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.”