Translation by Iran Press Wacth
Ali Asqar Faridi – Editorial Board, Huquq-i-Ma Magazine:
Followers of the Baha’i Faith are one of the largest religious minority groups in Iran, but are not recognized as a religious minority by the Constitution of the Islamic Republic. In addition to the deprivation of followers of this Faith of many social rights, their children face many challenges in pursuing an education. Followers of the Baha’i Faith are categorically banned from studying in Iranian universities, and as soon as their religious identity is established, they are expelled by the university.
Huquq-i-Ma Magazine spoke with Simin Fahandej, lawyer and representative of the Baha’i Community at the United Nations, about the educational challenges faced by the children of followers of the Baha’i Faith. The full text of the interview is as follows:
This interview was published in the volume 110 of Huquq-i-Ma Magazine.
Article 19 of the Iranian Constitution stipulates: “The people of Iran enjoy equal rights, regardless of the tribe or ethnic group to which they belong. Color, race, language, and other such considerations shall not be grounds for special privileges.” Also, Article 20 of the Constitution states: “Members of the nation, whether man or woman, are equally protected by the law. They enjoy all the human, political, economic, social, and cultural rights that are in compliance with Islamic criteria.” Nevertheless, we very clearly witness the violation of these two articles concerning religious minorities, especially Baha’is, the Ahl-i-Haq (Sufis) and even Sunni Muslims. Is there another law that negates these two articles? If not, why is the law not followed when it comes to the rights of minorities?
Even though in several articles in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, such as the two articles referred to in the question, the economic, civil and social rights of all citizens are guaranteed, in other laws many of these rights are conditional upon compliance with ‘Islamic criteria and the foundation of the Islamic Republic”. These are very general phrases which can be attributed to anything. Therefore, the Constitution stipulates the observance of human and civil rights to be dependent on the taste and desire of the government and the authorities, and whenever necessary persons and groups can be accused of non-compliance with “Islamic criteria”, and deprived of the basic civil rights.
Also, concerning Baha’is, in a confidential document called “the Baha’i Problem”, which is a “confidential guideline for the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution” in dealing with Baha’is prepared by the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution, which was also signed by Ayat’u’llah Khamenei, it is stated that Baha’is must be dealt with so as to prevent their progress, and it also offers solutions for achieving this goal. For example, regarding Baha’is, it states that “once it is established that they are Baha’is, whether at the outset or during their studies, they should be expelled.”
On the other hand, Article 3 of the Constitution guarantees “free academic and physical education at all levels for everyone; the facilitation and extension of higher education”; but in Article 13, it only recognizes the Zoroastrian, Jewish and Christian religions as official minorities. In Article 26, even the officially recognized religious minorities are conditional upon compliance with Islamic principles and criteria and the foundation of the Islamic Republic.
In another Article of the Constitution (Article 28), it is stated that “People are free to choose whatever profession they wish as long as this profession is not against Islam, public interest, or the rights of others.” Therefore, even though it guarantees the right to employment, it makes it conditional upon being “in compliance with” Islamic principles. That is the reason we see that Baha’is, who have not been recognized by the Constitution, even though it guarantees the rights of all, are deprived of most basic social rights, such as education and employment in the public arena.
Article 30 of Iran’s Constitution states: “The government is responsible for providing the means for public education for everyone up to the end of high school. It must expand free higher education until the point when the nation reaches self-sufficiency.” However, we witness the expulsion of Baha’i students from schools, and the government even prevents the activities of schools established by the Baha’is themselves, which unofficially educate the expelled Baha’i children, and sentence the teachers of these schools to prison. On the other hand, Baha’is absolutely do not have the right to study in universities, and if identified ARE expelled. Are these actions by the government in dealing with these people not a clear violation of this article in the Constitution?
The government’s treatment of the Baha’is is not only an explicit violation of this article of the Constitution, but also a violation of the international human rights laws. For example, Article 24 of the International Convention on civil and political rights (ICCPR) mandates the signatories of the Covenant, which include Iran, to guarantee the right to education for all children, without any discrimination as to race, religion, language or sex. Yet, the Iranian government does not recognize Baha’is as an official minority, so therefore, while it considers itself responsible for providing the right to free education, it violates this right.
On the other hand, in the same “confidential guideline for the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution”, in the section “cultural status”, it is stated that: “Baha’is, if they do not declare their belief, should be registered in schools.” Also, “to the extent possible, they should be registered in schools where there is a competent staff with a strong command of religious matters.” And, “the institutions of promulgation, such as the Organization for the Islamic Promulgation, should establish an independent branch for confronting the ideological and promotional activities of the Baha’i Faith.”
According to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights, “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change their religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest their religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Therefore, by its actions against religious minorities, especially Baha’is, the Islamic Republic is committing a blatant violation of human rights. If so, what recourses are available for international pressure on the Islamic Republic to stop such treatment of religious minorities?
The international community is exerting every effort to invite the Islamic Republic to observe the rights of all its citizens. These efforts include adopting human rights resolutions on Iran, selection of a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, as well as repeated reminders regarding upholding its duties and commitments in compliance with the international human rights laws.
Is there any reference to the rights of religious minorities in the civil rights charter passed by the government of Hassan Rouhani? And, can the rights of Baha’is, especially the right of their children to education, be defended based on that charter?
The human rights charter encompasses, more or less, all those rights and limitations that can also be seen in the Constitution. That is, although some rights have been guaranteed, they are conditioned upon compliance with Islamic criteria and principles. Unfortunately, like the Constitution, the human rights charter does not recognize the Baha’i Faith as one of the official religions.
Does the government have the ability to facilitate the conditions for the education of Baha’i citizens, based on Articles 19, 20 and 30 of the Iranian Constitution?
Yes, the government has this ability, and if it wanted, even under current laws, it could make some changes in relation to the treatment of Baha’is, and make the right of access to education and employment available to them, which would, of course, require the annulment of the “confidential guideline for the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution”, which in reality has been placed above the Constitution, and with such a change in government treatment of the Baha’is, their right to an education could be observed.