Translation by Iran Press Watch
In recent years, pressure on adherents of Baha’i Faith has systematically increased. This pressure has been manifested in oppression, arrests, and deprivation of the followers of the Baha’i Faith from all their citizenship rights. The Kurdpa News Agency held an interview with the World Baha’i Community Spokesperson, Dr. Farhad Sabetan, to gain more information about the situation of Baha’is in Iran. A transcript of this interview in its entirety is given below:
Does the oppression and expansive deprivation of the followers of the Baha’i Faith at various levels have a legal basis? In other words: to what extent does the Constitution of Iran facilitate this discrimination?
The oppression of Baha’i citizens in Iran is completely illegal; it is a clear violation of the civil laws of Iran and of international law. There are laws to which Iran is a signatory, based on international conventions. For example, article 14 of the Iranian Constitution1 explicitly stipulates that interactions with non-Muslim citizens should be conducted in terms of “good conduct and Islamic justice and equity, and respecting their human rights”:
“Article 14: In accordance with the sacred verse; (“God does not forbid you to deal kindly and justly with those who have not fought against you because of your religion and who have not expelled you from your homes” [60:8]), the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and all Mu slims are duty-bound to treat non-Muslims in conformity with ethical norms and the principles of Islamic justice and equity, and to respect their human rights.”
Of course, Baha’i citizens in Iran have repeatedly been accused of acting against national security or spying; however none of the courts of the Islamic Republic (trials are usually closed, and are just for show/going through the motions, while sentences are already pre-determined) have ever provided the slightest credible evidence to prove these charges.
Article 20 of the Constitution states: “All citizens of the country, both men and women, equally enjoy the protection of the law and enjoy all human, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, in conformity with Islamic criteria.” Unfortunately Baha’i citizens are now being and have previously been deprived of all of these rights.
Article 23 of the Constitution states: “The investigation of individuals’ beliefs is forbidden, and no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.” However, contrary to the claims of the Islamic Republic authorities, Baha’is are persecuted solely because of their beliefs and are subjected to legal, economic and social restrictions. Hundreds (perhaps thousands) of official documents are available which explicitly document human rights violations against the Baha’is due to their belief in the Baha’i Faith.
According to Article 32 of the Constitution: “No person may be arrested except according to and in the manner laid down in the law. If someone is detained, the subject matter of the charge, with reasons (for bringing it), must immediately be communicated and explained in writing to the accused. Within at most 24 hours the file on the case and preliminary documentation must be referred to the competent legal authority. Legal procedures must be initiated as early as possible. Anyone infringing this principle will be punished in accordance with the law.” From the beginning of the Islamic Revolution to the present, hundreds of Baha’is have been arrested without charge, interrogated and held accountable, and many of them have spent months in solitary confinement. In that entire time they have been deprived of their right to counsel and legal defense.
Unfortunately there is not enough time at the moment to mention the many violations of international laws to which Iran is a signatory.
To eliminate discrimination against adherents of this Faith, what has been done so far at the domestic and international levels; and what activities have the followers of this Faith actually undertaken in order to fulfill their demands?
Since Bahá’ís believe in obeying the official civil laws of their country, they first refer any violation of their human rights to the country’s officials, and demand an investigation, and assistance, and respect for due legal process. Perhaps it could be confidently stated that unfortunately, so far, none of the formal and legal requests of the Baha’i community (whether by Iranian Baha’is, or by the Baha’i International Community) have been given any acknowledgement or attention. Examples of such measures include the Baha’i International Community’s official letters to the Honorable Attorney General or The Head of the Judiciary. There have been several such actions at national and international levels, but unfortunately there have been no responses whatsoever to these official letters. The Baha’i International Community was left with no choice but to act at the international level, and request assistance and attention to the situation of Baha’is and other minorities in that country from the international community. In this regard, numerous reports are available at the Office of the Baha’i International Community at its locations in New York and Geneva.
Do you think it is possible for Iranian Baha’is to achieve their demands within the framework of the Islamic Republic of Iran?
If the Islamic Republic of Iran acts, at a minimum, in accordance with its own ratified laws, not only the demands of Iranian Baha’is, but also the demands of the other religious and ethnic minorities to a great extent would be fulfilled. What the minority community in Iran expects is nothing more than their inalienable civil rights. In the case of the Baha’i community, Iranian Baha’is have never even been, nor ever will be interested in high rank, or presidential or leadership positions. Not much time has passed since the beginning of this Faith in Iran; over the last approximately one hundred and seventy years Baha’is have always openly, proudly and without the slightest doubt demonstrated that Iran is a sacred land for them, towards the development and progress of which they have always worked. This brief history has demonstrated that Baha’is have never shown the slightest violence against any citizens, members of the government, or the ruling administration. Their slogan has always been and continues to be love and unity, justice and peaceful coexistence. At no time have they been after power, leadership, fame, supremacy, or authority, despite the almost daily, completely unfounded accusations and shameful allegations against them, such as destabilization, disruption of national security, economic takeover, betrayal of the government and of the nation. In spite of daily oppression and empty accusations which have forced thousands of families from their homes; in spite of the execution and imprisonment of hundreds of innocent individuals; in spite of the deprivation of thousands of students,whose only aim is to serve Iran and be a part of that country’s advancement, of their Constitutionally guaranteed right to higher education; in spite of the confiscation of billions of dollars worth of legal and official property, and the officially-sanctioned destruction of Baha’i tombs and graveyards, this oppressed population has never taken up arms, nor has it ever engaged in partisan political activities against the government, nor has it ever disrespected any government official ‒ instead, they merely demand their basic human and civil rights. Alas: this too has been taken from them.
During the recent period we have witnessed a massive expulsion of Baha’i students in Iran. What has caused the Iranian government to openly undertake such an inhuman act?
Although Iran faces a profound problem with brain drain, most of the Iranian Baha’i youth and students prefer the hardship of living in Iran to exile, and merely demand the right to a university education. Article 3 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, holds the government responsible to provide all required resources for “free education and physical training for everyone at all levels, and the facilitation and expansion of higher education.” Unfortunately, at the beginning of the Revolution, not only were Baha’i university professors and students expelled, but Baha’i students were also barred from even registering for the nationwide university entrance examination. For many consecutive years they were not able to take advantage of this fundamental basic right. In 1991, in his visit to Iran, the UN Special Rapporteur gained access to a confidential document defining the general policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran towards the Baha’i Community2. In this document it is stated: “They must be expelled from universities, either in the admission process or during the course of their studies, once it becomes known that they are Baha’is.” Several other documents exist that attest to implementation of this official policy of the Government of Iran. In general, this education ban against Baha’i students is neither accidental nor an exception. It has been arranged with the full awareness and planning of government officials, and it continues to this very day. The reason for the ban is simply the belief of Iranian Baha’is in their Faith.
What measures have you put in place to prevent the recurrence of such problems and in support of the Baha’i students who have been expelled?
Besides the official and legal actions, and going to Iranian Government officials as well as to the the International Community, when the government of the Islamic Republic did not lift a finger to address the ban against higher education for Baha’i students, the Iranian Baha’i community undertook a creative initiative, free of any violence or illegal acts. The professors who had been expelled from universities, spontaneously and motivated by humanitarian intentions, decided to unofficially teach Bahá’í students who were being deprived of an education, in the setting of private homes. This constructive action soon achieved significant success, and a large number of Baha’i students were able to continue their education in several disciplines. Alas, this action, which took place without any expectation of assistance from government sources, which was supported exclusively by the Baha’i community in Iran, was not accepted by authorities of the Islamic Republic. They raided these Baha’i homes numerous times, destroyed or confiscated their educational facilities, imprisoned professors and students, and most importantly, declared these educational activities illegal and detrimental to national security. Alas, the learning and teaching of physics, chemistry and mathematics in private homes was declared to be illegal, against national security ‒ even though such a crime not been recorded in any of the civil, judiciary or religious laws of Iran! Some of these professors still remain in prison.
Is discrimination in Iran only against Baha’is or do non-Persian ethnicities and other religious minorities also suffer from discrimination and oppression?
Unfortunately, discrimination against minorities (minorities by religion, ethnicity, gender and nationality) and their repression in Iran is institutionalized. Numerous reports of the UN Special Rapporteurs on Iran, one after another, have documented this discrimination and presented descriptions to the UN General Assembly. The latest example of such a report, documented by Dr. Ahmad Sharif, was presented to the UN General Assembly on 15 October, 2015. In it the severity and the dire situation of the rights of minorities has been mentioned, and Iranian Baha’is and Kurds have been specifically mentioned by name. Unfortunately, human rights violations have passed beyond minorities, and have now also spread to other Iranian citizens, including lawyers, journalists, artisans, bloggers, students, and generally anyone who thinks differently than what is officially accepted in Iran.
How do you evaluate the political, social and economic situation of the Baha’i community in Iran?
As mentioned before, Baha’is are denied almost all human and civil rights. In a document that was mentioned above, barring the Baha’i community of social and economic welfare has been classified as such:
“C – Legal and social status:
- Permit them a modest livelihood as is available to the general population.
- To the extent that it does not encourage them to be Baha’is, it is permissible to provide them the means for ordinary living in accordance with the general rights given to every Iranian citizen, such as ration booklets, passports, burial certificates, work permits, etc.
- Deny them employment if they identify themselves as Baha’is.
- Deny them any position of influence, such as in the educational sector, etc.”
Unfortunately, Baha’is are not even offered the first or the second items mentioned in this confidential document. Thousands of Iranian Baha’i citizens (including the author’s parents), have been deprived of pensions. Many shops belonging to Baha’is have been officially sealed or burned. A large number of Baha’is have not even been given burial permits . Even tombs and cemeteries of the Baha’is in Iran have been destroyed in several places. Several examples of official government documents to impose economic restrictions on Baha’is in Iran have been acquired, which state the overall policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran towards the Baha’i community. Even Baha’is who are barely making a living are still targeted, due to various reasons such as observing their religious holidays, and are expelled from their jobs, and their stores and businesses are shut down and sealed.
Unfortunately, the pressure exerted against Baha’is is not limited to economic problems. The Baha’i community is constantly under pressure, insult, humiliation, oppression and hatred in this society. Several reports have been produced in this area, some of which are available on the website of the Baha’i International Community:
Please provide a brief biography and your social and political activities to be included in the interview?
I am a professor of economics at California State University (East Bay). As a spokesperson for the Baha’i International Community, I have defended the rights of Baha’is and other minorities in Iran at many Persian and English-language media outlets, including the BBC, Voice of America, National Public Radio America (NPR), Radio Farda, and many others. Currently, along with my colleagues at the Office of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in New York and Geneva, we are busy defending the rights of Iranian citizens.
1. The complete text in English of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (except article 32) can be found here: http://www.iranonline.com/iran/iran-info/government/constitution.html. Article 32 can be found in English here: http://www.iranchamber.com/government/laws/constitution_ch03.php. It is described in detail at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitution_of_the_Islamic_Republic_of_Iran.
2. This secret blueprint for the destruction of the Baha’i community of Iran can be found in English translation here: http://news.bahai.org/human-rights/iran/education/feature-articles/secret-blueprint