[PROVISIONAL TRANSLATION FROM PERSIAN]

 

[Translator’s notes appear in square brackets.]

[Personal information has been redacted.]

[The excerpt below is from the section of the article that pertains to the Baha’i Faith]

 

[Adapted from website:] Aasoo

[Date:] 17 Bahman 1398 [6 February 2020]

 

Refusal to Issue a National ID Card for Baha’is Symbolizes the Crisis of Iranian Identity

[By:] Mehran Vafaie

As a Baha’i citizen living in Iran, I was saddened to see that a national smart card had not been issued to a number of my friends. At the same time, when I realized that the Iranian Baha’i identity could easily be questioned, I became concerned about the Iranian identity of other dissidents and minorities. Because the same unofficial reason that considers Baha’is outsiders and second-class citizens can also consider other groups of Iranians outsiders. In practice, what defines us as Iranians, so that we can enjoy citizenship rights in this country?

According to the Baha’i International Community, in many cases it is not possible for Iranian Baha’i citizens to obtain a national smart card. According to the report, the applicant’s choice of religion on the application for a smart card is restricted to one of the four accepted religions; namely Islam, Christianity, Judaism or Zoroastrianism. The followers of other religions, including the Baha’is, are forced to lie about their religion, or be deprived of basic social services such as applying for a loan, [accessing] banking services or buying or selling real estate.

Removing the “Other Religions” option from the religion column of the registration form for the National Smart Card could be seen as a methodical and indirect approach by part of the Iranian government, which has frequently been used over the past two decades to deprive dissidents, including Baha’is, of their citizenship rights and thus remove them from the social sphere.

Perhaps, in the first two decades of the revolution, the Iranian government used far more obvious and direct violence against the dissidents; but this indirect and methodical approach can lead to a practical model that encompasses all Iranian dissidents―a practical model based on concepts such as first- and second-class citizen, followers of formal and informal religions, minority and majority individuals, insiders and outsiders―a model that is constantly expanding. The spread of such a model is critical to the national identity of all Iranians who do not view human society, the world, growth, the future [etc.,] as the official reading of the government, whether they are environmental activists or human rights activists, whether they are social activists or followers of other religions.

This methodical and indirect model tries to force more and more Iranian dissidents to leave no trace of themselves by recanting their beliefs, lying, immigrating and participating in other forms of submission or elimination. This is a model that leads all Iranians to the duality between their identity and what they express. It is a pattern that tempts or threatens people, makes them feel guilty and ashamed, and ultimately forces them to do something they are not internally happy with, but it is the will of the government.

In the official and public approach of the Iranian government in dealing with dissidents, we see fewer traces of the violation of the rights of dissidents and minorities, and [it appears that] having a different belief is not a crime. Everywhere an attempt is made to present an image of equality among the individuals of the nation. Although in the Constitution we see the division of religions and sects on a formal and informal basis, the principles contained in this law have defined the rights of the nation for all the people of Iran, regardless of their beliefs.

We can refer to examples of the Iranian government’s formal and public approach to dissidents as representing the “media law”, where a section defines “criticism” of the regime. Also, in the definition of “enemy” in the Armed Forces Law and in the definition of “propaganda against the regime” and “activities against national security” in the Islamic Penal Code, no reference is made to the religious belief of the offender, but to prove the crime, the action of the person and his intentions are considered. In the international arena, the official and legal representatives of the Iranian government state that no one in Iran is punished for being a Baha’i or a dissident.

In the above cases, we can see the official and public approach of the Iranian government to dissidents, which is based on tolerance and leniency, but to describe more accurately the government’s pattern of indirect and methodical action in relation to dissidents, some examples of how the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran treats the Baha’is of this country are clear examples. Although this pattern of practice applies to Baha’is, its components have the capability of being used for other dissidents.

In Article 30 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, higher education is the right of the people—regardless of whether the individual’s religion is formal or informal under the Constitution; yet Baha’i students who volunteer to take the university entrance exam face a Religion option in their application and the only options that are provided include the official religions enshrined in the Constitution. Iran’s representatives in international fora say that the purpose of the category of “religion” in these forms is not to inquire into the opinions of individuals, but to determine the subject they want to study and be tested on. Trusting in this explanation and in good faith, Baha’i students take the national exam, but a significant proportion of them encounter the message of “incomplete file” when receiving the results, and despite following up and referring to the National Assessment Organization, their incomplete file status will never get resolved and they will not be able to enter the university.

A limited number of people who enter the university and choose the “other religions” option at the time of enrolling in the university will also, after a few semesters, be prevented from continuing their studies. Confidential letters are issued to the university by the Guzinish[1], stating that the above-mentioned person, according to the “general competence” that is approved by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, cannot be enrolled or approved. In the next step, the student is not allowed to enter the university curriculum website and in the last step, the university guards are instructed to prevent the Baha’i student from entering the campus. In this way, the student will not be able to participate in classes and attend the semester exams. As a result, although this is an expulsion of a Baha’i student from the university, the ban was imposed without issuing an “expulsion order”. After two semesters in which a Baha’i student is unable to take the final exams, “withdrawal from education” is entered in his/her application form. Therefore, the government claims that it was the student who did not come, did not take the semester exams and that the authorities did not deprive anyone of their education.

With this example we realize how up to 95% of Baha’i candidates are barred from studying for four years, without leaving behind any evidence or document, while government officials can state in the international fora that Baha’is have the right to study in Iran.

Another example is the closure, locking, and sealing of Baha’i shops, and the same procedure is repeated. According to Article 26 of the Constitution, having a job is one of the rights of the people of the nation (regardless of their religion). However, despite this, over the past decade, Baha’is’ shops have been locked and sealed on the pretext that they do not open their business on Baha’i holidays; while the Guild Law allows the shopkeeper to close his/her shop up to 15 days of his/her choice every year. Security officials generally make the re-opening of Baha’i businesses conditional on making a commitment that they [Baha’is] must obtain permission from the trade union and the security officials, whenever they wish to close their shop. In practice, however, whenever Baha’is refer to the security officials for their religious holiday, their request for those days is denied.

Prolonging the proceedings of complaints filed by Baha’i shopkeepers whose shops are already closed often requires their licences to be renewed, but since the relevant authorities refuse to renew these business licences due to the fact that the shops are sealed, the licences for these shops will be revoked. Eventually, the shopkeepers will go out of business and their shops will be closed without leaving any documents.

These examples attempt to show how the members of Baha’i community in Iran are increasingly deprived of their citizenship rights under a pattern of subtle systematic and hidden actions. This pattern of action can also apply to other dissidents and minorities. Generally, when these groups are subjected to such pressures, their basic needs are so challenged that much of their energy is spent on compensating for the damage done to their own community, while the same pattern of action is hurting all of these groups.

Perhaps one solution would be for these groups to look at “discrimination” on a larger scale and view themselves as members of one community in which all members suffer from a common pain. Perhaps if we were to focus on treating the common pains of this society, the resulting collective will would lead us to a more dynamic society. In fact, we need to redefine “being an Iranian” and “enjoying citizenship rights”, regardless of one’s religion, and concepts such as insider and outsider, or first-class or second-class citizen.

When such a definition is reflected in our culture and interactions, it will eventually find its place in the country’s constitution. Perhaps the biggest question before us is how we can spread the discourse of equality on a large scale among different groups of Iranians.

 

 

[1] [Guzinish:  The office for the assessment of religious standards for placement of students]