At a seminar last week in Parliament, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, said that Baha’is in Iran are “completely denied” the rights due to them under international law, and that those who commit human rights violations in Iran enjoy impunity for their actions.
The seminar, organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom and chaired by Baroness Berridge, coincides with increased global attention after the recent election of President Hassan Rouhani on a reformist platform.
“At best,” said Dr Shaheed, “Baha’is are third class citizens, who do not benefit from the constitutional and legal protections afforded to either Shi’a Muslim citizens or the recognised constitutional religious minorities (Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism). “Sending a religious minority into court is to effectively deny them access to justice,” he said.
“The way to show intent of real change in Iran,” said Dr Shaheed, “is to release the [seven Baha’i leaders] in Iran”.
Members of the Baha’i Faith in Iran are frequently denied access to employment and business licences; Baha’i schoolchildren are harassed at schools; university students are expelled or denied entry; and Baha’is are regularly arrested interrogated and their homes raided for practicing their faith.
In August this year, a Baha’i – Ataollah Rezvani – was murdered in a religiously motivated attack in Iran, and the Iranian authorities have taken no steps to arrest the perpetrators of this crime. This May also marked the fifth anniversary of the incarceration of seven former leaders of the Baha’i community in Iran who are each serving 20-year prison sentences. “The way to show intent of real change in Iran,” said Dr Shaheed, “is to release the [seven Baha’i leaders] in Iran”.
Kat Eghdamian, a member of the Baha’i community who was born in Iran and whose family fled to New Zealand after the 1979 revolution, said that “Baha’is face persecution from their cradle to their graves. The lack of constitutional and legal protection is due to a perceived threat that simply does not exist. Baha’is wish only to serve their communities.”
Referring to a policy memorandum written in 1991 and signed by the current supreme leader Ali Khamenei, which forms the basis of the government’s treatment of the Baha’is, Ms Eghdamian said that “repealing the memorandum is indication of a real intention to reform in Iran.”
His Grace Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, who highlighted the persecution of Christians in Egypt, said that constitutional protection of minorities is the “safeguard of communities” and is needed in places where religious minorities are threatened with persecution.
Bishop Angaelos added that in Egypt the problem is not Muslims, but Islamic extremists. “Radicalisation brings a narrowing of perspective that only makes provision for a very small proportion of the population. It perpetrates a view that Muslims are threatened by minorities. This is a view of a very short sighted minority.”
This view was echoed by Dr Shaheed, who said that, “there is no way the Baha’is threaten the government.
“As religious people, we need to stand together to show that religion is not a problem, but a solution,” said Bishop Angaelos. “Religious groups are the voice of reason, of peace and reconciliation.”
Dr Shaheed said that human rights in Iran should not be overlooked in Iran, and that since August this year when President Rouhani was elected, Iran’s human rights record has worsened.