secret iran letter ordering “monitoring” of baha’is made public

This past June, The Globe and Mail published a web-only comment about the situation of the Baha’is of Iran, written by Maurice Copithorne, a former United Nations special representative on the human-rights situation in Iran. In it he condemns the “resurgence in mistreatment of the country’s Baha’i community”, and notes that “Iran would seem to be one of the handful of countries in which the human-rights situation is now visibly deteriorating.”

He also draws attention to the existence of a confidential letter circulated within the Iranian government calling on officials “to identify persons who adhere to the Baha’i faith and monitor their activities.” The existence of this letter, written in October 2005, was made public in a March 2006 statement by Asma Jahangir, special rapporteur to the United Nations on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

The text of that confidential letter has now been made public. The following article from the Baha’i World News Service explains:

Text of secret Iran letter ordering “monitoring” of Baha’is made public

NEW YORK, 24 August 2006 (BWNS) — The text of a secret letter from Iranian military headquarters instructing commanders of various state intelligence services, police units, and the Revolutionary Guard to “identify” and “monitor” Baha’is has now been obtained and made available to the public.

The letter, dated 29 October 2005 and signed by the Chairman of Command Headquarters of the Iranian Armed Forces, first came to public attention in March when its existence was announced by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ms. Asma Jahangir.

Ms. Jahangir, who said the letter’s contents made her “highly concerned,” did not release the text of the letter. However, on 24 July, Amnesty International announced they had obtained it and were making it available.

The full text of the letter in English, as well as a facsimile of the original letter in Persian, can be viewed at these links:

Text of 29 October 2005 letter in English

Facsimile of 29 October 2005 letter in Persian

In March, in a statement announcing her discovery of the letter, Ms. Jahangir said, “[S]uch monitoring constitutes an impermissible and unacceptable interference with the rights of members of religious minorities.” She further expressed concern that “the information gained as a result of such monitoring will be used as a basis for increased persecution of, and discrimination against, members of the Baha’i Faith.”

Human rights experts have noted that the list of recipients — which also includes the paramilitary Basij Resistance Forces — gives an especially ominous tone to the letter, since it indicates the continuation of a policy established by the government of Iran that systematically seeks to destroy the Baha’i community as a viable entity.

Read the whole article.

Read more about Iran’s long standing policy against Baha’is.

iran confiscates baha’is’ properties

From the Baha’i World News Service (BWNS):

Iran confiscates Baha’is’ properties, says UN

Baha’is in Iran face discriminatory housing policies, including “the abusive use of property confiscation,” said a United Nations report released at a news conference last week.

At least 640 Baha’i properties have been seized since 1980, according to Miloon Kothari, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, who wrote the report and presented it to the news media on 29 June 2006.

“The properties listed included houses and agricultural land, but also Baha’i sacred places such as cemeteries and shrines,” said Mr. Kothari. “The affected owners have allegedly not been given an opportunity to participate or receive prior information related to ongoing confiscation procedures.”

He said, for example, many of the confiscations were made by Iranian Revolutionary Courts, and that some of the verdicts he examined declared that “the confiscation of the property of ‘the evil sect of the Baha’i’ [were] legally and religiously justifiable.”

In rural areas, he said, such confiscations were often accompanied by threats and physical violence before and during related forced evictions.

Mr. Kothari said he was “concerned at the clear evidence of discriminatory conduct with respect to Baha’i property, including housing.”

At the news conference, Mr. Kothari said he continues to receive reports about Baha’is who have had their land confiscated.

Read the whole story.

baha’is of egypt denied their identity

Want a snapshot of the situation of the Bahá’í community over in the Middle East? Baha’i Blog has been faithfully watching not only the situation of the Baha’is of Iran [1] [2], but also that of the Baha’is of Egypt [1] [2]. The Baha’i Faith not being recognized as a religion in Egypt, Egyptian believers are asked to choose either “Muslim” or “Christian” for printing on official government documents. Of course, most (if not all) refuse, which means Baha’is living in Egypt can’t be issued identification such as birth certificates – which means they can’t legally marry, obtain passports, collect pensions, benefit from public health care, and so on. A group of Baha’is initiated a lawsuit to attempt to correct this injustice, in the hopes of gaining some official recognition of the Faith.

At last glance, the situation was this: Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court suspended a ruling by a lower court that would have allowed Baha’is to identify themselves as such on their official documents. This isn’t entirely surprising, seeing as rampant rumours, misinformation and outright lies have led many in Egypt (and elsewhere in the Middle East, including Iran) to believe that the Bahá’í Faith is either: (a) a Zionist political group or (b) spies for colonial and/or imperialist powers or (c) a danger to Islam or (d) all of the above. Sad.

Once you’re done scanning through Baha’i Blog, visit Marco Oliveira’s response to an Egyptian blogger who posted a fair bit about the Egyptian Supreme Court ruling. A subsequent set of emails from an anonymous Egyptian Baha’i hints at the seriousness of the clamour currently surrounding the Baha’is in Egypt.

Read more about the persecution of Baha’is in Egypt, or about the persecution of the Baha’is of Iran.

54 baha’is arrested in iran

From the Baha’i World News Service (BWNS), about the recent arrests of Baha’i youth in Iran:

54 Baha’is arrested in Iran

NEW YORK, 24 May 2006 (BWNS) — Iranian officials have arrested 54 Baha’is in the city of Shiraz, the Baha’i International Community has learned. They are mostly youth and were all engaged in humanitarian service when they were arrested. It is one of the largest number of Baha’is taken at once since the 1980s. The specific charges are not clear, though in the past, Baha’is have been arrested summarily on false charges.

The arrests occurred on Friday, 19 May, while the Baha’is, along with several other volunteers who were not Baha’is, were teaching classes to underprivileged children in a school as part of a community service activity conducted by a local non-governmental organization. At the time of the arrests, they had in their possession a letter of permission from the Islamic Council of Shiraz. They also carried the letter of permission in each of their classes.

The nature of the charges against the Baha’is is unknown at this time. […]

Read the entire article.

Update: “After their arrests on 19 May in Shiraz, Iran, three Baha’is remain in jail while 51 others have been released on bail. No indication has been given as to when the three will be released. None of those who had been released, nor the three who are still being detained, have been formally charged.” Read the rest of this update.

Addendum: This story was also blogged at Baha’i Blog.

no coloured badges, thanks

if you spied with your little eye the front page of the National Post last Friday, you were probably shocked to see a headline announcing that Iran was soon to adopt a system of coloured badges to identify religious minorities. After some confusion for the rest of the day as your average joe struggled to determine the truth of the story, it gradually became apparent that the headlines were mostly hype based on partial information.

Excerpted from Baha’i Blog (read the post, links and all):

On Friday, Canada’s National Post put up a story claiming that the government in Iran had just passed a law requiring all religious minorities to wear coloured badges to identify themselves. The story was picked up and swirled around by just about everyone including Yahoo, MSNBC, and others. Now, based on information from, well, just about everyone in the world, it seems that it all came out of a draft law aimed at encouraging Islamic dress. And while many are worried about the law in its current form, there is no mention of religious minorities in it.

Among those who stepped up to clarify the situation were numerous Western journalists based in Iran, as well as Iran’s only Jewish member of parliament. The National Post’s follow-up story to the (now-defunct) original story cites Sam Kermanian of the U.S.-based Iranian-American Jewish Federation with regards to the alleged marking of religious minorities:

[Mr. Kermanian] said in an interview from Los Angeles that he had contacted members of the Jewish community in Iran — including the lone Jewish member of the Iranian parliament.

They denied any such measure was in place.

Mr. Kermanian said the subject of “what to do with religious minorities” came up during debates leading up to the passing of the dress code law.

“It is possible that some ideas might have been thrown around,” he said.

“But to the best of my knowledge the final version of the law does not demand any identifying marks by the religious minority groups.”

Strong reactions were quickly felt across the globe after news of the story spread; The Globe and Mail reported that the Canadian Ambassador to Iran was summoned to the Iranian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday. The Post’s current editor-in-chief, Douglas Kelly, ran a column in Wednesday’s paper explaining what happened and apologizing for the error. From the AP/Yahoo story (see also the Reuters story on the same topic):

“We acknowledge that on this story, we did not exercise sufficient caution and skepticism, and we did not check with enough sources,” Kelly wrote. “We apologize for the mistake and for the consternation it has caused not just National Post readers, but the broader public who read the story.”

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed relief at the clarification of the badge story, while maintaining a sense of concern regarding Iran’s stance on Israel, among other things. The Globe and Mail caught up with him at a speech on Wednesday (same link as above):

“I’m glad to hear that the government of Iran is not considering this,” he said.

That fact alone doesn’t reassure him that his concerns over Iran are unfounded, Mr. Harper said.

“That doesn’t make me any less concerned about the comments that the government of Iran has made on issues like Israel’s right to exist, on denial of the Holocaust and these kinds of positions,” he said.

“We continue to take issue with the government of Iran on these matters.”

white house speaks out against persecution of baha’is in iran

From the Baha’i World News Service (BWNS), again on the topic of the situation of the Baha’is in Iran:

White House spokesman expresses President’s concern over worsening situation of the Baha’is in Iran

WASHINGTON, 29 March 2006 (BWNS) — At the 28 March 2006 White House press briefing, Spokesman Scott McClellan said President George Bush is concerned over last week’s announcement by a UN official that government persecution of the Baha’is in Iran is intensifying.

In response to a reporter’s question, Mr. McClellan called on the Iranian regime to respect the religious freedom of all of its citizens and indicated the President would continue to monitor the situation of the Baha’is very closely. He also said the United States would continue to speak out and urge other countries in the region and the United Nations to defend the rights of the Baha’is and other religious minorities in Iran.

Read the entire article.