[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:] Zamaneh Tribune
[Date:] 17 Esfand 1395 [7 March 2017]
Extortion of Some Officials or Pertinacity of Baha’i Shopkeepers!?
Four months after the mass sealing of 94 Baha’i commercial units in Mazandaran on 11 and 12 Aban 1395 [1 and 2 November 2016], which is part of the Baha’i religious holiday, the prosecutors of Mazandaran cities, in a coordinated manner, conditioned the reopening of these shops on the signing of a seemingly simple letter of undertaking.
Some officials say Baha’i shopkeepers intend to be stubborn with the government by not signing the undertaking. On the other hand, when the text of this letter of undertaking is examined, it seems that it is a clear example of extortion. The text of this letter of undertaking is as follows:
“In the Name of God
Letter of Undertaking
I ----- child of ----- with national code ----- holder of a commercial unit of ----- while respecting the rules and regulations of the trade union, I undertake and commit myself [to the following:] that, at least one week in advance, if for any reason other than the official holiday of the country, I intend to close my business unit, I will announce it to the police unit of the Public Places Supervision Office of the city. If that esteemed authority agrees, I will close my shop; otherwise, if I commit an act contrary to the text of the letter of undertaking, I will be dealt with according to the rules and regulations.”
When we force someone to do something that he does not like and our request is against the law and ethics, we have committed extortion. On the other hand, a stubborn person is one who insists on having his own way under any circumstances, even if it is unjust.
We now turn to the arguments of the relevant authorities and Baha’i shopkeepers who have avoided signing this letter of undertaking. In this case, we can more accurately understand which party is extortionist and which one is pertinacious.
Some officials who have requested the signing of this letter of undertaking argue: “Is it not true that you Baha’is consider yourself to be law-abiding? We, as a legal authority, ask you to sign this letter of undertaking. This undertaking is nothing special; and you are magnifying it. Sign it and get on with your business.”
On the other hand, some of the Baha’i business owners in this province have stated the following reasons for not signing such an undertaking:
1. This letter of undertaking contradicts human nature and the nature of the world. Issues such as mortality, morbidity and sickness are not events that can be predicted a week beforehand. For example, if a person’s spouse dies or his/her child becomes ill and the [business owner] is forced to close his/her business unit, how is it possible for this shopkeeper to anticipate these cases a week in advance and inform the Public Places Supervision Office?
2 .This letter of undertaking is not written on the [formal] letterhead of a specific organization and it has no other legal specifications; it can easily be abused by some officials. It may be stamped and signed by any other entity without the knowledge of the person who has made the commitment.
3. Given that Baha’i shopkeepers have not committed any offences, the signing of the letter of undertaking implies that in the past they have committed offences.
4. Other shopkeepers in Mazandaran—who are not Baha’is—are not asked to sign such an undertaking.
5. Experience has shown that such a letter of undertaking does not guarantee the proper action of the Public Places Supervision Office. So far, many Baha’i shopkeepers in the province, in good faith toward Public Places Supervision Office, have undertaken to inform the organization of their religious holidays. However, despite informing the Public Places Supervision Office—even a few days before the Baha’i religious holiday—the Public Places Supervision Office still sealed the Baha’i shops.
6. In order to obtain a business licence, all businesses sign a letter of undertaking concerning the implementation of trade union laws. Signing a similar undertaking [in addition] is unreasonable.
7. The bodies related to the issuance of seal orders are trade unions and guilds. Therefore, it is unreasonable for the Public Places Supervision Office, which is merely an executive office, to receive such an undertaking from the businesses. The fact that the Public Places Supervision Office is the executive office which deals with the Baha’is will mean the real identity of the issuing authority will remain concealed.
8. According to Article 28 of the Law of the Trade Union, the owners of commercial units can close their places of business for up to 15 consecutive days without informing the union. Signing such an undertaking is in contradiction with this Article of the trade union regulations.
9. Although Mazandaran officials have stated that the reason for the sealing of the Baha’i shops is the closure of shops during the Baha’i religious holiday, the text of the letter of undertaking does not indicate the reason for the sealing of the shops. It states that the owner of the commercial unit must inform the Public Places Supervision Office of the closure of his/her shop on any day other than official holiday of the country. The reason for omitting the name of the Baha’i Faith from the text of the letter of undertaking can only be because the perpetrators of the sealing will be able to deny the ideological reason behind these seals in judicial and international forums!
10. Closing the business units on a religious holiday is a matter of ideology. Applying for permission from the Public Places Supervision Office in order to close one’s shop on religious holidays is an example of an inquisition of belief and is contrary to Article 23 of the Constitution.
11. Considering that the closure of Baha’i shops is considered by some relevant authorities to be an example of propaganda involving a religious symbol, and in their view, this act is propaganda against the regime, giving such an undertaking will also result in criminal liability for the signatory.
12. This letter of commitment has an inherent contradiction. On the one hand, Baha’i shopkeepers are urged to abide by the law; on the other hand, the letter of undertaking itself violates several legal principles and articles, and whoever signs it will automatically be considered a violator of the law.
13. Because these Baha’i shop owners consider themselves subject to the laws of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, they can avoid signing an undertaking that is contrary to the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Based on the text of the letter of undertaking as the request of the relevant authorities and the reasons of some Baha’is for not signing it, this letter of undertaking seems to be a clear example of violation of the human rights and citizenship rights of the Baha’is.
The extortionists always call their actions natural, and all the constructive firmness of the other party stubbornness. Extortion against Baha’is has become so common in Iran that trying to protect one’s privacy and rights is considered a “stubborn” act.
The simultaneous closure of 94 Baha’i business units in Mazandaran is an attempt to destroy the economic base of this society. The action that has targeted the life of this society is exactly like someone pressing your throat and trying to suffocate you, and when you try to survive and save your life, they tell you that you are stubborn for trying to survive! The person who intends to kill you does not realize that your privacy has been violated, and that your attempt to survive is a natural reaction and not stubbornness. This is just like the reaction of Baha’i shop owners to those who have sealed their 94 trade units for four months without any legal justification, and now they are being asked to sign an illegal undertaking. At present, perhaps the greatest help is to examine the legal aspects of this undertaking, perhaps to reduce the foggy atmosphere of extortion, and to make an informed decision about this commitment by the Baha’is of this province.