Open Letter to Bahram Ghasemi, Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Regarding the Oppression of Its Baha’i Citizens

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Source: Foaad Haghighi

bahramghasemi
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Dear Mr. Bahram Ghasemi,

In your recent representation of your Ministry and the IRI, you have called the issues of human rights brought up by EU representatives and the new UN resolution “Irrelevant”, “rejected”, “one-sided” and “malicious”. I assume you must either not be familiar with the human rights violations in Iran, which have repeatedly been reported by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran since early 90’s, or these violations by government agencies and organizations have become the norm, and completely overlooked. Mr. Ahmed Shaheed has frequently reported the most important of these violations in six different detailed , with the final one dated October 1, 2016. The core points in all these reports as well as individual reports, complaints and pleas from multiple human rights agencies, amnesty organizations, and representatives of religious & conscience groups refer to a few general items1:

  1. Civil and political rights
  2. Right to life
  3. Execution of juveniles
  4. Right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  5. Due process and fair trial rights
  6. Rights to freedom of expression, opinion, information, and the press
  7. Right to freedom of association and assembly
  8. Thematic rights issues
  9. Women’s rights
  10. Children’s rights
  11. Rights of ethnic and religious minorities

I would like just to focus on one item, which despite being mentioned as the last item on the list is my primary concern as an Iranian Baha’i. I am talking about the way the Iranian Baha’i community has been treated in the last 37 years under the Islamic Revolution and the Islamic Republic. As you know, the Iranian Baha’i community, even after 37 years of tolerating the atrocities of the Islamic Regime against them, are still the largest non-Muslim minority in Iran. To bring the status of Iranian Baha’is to your attention, I would like to remind you of the decree of the Supreme Leader ‒ Ayatollah Khamenei ‒ regarding Baha’is as an example of how Muslim Scholars in Iran view Baha’is:

“All members of the perverse Bahaist sect are to be condemned as blasphemous and ritually unclean. Any food items or other objects that have been in contact with contagious dampness and have been touched by them should be avoided. It is incumbent upon believers to counteract the machinations and perversity of this misguided sect.”

And just to refresh your memory, I would like to point to a few of the facts2 which have been documented and recorded by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights;

  1. During the first decade of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s existence, more than 200 Baha’is ‒ mostly the community’s leaders ‒ were killed or executed. Hundreds more were tortured or imprisoned. Formal Baha’i institutions were banned. Tens of thousands of Baha’is lost jobs, access to education, and other rights ‒ all solely because of their religious beliefs.
  1. In the second decade, the government’s anti-Baha’i strategy shifted its focus to social, economic and educational discrimination, evidently to mollify international critics. The new emphasis was designed to “block the progress and development” of the Iranian Baha’i community, according to a secret 1991 memorandum signed by Iran’s Supreme Leader that ominously set policy for dealing with “the Baha’i Question”. It was quietly implemented, even as the government of President Mohammad Khatami projected an image of moderation around the world.
  1. In the third decade, especially following the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, the government stepped up its harassment of Baha’is by using revolving door arrests and increased imprisonment, the identification and monitoring of Baha’is, and more raids and harassment at the local level. The government also made clear it would not prosecute those who attacked Baha’is, and there was a measurable rise in violent attacks on Baha’is and their property.
  1. Since 2005, more than 890 Baha’is have been arrested, and the number of Baha’is in prison has increased from fewer than five to more than 100 at one point. It is currently 85. The list of prisoners includes all seven members of the former leadership group serving the Baha’i community of Iran.The constant threat of raids, arrests, and detention or imprisonment is among the main features of Iran’s persecution of Baha’is today.
  1. Since 2005, for example, there have been at least 52 incidents of arson against Baha’i properties ‒ crimes for which no one has been arrested. During the same period, at least 55 incidents of vandalism or desecration of Baha’i cemeteries have been recorded.
  1. Since 2005, thousands of Baha’is have been denied access to higher education. This act of denial includes various tactics such as claiming “incomplete” computer files for their applications to outright expulsion if they manage to enroll.
  1. Since 2005, more than 20,000 items of anti-Baha’i propaganda have been disseminated in the government-controlled media in Iran, including on the internet.

You have mentioned that the talks about human rights have to be on mutual grounds and not one-sided. Mr. Takhtravanchi and Mr. Zarif, as well as Ayatollah Amoli Larijani and Dr. Mohammad Javad Larijani, have reiterated this issue on multiple occasions. Dr. Mohammad Javad Larijani, the head of the Iranian Judiciary’s Human Rights Council, also in many instances has stated that there is a need to introduce and describe Islamic Human Rights, which the Islamic Republic of Iran states it would like to implement in Iran. However, such a bureaucratic game to delay its response and correction of the violations of human rights against Baha’is in the Islamic Republic is not acceptable in the eyes of the world. Human rights are not religiously bound to any specific religion, race, sex, or country. They are based on adequate standards established by all countries that have accepted and signed up to it. These are fundamental rights for every individual to grow, progress, and flourish physically and spiritually, and become a productive member of their society. If the Islamic Republic of Iran is trying to promote Islamic values in the world, you need to work harder and become an example of compassion and kindness in treating citizens and respecting peoples’ rights. Taking a look at the above-mentioned short history of the Islamic Republic’s treatment of its own Baha’i citizens is only an example of oppression, and not of Islamic compassion as measured by any standard.

In conclusion, I hope that the Islamic Republic of Iran will take the right decision in respecting as well as protecting the rights of Iranian Baha’is. Also, I would like to end this letter with what the Holy Qur’an states about oppressors in Verse 47 of Surat Al-An’am:

قُلْ أَرَأَيْتَكُمْ إِنْ أَتاكُمْ عَذابُ اللَّهِ بَغْتَةً أَوْ جَهْرَةً هَلْ يُهْلَكُ إِلاَّ الْقَوْمُ الظَّالِمُونَ

“Say: have you considered: if the punishment of God should come to you unexpectedly or manifestly, will any be destroyed but the oppressors?”

Sincerely,

Foaad Haghighi

_____

  1. October 2016 report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran Complete report available at http://shaheedoniran.org/english/dr-shaheeds-work/october-2016-report-special-rapporteur-unga2016/
  2. The Baha’i Question Revisited: Persecution and Resilience in Iran 25 Oct 2016 Available at https://www.bic.org/publications/bahai-question-revisited-persecution-and-resilience-iran#TQr1qzYr7yRqXgZp.99
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