cyber-related activities but said officials who suppress human rights protected under international law must be held accountable.

“Iranian authorities callously violate women’s religious freedom and target any individual advocating for freedom of religion or belief,” USCIRF Commissioner Susie Gelman said in a statement.

“The U.S. government has continued to support global efforts to hold Iran accountable for its heinous acts,” Gelman said. “However, USCIRF urges additional sanctions on Iranian government agencies and security officials responsible for particularly severe violations of religious freedom by freezing their assets and barring their entry into the United States. Although a new ‘hijab and chastity’ bill has yet to be approved by the country’s Guardian Council, USCIRF is closely monitoring Iran’s latest attempt to further stifle freedom of religion or belief.”

Recent developments in Iran

Human rights groups have said there has been a new crackdown on Iran’s mandatory hijab rules. The crackdown coincided with Iran’s drone strikes on Israel April 13, which were largely circumvented by Israel and its allies, including the U.S. That strike in part prompted the new sanctions by the U.S. and its allies.

Iran was among the 17 countries USCIRF recently recommended in its 2024 Annual Report to the U.S. Department of State for designation as “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs, based on their “governments engaging in or tolerating particularly severe violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief,” the agency said. The State Department previously designated 12 of the countries on USCIRF’s list as CPCs in December 2023: Burma (Myanmar), China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

USCIRF’s recommendations

USCIF made five additional recommendations in its report, released May 1: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Nigeria and Vietnam.

“Throughout 2023, the U.S. government regularly condemned abuses of religious freedom, imposed targeted sanctions on perpetrators, and advocated for the release of those imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their religion or belief,” USCIRF Vice Chair Frederick A. Davie said.

“We are encouraged by the Biden administration’s and Congress’ support for many initiatives related to international religious freedom,” he said in a statement. “However, the U.S. government can further enhance efforts regarding religious freedom by implementing all of the recommendations in our 2024 Annual Report, and raising the names of victims persecuted for their faith each time the U.S. government engages with foreign governments.”

Designation of countries of particular concern under the International Religious Freedom Act

The International Religious Freedom Act requires the U.S. government to designate CPCs annually. CPCs are defined in law and policy as countries where governments either engage in or tolerate “particularly severe violations” of religious freedom. Non-state actors who engage in similar conduct are designated as “entities of particular concern.”

According to the State Department, when a country is designated as a CPC, Congress is notified and “where non-economic policy options designed to bring about the cessation of the particularly severe violations of religious freedom have reasonably been exhausted, an economic measure generally must be imposed.”

USCIRF said in the report it is seeking the additional designations because of deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Nigeria and Vietnam. In Afghanistan, for example, it said conditions for women and religious minorities have gravely worsened since the Taliban returned to power in 2021.

Nigerian Christians also have sought such a designation from the U.S. government in response to violence in that country perpetuated against predominantly Christian communities.

This post U.S. watchdog for international religious freedom seeks additional sanctions on Iran appeared on Our Sunday Visitor.

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