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Rouhani's deputy promises to defend the rights of Iran's Sunnis

The first vice president of Iran has promised his country's Sunni Muslims that he will defend their rights if he is elected. Presidential candidate Eshaq Jahangiri made his promise during a conference about "Ahl Al-Sunnah in Tehran" organised by the Advocacy and Reform Group and Sunni MPs in the Iranian Parliament on Sunday.

"I met last week with Sheikh Abdolhamid Ismaeelzahi, Imam of the Sunnis in Iran, and some Sunni scholars," explained Jahangiri, "and promised to defend the rights of Sunni citizens." He added that the development movement in Iran started with the reformist government of former President Mohammad Khatami and continued with the current government of President Hassan Rouhani. "Iran," he claimed, "is an ethnically and religiously diverse society, where Shia, Sunnis, Turks and Kurds live and the state is not monopolised by one community."

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech at the Azadi Sport Complex ahead of the presidential elections that will be held on 19th of May, in Tehran, Iran on May 13, 2017 [Fatemeh Bahrami / Anadolu Agency]

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech at the Azadi Sport Complex ahead of the presidential elections that will be held on 19th of May, in Tehran, Iran on May 13, 2017 [Fatemeh Bahrami / Anadolu Agency]

According to Rouhani's deputy, compared to the past, the Sunnis now have some advantages. "We have opened up the field of diplomacy and appointed a Sunni ambassador. They must be present in all official positions."

Indicating that he had met with many Sunni representatives in Iran during his campaign, and listened to their problems and demands, Jahangiri assured them that the current government seeks to fulfil their constitutional rights.

Read: Who are the frontrunners in Iran's presidential elections?

Earlier, Sayed Ahmad Hashemi, who holds the education brief in Iran's Preaching and Reform Group, said that the Sunnis expect Rouhani to give them citizenship rights equal with all other Iranians. Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Hashemi said that he will support Rouhani in the presidential elections. "We expect him to grant equal citizenship rights to the Sunnis in Iran, as we are all sons of this land, so that we do not feel like second class citizens."

Hashemi pointed out that there are around one million Sunnis in Tehran alone. He called on the government to allow them to open a mosque for Sunnis in the capital. Unofficial data suggests that there are 15 million Sunni Muslims in Iran, out of a total population of 80 million. Around 6.5 million Sunnis are eligible to vote in the election on Friday.

Human rights organisations accuse Iran of placing constraints on ethnic and religious minorities in the country and carrying out executions without fair trials. Article 35 of the Presidential Election Law says that the Iranian Constitution stipulates five conditions that must be met by presidential candidates, including that they must be a "well-known religious and political figure who believes in the Islamic Republic's system and its official doctrine" of Shia beliefs.

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