GENEVA—11 March 2022—A new report and its annex, “Rights of persons belonging to religious or belief minorities in situations of conflict or insecurity”, by the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, has highlighted the “increasing insecurity that Baha’i communities experience” in a number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa region. The annex is the first time such a document has given exclusive focus to the situation of the Baha’is in several countries.
The Special Rapporteur’s report was released during the 49th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The annex, which said that concerns regarding the Baha’is “have persisted and even escalated across several country contexts”, was based on a November 2021 symposium for international organisations and governments, UN experts, members of civil society and representatives of the Baha’i International Community (BIC).
“Dr Ahmed Shaheed’s report illustrates the perilous situation Baha’is face in Iran and Yemen,” said Bani Dugal, the BIC’s Principal Representative to the United Nations, “and the discrimination they face in Qatar and Tunisia. We hope they will inform the actions of Human Rights Council members and remind the authorities that the world is watching.”
Baha’is lack legal recognition in Iran and Yemen, the annex said, where they are persecuted, and in Qatar and Tunisia, where Baha’is have suffered discrimination. The annex noted that a lack of recognition exposed Baha’is to violations of their basic rights.
Activities of Baha’is in “manifesting” their faith, according to Dr Shaheed, are criminalised in Iran. Laws added to Iran’s penal code in 2021 may also criminalise expressing Baha’i beliefs or even identifying as a Baha’i. The “discrimination against and persecution of Baha’is is State-driven and systematic”, the annex said, and Baha’is “reportedly have experienced violence and restrictions on manifesting their faith” in particular if these are seen to contradict Islamic principles”. Baha’is also face discrimination in accessing education and employment and were “subject to smear campaigns and speech that may incite violence against them based on their faith identity”.
In Yemen, the “discrimination, hostility, and violence against the Baha’i community is reportedly systematic”, the annex said, adding that Houthi leaders have “called for the arrest of Baha’is based on their faith identity, with some already convicted, others deported, their gatherings raided, institutions banned and attempts underway in the courts to seize their properties”. Yemenis had also been incited to “engage in violence” against Baha’is in a televised speech by the Houthi leader.
Dr Shaheed, in an indirect reference to Iran, also noted concerns over “rising influence of external actors in Yemen” which may be exacerbating these challenges.
Baha’is in Qatar are in “a precarious situation”, the annex said, due to “administrative deportations and blacklisting resulting in loss of employment, income, and separation of families”. And in Tunisia the annex said that the government had refused to recognise the Baha’i community. During legal appeals brought by Baha’is, it was reported, “discriminatory claims about the precepts of the Baha’i belief, in addition to unfounded concerns relating to national security and social peace” were expressed.
Dr Shaheed’s report stressed that “State and non-State actors have exploited the identity of religious or belief minorities to further their political, economic, and military objectives”, adding that Baha’is in Iran and Yemen have been targeted “through hateful rhetoric that seeks to mobilize the public against them and ‘legitimize’ policies and practices that harm them … authorities and others have accused the Baha’i community of being foreign agents or enemies of the State, including … Israeli spies”.
The report said that targeting Baha’is in this way entrenched widespread “fear, suspicion, and discrimination … leaving many members of the Baha’i community feeling more fearful and exposed to violence”.
The report also included several recommendations. UN Member-States were encouraged to “recall their international human rights obligations towards religious minorities”, including the Baha’is; relevant agencies within the UN system were encouraged to “adopt a more cohesive and coordinated approach” in responding to the situation facing religious minorities; and both States and civil society were asked to consider establishing new “platforms” to advocate for the rights of the Baha’is such as a “friends of Baha’is” working group.
- The Baha’is are Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority and have been systematically persecuted by the government since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
- More than 200 Baha’is were executed in the years after the Islamic Revolution.
- A 1991 policy document signed by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for the progress and development of Iran’s Baha’i community to be “blocked” and for Baha’is to be denied education and livelihoods. Thousands of articles of propaganda against the Baha’is are published in Iran’s state media each year.
- Hundreds of Baha’i-owned private properties, including homes, small businesses and farms, have been confiscated since the Islamic Revolution.
- See BIC.org for comprehensive information on the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran: https://www.bic.org/focus-areas/situation-iranian-bahais
- In Yemen the Houthis have been persecuting Baha’is and its leaders have used rhetoric and tactics which are very similar to those seen in Iran. Yemeni Baha’is have faced arrest, imprisonment, torture and risk of execution.
- See BIC.org for comprehensive information on the persecution of the Baha’is in Yemen: https://www.bic.org/situation-in-yemen/reports-situation-yemen
- Baha’is have lived in Qatar for almost a century—decades before the country gained independence in 1971. In recent decades the Baha’i community has suffered instances of discrimination, restrictions and human rights violations. The cumulative effect of these acts has now become untenable because they threaten the viability of the community.
- Baha’is face discrimination in employment, non-renewal of work permits, expulsions and blacklisting. They have also experienced attacks on their cemeteries.
- The BIC and the Baha’i community of Qatar have made several attempts to engage the Qatari government directly on this issue. Despite repeated promises made by the government to look into the matter, the situation has continued to deteriorate.
- Tunisian Baha’is have long been an integral part of Tunisian society and have contributed to the wellbeing of the country, including to issues of coexistence, such as in the drafting of Article 6 of the 2014 Constitution following the Jasmine Revolution of 2011. But more recently, the Tunisian government has been officially opposed to the recognition of Baha’is and have appealed a past court decision to allow the registration.
- Both the Mufti of the Republic and the Minister of Religious Affairs have labelled the Baha’is as infidels.
- Baha’is have not been able to bury their deceased according to Baha’i burial rites because the government has not allotted them their own cemeteries – despite the fact that they are also not permitted to use Muslim cemeteries.