Population and society
The residents of Iran are more than 78 million. The population includes important religious, ethnic and linguistic minorities. The official language is Farsi (Persian) and the majority religion is Shiite Islam. Although the most widespread religion is the Islamic one, the Constitution formally protects the Jewish, Christian and Zoroastrian minorities, reserving them seats in parliament, albeit with an entirely symbolic value.
Among the ethnic minorities, the most consistent is the Azerbaijani (about 16% of the population). The second largest community in numerical terms is the Kurdish one, equal to about 10% of the population, concentrated in the western and northern part of Iran, on the border with Turkey and Armenia. The third community is that of the luri, four million people living in the northern and southern part of the country. In addition, there are Arabs (2%), Baloch (2%), Turkmen (2%) and Turkish nomadic groups, such as the Qashqai (1%). Iran is home to some 950,000 Afghans (December 2015), making up one of the largest refugee communities abroad.
Government measures in favor of ethnic-linguistic minorities are considered in many ways insufficient by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Particularly strong is the discrimination against the Bahá’í minority, considered heretical by the Iranian regime. Furthermore, the unequal distribution of power, socio-economic resources and socio-cultural status between center and periphery have over time exacerbated the demands for autonomy of some ethnic minorities. Particularly strong is the independence movement of the Baloch, whose military expression, the ‘Jundullah Movement’, is periodically responsible for attacks against the Iranian security forces.
The population is on average very young: the median age is only 27 years and around 20% of the population is included in the 15 to 24 age bracket. However, the population growth rate (1.3%) is now among the lowest in the region, while in the pre-revolutionary era it was close to 3%. This contraction is due to several factors, including the rise in the educational level of women. The literacy rate exceeds 84% for adults and reaches almost 99% for young people (15-24 years), both males and females. The percentage of girls attending primary school is almost equal to that of boys, and women account for around 60% of graduates in the country.
Nonetheless, women find it more difficult to find a job: female unemployment, at 20.1%, is significantly higher than that of men, officially at 11.6%. Furthermore, women remain excluded from the most important professions, have lower salaries and are underrepresented in management positions. Iran therefore presents itself as a country with enormous human potential, but with little chance of capitalizing on such a heritage. The result is a brain drain of alarming proportions, which pushes away the nation’s chances of economic redemption.
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Freedom and rights
In November 2013 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution expressing deep concern about the human rights situation in Iran, highlighting the persistence, despite the promises of President Rouhani, of serious violations, such as torture, arbitrary executions, executions by stoning, discrimination against women and against ethnic and religious minorities and severe restrictions on freedom of opinion and assembly. Iran is the second country in the world for the number of executions. In 2014, there were 289 officially counted executions, earning Iran the less prestigious title of second country in the world, after China, for the number of death sentences. For Iran democracy and rights, please check homeagerly.com.
In March 2014, the UN Human Rights Council approved the renewal of the mandate of the Special rapporteur on human rights abuses in Iran, a position created in 1988, kept alive until 2002 and subsequently resurrected in 2011, to witness the cyclical return of concern about abuses and the failure to resolve the issue over the years. In August 2015, the Council appealed to the Iranian government to release Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, arrested in Tehran in July 2014: the appeal has so far remained unheard.
The freedom of expression it is limited. College students are often arrested and threatened for expressing critical views of the government. In delicate political moments, the government controls the mass media extensively. The case of the presidential elections in June 2009 was exemplary: press freedom deteriorated sharply, many internet pages were blocked, mobile phone services were interrupted and arrests were numerous. Hassan Rouhani raised many hopes: on several occasions he would have declared that he wanted to take measures to improve the human rights situation in the country and that he wanted to proceed with the release of political prisoners. In September 2013, the Iranian government announced that it had released 11 political prisoners,A, however, was interpreted by observers as a gesture of pure propaganda. On the other hand, it should be emphasized that the judiciary, responsible for the arrests and imprisonments, is not placed under the control of President Rouhani, but of the more radical and hostile factions to the policy of compromise that the President seems to have wanted to inaugurate.
Many observers, in this sense, have interpreted the crackdown on journalists and activists as an attempt by the radical faction to weaken the pragmatic faction – headed by Hashemi Rafsanjani – of which President Rouhani is an expression.