Tag Archives: human rights

Europe Calls on Iran to Lift Ban on Baha’is

Thursday 16th November, the European Parliament adopted a resolution that calls “on the Iranian authorities to eliminate all forms of discrimination based on religious grounds” and notably “calls for the de facto ban on practising the Baha’i faith to be lifted”.

The extensive resolution states that the exercise of civil rights and political freedoms has deteriorated notably since the presidential elections of June 2005 and expresses concern over many matters including political prisoners, juvenile executions, human rights and freedoms. The full resolution can be read on their web site.

Link: European Parliament resolution on Iran
Photo Credit: Cédric Puisney [cropped]

Surveillance of Iranian Baha’is Increased

Source: BWNS – Iran steps up secret monitoring of Baha’is

Iran’s Ministry of Interior sent a letter (available here in Persian) on August 19th ordering officials throughout the country to step up their monitoring of all Baha’i community activities and even included a questionaire for provincial officials to give details of, among other things, the “financial status,” “social interactions,” and “association with foreign assemblies” of their local Baha’i communities.

This follows the publishing in August this year of a letter from the Iranian Armed Forces’ Command Headquarters to a number of governmental agencies, dated October 29th 2005, requesting a report of all Baha’i activities. There is widespread concern that these surveillance efforts are intended to precede a serious increase in the persecution of the long-suffering Baha’is in Iran.

The full story, including background, can be found here: BWNS – Iran steps up secret monitoring of Baha’is

Baha’is in Egypt

In April 2004 my wife and I traveled to Egypt on our honeymoon, we stayed in Cairo and Luxor visiting ancient sites. We took a bare minimum of Baha’i literature with us, a couple of prayer books and a selection of Baha’i Writings, and we didn’t mention our religion to anybody.

Ladan and James in Egypt

While the historical treasures of Egypt are intriguing we were quite surprised at the widespread lack of respect that people had for us and for the name of Islam. Men often pushed Ladan with their shoulders in disgust, she felt, of her western dress as they walked past her. People tried to solicit extortionate amounts of money from us at every turn, even at mosques, often using trickery and lies. I will never forget the man who insisted he knew a short cut to the Egyptian museum and walked us on a long detour repeating continuously that because of his Muslim Faith he loved to help out visitors. Having walked us half a mile to a point 20 meters further down the road from where we had started he pointed in the direction of the museum and wanted payment for his “Muslim” act of kindness.

Although we returned from Egypt with some amazing memories and photos the enjoyment was somewhat dampened by the fact that we felt we had not been treated so much as humans but rather as some sort of third class citizens unworthy of being treated with honesty or respect. This is not to say that we did not meet some very nice people too, but it was clear that the demeaning treatment we received was seen as acceptable treatment of outsiders visiting the country. I was unsure if the lack of respect we received was down to us being tourists or non-Muslims, but something seemed to give people the feeling that they had a genuine right to treat us as lesser people.

With this experience in our past I have been somewhat glued to the “Baha’i Faith in Egypt” blog for many months (authored by Bilo, pictured right as a younger man). It is the first blog I check in the mornings for updates. In Egypt there is actually a debate over whether or not followers of the Baha’i Faith should have the same rights as citizens who follow Islam or a religion that preceded Islam. While the idea that Baha’is should not have equal rights may be prevalent in many other Islamic countries, the debate in Egypt is very open and can be read about in public newspapers or even seen on television.

The bulk of the debate centres around the Egyptian ID card, a central element to the rights of Egyptian citizens, which includes on it the religion of the holder. Baha’is cannot have an ID card with “Baha’i” listed on it as The Baha’i Faith is not recognised as a religion in Egypt.

The debate started becoming more public when a Baha’i couple in Egypt won the rights in a court to have their religion correctly identified on their ID cards. The government appealed against the decision and the Supreme Administrative Court were set to hear the case on 19th June. The case has been repeatedly postponed as the government have not managed to prepare a required report on the matter before any of the dates set for the case. The hearing is now set to be re-convened on 20th November this year.

Since that first hearing there have been newspaper articles published against the Baha’is, there was a book published in June which called for action against the Baha’i Faith and even appeared to call for the killing of Baha’is. A conference was held in Cairo at the start of August to look at the possibility of removing religion from ID cards which gave rise to some further tv and newspaper coverage of the Baha’i human rights issue. The articles in the media seem to have become clearer that the choice for Egypt is between accepting the universally accepted stand-point that all human beings should have the same basic rights, or being seen as a sectarian society where a person’s religion can cause them to lose their human rights.

Recently the author of the book published against the Baha’is in June filed a formal complaint to Egypt’s Attorney General suggesting that the Baha’is were defaming him by stating what they had read in his book. In response Egypt’s Baha’is have now issued a formal complaint to President Mubarak accusing the author of fabrication and forgery.

The “Baha’i Faith in Egypt” blog makes this whole story accessible to non-Arabic speakers outside Egypt who are concerned for the Baha’is and/or human rights. While relatively small in number, the Egyptian Baha’is appear to have brought serious deep-seated beliefs and values into the spotlight for analysis. One can only hope and pray that humanity wins over fanaticism in this debate which lies so close to the hearts of many on both sides of the argument.

Link: The Baha’i Faith in Egypt (blog)

Link: Situation of the Baha’is in Egypt

US Voices Support for Baha’i Rights in Iran

On September 19th, The House of Repesentatives of the US Congress debated three resolutions concerning human rights in Iran. The resolutions are symbolic statements coinciding with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s address to the United Nations in New York.

One resolution directly condemns the repression of Iran’s Bahais by the government. Congressman Tom Lantos pointed to a deterioration of conditions for adherents to the Bahai faith in Iran over the past year. The resolution was overwhelmingly passed.

On 15th September the US Department of State released their “International Religious Freedom Report” for the year 2006, in Iran it reports “intensified negative campaigns against religious minorities – particularly the Baha’is – following the June 2005 election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.” The report also talks of the problems in Egypt where, it states, “members of religious groups that are not recognized by the Government, particularly the Baha’i Faith, experience personal and collective hardship.”

Sources:
VOA News – Congressional Critics Blast Iran on Human Rights
Austin American StatesmanMcCaul blasts Iran in resolution

See also: The Growing Threat to Iran’s Bahá’ís

Iran’s Instructions to Monitor Baha’is

The contents of a letter sent on 29 October 2005 by the Iranian Armed Forces’ Command Headquarters to a number of governmental agencies has been made public and is available from the Baha’i World News Service.

The letter asks the agencies to assist in preparing a “complete report of all the activities” of the Baha’is “including political, economic, social and cultural” for the purpose of “identifying all the members” (quoted from an English translation of the letter).

In March the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ms. Asma Jahangir, stated that she was highly concerned about this letter – addressed to the Ministry of Information, the Revolutionary Guard and the Police Force – which states that the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei had instructed Command Headquarters to gather this information. Ms Jahangir said that this constituted “an impermissible and unacceptable interference with the rights of members of religious minorities” and was concerned that this would form the basis for the increased persecution of the Baha’is in Iran.

Disturbuing evidence has also been found of the extent to which the Iranian authorities are carrying out this instruction. The Baha’i World News Service has a copy of a letter (and English translation) dated 2nd May 2006 instructing the Iranian Union of Battery Manufacturers to provide a full list of Baha’is in the union within one week.

In recent months many Baha’is have been arrested and released without charge in a pattern of activity that is feared to be intended to further harass the Baha’i community, a full report of the situation the Baha’is currently face in Iran can be found here.

Meanwhile, following the disturbing discovery of this confidential correspondence, the worrying plight of the Iranian Baha’is has been brought to the attention of governments and media around the world who have spoken up in their defence. The Baha’i World News Service story quotes responses from, among others, a spokesman for the President of the United States, the Council of Europe, the French Foreign Affairs Minister, the Spanish House of Representatives and the House of Representatives of the Philippines.

See the full story here
See the letter in Persian here
See the English translation here

See also: The Growing Threat to Iran’s Baha’is

Parliamentary Seminar on Freedom of Religion and Belief

Source: Freedom to Believe

The UK Baha’i community, working with the All Party Parliamentary Friends of the Baha’is, has held the first of three seminars on the theme of “freedom of religion and belief” in the UK Parliament.

The aim of the seminars is to promote a wider debate and acceptance of this basic human right which was proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 25th November 1981. The seminars coincide with the 25th anniversary of the proclamation.

This first seminar was held on 24th July and was attended by a wide variety of organizations, including the Minority Rights Group, Forum 18, UK Friends of the Falun Gong, Three Faiths Forum, the Jain Samaj and the British Humanist Association, as well as the Baha’i community of the United Kingdom and Members of the UK Parliament.

Issues that were debated included:

  • The question of faith schools and the degree to which they protect a religious community and whether they act as a bar to religious choice.
  • How states who claim to be tolerant of religious diversity, but are not, can be addressed by the international community.
  • A statement that was offered on reports of organ harvesting and other repression of members of the Falun Gong in China.
  • How do we define what is a religion, and are there parameters. Should we accept different interpretations within a religion that represent the extremist view of that religion?
  • Can new machinery and resources be made available to the Special Rapporteur on Freedom and Religion?
  • Can the 1981 declaration be made into an obligation?

Barney Leith, Secretary for External Affairs of the Baha’i community of the UK, stated that while the world-wide Baha’i community has a good understanding of the importance of freedom of religion and belief through its own experiences, the series of seminars is to promote a better understanding of this freedom as a universal human right. He invited those attending to take a copy of the Baha’i International Community’s statement, Freedom to Believe, which sets out the Baha’i position on this particular right. Barney Leith also called for human rights education to be given greater prominence in the British educational system.

Links:

Baha’i World News Service report of the first seminar
Anniversary Event in Prague
Universal Declaration on Human Rights
Barney Leith’s blog. [Relevant entries: 1 2]

Egyptian Symposium Supports Civil Rights

Source: Baha’i Faith in Egypt: NCHR Symposium Supports Civil Rights of Baha’is

Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) held a symposium in Cairo on Tuesday 8th August in which the majority view was in favour of removing the classification of religion from idenity cards, a requirement which has caused the denial of ID cards and their associated rights to people who follow religions not officially recognised by the state of Egypt, such as the Baha’i Faith.

Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, President of the NCHR and former Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that Egypt “should either approve and recognize all religions or eliminate religious classification from ID Cards.”

For more in-depth information and links to other articles published about the event visit the Baha’i Faith in Egypt blog.

Egypt Review of Religion on ID Cards

“Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) has scheduled a symposium for early August 2006, to research the elimination of religion from Egypt’s new national ID card system.” [Source: Baha’i Faith in Egypt]

The requirement to state one’s religion on the ID card is particularly troublesome for Baha’is as the government do not officially recognise the Baha’i religion and therefore some Baha’is have been denied ID cards and the rights that come with them.

Elimination of this requirement whould obviously fall short of Egypt recognising a very widely spread and established Faith, but such a move may at least put a stop to the associated denial of rights.

The blog “Baha’i Faith in Egypt” also reports that the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights has recently filed a lawsuit demanding the Egyptian Government eliminate religious classification from ID cards.

Baha’i Faith in Egypt is a very informative blog with a lot of background information.

The Ten Female Martyrs of Shiraz

On 18th June 1983 ten women (pictured above), one of whom was only 17 years old, were executed in Iran for teaching Baha’i children more about their Faith. They were among more than 200 individuals who were killed in Iran for being Baha’is but their story has stood out throught the years as they were all women and many of them are very young.Shirin Dalvand, pictured bottom left, was 25 years old when she was executed, Shirin was Ladan’s aunt and, while Baha’is beleive it an honour to die for your beliefs, Ladan has always been very upset about the loss of her aunt. Ladan was only seven at the time of Shirin Dalvand’s execution, it is hard enough as an adult to attempt to comprehend that a government should seek to kill people on basis of their religion.

Sadly there are renewed fears over the safety of the Baha’is currently living in Iran, following an instruction from Ayatollah Khamenei that all Baha’is living in Iran should all be identified and their activities monitored.

In Newcastle we decided, at the last minute, to hold a devotional meeting to commemorate the lives of those martyred in Iran, including Shirin, and to pray for the safety of those Baha’is living there now. In spite of the very short notice there was good attendance, and the basic programme of a few prayers and a little music and video was very moving.

There are several resources on the Internet relating to the executions on 18th June 1983, executions which followed on from several other Baha’is being executed in Shiraz for being Baha’is, some of whom were related to these ten woman. Among the resources available is a music video by Canadian pop musician Doug Cameron called “Mona and the Children”, there is also a web page about the event here, and you can find the latest on thPersection of the Baha’i commun ity in Iran from here

Update on Arrests in Shiraz, Iran

NEW YORK, 26 May 2006 (BWNS) After their arrests on 19 May in Shiraz, Iran, three Baha’is remain in jail while 51 others have been released on bail. No indication has been given as to when the three will be released. None of those who had been released, nor the three who are still being detained, have been formally charged.

On the day of the arrests, one Baha’i, under the age of 15, was released without having to post bail. At that same time, several other young people who are not Baha’is and who had been arrested with the Baha’is, were also released without bail.

On Wednesday 24 May, five days after their summary arrests, 14 of the Baha’is were released, each having been required to provide deeds of property to the value of ten million tumans (approximately US$11,000) as collateral for release. The following day, Thursday 25 May, 36 Baha’is were released on the strength of either personal guarantees or the deposit of work licenses with the court as surety that they will appear when summoned to court.

Link: Full Story and photo
Link: Information on the situation of the Baha’is in Iran