Iran started building a huge new cultural and sports complex for its Jewish minority in central Tehran Sunday, billing the project as proof of the freedoms enjoyed by its religious minorities.
Housing and urban development minister Mohammad Saidi-Kia broke the ground for the new building alongside Morris Motamed, the representative of Iran's Jewish community in parliament, the official IRNA news agency reported.
The total cost for the project is 30 billion riyals ($3.2 million) and the building will extend for 6,800 square meters (73,194 square feet), around half of which will be devoted to sport, and half to cultural activities, Motamed said.
It is expected to be finished in two-and-a-half years.
"In Iran, the followers of the different religions have freedoms guaranteed in the constitution. The followers of the divine religions are living under one flag," said Saidi-Kia.
'Jewish minority is well treated'
Iran's Jewish community numbers around 20,000 people, and remains the largest in the Middle East after Israel, despite substantial emigration in the aftermath of the Islamic revolution in 1979.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has sparked an international outcry by repeatedly predicting Israel is doomed to disappear, and also questioning the scale of the Holocaust.
However, Iranian officials vehemently deny charges of anti-Semitism, saying the Jewish minority is well treated, and the president's attacks are only against Israel - which the Islamic republic has always refused to recognize.
The officially-recognized religious minorities in Iran are Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians, all of whom are represented in parliament.
The Armenians - by far the largest Christian community - already have a well-established sports and cultural center in the north of Tehran.
However, Iran considers Bahais, who advocate the unity of all religions, to be apostate, and the sect has none of the rights enjoyed by the other minorities.
The UN General Assembly in December denounced what it said was "increasing discrimination" against minorities, but Iran has always insisted all its recognized religious communities enjoy full rights.