The Cologne Proclamation

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[On Monday, 22 September 2008, DW-World.DE, which is the online service of the prestigious Deutsche Welle network, reported the following news. This report is available at http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,3663349,00.html and was filed by K. Ghahari. Ahang Rabbani, translator.]

From 14 May to the present, seven leaders of the Baha’i community have languished in prisons of the Islamic Republic of Iran. These seven are accused of espionage on behalf of Israel. However, human rights activists have repeatedly declared that the real reason for their arrest is allegiance to the Baha’i Faith.

The arrest of the Baha’is leaders and the increased pressures on the Baha’is of Iran have precipitated an avalanche of protests both within and outside of that country. The pressures brought upon the Baha’is have considerably increased since the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Within Iran, groups of human rights activists, such as Mrs. Shirin Ebadi, have raised their voice in protest against discrimination inflicted upon the Baha’i community, while the activists themselves have become targets for attacks by the government’s official news agencies.

Among the protests outside of Iran against this situation was a program on 13 August at Dam Church in Cologne, Germany, under the title, “Wrong Religion?” Speakers at this gathering included members of the German parliament from the Social-Democrat party, journalists and writers. This program produced the Cologne (Köln) Proclamation, as a reaction of the German people to impositions and hindrances by the government of Iran over heterodox thinkers of that country. In this Proclamation, the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran was asked to immediately reconsider his caustic and humiliating ways towards heterodox thinkers. The Cologne Proclamation was then placed on the internet so that further signatures could be added. …

There are five to six thousand Baha’is living in Germany. They are from diverse backgrounds: German, Canadian, Spanish, Turkish and Iranian. Some of the Iranian Baha’is residing in Germany migrated here as early as the early 1950s.

According to Mrs. Isabel Shayani, an Iranian-German journalist, the situation of the Baha’is of Iran is of deep concern to the Baha’is of this country, who closely monitor what is being perpetrated on their co-religionists in Iran. To her, these events are reminiscences of what occurred in February 1979, when as a child she witnessed great atrocities inflicted upon the Baha’is of Iran.

Many Baha’is in Germany are of Iranian descent and still have family and friends in Iran. Through them, they have become acquainted with the events in that land, which to an alarming extent are directed against the Baha’is, and which include maltreatment of that community. Isabel Shayani mentioned the example of a young Baha’i athlete who was not allowed to touch exercise equipment in the gym on the grounds that he was ritually impure.

Isabel Shayani states, “What is particularly saddening to the Baha’is is the condition of Baha’i children and teenagers. You must have heard that in Shiraz they arrested 24 [should be 52 – translator] youth. Four of them are presently incarcerated. Also, you must have heard that Baha’i students are under great pressure in schools or are expelled altogether because of their religion. When a regime begins to inflict persecution on the most defenseless and voiceless sector of the population, naturally this evokes attention around the world, and obviously the Baha’is of Germany are deeply disturbed and troubled over this situation.”

Within two weeks, the Cologne Proclamation was signed by more than 2200 individuals across Germany. Isabel Shayani states, “On Friday, we sent this petition to the Iranian Ambassador in Berlin, and plan to meet with members of the German parliament and the Ambassador to discuss the situation.”

The Baha’i community of Germany is constantly in touch with the German authorities and has been able to win the support of a considerable number of officials, particularly those who are aware of the appalling human rights violations in Iran. …

The organizers of the Cologne Proclamation hope that they will be able to meet in person with the Iranian ambassador to Germany. In this regard, Isabel Shayani states, “Through the means available to us – namely, democratic processes – this group wishes to convey to the Ambassador our strong disapproval of Iran’s efforts to marginalize religious minorities and impose discrimination on its members, such as depriving Baha’i youth of access to schools and universities, as well as discrimination imposed against other religious minorities.  All of these are unbefitting of the station of man, and are violations of all human rights standards.”

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