About Minorities

The aspiration for equality before the law is not new to the people of Iran.  Throughout its rich history, which dates back to the Elamite Kingdom circa 3,000 BCE, Iran has witnessed countless rulers, brutal wars, tribal rivalries and fluctuating national frontiers.  The inscriptions in the Cyrus Cylinder have been hailed as perhaps the first charter of human rights and inspiration for democratic good governance, racial and religious equality and abolishment of slavery.

Ethnic minorities constitute about 40% of Iran’s population representing at least one dozen languages and religions[1].  Though Shia Islam currently dominates the religious landscape of the country, Iran has been home to many indigenous religions dating back to 900 BCE with Zoroastrianism.

The Islamic Republic of Iran’s legal system is inspired by Sharia laws and reflects religious principles that systematically discriminate against non-Shia Muslims and women (see Articles 12, 13 and 209). According to Article 13, “Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian Iranians are the only recognized religious minorities, who, within the limits of the law, are free to perform their religious rites.” This arrangement inherently excludes other religions such as Baha’is and limits religious practice to what is permissible “within the limits of the law,” which is subject to arbitrary interpretation and categorical exclusions such as conversion and proselytizing.

Iran’s Constitution systematically obstructs non-Shiite Muslims from participation in integral aspects of government including the Presidency (Article 115), Commander of the Army (Article 144), and any judgeship (Article 163).  The inability to serve in any of these essential offices disadvantages Iran’s minorities greatly in courts and limits their participation in government.

Women and minorities are treated as second-class citizens and are subject to institutionalized discrimination and less privileged status under the law. The Penal Code has specific provisions (Articles 207-210) that systematically treat women and religious minorities’ lives as inferior to their Shia male counterparts in “diyah,” or pardon of the murderer and “ghesas” or retaliation/compensation.   In court, their witness testimonies are regarded as holding half the value of their counterparts (Article 300).  Non-recognized religious minorities such as Baha’is are categorically excluded from any rights under the Constitution and the Penal Code. Inheritance laws (Article 881) state that non-Muslims are not allowed the inheritance of Muslims, complicating matters in inter-religious families.

Homosexuality and homosexual acts are perceived as criminal punishable by flogging and or death.  Penalty for engaging in homosexual acts is more sever and when Muslim and non-Muslim parties are involved.  As in other criminal acts, non-Muslims face harsher penalties (Article 121).


(Source CIA Factbook)

Total population: 80,840,713    

Ethnic Groups:

  • Persian: 61%
  • Azeri: 16%
  • Kurd: 10%
  • Lur: 6%
  • Baloch: 2%
  • Turkmen and Turkic tribes: 2%
  • Other: 1%


  • Persian: (official) 53%
  • Azeri Turkic and Turkic dialects: 18%
  • Kurdish: 10%
  • Gilaki and Mazandarani: 7%
  • Luri: 6%
  • Balochi: 2%
  • Arabic: 2%
  • Other: 2%


  • Shia: 90-95%
  • Sunni: 5-10%
  • Other: (includes Zoroastrian, Jewish and Christian) 0.3%
  • Unspecified: 0.4
  • *(2011 est.)


[1]CIA’s World Fact Book (2014)