Editor’s Note: The following essay by European Foundation for Democracy was published on Monday, March 16, 2009, and is reprinted here for our readers’ benefit.
Iran: Where you can have an Opinion but are not Free to Express It
The hatred of the Shiite state clergy for the Bahai assumes greater proportions every day. The Bahai are not permitted to disclose their identity publicly and have been banned as a subject in society for 30 years. They are not allowed to study at university, to have their administration, to hold their own meetings. Even their graves are destroyed on orders by the state authorities.
On 20 February 2009, Rasa news agency reported on the hate tirades of Semnan’s Friday imam, Hojjatu’l-Islam Siyyid Muhammad Shah-Cheraqi, the representative of the Iranian leader in the city of Semnan. In Shah-Cheraqi’s words: “[…] every Muslim must avoid dealing with the followers of this sect and avoid marriage with these people outside the law. If the people of Iran arise, then in the same way that we toppled the Pahlavi regime, we can stamp out the Bahai from their roots in this country.” [see http://www.iranpresswatch.org/2009/02/the-verdict-of-the-imam-jumih-of-semnan/]
Such positions are not represented only by an unknown state cleric from Semnan. Fars News reported on 15 February 2009 that Ayatollah Qorbanali Dori-Najafabadi, Iran’s senior prosecutor, had banned all activities of the Iranian Bahai “at all levels” and that he had declared as “illegal” any form of assembly by the Bahai. Dori-Najafabadi argues that Articles 20 and 23 of the Iranian Constitution guarantee freedom of opinion of Iranians and that while every Iranian may have an opinion not every opinion may be expressed because confusion may arise if someone contradicts other positions. Dori-Najafabadi urged to counter all “elements” of the Bahai community until “this organisation has been completely destroyed”. [see http://www.iranpresswatch.org/2009/03/najafabadi-moi/.]
And even a critic of the regime like Ayatollah Montazeri, is not prepared to recognise full civil rights to the Bahai. On 14 May 2008, he issued a fatwa granting the Bahai the right to water and soil, on the basis of a rule that dates back to the Persian kingdom of 2,000 years ago. This is a right that was granted to farmers without land or possessions and it amounts to a right to life without full civil rights.
Shortly after issuing the fatwa, on 14 June 2008, Ayatollah Montazeri wrote that the Bahai were infidels and that they had to be fought politically. At the same time, he also maintains that the Bahai enjoy the same rights as all Iranians and that these rights are granted by the Constitution. However, he does not clarify that the Constitution does not recognise the Bahai religion as a religion, and that therefore the Bahai are not entitled to the same civil rights as all other Iranians. The logic of Ayatollah Montazeri is simple: the Bahai should stop believing in their religion and become “law-abiding Iranians” if they want to enjoy the same civil rights as other Iranian citizens.
In spite of an almost pogrom-like atmosphere against the Bahai, and when as recently as 8 of March 2009 the Iranian legislative body Majlis agreed to allocate USD 3 million to fight Sufis and Bahai in Iran, a part of the Iranian society, particularly in exile, has started taking action. At the beginning of February, a number of prominent Iranian intellectuals broke silence and publicly denounced the systematic persecution of the Bahai in Iran. In an open letter published at the beginning of February, they denounced the persecutions by the Iranian regime against the Bahai and told the world that, as Iranians, they were ashamed about the silence around such persecutions and systematic violations of human rights. Also prominent international academics publically called for end to persecutions against the Bahai.
It would be a delusion for Europeans to assume that the Iranian dictatorship can be changed through trade between European countries and companies and Iran: the totalitarian dictatorship is only strengthened and stabilised by economic relationships.