human rights

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I have been closely watching the news relating to the trial of seven innocent members of the Baha’i Faith who were arrested and held for one year before any charges were made against them.

The Yaran

Referred to as leaders for ease of reference, the seven Baha’is served on an ad-hoc committee dealing with the basic administrative needs of the community, such as marriage. The more official National Spiritual Assembly had been voluntarily disbanded some time earlier when it was ruled by the state, which refuses to recognise the Baha’i Faith as a religion, that it was illegal.

Having been in prison since the first half of 2008, and having had a few trial dates set this year then postponed indefinitely, Monday 12th January finally saw the start of the trial. No observers were allowed into the court. A film crew was seen going into the court with interrogators from the Ministry of Intelligence but, it is reported, even the lawyers for the Baha’is – who had virtually no access to their clients over the last two years – had to argue their way into the court. The families of those arrested had also been promised a chance to meet their loved ones, this was also denied, but another meeting was arranged for this on Thursday and this did, I understand, take place.

In the court on Monday the charges against the seven Baha’is were read out, they are espionage, “propaganda activities against the Islamic order,” the establishment of an illegal administration, cooperation with Israel, the sending of secret documents outside the country, acting against the security of the country, and “corruption on earth.” The last charge carries the death sentence.

These are all baseless allegations which, for the most part, are often made against the Baha’is. It is generally recognised by institutions and human rights organisations around the world – who have again raised their voices in support this week (including Muslim groups) – that Baha’is are arrested for no reason other than their Faith which the Islamic regime in Iran does not approve of. Iranian media reports have accused the Baha’is of being behind recent protests in Iran, along side Western governments and political activists, and of disseminating images around the world of the protests on the streets. They also suggest that it is obvious that Baha’is are spies for “zionist” Israel because we have a Shrine and gardens taking up a large area of Mount Carmel in Haifa and our world-wide administrative base is there.

Baha’is, and friends of the Baha’is around the world have been keeping these seven Baha’is in their prayers and I have no doubt that the power of these prayers was felt and gave strength to the seven as they stood in the court room to hear the charges.

Unfortunately there has been no date set for the continuation of the trial and the seven “leaders” remain in prison indefinitely, awaiting what is expected to be a show trial with a pre-determined conclusion. There has, meanwhile, been an increase in the arrests and harassment of Baha’is as the media play an increasing role in spreading allegations and misinformation about the Baha’i Faith and its Iranian community.

Link: Baha’i World News Service, Iran Update

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25 years on, sister of executed Bahá’í prays for change
Few incidents in Iran of recent decades have been more shocking than the group execution of ten Bahá’í women in Shiraz on 18 June 1983. Their crime? Teaching children following the government’s ban on Bahá’í pupils from attending schools… (continue reading on Baha’i News UK)


The above article refers to ten young women in Iran, 25 years ago today, who were killed for being Bahá’í. One of them, Shrin Dalvand, was Ladan’s aunt.

Most of Shirin’s family were living in the UK by 1983, when Shirin was arrested a visiting card was issued to a family member to see her in prison before the execution, below is a photo of that visiting card, enlarged is the section where the crime is detailed, in that space it simply has the letter “B”.

Between 1979 and 1998 more than 200 members of the Bahá’í Faith were killed in Iran. The persecution of the Bahá’í, however, did not stop with the last execution. Two years ago the Bahá’í community found evidence that a systematic campaign was under way to identify members of the Bahá’í Faith and monitor their activities. Bahá’í youth, who had earlier been permitted to return to education when universities sopped asking a person’s religion upon enrolment, are again being denied access to, or continuation of, higher education at the point where it becomes known that they are Bahá’í.


Most recently, seven individuals who formed an ad-hoc coordinating committee for the Bahá’í in Iran , were arrested and are being held incommunicado.

Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm were arrested in Tehran on 14th may, Mrs. Mahvash Sabet was arrested in Mashhad on 5th March.

The Bahá’í community, around the world, are seriously concerned for their safety in this escalation which is reminiscent of similar events in the early 80′s when members of two national governing bodies of the Iranian Bahá’í either went missing or were executed.

More on this story can be read here

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Baha’i World News Service

Reports and documents filtering out of Iran over the last six months indicate a widespread and calculated effort by the government to maintain and gradually intensify the persecution of Iranian Baha’is.

Full story here

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Source: Baha’i World News Service

The Universal House of Justice, the highest governing body of the Baha’i community, has sent a letter to the Baha’is of Egypt, encouraging them to continue in their efforts to acquire their national ID card required for rights of citizenship. The letter follows the decision made on 16th December by Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court to uphold an appeal by the government’s Interior Ministry against Baha’is being able to legally apply for required national ID cards. (see here, here or here for more information).

The letter calls on Egyptian Baha’is to “…stand firm and persevere in your effort to win affirmation of this right. To do less would be to deprive the authorities of Egypt of the opportunity to correct a wrong which has implications for many others, no less than for yourselves. Moreover, to relent would be to disregard the moral courage of those organizations, media, and persons of goodwill who have joined their voices to yours in the quest for a just solution to a serious inequity.”

The full letter can be downloaded in English or Arabic from the Baha’i World News Service.

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There are wide-spread misconceptions about how the Baha’is in Egypt are being denied human rights, and while I have linked extensively to the Baha’i Faith in Egypt blog which explains these matters very well, I feel the facts deserve broader coverage.

The Baha’is are not merely being denied the right to state their Faith on their ID cards, as is the headline on many articles, they are losing many rights. Officially Baha’is will not be able to leave their homes, furthermore they will be obstructed from doing all the following:

travelling, getting married, getting divorced, collecting salaries or pensions, getting money out of bank accounts, registering child births, obtaining death certificates, obtaining employment, obtaining a driver’s license, obtaining mobile phones, obtaining vehicles or property, obtaining hospital treatment, obtaining medicine from a pharmacy, obtaining a school education for their children, enrolling in a university, obtaining a national draft number, obtaining public or social services or obtaining hotel accommodation.

The denial of these rights for Baha’is in Egypt is not caused solely by the governments refusal to officially recognise the Baha’i Faith as a religion. There are several countries that have a list of officially recognised religions excluding the Baha’i Faith while managing to ensure that basic rights of citizenship are still available to Baha’is.

The decision of the Supreme Administrative Court, on Saturday, to uphold the appeal of the Interior Ministry against Baha’is being able to give their religion on ID cards on the grounds that the Baha’i Faith is not one of the three recognised religions of the country is not, in itself, the main cause of denial to Baha’is of their basic human rights in Egypt. However, had the decision gone the other way and Baha’is had been allowed to record Baha’i as their faith then it would have removed the very obstacle by which Baha’is are denied their rights, and this is why this was seen as a major test case for human rights in Egypt.

In Egypt citizens are required, by law, to carry an identity card. Every Egyptian has to apply for a new identity card before the end of this year. In order to apply for an identity card you have to list your religion as Islam, Christianity or Judaism, you may not list any other faith or use the term “other”, and you must, of course, sign a declaration that states: “that all details in this application are correct and real; I accept responsibility for consequences, with the full knowledge that providing any incorrect information in this application is considered forgery of official documents and is legally punishable according to the articles of the penal code”.

It is, therefore, impossible for a person who believes in a faith that is not officially recognised by the state of Egypt to acquire the national ID card, and therefore the many human rights which are only available to citizens who have identity cards are withheld from such individuals because of their beliefs.

The appeal of the Baha’is to be allowed to list Baha’i as their religion on their ID cards was not an appeal to have their Faith officially recognised as a true religion by the Egyptian government, it was rather an appeal to be allowed to acquire an ID card. For those who face this identity card crisis the option of listing their religion as other or merely leaving the box blank would suffice, but in Egypt this is not acceptable, you must consider yourself a follower of a recognised religion for the government to recognise you as a citizen.

Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, has been quoted as saying that the Baha’is can claim ID cards by listing Baha’i as sect of Islam, since they claim to believe in Muhammad, Jesus Christ and Moses as do the Muslims. However, in 1940 Egypt’s highest ecclesiastical court in Cairo stated that “The Baha’i Faith is a new religion, entirely independent, with beliefs, principles and laws of its own” and that “No Baha’i”…”can be regarded a Muslim or vice-versa, even as no Buddhist, Brahmin, or Christian can be regarded as Muslim or vice-versa.” Clearly Egypt’s history would deny the Baha’is the right to list their faith as a sect of Islam, and no Baha’i would feel that they were filling the application form honestly or correctly if they were to list their Faith as a sect of Islam.

Of course, the government could provide guidelines as to what people of other Faiths should enter and then alter the declaration to state that the applicant believed the details to be correct “according to the guidelines provided”, but they have not given any such guidelines.

Writing in Aljazeera Magazine, Sheikha Sajida states that “Supporting the Bahais in their quest for recognition, just like Christians and Muslims, is another attempt to shake the unity of the Egyptian society, and hurts Muslims, who form the majority of the Egyptian public.”

The Baha’i quest is not a quest for recognition, but rather it is a quest for unity. Baha’is believe firmly in building a united society free from divisions based on gender, race, class or religion, and where they are permitted to do so they frequently strive toward this goal.

Surely it hurts a Muslim less to let a man claim he personally believes there was a Messenger from God after Muhammad than it hurts them to have a reputation of refusing rights of citizenship to people born and raised in their country on the basis of such beliefs? I am sure it would be unimaginable that a Muslim would call it just for Christian countries to deny rights to Muslims on the basis that the teachings of Jesus Christ do not appear to encompass Islam for the majority of Christians who do not accept Muhammad as a Prophet. If it is acceptable that a Muslim state withholds rights from individuals whose beliefs are, at some level, incompatible with their own then surely they should expect many non-Islamic states to withhold rights from Muslims. Thankfully most of the world see the rights to freedom of belief as having a wider implication than merely accepting those beliefs that are most compatible to your own way of thinking. Thankfully religions co-exist throughout the world by focussing on their common belief in God and the many character building principles that most Faiths share in common.

Accepting that an Egyptian citizen has religious beliefs that are not wholly compliant with the official religion of the country does not require that the state officially recognises those beliefs as being true. The insistence of the Egyptian government that Egyptians must adopt a belief that the state recognises as being a true religion is an infringement on the right of freedom of belief for the individual, and the denial of further rights of citizenship to those who do not comply with this wish is an unacceptable sanction.

It is not clear if it is by design, or by accident, that Egyptian laws force people to be denied their rights if they do not belong to one of the three recognised faiths, but it is clear that it is a situation that is not acceptable in the world we live in and a solution is definitely required, quickly.

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The United Nations’ General Assembly adopted a resolution yesterday (19th December), expressing serious concern over human rights abuses in Iran. The resolution was recommended to the General Assembly on 21st November by its Third Committee, which considers human rights issues on their behalf, and was accepted by the General Assembly with a vote of 72 in favour to 50 against, with 55 abstentions.

The resolution calls upon the Government of Iran to ensure full respect for the rights to freedom of assembly, opinion and expression, and to eliminate the use of torture and other cruel forms of punishment, as well as discrimination based on religious, ethnic, linguistic and gender grounds.

See also: UN Concern over Human Rights in Iran

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Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court has ruled against Baha’is being able to acquire official documents by today upholding an appeal by the Interior Ministry.

The judge, after giving their verdict, stated that “the constitution promotes freedom of belief for the three recognised heavenly religions and they are Islam, Christianity and Judaism”, he went on to call members of the Baha’i Faith “apostates of Islam, because the faith’s principles contradict the Islamic religion and all other religions.”

The Baha’is principle representative to the United Nations, Ms Bani Dugal, said that “We deplore the Court’s ruling in this case, which violates an extensive body of international law on human rights and religious freedom”… “the Court’s decision threatens to make non-citizens of an entire religious community, solely on the basis of religious belief.”

Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said “It’s a regrettable decision, but it’s a crisis for the government more than for the Bahais, now the government is forced to find a solution for the hundreds of citizens who have no papers.”

This hope was also expressed by the Baha’i International Community’s Ms Dugal, who said “Our hope now is that the public debate over this issue will cause the Egyptian government to rectify its discriminatory policies. This could be accomplished either by allowing Baha’is to be listed on government documents, by abolishing the religious affiliation listing entirely or, simply, by allowing the word ‘other’ to be legally included on state identification forms.”

In Egypt citizens are required to hold an identity card on which they must list their religion as Islam, Christianity or Judaism. Human Rights groups have been aware that this causes problems for other Faith communities in Egypt, such as the Baha’is, who have had problems at school and university and with certificates for births and deaths.

The recent court case was prompted by a lawsuit filed against the government in 2004 by an Egyptian Baha’i couple who had their identification cards and passports, which listed the Baha’i Faith as their religion, confiscated when they applied to add their daughters to their passports. In April this year a lower court ruled in favour of the Baha’is being allowed to list their religion on ID cards but this decision was suspended pending an appeal by the Interior Ministry, it is that appeal which has been upheld by the Supreme Administrative court today.

Prior to April this year most Egyptians did not know much about the Baha’i Faith and its teachings, but since the Interior Ministry’s appeal there have been many features in papers and magazines, and on television, discussing the Faith with varying degrees of accuracy. The human rights issues raised by the case have found many Egyptians in support of the Baha’is and there will no doubt be continued discussion of the continuing denial of human rights to honest individuals who do not follow Islam, Christianity or Judaism as a result of this decision today.

The blog “Baha’i Faith in Egypt” has been following this story very closely and is likely to remain a good source of information for the debate that follows.

Links:
Baha’i World News Service – Egyptian Court Rules Against Baha’is…
Baha’i Faith in Egypt (blog) – Egypt Plunges Deeper into the Abyss
Middle East Online – Baha’is Lose Battle For Recognition
Reuters (South Africa) – Egyptian Court Overrules Baha’i right to register
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights

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Source: Baha’i Faith in Egypt (blog)

The Supreme Administrative Court in Egypt met today, December 2nd, to finally hear an appeal by the Interior Ministry against a lower court’s decision to allow Baha’is to state their religion on official documents. A decision has been postponed until 16th December.

On the 4th April this year a court found in favour of a Baha’i couple who filed a case to be allowed to name their religion as Baha’i after their identity documents were confiscated by the state because the Baha’i Faith is not one of the religions recognised in Egypt. On 15th May this decision was suspended by the Supreme Administrative Court pending a fuller hearing in response to an appeal by the Interior Ministry.

The appeal hearing has been postponed several times and the case has gained a great deal of interest over the last six months, highlighting the fact that Baha’is are denied many rights in Egypt as they are not permitted to fill out their identity documents honestly. This situation has existed since 2004 when the Interior Ministry ruled that only one of the three officially recognised religions may be stated in the ‘Religion’ section of official documents,.

Links:
BWNS – Egypt court sets date for full hearing on Baha’i case
Baha’i Faith in Egypt – Supreme Court Postpones Decision

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The 25th anniversary commemoration of the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, being held in Prague on the 25th November this year, will be broadcast live on the Internet.

For more information visit the event’s web site.

On Saturday 25th November the webcast will be available from this link.

Links:
1981 Declaration, including live broadcast

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On November 21st the Third Committee of the United Nations’ General Assembly, which considers human rights issues, approved a draft resolution expressing “serious concern” over the human rights situation in Iran, including the escalation of violations against Iranian Baha’is. The resolution, which was put forward by Canada, passed by a vote of 70 to 48 and will now go to the General Assembly plenary for a vote in December.

The adopted draft resolution would have the General Assembly call upon the Government of Iran to ensure full respect for the rights to freedom of assembly, opinion and expression and to eliminate the use of torture and other cruel forms of punishment, as well as discrimination based on religious, ethnic, linguistic and gender grounds.

Sources / Links:
Full story on Baha’i World News Service
UN Press Release on Draft Adoption

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