For and against: Are Sunnis oppressed in Iran?

Iran is Saudi Arabia's great regional rival

The recent case of Reyhaneh Jabbari, who was recently executed in Iran for murder, has put the country under the human rights spotlight.

Western governments and human rights organisations claim she didn’t get a fair trial or decent legal representation. Others wrongly claimed that she was Sunni and used this rumour as a pretext to highlight Iran’s alleged abuses against its Sunni minority.

On the other hand, the Iranian authorities say Jabbari was a convicted murderer and her claims of rape were thoroughly investigated and found to lack evidence. They also dismiss allegations that they oppress Sunnis and say they are instead the victims of black propaganda by their enemies.

To shed some light on these issues 5Pillarz presents two articles which argue for and against Iran’s human rights record.


In an article originally published on the website Islam 21C, Amar Alam argues that Iran’s conviction of Reyhaneh Jabbari was flawed and is an example of the country’s wider human rights abuses. He has used several sources for his information including Amnesty International and UN reports.

After living on death row for the last five years, Reyhaneh Jabbari, 26, was executed in Tehran on Friday 24th October 2014 by Iranian authorities, in one of the most brazen human rights violations in recent memory.

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Reyhaneh Jabbari was convicted of murdering Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi in 2007, an ex-intelligence official, in self-defence after he lured her to his apartment on the pretense of work and attempted to rape her.

After being arrested for the murder, she was placed in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer or her family and physically and psychologically abused for a number of years by the Iranian authorities.

During this time, the UN and Amnesty International were made aware of her appalling treatment and found that a confession, used as the basis of her conviction and death sentence, was obtained under direct threat and torture from Iranian authorities.

Despite calls from the international community to postpone the court proceedings, due to serious concerns over the fairness of the trial, Jabbari was sentenced to death in 2009.

To highlight the farcical nature of the trial, Amnesty International found that Jabbari’s version of the incident was never investigated and the information taken as fact by the Iranian judicial system was deeply flawed.

Reyhaneh Jabbari
Reyhaneh Jabbari

Furthermore, it was mentioned by the UN that Jabbari pleaded with the authorities that she did not kill Sarbandi, instead she stabbed him in the shoulder with a knife to defend herself and called an ambulance before fleeing the scene.

In support of her claims, a medical practitioner found that a glass of juice at the scene was laced with a tranquilizer and could have been used by Sarbandi to subdue his victim. On the other hand, some have stated that Jabbari confessed to buying a knife two days before the incident and claimed the murder was premeditated.

However, such a claim was never substantiated and her confession as stated earlier was conducted while she was under duress and being tortured by the Iranian authorities.


Additionally, a letter she wrote to her mother six months before her execution reiterated her claims that she acted in self-defence:

The following are extracts from a letter by Reyhaneh Jabbari to her mother:

During that ominous night it was I that should have been killed. My body would have been thrown in some corner of the city, and after a few days, the police would have taken you to the coroner’s office to identify my body and there you would have learnt that I had been raped as well.

The murderer would have never been found since we don’t have their wealth and their power. Then you would have continued your life suffering and ashamed, and a few years later you would have died of this suffering and that would have been that. However, with that cursed blow the story changed. My body was not thrown aside, but into the grave of Evin Prison and its solitary wards, and now the grave-like prison of Shahr-e Ray.

Being presented in court made me appear as a cold-blooded murderer and a ruthless criminal. I shed no tears. I did not beg. I did not cry my head off since I trusted the law. But I was charged with being indifferent in face of a crime. You see, I didn’t even kill the mosquitoes and I threw away the cockroaches by taking them by their antennas. Now I have become a premeditated murderer.

And this country that you planted its love in me, never wanted me and no one supported me, when under the blows of the interrogator I was crying out and I was hearing the most vulgar terms.

I have told you many times not to beg to save me from being executed. My kind mother, the one dearer to me than my life, do your best to forget my difficult days. The world did not love us. It did not want my fate. And now I am giving in to it and embracing the death. Because in the court of God I will charge the inspectors, I will charge the judge, and those that beat me up when I was awake and did not refrain from harassing me. In the court of the Creator I will charge all those that out of ignorance or with their lies wronged me and trampled on my rights and didn’t pay heed to the fact that sometimes what appears as reality is different from it.

Given the clear inconsistencies in the case, the question arises: why did the Iranian government and its judicial system decide to steam ahead with the execution knowing full well that the facts of the case were never established?

Human rights

The answer can clearly be found in Iran’s recent human rights record, where the unjust treatment, false imprisonment and execution of women and innocent minority groups, such as Sunnis, is not uncommon.

Despite the oppressive treatment of Reyhaneh Jabbari, her case is just one of many hundreds of people, who are unjustly executed in Iran. To illustrate their abhorrent human rights record, Amnesty International recorded that 369 official executions took place in Iran during 2013, only second to China, which does not take into account the secret executions and acts of torture that are now widespread in the country against Sunnis.

In fact, the real number of executions in 2013 was found to be over seven hundred. For example, in June 2014 four Sunni Kurdish men, falsely accused of murdering a religious cleric, were sentenced to be secretly executed, even though Iranian records showed that these men were arrested and kept imprisoned months before the murder took place.

Rather calls for their executions were designed to curb the growing number of Sunnis who practice their faith, by way of fear, in a Shi’ite majority country.

Similarly, Amnesty International documents that two other men named Ali Chebieshat and Sayed Khaled Mousawi were secretly executed on similar charges a few days earlier.

Unfortunately, this level of oppression and subjugation against Sunnis is a common occurrence in Iran and their routine arrests are publicised within the country as a terrifying intimidation tactic.

There is no Sunni mosque in Tehran
There is no Sunni mosque in Tehran

Furthermore, such arrests are used to justify greater restrictions forced upon Sunnis to stop them practicing their faith, which is highlighted by the fact that there are no Sunni mosques in existence in the Iranian capital of Tehran.

Therefore, the unjust and oppressive treatment Reyhaneh Jabbari received should come as no surprise within a country that has one of the worst human rights records against women and minority groups in living memory.

The great irony behind the oppressive treatment that the Iranian government and judicial system regularly inflicts on women is that they were recently awarded a seat on the UN body’s women’s rights commission.

This news was met with dismay by UN Watch’s Hillel Neuer, who described it as a “black day for human rights”, while Samantha Power, the US ambassador to Iran, described it as a “particularly troubling outcome.”

To further highlight the oppressive treatment of women in Iran, in October 2014 a number of prominent women were beaten and arrested during a peaceful protest in front of the Iranian Parliament, while they highlighted the increased number of acid attacks and violence committed against women, which was ignored by the Iranian authorities.

Having shown clear evidence proving the clear enmity Iran’s despotic ruling leaders have towards women and minority groups, it is extremely hypocritical and deceitful when individuals and so-called impartial news agencies such as Press TV and Russia Today, linked to the Iranian regime, routinely highlight the human rights records of neighbouring Arab states, yet conveniently ignore the crimes of the country they openly support.

The most recent example is that of Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia for high treason, a crime punishable by death in a number of countries, including the US.

While such individuals and news agencies were extremely aggressive and unrelenting in their reporting of this case, to a country they hold hostility towards, they consistently fail to utter a word of condemnation towards Iran’s acts of aggression and barbaric treatment of women and minorities.

Of course we should by no means ignore the numerous injustices that other countries commit daily; but to selectively ignore one of the most repressive and unjust regimes is very troubling indeed.

Despite her execution, it is hoped that Reyhaneh Jabbari’s murder was not in vain and it helps highlight and publicise the barbaric violations of human rights Iran has been committing in secret now for decades. While certain individuals are quick to highlight the crimes of neighbouring Arab states, it is about time the crimes committed by Iran on its own civilians are reported to the world.

It is also hoped that Iran’s barbaric treatment of Muslims highlights how they are anything but the peace loving champions of the Muslim world they purportedly make themselves out to be and only provide lip service against the West to further spread their propaganda to the Muslims.

This is especially important since their acts of aggression against Muslims is not restricted to their own country because they are routinely implicated in the mass murder of Muslims in Syria, Iraq and most recently Yemen.


Iranian politics student Hassan Mardani argues that a combination of anti-Shia sectarian fanatics, Iran haters and misguided humanitarian groups are disseminating the lie that “Sunnis are oppressed in Iran.” He has culled the information for this article from various sources inside and outside of Iran as well as his own personal experiences.

He has borrowed extensively from the following source:

Most of you will have seen in the past few weeks posts shared via social media notifying people of the pending execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari from Iran, claiming that she was in fact a member of the minority Sunni Iranian community who was about to be killed by the Shi’a government for defending herself against a Shi’a man who had tried to rape her.

Quite a big deal was made out of this and the case of Reyhaneh was being used as a proof of the continued persecution of Sunnis in Iran. After she was hanged she was hailed by many people online as a martyr and the latest victim of the Iranian Shi’a regime.

Of course this was all nonsense. Reyhaneh was not a Sunni, she was a Shi’a like most Iranians and was more than likely guilty of a pre-meditated murder. The fact that the story about her being a Sunni was made-up should have been evident to anyone who had bothered to check official sources.

The original claim made also said that she was an Arab from Ahwaz region where a minority Sunni community exists; this too was a lie as Reyhaneh was not an Arab but was full Persian/Iranian and she was from Tehran and was not from Ahvaz nor were any of her family. For 7 whole years not a single source ever claimed she was a Sunni because it was well known that she was a Shi’a.

Some of the reports that incorrectly claimed she was a Sunni added that the had killed the man she claimed tried to rape her by smashing his head with a rock; this of course contradicts the real story of what happened which is that she stabbed him in the back with a knife that she had bought 3 days before the murder occurred.

The inconsistent reports and false information should have been a giveaway that these unconfirmed social media posts were incorrect, however it seems that many preferred to judge by emotion rather than fact and took the bait hook line and sinker and fell for the lie that Reyhaneh was an Ahwazi Arab Sunni.

Iran is allied with several Sunni groups such as Hamas
Iran is allied with several Sunni groups such as Hamas

Along with the strange attempt to portray Reyhaneh as a Sunni from Ahvaz, the social media posts seemed to also ignore the realities of the case, presenting Reyhaneh as someone who was most definitely innocent and the one she killed as being an attempted rapist who deserved to die.

A basic look at the facts of the case suggest that this is far from true, rather than being a person who acted in self defence it was proven in her trial that she had planned the murder and only days before sent an SMS to a friend stating that “planned to kill him,” and that she had purchased the knife used to kill him also in the days before it happened.

Moreover, the Jabbari case has been used by anti-Shia fanatics and Iran haters as a pretext to criticize Iran’s human rights record and its treatment of minorities.

Much of this propaganda seems to be coming from Saudi or Takfiri sources who are desperate to deflect attention away from their own appalling sectarianism and project their sins onto Iran in an attempt to discredit the nation in the eyes of the world’s Sunnis.

These sources will deliberately mislead their audience by claiming that Iran is “killing Sunnis” in Iraq and Syria. Although I admit Iran’s involvement in the conflicts in both countries is controversial and the situation there is too complex to go into here, Iran is most certainly not fighting “Sunnis”, it is fighting its political enemies. Moreover, Iran is in fact allied with many Sunni movements, most notably Palestinian resistance factions.

Sunnis in Iran

Regarding Sunnis in Iran, it is incorrect and completely misleading to make a general statement that “Sunnis are being oppressed in Iran.”

The fact is that Iran will crack down on anything that threatens its internal stability and certain Takfiri groups (quite possibly funded by Saudi and the US) are deliberately trying to stir up internal dissent and separatist sentiments in places such as Khuzestan and Baluchistan. Shia in these areas are doing similar things too and they are being cracked down on as well!

So the Iranian government is not cracking down on “Sunnis” in general; it is cracking down on an extreme element among the Sunni population which considers Shias to be non-Muslim and is stirring up armed internal dissent.

We should also realise that extreme Shias who give Imam Ali (ra) a higher status than he should be given are also subject to discrimination in Iran.

Sunnis are (in general) well integrated into Iranian society and have positions of authority in all levels of it. In areas of Iran with mixed Sunni/Shia populations the official state broadcaster IRIB even broadcasts the adhaan at both Sunni and Shia times. And there are more Sunni mosques in Iran per head than Shia mosques.

There are more Sunni mosques per head in Iran than Shia ones
There are more Sunni mosques per head in Iran than Shia ones

The truth is that anti-Shia and anti-Iran types are deliberately trying to stir up internal dissent by exaggerating and even lying about how Sunnis are treated in Iran. They rely on dubious sources and often have never been to Iran in their lives. They deliberately exaggerate what problems do exist in Iran while completely ignoring the massive state-sponsored sectarian project that is Saudi Arabia.

Iran’s official rhetoric has always been pro-unity and has always considered Sunnis to be brothers and sisters in Islam. However, Iran is very anti-Wahabi but then again there are lots of normal Sunnis who are anti-Wahabi too.

That said, whereas there is an element of sectarianism in Iranian society it is not institutionalized and it is not aggressively promoted all around the world. On the other hand, Saudi Arabian sectarianism is completely state-sponsored and is aggressively disseminated everywhere.

To repeat: there is without doubt some low-level sectarianism in Iran which has existed in Iranian society for a long time. Some of this has even been sponsored by some Iranian officials. But these voices are a minority in the Iranian establishment and are opposed by the majority, and especially the Supreme Leader.

It is also true that there is no official Sunni mosque in Tehran although there are many “prayer spaces” where Sunnis effectively hold prayers etc. The reason for this is because the government says “why can’t Sunnis just pray in the mosques that already exist? Why promote division – we are all Muslims?”

As for the assertion that women are oppressed in Iran, one need only look at the widespread participation of women in all areas of Iranian society to dispel this myth. The sectarian fanatics who love to criticise Iran should perhaps look a little closer to home when it comes to women’s rights.

In conclusion, while it is right to remain vigilant about the treatment of Sunnis (or any other minority) in Iran please don’t use this relatively small issue to generate anti-Shia or anti-Iran hate speech.

Also, please don’t intentionally or unintentionally contribute to Western and Saudi propaganda that is aimed at nothing less than the complete destruction of the Islamic Republic, just as it helped to destroy Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Yemen and Syria.

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