By Kian Sabeti
A recent statement by the Baha’i International Community has confirmed that the Iranian government is using “brutal” new repressive and coercive measures against Iran’s Baha’is.
The tactics have aimed to instill fear and deprive Baha’is of peace and security in their daily lives, ultimately stripping them of any semblance of citizenship rights in Iran, the statement said.
One of the fundamental civil rights that has been denied to Baha’i citizens in recent months is their ability to register and obtain official recognition for marriages. Baha’is were meant to be able to register marriages during the Pahlavi period and have on the whole also been able to do so under the Islamic Republic since 1999. But contrary to propaganda disseminated by the Islamic Republic, Baha’is were subjected to extensive deprivation of rights and liberties connected to their religious beliefs during the Pahlavi period.
In his book, The Persecution of Iran’s Baha’is from 1844 to 1984, the historian Douglas Martin wrote, “As of the beginning of 1933, the publication of Baha’i literature was prohibited. Baha’i marriages were deemed concubinage, and those who married under Baha’i law were sentenced to imprisonment. …”
“Furthermore, several Baha’i cemeteries were seized and expropriated. Baha’is were demoted from government positions or terminated from their employment. Attacks against Baha’is were permitted in the media, eventually leading to the closure of Baha’is schools.”
In a 1936 complaint addressed to the Council of Ministers, a Baha’i named Rostam Mawafaq recounted his experience of being denied authorization to register his marriage and the subsequent two-day detention he endured:
“On August 13, 1936, I, Rostam Mawafaq, married Parivash Azeri according to [Baha’i] religious law. Under the country’s regulations, I proceeded to the official notary office of Qazvin and requested to register our marriage.
“However, they denied my request and refused to register our union. I also submitted a description of the situation along with the receipt to the relevant authorities by mail, accompanied by two copies of the report.
“After more than three years, the Zanjan investigation agency summoned me and, after a brief investigation, detained me for two days and nights under the pretense of not providing a guarantor and not being able to pay the necessary fees.
“They treated me as if I were a murderer or a robber. I respectfully ask this authority, if an individual considers themselves faithful to their religion and acts by their teachings, do they deserve to be imprisoned and subjected to torture?”
In another document, from 1937, a Baha’i named Rostam Bolbolan also addressed a letter to the Council of Ministers in which he lamented his unjust prosecution for marrying another Baha’i.
“I respectfully submit to that esteemed authority that in January 1937, I, Rostam Bolbolan, son of Manouchehr, according to my conscience as a Baha’i, entered into a marital union. Since Yazd lacked a notary for Baha’is, I duly informed the highest authorities of the country, including the Ministry of Justice, the General Directorate of Real Estate Registration, and the General Directorate of Statistics and Civil Registration, to ensure my legal standing.
“However, I was recently summoned by the esteemed Department of Justice and the Prosecutor of Yazd, and I have been prosecuted for the crime of not concealing my beliefs and of telling the truth. This is a blatant case of injustice, as we Baha’is, followers of Baha’i teachings, hold lying and deception to be the highest disgrace.”
The third document, dated February 1937, attests to the unjust sentencing of Abbas Baizaei, a resident of Kashan, to six months in prison for the crime of marrying according to Baha’i customs and practices.
During the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, under relentless pressure by Shia Islamic clerics on the Shah, the marriage of two Baha’is remained unrecognized by the state.
As a result, marriage registries refused to register Baha’i unions. However, after years of struggle, Baha’is were granted the right to obtain notarized declarations of marriage, enabling them to register the names of their family members, including spouses and children, on birth certificates.
A notarized declaration of marriage is a formal document prepared by authorized individuals in the presence of competent officers or at notary offices.
It is utilized when a marriage has not been legally registered in the marriage registry but the couple seeks to register their and their children’s details on official documents such as birth certificates. Such recognition is essential given that one of the claimed motivations behind the Shia clerics’ opposition to granting the Baha’i faith official status under the constitution is the fact that Baha’is are branded as “immoral” by clerical authorities.
And then from the outset of the 1979 Islamic Revolution Baha’is encountered immense pressure and persecution from the newly established government.
An order issued less than a month after the Revolution by Qasem Khodadoost, then the Deputy Minister of Interior and the head of the Civil Registration Organization, instructed all civil registration offices to register marriage declarations only for Muslims, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians.
The directive effectively barred the registration of Baha’i marriages for years – despite numerous appeals and protests from Baha’is to various legal authorities. The decree, issued during the interim government, remained unchanged.
In 1999, after years of petitioning by Baha’is to legal authorities, the order was finally annulled.
Hossein Mehrpour, a presidential advisor on constitutional implementation under former President Mohammad Khatami, wrote a letter to the Minister of Interior on August 15, 1999, stating:
“[We have] received numerous complaints regarding the non-registration of marriages of individuals adhering to sects not recognized as official religions [i.e. the Baha’i faith]. Civil registration offices are refusing to register these marriages based on Circular No. 43/1134.
“Article 14 of the Constitution mandates the respect for human rights of all citizens. Article 20 of the Constitution guarantees the enjoyment of human and social rights for all people of the nation.
“Moreover, marriage registration is crucial for public order and prevents the negative social consequences of non-registration. Additionally, Islamic jurisprudence accepts marriages between all faiths.
“Therefore, I request that you take the necessary steps to annul the aforementioned order and inform this committee of the outcome.”
Five days after the letter was sent, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, Khatami’s chief of staff at the time, announced on behalf of the President to the Minister of Interior, and the Vice President for Legal Affairs, that the issue of Baha’i marriages not being registered in notary offices and birth certificates had been resolved.
According to the President’s letter, the Deputy Minister of Interior notified all provincial governors across the nation that “marriage registration for couples belonging to non-Islamic sects and non-official religions, regardless of their religion, is not restricted.”
After this announcement, several notaries and official notary offices began accepting affidavits for Baha’is.
However, despite this official and legal notification from the government, Baha’is have consistently faced challenges in obtaining declarations.
Over the past two decades, only a limited number of notaries and document offices in the country have agreed to prepare affidavits for Baha’is, and this number has been dwindling due to pressure from the Ministry of Intelligence.
In numerous cities, Baha’is are compelled to travel to another city to obtain a declaration due to the refusal of notaries and document offices in their city.
Additionally, due to the pressures exerted by the Ministry of Intelligence, some official offices are demanding exorbitant fees from Baha’i couples to process declarations.
Mizan News Agency, a media outlet linked to Iran’s judiciary, has meanwhile announced that printed marriage documents were discontinued as of November and that official marriage offices were required to issue only digital marriage certificates.
This development has grave repercussions for the registration of Baha’i marriages, rendering it virtually impossible. As the Baha’i faith is not recognized by Iranian law, and since selecting a religious affiliation is essential on the online system, there is no option to select “Baha’i” and Iranian Baha’is have once again been deprived of this fundamental citizenship and human right.
The decision has far-reaching consequences. The lack of legal recognition for Baha’i marriages will block the registration of children born from these unions which will hinder their access to social rights and tar them with unjust social stigmas by being perceived as being from “illegitimate” unions.
The Baha’i International Community characterized the situation as “the gradual erosion of civil rights for Baha’is, particularly about marriage registration and recognition,” and expressed grave concerns over its effects.