Iran’s Baha’i minority are being prevented from obtaining identity cards under new rules, depriving them of basic civil rights in another blow to the persecuted group.
Iranian authorities have removed the Baha’i faith from the list of recognised religions on the new national ID card, which lists only Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism as options.
A core tenet of the Baha’i faith is upholding the truth, which would prevent followers from lying on the form about their religion.
Without the card, Iranian nationals are unable to obtain credit cards, driver’s licenses and passports. ID cards are also required to apply for a loan, cash cheques and buying property.
The UN says there are about 350,000 Baha’i followers in Iran, making them the country’s biggest religious minority.
They say hundreds of followers have been jailed or executed since Iran’s revolution in 1979.
“Before, the Baha’i used to tick the box ‘Other’, and while their religion wasn’t officially recognised, it was sufficient,” Padideh Sabeti, a spokesperson for the Baha’i International Community, told The Sunday Telegraph. “Now they have deliberately eliminated the option so the Baha’i – the country’s largest minority – is not recognised.
“We’ve heard from some inside Iran who have told us they have gone to get a new ID card and the official ticked Muslim for them on the form,” said Ms Sabeti, who speaks for the community in Iran from the UK. “When the person then asked them to change this, saying they were not Muslim but Baha’i, they were told they were not allowed.
“They are using this mechanism to deny the existence of the Baha’i, they can use the forms to tell the world that there are no longer any Baha’i in Iran,” said Ms Sabeti, who said applicants had been told that the changes to the forms had been ordered by the “powers on high”. “It’s a terrifying prospect.”
The religion started in Iran, but it has rapidly expanded since its founding and now has an estimated six million followers worldwide.
While Iran systematically discriminates against other religious minorities within its borders as well, the plight of the Baha’i community has been particularly well documented because of the group’s size and the severity of the persecution to which it is subjected.
A United Nations report found that Baha’is have suffered from “the most egregious forms of repression, persecution and victimisation.”
Baha’is interviewed for the report described a variety of human rights violations that they had been subjected to, including the closure of shops, the firebombing of homes; arbitrary arrest, torture and other ill treatment whilst in detention.
Many also been arrested for “vaguely worded offenses” such as espionage or spreading propaganda or espionage.
In the last three months, Baha’is also experienced a confiscation of possessions, dismissals from employment, and continued denial of access to higher education. In one instance, a non-Baha’i employer was forced to provide a list of her Baha’i employees and then to dismiss them from employment.
A court recently ruled that property belonging to the Baha’is in the village of Ivel, where followers have lived for two centuries, be confiscated on the basis that Baha’is have “a perverse ideology” and therefore have no “legitimacy in their ownership” of any property.
“How could Baha’is that apply for their national identification ID cards, for public sector jobs, or to enrol in a universities be punished simply for being truthful?” said Diane Ala’i, representative of the Baha’i International Community in Geneva.
“Despite continuous claims by Iranian officials inside the country and in the UN that Baha’is have citizenship rights, the authorities are institutionalising yet another mechanism which aims to destroy the Baha’i community as a viable entity.”