[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:] Gooya News
[Date:] 23 Farvardin 1385 [12 April 2006]
Protest Against the Situation of Baha’is in Iran, the Story of a Security Circular
Gelareh Maad, Roozonline
Iranian law recognizes Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians as non-Muslim religious minorities, but the Baha’is, the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Iran, have no official status. They are deprived of basic rights such as the right to study at a university and to be employed in government agencies. Although in the first years after the revolution, Baha’i children regained their right to be admitted to schools, now, a quarter of a century after the Islamic regime came to power, Baha’i youth have not yet been allowed to enter any of the country’s free public universities. Discontinuation of pensions, dismissal from jobs, deprivation of their right to own their legitimate and legal property are parts of this lawlessness, about which very little has been said and written, and fewer Iranian political or human rights activists in the last quarter of a century have dared to defend the rights of the Baha’is.
Disclosure of a “Confidential” Circular
The special rapporteur on the United Nations Human Rights Commission on Religions or Beliefs said, “Recently, a copy of a confidential directive has been obtained, outlining the Iranian government’s new plan to identify and monitor Baha’is in the country.” Asma Jahangir, the commission’s special rapporteur, said, “The secret document was written by the general staff of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran to a number of law enforcement agencies. According to them, the circular calls on the relevant organizations to collect all ‘top secret’ information available about Baha’is.” According to Mrs. Jahangir’s statement, the circular, dated 29 October 2005, was addressed by the general staff of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Ministry of Intelligence, the Revolutionary Guards, and the police, and asked them to identify Baha’is and monitor their actions.”
The UN special rapporteur, due to the sensitivity of the matter, did not comment on how the mentioned circular had reached her, but she acknowledges that the general staff of the Armed Forces wants to collect information about Baha’is in its entirety and in a “highly confidential” manner. The statement from UNHRC stated that monitoring the people due to their having religious beliefs which are different from the official religion of the state, was “contrary to the international standards” and is unwarranted interference and “unacceptable” with [regard to] the rights of religious minorities. On the other hand, Bani Dugal, the representative of the Baha’i International Community at the UN Headquarters in New York, in an official letter, expressed to the Iranian government’s representative’s office the Baha’i International Community’s concern about the confidential circular, but according to Ms. Dugal, the Iranian officials have not yet responded to her office letter.
Back to the eighties
In addition to Iran’s nuclear programme, the record of human rights is in the spotlight of the international community, and Mrs. Jahangir’s statement has caused great concern to the officials of the International Religious Freedom Commission in the United States. The commission officially announced the deterioration of the situation of religious minorities in Iran in the last few months. In an interview with the BBC Persian Service in Washington, Dwight Bashir, the commission’s senior expert, described the secretive programme of widespread surveillance of Iranian Baha’is as “very worrying”. He said, “Taking a list of individuals and monitoring their activities is similar to the actions of the Iranian government at the beginning of the revolution in the early 1980s. At that time, they identified and monitored the Baha’is. What we saw after that was the arrest and widespread execution of Baha’i leaders. The problem is that this trend has resurfaced after about 20 years, and it is very worrying. No one knew that the armed and security forces in Iran were systematically trying to identify and monitor the Baha’is.”
Death of a Baha’i in prison and the concern of Amnesty International
In a recent letter to the head of the judiciary, Amnesty International expressed concern about the harassment of the Baha’i community in the country, and called on it to ensure that no one was imprisoned because of his/her religious or cultural identity or because of the peaceful activities of his/her community. This organization expressed its deep regret over the death of Zabihollah Mahrami in prison. He was a Baha’i prisoner of conscience who spent ten years in prison simply because of his beliefs. Zabihollah Mahrami was arrested in 1995 and sentenced to death in 1996 for apostasy. In 1999, his death sentence was changed to life imprisonment. He was recognized as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International in 1996, which sought his immediate and unconditional release.
Zabihollah Mahrami’s body was reportedly found in his cell in Yazd Prison on December 15. His family was reportedly told he had died of a heart attack. His body has been given to his family, who has since buried him. Zabihollah Mahrami was reportedly in good health before his death and had no history of heart disease, although he was forced to [perform] hard physical labour in prison, which is thought to have led to his death, or had an effect on the matter. It is said that he had received death threats.
Amnesty International has called on the Iranian authorities to order a full and impartial inquiry into the cause and manner of his death, and to bring to justice those responsible for his death so that they can be tried promptly and fairly.
For many years, young people in the Baha’i community have been barred from higher education, as one of the legal requirements for applicants is to express their allegiance to Islam or another of the three legal religions. Although this condition has not currently been met, Baha’i applicants’ documents have been returned to them and Islam has been listed as their religion. This is apparently to encourage them to deny their beliefs and thus have a chance at higher education. In 2004, despite promises to remove the restriction, only ten of the approximately 800 approved applicants were accepted. The ten refused to go to university in protest of the deprivation of their Baha’i co-religionists. According to the reports, in recent months, unidentified assailants have attacked the members of the Baha’i community in Iran, and cemeteries and holy places of the Baha’is have been damaged and destroyed. The authorities have also confiscated the homes of some Baha’is.
In general, discriminatory laws and regulations apply to Baha’is, which restricts their employment and benefits such as pensions. Since the beginning of 2005, at least 66 Baha’is have been arrested in Iran. Most of them have been released, but according to reports, at least nine of them are in prison, including Mehran Kowsari and Bahram Mashhadi, who were sentenced to three years and one year in prison, respectively. Their crime was writing a letter to the authorities calling for an end to Baha’i human rights abuses. Six of the remaining seven, namely Afshin Akram, Shahram Bolouri, Vahid Zamani, Mehraban Farmanbordari, Sohrab Hamid and Houshang Mohammadabadi, were arrested on 8 November 2005. The charges against them, as well as the ninth person, Behrouz Tavakkoli, have not been determined and none of them have been tried.