APPG on the Baha’i Faith hosts seminar exploring denial of economic rights to religious minorities

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The All Party Parliamentary Group on the Baha’i Faith hosted a special seminar in parliament on 19 July exploring the denial of economic rights to members of religious minorities in Iran.

The event was chaired by Craig Williams MP, who was joined by panellists representing Open Doors UK & Ireland, Human Rights & Democracy at the Foreign Commonwealth Office, and the Office of Public Affairs of the Baha’i Community of the UK.

The event also saw the UK launch of a special report by the Baha’i International Community entitled, “Their Progress and Development are Blocked: The Economic Oppression of Iran’s Baha’is” https://www.bic.org/publications/their-progress-and-development-are-blocked

Craig Williams MP opened the event and stressed the importance of raising awareness of the violation of the economic rights of members of religious minorities, and particularly those of the Baha’is and Christians in Iran.

Daniel Wheatley, a representative of the UK Baha’i Community, emphasised how even today “the Iranian state can at any time remove the means of livelihood for Baha’is”. Baha’is continue to be denied jobs, property, access to higher education, and the basic human right of freedom of belief. The suppression of any economic activity by Baha’is in Iran is reinforced by the clear government mandate that categorically prohibits the issuing of a work permit – for activities ranging from working in a café to owning a flower shop – to any Baha’i.  Wheatley likened this denial of social and economic opportunities as a “systematic persecution that is geared towards the bloodless strangulation of a peaceful and loyal community”.

Whilst the Iranian constitution does recognise and, to some extent, provide protection to Christians (alongside Jews and Zoroastrians), in practice this protection is limited and is only accorded to more ‘traditional’ Christians. As Zoe Smith, the Open Doors representative
, stated, “This quiet oppression eats away at the soul of a person – the knowledge that you can never progress or provide for your family in a way that you could if you followed a different religion – knowing that you will forever be a second class citizen.”

Drawing on various research with regard to the persecution of religious minorities, an FCO official emphasised the clear correlation between the economic prosperity of a nation and the upholding of human rights for all its citizens. “Defending the freedom of religion and belief and respect for human rights can counter violent extremism and contribute to generating sustainable development and greater economic prosperity for all.”

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In Commemoration of the Martyrdom of the Báb, the Herald of the Bahá’í Faith

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The Shrine of the Báb in Haifa, Israel

“His life is one of the most magnificent examples of courage which it has been the privilege of mankind to behold…” – Tribute to the Báb by the 19th Century French writer A.L.M. Nicolas

At the hour of noon, on the 9th of July, Bahá’ís all over the world will gather throughout their communities to commemorate the martyrdom of the Báb, the Herald of the Bahá’í Faith.

The Báb was born on October 20, 1819 in Shiraz, Iran, and whilst we know very little of the early days of the Person of the Báb, Shoghi Effendi describes Him as:

“…infinite in His tenderness, irresistible in His charm, unsurpassed in His heroism, [and] matchless in the dramatic circumstances of His short yet eventful life.”

In the middle of the 19th century—one of the most turbulent periods in the world’s history—the Báb announced that He was the bearer of a message destined to transform the life of humanity. His mission, which was to only last six short years, was to prepare humanity for the coming of a Manifestation of God Who would usher in the age of peace foretolled in all of the world’s religions. The Writings of the Báb Himself are all a direct testament to “Him Whom God shall make manifest”, Bahá’u’lláh. The Báb affirms that:

“Of all the tributes I have paid to Him Who is to come after Me, the greatest is this, My written confession, that no words of Mine can adequately describe Him, nor can any reference to Him in My Book, the Bayan, do justice to His Cause.”

The Báb’s call for spiritual and moral transformation, His assertion of the equality of men and women, His championing of justice for the oppressed, and the attention He gave to the plight of the poor and downtrodden revolutionised the lives of the populace of Iran. His message and increasing popularity amongst the masses of people evoked unease and commotion within the government and religious authorities. The Báb was charged with heresy and was ordered, at the youthful age of 31, together with one of His faithful companions, to be executed by a firing squad of 750 soldiers in a public square in Tabriz.

“Had you believed in Me, O wayward generation,” were the last words of the Báb to the gazing multitude as the regiment was preparing to fire the final volley, “every one of you would have followed the example of this youth, who stood in rank above most of you, and willingly would have sacrificed himself in My path. The day will come when you will have recognised Me; that day I shall have ceased to be with you.”

An eyewitness to the execution describes the following:

“The very moment the shots were fired, a gale of exceptional severity arose and swept over the whole city. A whirlwind of dust of incredible density obscured the light of the sun and blinded the eyes of the people. The entire city remained enveloped in that darkness from noon till night. Even so strange a phenomenon… was unable to move the hearts of the people of Tabriz, and to induce them to pause and reflect upon the significance of such momentous events.”

Omid Djalili joins MPs in urgent appeal to release Baha’i leaders in Iran

Padideh Sabeti, (left), Mark Durkam MP (centre) and Omid Djalili (left)

Padideh Sabeti, (left), Mark Durkam MP (centre) and Omid Djalili (left)

Actor and comedian, Omid Djalili, joined Members of Parliament Mark Durkan and Jim Shannon, together with members of the House of Lords and House of Commons, faith leaders, members of civil society, activists, and representatives of the Baha’i community on May 10 in an urgent appeal for the immediate release of the seven leaders of the Baha’i Faith who are imprisoned in Iran.

 

Mark Durkan MP hosted the event as part of a global campaign marking the eighth anniversary of the imprisonment of the Baha’i leadership in Iran. “The imprisonment of the Baha’i leaders in Iran is a violation of fundamental human rights,” said Mr Durkan during the event at parliament on May 10. “It is simply unacceptable that these seven innocent leaders are in prison because of their beliefs. On this, the eighth anniversary of their imprisonment, I’m calling for their immediate release.”

 

Mr Djalili added: “This campaign is coming in the context of a new global consciousness of human rights. These seven people are as important as anything else going on in the world today. Enough is enough, release the Baha’i seven now.”

 

Padideh Sabeti, Director of the Office of Public Affairs for the UK Baha’i Community, shared that under Iran’s own penal code, the seven are overdue for conditional release. “Under its own laws Iran has an obligation to release the Baha’i seven,” Ms Sabeti said.

Photo display of the Baha'i seven (centre), the Baha'i leaders who were executed (left) and those that 'disappeared' (right)

Photo display of the Baha’i seven (centre), the Baha’i leaders who were executed (left) and those that ‘disappeared’ (right)

Arrested in 2008, the seven Baha’is are amongst the longest serving prisoners of conscience in the world today. Their imprisonment is reminiscent of the disappearance and execution of previous Baha’i leadership councils in the 1980s, whose cases were highlighted in a photographic display at the event.

 

Supporters of the campaign have been urged to back the campaign by using the hashtag #ReleaseBahai7Now.