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Written statement* submitted by Baha'i International Community, a non-governmental organization in special consultative status

E/CN.4/2003/NGO/102

       
          
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          Situation of the Bah5Ms in the Islamic Republic of han
          Review of human rights violations
          Since 1979, Bah t'is in the Islamic Republic of ban have been subjected to attack,
          harassment and discrimination solely on account of their religious beliefs. OEe extent
          and systematic nature of this persecution have been well documented over the years in
          reports issued by the United Nations Special Representatives.
          Offcials of the banian government have oifien claimed that resolutions adopted by the
          UN Commission on Human Rights were not helpful to the process of promoting
          human rights in their country. They have had the opportunity to demonstrate their
          willingness to progress on their own since the Commission suspended its monitoring
          in Iran last year. Unfortunately, however, we must report that the collective and
          individual rights of Bah t'is — not just civil and political rights, but a wide range of
          social, economic and cultural rights, as well — are still being systematically violated.
          ban's anti-Bah t'i actions are not random acts, but deliberate government policy. A
          secret government document, obtained and published by the Commission in 1993,
          serves as a blueprint for the slow strangulation of the Bah t'i community. Produced by
          ban's Supreme Revolutionary Cultural Council and approved by the Islamic
          Republic's Supreme Leader, this document sets forth speciffic guidelines for dealing
          with “the Bah t'i question” so that Bah t'i “progress and development shall be
          blocked.” OEere can be no doubt that the policy is still in eLect today.
          OEe Bah5M community poses no threat of any kind to the authorities in Iran. It is not
          aligned with any other government, ideology or opposition movement. OEe principles
          of the Faith require Bah t'is to be obedient to their government and to avoid partisan
          political involvement, subversive activity and all forms of violence. Moreover,
          Bah 'is seek no special privileges. They desire only respect for their rights under the
          International Bill of Human Rights, of which ban is a signatory.
          Recent government initiatives to promote the rights of religious minorities were never
          intended to include the Bah5Ms. OEe Constitution of the Islamic Republic of ban
          stipulates (in Article 13) that Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian Iranians are the only
          recognized religious minorities . Thus some 300,000 Bah t'is — who constitute the
          largest religious minority in the country — do not beneffit from government initiatives
          such as the Iranian National Committee for the Promotion of the Rights of Religious
          Minorities, or the recent OElood money” legislation. Bah5Ms are not a recognized
          minority under the Constitution, and the Islamic regime still refers to the Bah 'i Faith
          as a heresy and a conspiracy. Classiffied as “unprotected inffidels”, Bah t'is have no
          legal rights or protection at all, even though ban is a signatory of the International
          Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees freedom of religious belief
          Executions, death sentences and imprisonment
          Since 1979, more than 200 Bah t'is have been killed, and 15 others have disappeared
          and are presumed dead. OEe last Bah i executed was hanged on 21 July 1998.
          During the past few years, all of the Bah5Ms sentenced to death have either been
          released or had their sentences reduced. OEe government has stopped sending
          members of the community to prison for apostasy. Instead, the authorities now use
          arrest, interrogation and short-term imprisonment as a means of harassing and
        
          
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          intimidating Bah is. This practice is more diffcult to monitor and report to the
          international community.
          As of February 2003, four Bah t'is are still being detained in Iranian prisons because
          of their religious beliefs; Mr. Bihnam Mithaqi and Mr. Kayvan Khalajabadi are
          currently serving 15-year sentences and Mr. Musa Talibi and Mr. Dhabihu'llah
          Mahrami are sentenced to life imprisonment.
          Denial of the right to organize as a peaceful religious community
          Since 1983, the Bah t'i community in han has been denied both the right to assemble
          offcially and the right to maintain its administrative institutions. It should be pointed
          out that:
          - in other countries, these democratically elected bodies organize and administer the
          religious activities of the community;
          - these sacred institutions perform many of the functions reserved to clergy in other
          religions and are the foundational element of Bah t'i community life; and
          - since the Bah 'i Faith has no clergy, the denial of the right to elect these institutions
          threatens the very existence of a viable religious community.
          OEe Iranian Bah t'is gradually developed makeshiifi arrangements to worship in small
          groups, conduct classes for children, and take care of other community needs.
          However, authorities continue to harass them by disrupting meetings, arresting
          teachers, and giving students and participants suspended sentences to be carried out
          should they again commit these “crimes”. The use of suspended sentences is a
          threatening tactic devised by the Ministry of hiformation (hitelligence). Under recent
          government practice, the Bah5Ms receive no written documentation relating to their
          arrest or punishment.
          Denial of access to education
          An entire generation of Bah t'is has been systematically barred from higher education
          in legally recognized public and private institutions of learning in Iran. Aifier having
          been denied access to these institutions for many years, the Bah 'is established their
          own higher education programme in 1987. hi 1998, however, intelligence offficers
          arrested (and subsequently released) some 36 faculty members of the Bah t'i histitute
          of Higher Education (BIHE) and also seized textbooks, papers, records, computers
          and furniture.
          hi 2001, three classrooms used by members of the community were seized, and mid-
          2002 an instructor of Bah5M youth was summoned to the Intelligence agency. hi July
          2002, the authorities disrupted BIHE qualiffication examinations in eight diLerent
          locations simultaneously, videotaping proceedings, interviewing students,
          conffiscating examination papers and Bah t'i books — thus showing that the
          government is pursuing its established policy of intimidation.
          OEe Bah t'i Faith places a high value on education. Bah t'is have always been among
          the best-educated groups in Iran, and the erosion of their educational level is
          inevitably impoverishing the community.
          Conffiscation and destruction of community properties
          Bah 'i cemeteries, holy places, historical sites, administrative centres and other assets
          were seized shortly aifier the 1979 revolution. No properties have been returned, and
        
          
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          many have been destroyed.
          Seizure of cemeteries throughout han has created problems for Bah t'is, who have
          diffculties burying their dead and identifying gravesites. OEey are permitted access
          only to areas of wasteland, designated by the government for their use, and are not
          permitted to mark the graves of their loved ones.
          Conffiscation of properties belonging to individual Bah t' is
          OEe property rights of Bah t'is are generally disregarded. Since 1979, large numbers
          of private and business properties belonging to Bah t'is have been arbitrarily
          conffiscated, including homes and farms.
          In recent months, there has been an increase in conffiscations. Sometimes when
          property is conffiscated, a court decree is issued, stating that the owner is an active
          member of the misguided Bah i sect”.
          Denial of employment, pensions and other beneffits
          OEe government is also systematically weakening the economic base of the Bah t'i
          community by depriving many Bah t'is of the means to earn a living.
          In the early 1980s, more than 10,000 Bah t'is were dismissed from positions in
          government and educational institutions. Many remain unemployed and receive no
          unemployment beneffits; many others had their pensions terminated and some were
          even required to return salaries or pensions paid before their dismissal.
          Employment opportunities are still limited. Even when Bah is ffind employment in
          the private sector, in many cases government authorities somehow intervene and force
          the owners of the companies concerned to ffire them. When Bah is start a private
          business, the authorities attempt to block their activities. Moreover, there have been
          what we believe to be attempts to scare Bah5Ms engaged in agriculture away from
          their land.
          Denial of civil rights and liberties
          Under Iranian law, Bah t'is have no legal protection and thus their rights can be
          ignored with impunity. Harassment continues unabated in a number of communities.
          OEe application of some laws has been modiffied. During the year 2000, measures
          taken by the government made it possible for married Bah t'i couples to be registered
          as husband and wife and for the children of such couples to be registered. But the
          relevant law has not been changed; neither Bah t'i marriage nor Bah t'i divorce is
          legally recognized in Iran. The right of Bah t'is to inherit is also denied.
          OEe freedom of Bah t'is to travel outside or inside Iran is oifien impeded by Iranian
          authorities and sometimes denied. Although recent years have witnessed an increase
          in the number of Iranian Bah t'is given passports, it is not clear that there has been a
          change of government policy on this issue.
          Recent off cial statements
          I ranian representatives have made several encouraging statements in international fora
          during the past two years. In the June 2000 Session of the ILO, the representative of
          Iran reportedly stated: Although the members of the Bah t'i faith do not belong to a
        
          
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          recognized religious minority, under the terms of the legislation approved by the
          Expediency Council in 1999, all Iranians enjoy the rights of citizenship irrespective of
          their belief” At the meeting of the Committee on the Rights of the Child held in May
          2000, the Iranian representative reportedly said that the adoption of this new law had
          improved the situation of those who followed non-recognized religions and beliefs
          such as the Bah t'i faith.”
          We welcome these statements, but we have yet to see any evidence that the right to
          citizenship” legislation is being implemented. The patterns of persecution detailed
          above persist to this day.
          Claims by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) to have achieved some
          success in investigating a number of cases involving Bah t'is also appear to be
          unfounded. Bah t'is in Iran did submit some cases to the IHRC when it was ffirst
          established, and representatives of the Bah i hiternational Community spoke with the
          IHRC delegation to the Commission on Human Rights last year. But no steps have
          been taken by the IHRC to resolve any of the cases or to defend the rights of the
          Bah5M religious minority in han. On the contrary, the situations of some Bah t'is
          concerned in the cases submitted to the IHRC have actually worsened.
          Summary conclusion
          Overall, we must report that persecution of the Bah t'is in the Islamic Republic of Iran
          has intensiffied since the Commission on Human Rights decided to suspend formal
          monitoring in this country. Arrest and short-term detention of Bah5Ms has increased;
          teachers and students continue to be harassed; more properties have been conffiscated;
          and attempts have been made to scare Bah5Ms oLtheir land.
          OEe I ranian government is now declaring — especially to the European Union, with
          whom it has started a Human Rights Dialogue — that it is committed to improving the
          human rights situation within its borders. We would like to be hopeful, but we have
          yet to see the government take even one clear step toward ending the persecution and
          discrimination faced by the Bah is, let alone make any move in the direction of
          establishing full legal protection for the Bah5M community.
        

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Tagged as:

Baha'i, Freedom of Religion, Discrimination