AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File
Often lost in the debate about whether reintegrating Iran into the world economy will lead it to dedicate itself to the health and well-being of its citizenry is the fact that Iranian officials do not treat all its citizens equally. Earlier this month, the Baha’i International Community penned a letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani outlining the economic Apartheid which the Islamic Republic has imposed on its hundreds of thousands of Baha’i citizens:
In the early days of the Revolution, thousands of Bahá’i employees of government ministries, departments, and other entities were expelled from their posts without any compensation; their pensions were terminated, and some were even forced to pay back the salaries earned during their years of employment. Bahá’i workers were ousted from factories and companies wholly or partially owned by the government without any compensation for their years of work, any termination payments, or any of the insurance benefits rightfully owed to them. The prohibition against employment of Bahá’is in the public sector of their native land remains in full force.
Once Bahá’is had been completely barred from government jobs, attention was turned to the private sector. Various methods, such as pressuring companies to dismiss their Bahá’í employees, forcing banks to block their Bahá’i clients’ accounts, and using discriminatory tactics to prevent projects being awarded to appropriately qualified Bahá’is, were used to severely limit the economic activities of the Bahá’is in this sector. Under the irrational and offensive pretext of their being religiously “unclean”, Bahá’is were forbidden to engage in a wide range of trades and professions. Issuing or extending business licenses for Bahá’is in other trades are often impeded through numerous obstacles and deliberate delays. With the properties of the Bahá’is being confiscated on the basis of specious accusations, how many the flourishing farms that were wrested from hard-working farmers, some of whom had previously received letters of appreciation from the government, and how many thriving factories and companies were closed down. Countless incidents of injustice—such as when a taxi driver was refused a business license and explicitly told that this was because of his Faith, when a kiosk owned by a physically disabled individual was repeatedly vandalized and finally confiscated because “a Bahá’i does not have the right to work”, or when the Bahá’is in one province were arbitrarily denied the right to import goods from other provinces in Iran—are all justified under the baseless excuse of combating the “threat to national security.”
The letter continues to outline problems which the Bahá’i community faces in the present day, under Rouhani’s administration, and is worth reading in its entirety.
When it comes to religious freedom, there has been no administration in the last four decades which has turned such a deaf ear to their plight or to freedom. To Secretary of State John Kerry, alas, a minority is not someone struggling for their religious freedom but rather those who belong to smaller yacht clubs.
If the United States truly sees its diplomatic outreach toward Iran as a continuing process and if Kerry and his team truly believe that Iran has invested the economic windfall provided it in strengthening its domestic economy, then perhaps it is time for the White House and State Department to consider whether Rouhani is continuing the policies of predecessors like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, supposed reformist Mohammad Khatami, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and Ali Khamenei, who have bent over backwards to target those who don’t pray like they do. “How can the deliberate policy of a government be to impoverish a section of its own society?” the letter asks Rouhani. It is a good question and one which every proponent of developing relations with Iran should answer.