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Ministers and MPs join Bahá’ís to mark centenary of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit to the UK

Government Ministers and Members of Parliament welcomed more than 80 Bahá’ís on 28 November to a unique event to pay tribute to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, 100 years after His visit to Britain.

It was the first time the British government had hosted a special reception specifically for the Bahá’í community.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921) was the eldest son of Bahá’u’lláh and His appointed successor as head of the Bahá’í Faith. From 1910-1913, following His release from a lifetime of exile and imprisonment, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made a historic series of journeys to present Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings to audiences outside of the Middle East. His two visits to the British Isles took place in September 1911, and from December 1912 to January 1913.

Secretary of State Eric Pickles MP with Dr Kishan Manocha, Baha'i Community of the UK

Secretary of State Eric Pickles MP with Dr Kishan Manocha, Baha’i Community of the UK

The reception was held by the government’s Department for Communities and Local Government. Welcoming the guests, Secretary of State Eric Pickles MP expressed appreciation for the contribution Bahá’ís make to UK society. He praised the “little bits of kindness” he had observed among the Bahá’ís and added, “We wouldn’t tick along quite so well without Bahá’ís in our community.”

Don Foster MP, Minister for Integration, told the gathering that, of all the significant people to come from his home constituency of Bath, he was proud to include Ethel Rosenberg, a founding member of the British Bahá’í community.

Don Foster MP, Minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government, addressing the reception

Don Foster MP, Minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government, addressing the reception

“You continue to distinguish yourselves in the professions, the arts and particularly in the vital areas of education and conflict resolution,” Mr. Foster told the Bahá’ís. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s “important truth” that “we should pursue peace together and differences of race and division between religions must cease is as true today as it was then,” he said.

Kishan Manocha, speaking on behalf of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United Kingdom, thanked Mr. Pickles for hosting the event, describing it as a “tremendous honour and pleasure.”

Guests at the Department for Communities and Local Government

Guests at the Department for Communities and Local Government reception

Parliament debates “appalling” treatment of Iranian Baha’is

LONDON – Members of Parliament debate the “shocking” treatment of the Baha’i community in Iran.

Naomi Long MP, a Member of Parliament from Belfast, spoke of a recent intensification of the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran, with a strong emphasis on the Baha’is in Semnan.

In Semnan, a town to the east of Tehran, Baha’is have been subjected to arson attacks on homes and businesses, Baha’i students are expelled from secondary schools, Baha’i owned businesses are closed down resulting in the losses of jobs for both Baha’i and non-Baha’i employees, and schoolchildren have been incited to commit acts of violence against their Baha’i classmates.

“The situation is clearly grave,” said Ms Long, “and the treatment of the Baha’i community is an indicator of the lengths to which the Iranian authorities are willing to go in the persecution of religious and cultural minorities.”

Ms Long referred to the recent reports of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Special Rapporteur on Iran Ahmed Shaheed. In his report released last month, Mr Ban described the persecution of the Baha’is as “systematic” and included “severe socio-economic pressure and arrests and detention.” Mr Shaheed in his report also describes a “deeply troubling picture of the overall human rights situation in Iran, including many concerns which are systemic in nature.”

UK Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt responded to Ms Long on behalf of the UK government, describing Iran’s treatment of the Baha’i community as “appalling.”

Mr Burt made it clear that the Iranian government does not speak for the Iranian people on its human rights record.  Ordinary Iranians are “disturbed that, as a good Muslim nation, they are put in the dock for offences committed by their own government,” said Mr Burt.

“That any state can treat its religious minorities in this way is shocking, and all the more so given the religious underpinning of the current regime and its oft-stated claim to respect human rights,” he added.

Kishan Manocha, Director at the Office of Public Affairs of the Baha’i community of the UK said the debate offers a non-partisan, informed and principled scrutiny of the Iranian government’s persecution of the peaceful Baha’i minority. “The timing of this debate is strategically significant,” said Dr Manocha. “It coincides with two experts presenting their reports on Iran and also freedom of religion or belief to the UN General Assembly in New York.”

This week, the UN General Assembly’s third committee, the committee responsible for human rights, heard submissions from Ahmed Shaheed, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, and Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

The debate was attended by members from across the political spectrum. Members of the Alliance, Conservative, Democratic Unionist, Labour, and SDLP parties expressed their support and concern over the treatment of the Iranian Baha’is and others in Iran.

In his concluding remarks, Mr Burt called on the Iranian government to embrace values such as mutual respect and tolerance with regard to its treatment of ordinary Iranian citizens.

“Iran has a shameful record of detentions of human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers, and seems callously ready to use tools such as the death penalty in order to intimidate. The quiet determination of the Baha’is to co-exist peacefully with fellow Iranians as part of a diverse and tolerant Iranian society should be embraced by Iran’s government.”

You can stream the entire debate online from the UK Parliament website (footage starts at 16:30), or read the transcript of the debate here.

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