Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Critical Information on the Crisis Facing Baha'is in Iran

The crisis facing the Baha'is of Iran is gaining unprecedented global attention on a scale never seen before. The global outrage at the Islamic Republic of Iran's actions against the innocent Baha'i population, and its incarcerated group of leaders, is manifested in numerous daily important press publications, government declarations and condemnation, statements by prominent organizations, parliamentarian and congressional resolutions, etc....

There have been so many critical developments that must be noted. By keeping up with these developments, one cannot but to appreciate their importance and their critical value in bringing an end to such utterly inhumane and systematic schemes by the Iranian authorities in their attempts to destroy the Baha'i religion.

In order to closely follow these important developments, it is highly recommended to frequently visit the following two sites which provide constant up-to-date information on this crisis

1) Persecution of Baha'is in Iran (official website of the Baha'is of the United States).

2) Iran Press Watch.


To sum-up the current struggle, seven leaders of Iran’s Baha’i community are to stand trial this week in Iran’s Revolutionary Court on trumped-up charges of "espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities and propaganda against the Islamic Republic." This baseless allegation of espionage, a capital offense in Iran, has been categorically denied by the Baha’is of Iran as well as the International Baha’i Community.

This respected ad hoc group of individuals, named “Friends in Iran,” were entrusted with the duty of attending to the minimal needs of Iran’s largest religious minority of over 300,000 individuals. Baha’is in Iran have been forbidden by the government to elect their official administrative body that would have been in charge of the community. This ad hoc group of individuals, however, was formed with the full knowledge and approval of the government of Iran. They have been incarcerated, incommunicado, for nearly a year without any access to their defense lawyer, Mrs. Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Laureate, who has also been denied all access to the prisoners and their files.

In its systematic scheme to annihilate Iran’s entire Baha’i community, the government has designed several strategies intended to achieve its ominous plan. Most important in its scheme has been “to cut off the heads of the Baha’is,” implying to destroy the Baha’i community’s entire leadership. This has been repeatedly pursued since the early 1980s by Iran’s revolutionary government when it executed all members of the Baha'i national governing body: the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Iran.

It is feared that, if remains unchecked by the free world, Iran’s government might very well repeat its horrific acts. The regional and international reaction, however, is clearly demonstrating that the world will not stand for such violations and atrocities. This reaction must maintain its momentum and must be enforceable.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The European Union Urges Iran to Free Baha'is

In reaction to the current developments in Iran and the impending trial of the seven Baha'i leaders accused of espionage, the European Union has just released a declaration by its presidency expressing deep concern for these grave accusations.

One must recognize that this declaration is highly significant and is in conformity with the outrage expressed globally at the extreme and utterly unjustified measures taken by the Islamic Republic of Iran against one of its most respected and largest religious minorities.

The declaration reads as follows:

COUNCIL OF
THE EUROPEAN UNION

Brussels, 17 February 2009
6567/09 (Presse 42)
P 24

Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the European Union
on the trial with seven Baha'i leaders in Iran

The EU expresses its deep concern at the grave charges raised against seven Baha’i leaders in Iran. They have been detained by the Iranian authorities for eight months without charge, during which time they have not had access to legal representation.

The EU is concerned that, after being held for so long without due process, the Baha’i leaders may not receive a fair trial. The EU therefore requests the Islamic Republic of Iran to allow independent observation of the judicial proceedings and to reconsider the charges brought against these individuals.

The EU wishes to express its firm opposition to all forms of discrimination and oppression, in particular on the basis of religious practice. In this context, the EU urges the Islamic Republic of Iran to respect and protect religious minorities in Iran and free all prisoners held due of their faith or religious practice.
__________________________________________________________________

The Candidate Countries Turkey, Croatia* and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania and Montenegro, and the EFTA countries Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, members of the European Economic Area, as well as Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova align themselves with this declaration.

* Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Amnesty International Calls for Urgent Action on Behalf of Iran's Baha'i Leaders

An urgent action update, exclusively devoted to the impending trial of the Baha’i leaders in Iran, was launched by Amnesty International which has called on people around the world to send an immediate appeal to Iran's Head of the Judiciary, the Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) and the President of the IRI.

The entire text of the urgent action appeal is linked here & posted below:

PUBLIC AI Index: MDE 13/013/2009
12 February 2009
Further Information on 128/08 (MDE 13/068/2008, 15 May 2008) and follow-up (MDE 13/109/2008, 06 August 2008) – Arbitrary arrests/prisoners of conscience

IRAN
Fariba Kamalabadi Taefi (f) aged 46, homemaker
Jamaloddin Khanjani (m), aged 76, businessman
Afif Naeimi (m), aged 47, industrialist
Saeid Rezaei (m), aged 50, engineer
Behrouz Tavakkoli (m), aged 57, lecturer
Vahid Tizfahm (m), aged 37, optometrist
Mahvash Sabet (f), aged 57, homemaker/former teacher
[members of the Baha’i community]
_________________________________________________

The seven people named above, all members of the Baha’i religious minority, are to go on trial shortly, on charges of “espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities and propaganda against the system”. Amnesty International considers the charges to be politically motivated and those held to be prisoners of conscience, detained solely because of their conscientiously held beliefs or their peaceful activities on behalf of the Baha’i community. If convicted, they would face lengthy prison terms, or even the death penalty.

On 11 February, the Deputy Prosecutor of Tehran told the Islamic Student News Agency (ISNA) that the case against “seven defendants in the case of the illegal Bahai group” would be sent in the next week to the Revolutionary Court. The seven are members of a group responsible for the Baha’I community’s religious and administrative affairs in Iran. Six of the group’s leaders - Fariba Kamalabadi Taefi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Vahid Tizfahm - were arrested following raids on their homes by officers from the Ministry of Intelligence in the early hours of 14 May 2008. A seventh person, acting as a secretary for the group, Mahvash Sabet, was arrested earlier, on 5 March 2008. Fariba Kamalabadi Taefi, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Jamaloddin Khanjani had previously been arrested for their activities on behalf of the Baha’i community.

The seven are held in Section 209 of Tehran’s Evin Prison, which is run by the Ministry of Intelligence. All have been permitted access to relatives but none has been granted access to a lawyer. The five male detainees are said to be held together in one cell of about 10m², without any beds. Paragraph 19 of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners states that “[e]very prisoner shall, in accordance with local or national standards, be provided with a separate bed, and with separate and sufficient bedding which shall be clean when issued, kept in good order and changed often enough to ensure its cleanliness”. Amnesty International believes that the failure to provide these detainees with a bed amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Under Article 502 of the Penal Code, those convicted of espionage can be sentenced to between one and five years’ imprisonment. Under Article 508, those convicted of the more serious charge of “cooperating with foreign states to harm national security” can face either the death penalty or a sentence of one to 10 years’ imprisonment. “Insulting the religious sanctities” carries the penalty of execution or one to five years’ imprisonment. “Propaganda against the system” carries a penalty of three months to one year’s imprisonment. Ali Ashtari, a telecommunications salesman, was hanged in November 2008 after being convicted for espionage for Israel.

The Baha’i faith was founded about 150 years ago in Iran and has since spread around the world. Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, the Baha’i community has been systematically harassed and persecuted. There are over 300,000 Baha’is currently in Iran, but their religion is not recognized under the Iranian Constitution, which only recognizes Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism. Baha’is in Iran are subject to discriminatory laws and regulations which violate their right to practise their religion freely, as set out in Article 18(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party. The Iranian authorities also deny Baha’is equal rights to education, to work and to a decent standard of living by restricting their access to employment and benefits such as pensions. They are not permitted to meet, to hold religious ceremonies or to practise their religion communally. Since President Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005, dozens of Baha’is have been arrested.

Members of the Baha’i community in Iran profess their allegiance to the state and deny that they are involved in any subversive acts against the government, which they state would be against their religion. The Baha’i International Community believes that the allegations of espionage for Israel which have over the years been made against the community in Iran stem solely from the fact that the Baha’i World Centre is in Israel.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in Persian, Arabic, English or your own language:
- calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Fariba Kamalabadi Taefi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Behrouz Tavakkoli, Vahid Tizfahm and Mahvash Sabet, whom Amnesty International considers to be prisoners of conscience held because of their beliefs or peaceful activities on behalf of the Baha’i community;
- expressing concern that the charges brought against the seven are politically motivated and calling on the authorities to drop them;
- expressing concern at the possibility that the seven could face the death penalty;
- calling on the authorities to ensure that the seven are protected from torture and other ill treatment and that their conditions of detention meet international standards for the treatment of prisoners;
- urging the authorities to ensure that they are given regular access to their relatives and lawyers of their choice and any medical treatment that they may require.

APPEALS TO:
Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi
Howzeh Riyasat-e Qoveh Qazaiyeh (Office of the Head of the Judiciary)
Pasteur St., Vali Asr Ave., south of Serah-e Jomhouri, Tehran 1316814737, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: [email protected] (In the subject line write: FAO Ayatollah Shahroudi)
Salutation: Your Excellency

Leader of the Islamic Republic
Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei, The Office of the Supreme Leader Islamic Republic Street – End of Shahid Keshvar Doust Street, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: [email protected]
via website: http://www.leader.ir/langs/en/index.php?p=letter (English)
http://www.leader.ir/langs/fa/index.php?p=letter (Persian)
Salutation: Your Excellency

COPIES TO:
President
His Excellency Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
The Presidency, Palestine Avenue, Azerbaijan Intersection, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: + 98 21 6 649 5880
Email: via website: http://www.president.ir/email/

and to diplomatic representatives of Iran accredited to your country.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat, or your section office, if sending appeals after 24 March 2009.

Cairo: Another Postponement & More Delays to Come!

The news from Egypt are not any better! In its session today, Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court postponed the verdict on the Baha'i ID case before it until 2 March 2009. The presiding judge stepped down and excused himself from the case, opening the door for another judge to take over the case and the decision on the appeal.

This counts for the sixth postponement of the decision on the appeal brought by extremist lawyers who were never party to the case . Following the initial hearing of the appeal on 27 September 2008 by this court and the scheduled verdict date of 20 October 2008, this is the sixth postponement (3 November 2008, 15 December 2008, 19 January 2009, 2 February 2009 & 16 February 2009). The Supreme Administrative Court's own State Judiciary Council had considered the appeal and had rejected it. The court was expected to abide by the decision of the Council.

The lower court's decision of 29 January 2008 was in favor of the Baha'is, allowing them to obtain ID cards and birth certificates with dashes [--] instead of their stated religion.

Considering the history of this case, and with the--now--introduction of a new judge, one cannot expect much progress. It would not be surprising to see more delays and indecision. The Ministry of Interior has not budged on its stand of not issuing identity documents for the Baha'is until a final court decision is reached. It is important to note, however, that the Ministry of Interior, who is the primary defendant in this case, has never appealed the 29 January decision favoring the Baha'is.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

US Congressmen Submit H. Res. 175 Condemning Iran's Government

Yesterday, several U.S. Congressmen submitted House Resolution 175 condemning the Government of Iran for its state-sponsored persecution of its Baha’i minority and its continued violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights.

The complete text of the resolution can be seen at this link....

Furthermore, as excerpted below, the official website of the Baha'is of United States is providing the latest updates on the progress of the current serious crisis facing the Baha'is of Iran. These posts provide the reader with links to governmental agencies & NGOs, media coverage and blog postings.

Baha'i Leaders on Trial - The Latest!

The trial of the seven leaders of the Baha’i Faith in Iran could take place as early as this today, Sunday or Monday. They have been charged with spying for Israel, insulting religious sanctities and propaganda against the Islamic republic. These charges are unfounded and no evidence against them has been brought to light. The Baha’i leaders have been held for nearly a year in Evin prison, denied access to their attorney, the Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi.

A summary of all U.S. Government and NGO statements is listed on this post along with all media and blog coverage on the issue.


Statements by U.S. Government and NGOs

U.S. Condemns religious persecution in Iran
Voice of America - February 14, 2009

House Resolution - H.Res. 175 - on the Baha’is in Iran
February 13, 2009

State Department condemns Iranian government’s charges against Baha’is
February 13, 2009

USCIRF calls for justice for Baha’i prisoners in Iran
Statement from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

Congressional Record - February 11, 2009
Representative Frank R. Wolf expressed concern over the upcoming trial of the seven Baha’i leaders

Amnesty International Urgent Action
Amnesty International has launched an urgent action update exclusively devoted to the latest news about the Baha’i leaders in Iran.

Institute condemns charges and upcoming trial against the Baha’i leaders in Iran
The Institute for Religion and Public Policy issued this statement on February 12, 2009

Baha’i “Spying” Case Strikes New Blow Against Religious Freedom in Iran
Freedom House strongly condemns the Iranian government’s decision to try 7 Baha’is next week


Media Coverage

February 12, 2009
World Briefing - Middle East - Iran - 7 Bahais to Face Trial
The New York Times

Baha’i Leaders In Iran Charged With Spying For Israel
RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, Czech Republic

Iran Announces Trial of Baha’i Leadership
7thSpace Interactive

Baha’i Leaders In Iran Charged With Spying For Israel
Payvand, Iran

February 11, 2009

Iran to try Bahais for spying for Israel

Agence France Presse - AFP

Iran charges 7 members of Baha’i faith with spying for Israel
Ha’aretz, Israel

Iran vows to try 7 Baha’i leaders as spies
Times Colonist, Canada

Obama’s Two Iran Tests
Michael Rubin in the corner of The National Review Online

Iran to try Bahais for spying for Israel
Human Rights Tribune, Switzerland

Iran to try seven Baha’is for “spying” for Israel
IranVNC, DC

Friday, February 13, 2009

U.S. State Department Condemns Iran for its Impending Trial of Baha'i Leaders

The United States Department of State joined the international community in urging Iran to free all religious minorities that are currently in detention. In doing so, the State Department has just released an urgent statement condemning the Iranian government's plan to try, next week, in its "Revolutionary Court" the seven detained Iranian Baha'i leaders on trumped up charges of "espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities and propaganda against the Islamic Republic."

These charges, clearly, are "nothing more than a sham on the part of the Iranian government in an attempt to justify its documented and reprehensible intention to bring harm not only to the Iranian Bahá'í leadership, but to the whole of the Iranian Bahá'í community."

A recent statement issued by the Baha'i International Community states: “The accusations are false, and the government knows this,” said Diane Ala’i, the Baha’i International Community representative to the United Nations in Geneva. “The seven Baha’is detained in Tehran should be immediately released.”

Following an announcement by the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA), Agence France Presse (AFP) reported this ominous development two days ago. In that report, AFP wrote : "Iran will soon try seven members of the banned Bahai religion on charges including "espionage for Israel," the ISNA news agency reported on Wednesday."

In its statement today, the U. S. Department of State published the following statement on its website:

Persecution of Religious Minorities in Iran
Robert Wood
Acting Department Spokesman

Washington, DC
February 13, 2009

The United States condemns the Iranian government’s decision to level baseless charges of espionage against seven leaders of the Iranian Baha’i community: Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, Mr. Vahid Tizfahm and Mrs. Mahvash Sabet. Authorities have detained these Baha’i for more than nine months without access to legal counsel or making public any evidence against them. The accusations reported in Iranian and international media are part of the ongoing persecution of Baha’i in Iran. Thirty other Baha’i remain imprisoned in Iran solely on the basis of their religious belief.

Other religious minorities continue to be targeted solely on the basis of their beliefs. Last month authorities arrested three Christians: Jamal Ghalishorani, Nadereh Jamali and Hamik Khachikian. In addition, authorities detained several members of the Gonabadi Dervishes, followers of Sufism, on Kish Island in January.

We join the international community in urging the authorities to release all religious minorities who are currently in detention for peacefully exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Today, worldwide, National Spiritual Assemblies (Baha'i national governing bodies) have urged the Baha'is in their respective territories to "hold prayer gatherings for the Baha'is in Iran and for the amelioration of the deplorable human rights situation in Iran generally."

Saturday, February 07, 2009

CNN Features Open Letter By Iranian Professionals

Free thinking and prominent Iranian professionals from around the world have voiced their deep concern again.

They, naturally, fear for the future of their beloved homeland. They are incensed by the injustices that have been perpetrated in the name of their religion and have courageously addressed their government in protest of its outrageous actions against its Baha'i religious minority.

In an open letter, published on IRANIAN.COM on 4 February 2009, these intellectuals and prominent professionals expressed their outrage at the shameful treatment of the Baha'is that has been carried out by the Iranian authorities.

Subsequently, this open letter triggered widespread publicity in many websites and media outlets. Among which was this recent one, featured on the attached CNN website.

The entire publication from IRANIAN.COM is posted below:

We Are Ashamed!


Century and a half of silence towards oppression against Bahais is enough

by Open Letter
04-Feb-2009

In the name of goodness and beauty, and in the name of humanity and liberty!

As Iranian human beings, we are ashamed for what has been perpetrated upon the Baha’is in the last century and a half in Iran.

We firmly believe that every Iranian, “without distinction of any kind, such as, race, color, sex, language, religion, politics or other opinions,” and also without regard to ethnic background, “social origin, property, birth or other status,” is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, from the very inception of the Baha’i Faith, the followers of this religion in Iran have been deprived of many provisions of human rights solely on account of their religious convictions.

According to historical documents and evidence, from the commencement of the Babi Movement followed by the appearance of the Baha’i Faith, thousands of our countrymen have been slain by the sword of bigotry and superstition only for their religious beliefs. Just in the first decades of its establishment, some twenty thousand of those who stood identified with this faith community were savagely killed throughout various regions of Iran.

We are ashamed that during that period, no voice of protest against these barbaric murders was registered;

We are ashamed that until today the voice of protest against this heinous crime has been infrequent and muted;

We are ashamed that in addition to the intense suppression of Baha’is during its formative decades, the last century also witnessed periodic episodes of persecution of this group of our countrymen, in which their homes and businesses were set on fire, and their lives, property and families were subjected to brutal persecution – but all the while, the intellectual community of Iran remained silent;

We are ashamed that during the last thirty years, the killing of Baha’is solely on the basis of their religious beliefs has gained legal status and over two-hundred Baha’is have been slain on this account;

We are ashamed that a group of intellectuals have justified coercion against the Baha’i community of Iran;

We are ashamed of our silence that after many decades of service to Iran, Baha’i retired persons have been deprived of their right to a pension;

We are ashamed of our silence that on the account of their fidelity to their religion and truthfulness in stating this conviction, thousands of Baha’i youth have been barred from education in universities and other institutions of higher learning in Iran;

We are ashamed that because of their parents’ religious beliefs, Baha’i children are subjected to denigration in schools and in public.

We are ashamed of our silence over this painful reality that in our nation, Baha’is are systematically oppressed and maligned, a number of them are incarcerated because of their religious convictions, their homes and places of business are attacked and destroyed, and periodically their burial places are desecrated;

We are ashamed of our silence when confronted with the long, dark and atrocious record that our laws and legal system have marginalized and deprived Baha’is of their rights, and the injustice and harassment of both official and unofficial organs of the government towards this group of our countrymen;

We are ashamed for all these transgressions and injustices, and we are ashamed for our silence over these deeds.

We, the undersigned, asked you, the Baha’is, to forgive us for the wrongs committed against the Baha’i community of Iran.

We will no longer be silent when injustice is visited upon you.

We stand by you in achieving all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights.

Let us join hands in replacing hatred and ignorance with love and tolerance.

February 3, 2009

  1. Abdolalian, Morteza, Journalist, CJFE Board of Directors - Canada, Oakville
  2. Abghari, Shahla, Professor, Life University – USA, Atlanta
  3. Abghari, Siavash, Professor, University of Georgia – USA, Atlanta
  4. Ahmadi, Ramin, Professor, Yale University – USA, Yale
  5. Almasi, Nasrin, Managing editor of Shahrvand- Canada, Toronto
  6. Bagherpour, Khosro, Poet /Journalist – Germany
  7. Baradaran, Monireh, Writer/Human rights activist - Germany
  8. Beyzaie, Niloofar, Play writer/Theatre Director – Germany, Frankfurt
  9. Boroumand, Ladan, Researcher, Boroumand Foundation - USA, Washington, DC
  10. Boroumand, Roya, Executive Director, Boroumand Foundation – USA, Washington, DC
  11. Choubine, Bahram, Researcher/Writer – Germany, Köln
  12. Daneshvar, Hamid, Actor/Theatre Director – France, Paris
  13. Darvishpour, Mehrdad, Professor, Stockholm University - Sweden, Stockholm
  14. Djalali Chimeh, Mohammad (M.sahar), Poet - France, Paris
  15. Djanati Atai, Behi, Actor/ Writer/Theatre Director – France, Paris
  16. Ebrahimi, Hadi, Editor-in-chief of Shahrgon, Canada, Vancouver
  17. Fani Yazdi, Reza, Political analyst - USA
  18. Farhoudi, Vida, Poet/Translator- France, Paris
  19. Forouhar, Parastoo, Artist/Human rights activist – Germany, Frankfurt
  20. Ghaemi, Hadi Coordinator Int. Campaign for HR in Iran - USA
  21. Ghahraman, Saghi, Poet /Journalist – Canada, Toronto
  22. Ghahraman, Sasan, Publisher/Writer/Journalist – Canada, Toronto
  23. Javid, Jahanshah, Publisher, Iranian.com – Mexico, Chihuahua
  24. Kakhsaz, Naser, Political analyst – Germany, Bochum
  25. Kalbasi, Sheema, Poet – USA, Washington
  26. Kassraei, Farhang, Writer/Actor – Germany, Wiesbaden
  27. Khorsandi, Hadi, Satirist – Great Britain, London
  28. Mahbaz, Efat, Women rights activist /Journalist– UK, London
  29. Malakooty, Sirus, Classical Guitar Player/ Composer/ Lecturer - UK, London
  30. Moshkin, Ghalam Shahrokh, Actor/Dancer – France, Paris
  31. Mossaed, Jila, Poet/Writer - Sweden, Göteborg.
  32. Mossallanejad, Ezat, Writer/Human right Activist, CCVT – Canada, Toronto
  33. Parsa Soheil, Theatre Director - Canada Toronto
  34. Sahimi, Muhammad Professor, University of Southern California – USA
  35. Shafigh, Shahla, Writer/Researcher – France, Paris
  36. Shemiranie, Khosro, Journalist - Canada, Montreal
  37. Sheyda, Behrooz, Literary Critic/Theorist- Sweden, Stockholm
  38. Taghipoor, Masoomeh, Actor/Theatre Director - Sweden, Göteborg.
  39. Tahavori, Mohammad, Journalist, USA, MA Cambridge
  40. Vahdati, Soheila, Human Rights Activist – USA, California
  41. Zahedi, Mitra, Theatre Director – Germany, Berlin
  42. Zerehi, Hassan, Editor-in-chief of Shahrvand, Canada, Toronto

To join the signaturees please contact the following emails.

[email protected]

[email protected]

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Outstanding Scholarly Essay on Egypt's Baha'i Minority

On its webpage, Al Waref Institute describes its mission as follows: "The core target of Al Waref Institute is to bridge the gap between East and West by emphasizing the importance of the cultures and arts as a platform for engagement, enhancing inter-cultural understanding, and encouraging dialogue between the citizens of the Muslim and Arab world and the United States."

Recently, an outstanding scholarly essay written by an academic, named Youssef Wardany, was published by the Institute. The article addresses the question of "right of belief in Egypt" using the Baha'i minority as a case study.

The entire essay, linked here, is posted below:

The Right of Belief in Egypt: Case study of Baha’i minority Print E-mail

By Youssef Wardany
Exclusive for Al Waref

Freedom of religion and the right of religious minorities to believe, worship, and live in accordance with their religious beliefs, without discrimination or persecution, has become a universally accepted right vested in every individual human being.

This right is supported by the international human rights instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR article 18), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR article 18), the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR article 9), the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (article 8). These documents provide the framework for human rights and are validated by their signatories, each of whom makes a dedication to adhere to the agreed upon principles. Egypt, despite its obligation to respect these documents, has been criticized by many international reports for its poor record in respect to religious freedom; particularly concerning the Christian Copt and Baha’i minorities. These criticisms have relied mainly on claims that Egypt is circumscribing the freedom of belief and practice, with contradiction to the international treaties ratified by the government, and the constitutional guarantees of equality between citizens and respect for their freedom of belief.

The objective of this paper is to clarify the Baha’i community’s deprivation of basic rights and to examine the state’s strategy in dealing with this minority group in light of Egypt’s international and constitutional obligations. The paper will not only refute the opinion that violation of Baha’i community rights is due to the Islamic legislation (Shari’a), but it will also explain how this strategy is developed as a result of internal political dynamics, which vary from one Muslim country to another.

People of Baha’i faith have lived in Egypt since the early years of the 20th century with a relative degree of freedom. In 1924 they were able to register their central spiritual assembly in Cairo, publish books, and practice their rituals. Their suffering began in 1960, when presidential decree number 263 banned the Baha’i community and confiscated their properties after a fatwa from Al Azhar El Sharif, the main Muslim Sunni institution in the Islamic World. Due to this decree, Baha’is are prevented from participation in any religious activities and some of them have been arrested and jailed on charges of insulting Islam.

Another example of their challenges can be seen in the difficulty for Baha’i practicing individuals to obtain the required identification. The requirement of a computer generated document by the Central Civil Registry office of the Ministry of Interior in 1995 triggered the suffering of Baha’i as it only admits the three heavenly religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) to denote the identity of an individual in the religious affiliation section of the Identity Card (ID). Possessing an ID is a basic requirement for obtaining any public service, official document such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death certificates, and even to partake in simple monetary transactions like opening a bank account or trading on the stock market. The Baha’i obliged because they had few options. They could register with another religion, live without an ID, or forge the document to reflect their Baha’i identity at the risk of imprisonment. While some Baha’is have been able to persuade local civil registry offices to leave the religion space blank on their ID’s or to register them under different names, many have faced great difficulties.

These discriminatory measures deprive Baha’i and their children from the rights of citizenship stated in several articles of the amended 1971 constitution of Egypt, including article 1 that states, “Egypt is a democratic state based on citizenship,” article 40, which guarantees equality for all citizens before the law without any discrimination in regard to race, ethnic origin, language, religion or creed, and article 46 obligating the state to “guarantee the freedom of belief and the freedom of practice of religious rites.” Moreover, these measures are in contradiction with some international human rights treaties ratified by Egypt such as ICCPR, Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), Convention on the Elimination of all Forms OF Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which ensure the freedom of religion and prohibit any discrimination based upon it.

As a result of these violations, many international organizations have included the Baha’i issue in their comments about human rights violations in Egypt. Prominent among these institutions are the US Department of State and Commission on International Religious Freedom, the EU parliament, and the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

Since the year 2002, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has begun to mention the Baha’i situation in their annual reports. The Egyptian government was accused, in the subsequent commission reports since 2002, of using article 98 of the penal code that prohibits citizens from “ridiculing or insulting heavenly religions or inciting sectarian strife” as a tool to “prosecute alleged acts of proselytism by non Muslims.” The commission simultaneously asked the U.S government to urge the Egyptian government to cancel the 1960 presidential decree banning Baha’i members from practicing their faith, end messages of hatred and intolerance towards them in government controlled media, promote understanding and respect for the Baha’i community, and to reform the ID either by removing religious affiliation from identity documents or making it optional to identify.

On January 17, 2008, The European Parliament acknowledged in its resolution on the situation of human rights in Egypt that Baha’i are still severely disadvantaged by sectarian isolation and called upon the Egyptian government to support measures that would guarantee them freedom of private religious belief. Moreover, in 2002 The United Human Rights Committee evoked concerns about the inability of Baha’i to practice their faith and the pressure exerted by Islamists on the judiciary organ to adhere to Shari’ a in interpretation of articles 14.18 and 19 of the ICCPR.

These pressures, however, have not been sufficient to make the government change its policy towards Baha’i. First, the Baha’i issue is understood by Egypt as a subject of internal political dynamics rather than international affairs. Secondly, the impact of these pressures is very minor in light of the United States’ dire need of Egypt’s support in war against terrorism and the priority of other issues of concern for the international community, such as slow democratic reforms within Egypt and the discrimination against Copts.

The government strategy in dealing with Baha’i can be traced through two major overlapping strategies. The short term strategy deals with Baha’i suffering as a legal issue that is best handled through courts rather than political bodies and within the framework of citizenship itself. The long term strategy takes into consideration the political cost analysis and the amount of strain the Egyptian government would bear if it recognized the Baha’i right of belief despite its contradiction to the second article of the Constitution; that stipulates that Islamic law is the principle source of legislation and that the opinions from religious institutions such as Al-Azhar and Dar Al-Ifta (the house of Fatwa’s) are “binding.”

In April 2006, a lower administrative court gave a couple of Baha’i the right to identify their religion in ID cards, stating that “even if the government did not recognize the Baha'i faith, adherents should still have their religious status properly stated on official documents.” This rule was appealed by the government, and in December the same year, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that it is not allowed for Baha’i to mention their belief in any official document.

The rule was based on three main arguments. Firstly, allowing Baha’i to mention their faith on ID cards will imply a recognition of the Baha’i religion in contrast to opinions of Scholars (Fukih) and fatwa’s from official religious institutions that consider Islam as the most complete of all religions with Muhammad as the seal of Prophets. Secondly, this rule conformed to the article 18 of the UDHR and article 46 of the Constitution, taking into consideration that the word ‘religion’ is basically confined to the only three heavenly religions recognized in the Quran. Thirdly, the notion of public order, which is mentioned clearly in the 1956, 1958, 1964 Constitutions, prevent Baha’i from being considered a religion. With this understanding, the Supreme Administrative Court adopted a unilateral interpretation of the word “religion,” thus depriving post Islamic faiths such as Baha’i and other “non religions” having the right to adopt a religion or belief of their choice.

The government found itself in a contradictory situation as some Baha’i were deprived of their right to register their religious affiliation in official documents and punished at the same time in accordance with law number 143 from 1994, which requires every Egyptian citizen to have an ID. The government failed to persuade all Baha’i to use their passport as documentation in their daily transaction, as passports do not state religious affiliation and some Egyptian governmental agencies were hesitant in accepting passports in lieu of IDs. In December of 2006, this dilemma led the National Council for Human Rights, a quasi governmental agency, to ask the Egyptian Prime Minister to either omit the religious affiliation space of the ID card or to add the word ‘others’ to the already three recognized religions.

In January 2008, the Court of Administrative Justice, a lower administrative court, allowed the Baha’i to leave the religious affiliation field blank on all identification documents. This rule was reinforced by another ruling from the same court in November, which gave a Baha’i university student the right to obtain an ID card with dashes "--" in place of religious identification. The Ministry of Interior did not appeal the two rulings, which may be taken as a sign that the government would like to find a solution.

Solving the ID problem does not mean that the Egyptian government is able to recognize the Baha’i religion as a distinct one. It can only be seen as a tactic or a short term strategy to solve a citizenship dilemma and dilute international pressures in this regard. The maneuverability of the government in granting Baha’i the right to practice their belief in public and to annul the 1960 presidential decree is very limited and dependent mainly on two factors. First, the government’s readiness to bear internal pressures, heightened by Islamists and religious institutions who consider any improvement in other religious minorities’ status a loss on their behalf. Second, the potential threats that Baha’is can pose to the public order and stability of the regime in regard to preserving the existing status quo.

The government’s political legitimacy is built on the respect of Islamic Shari’a and the opinions of official religious institutions who consider Baha’i faith as a “heretical sect of Islam rather than an independent religious movement.” Since 1910, Al Azhar has issued a lot of opinions prohibiting the recognition of the Baha’i religion, naming its adherents as a threat to the public order, and calling the government to use its authority to ban Baha’i in the country. Moreover, some prominent Muslim sheikhs linked Baha’is to Zionism and imperialism with the aim of delegitimizing their case and mobilizing public opinion against them. These opinions of certain religious leaders find a suitable environment to spread in a country where 95.4% of the population appreciates the status of religion in the society. Adding to this, the Muslim Brotherhood is very strong in the country, controlling 20% of the Parliament’s total seats and having a wide spread outreach in the streets with the services they provide and a clear Islamic agenda.

Moreover, the government believes that its current strategy in dealing with the Baha’i will not lead to a break in the public order inside Egypt. This is supported by the existence of a small Baha’i Community in Egypt, totaling 2,000 individuals out of 80 million citizens in July 2008 and the Baha’i’s abstention from conflict and contention as a result of their faith’s request to “obey the government in power at a given time, and to refrain strictly from any attempts to subvert or undermine it.”

Despite these estimations, the potentiality of clashes between the Baha’i and the state of Egypt exists as Muslim conversion to Baha’ism could become a trend. This possibility of conversion is understandable as “Baha’ism is considered the second-most widely spread independent religion in the world, after Christianity.” The government’s reaction to Muslim conversion to Christianity has historically been very harsh, threatening those individuals to “refrain from acknowledging their actual religious affiliation or any rights related to their conversion.”

Egypt’s stance on Baha’ism is in conformity with the long traditions adopted in most Muslim countries where Baha’i faith is not recognized legally as a separate autonomous religion and its followers do not have the right to practice Baha’ism in public. This treatment is substantiated by the claim that Islam does not realize any post Islamic faiths and the freedom of worship is granted only to the “people of the Book” (Muslims, Christians, and Jews). However despite this trend, the specific rights of the Baha’i community vary dramatically from one country to another.

In Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Baha’i have the right to hold their public meetings, establish academic centers, teach their faith, and elect their administrative councils. In Indonesia, the Baha’ism is legally recognized and the followers have the ability to elect their administrative councils. In Bahrain, the Baha’i constitute 1% of the population and the government does not intervene in their worship and gathering; moreover, it recently authorized the publication of a book about the life of the Baha’is. In UAE, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi donated land for a Baha’i cemetery.

However, in contrast to these many freedoms, in Iran the Baha’i are viewed as “heretics”, and may face repression on the grounds of apostasy. The Iranian parliament approved on September 9, 2008, with an overwhelming majority, a new penal code “calling for a mandatory death sentence for apostates, or those who leave Islam.” The Iranian treatment of the Baha’i as a non-heavenly religion can be contrasted with article number 12 of the Iranian constitution, which recognizes Zoroastrians as a religious minority with the right to “perform their religious rites and ceremonies, and to act according to their own canon in matters of personal affairs and religious education.” This contradiction may be accounted for because Zoroastrianism was the main religious in Iran before Islam, unlike the post-Islamic faith of Baha’ism.

The rights of the Baha’i community to practice their religion are determined mainly in Muslim countries by internal political consideration, rather than by a sole Islamic opinion. This was reinforced by the different interpretation of Islamic texts, and the severe variation within the community of Muslim scholars. Egypt adheres to a more moderate approach, giving citizenship rights and freedom to practice in private, in spite of the internal religious opposition. Cairo’s violation of international human rights instruments can be seen from a cultural relativist view that takes into consideration the societal underpinnings within the country, the absence of a strong international pressure, and the notion of “public order.”


References

1. Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (2005). Available at:http://www.uscirf.gov/index.php? option=com_content&task= view&id=1410&Itemid=1
2. Baha’i International Community (2008). Available at http://www.bahai.org/misc/politics
3. Baha’i Topics (2008). Available at http://info.bahai.org/article-1-6-0-1.html
4. Baha’i World News Service (2008). Available at http://news.bahai.org/story/600
5. BUCK CHRISTOPHER (2003). Islam and Minorities: The Case of the Baha’is. In Studies in Contemporary Islam 5. Available at http://bahailibrary.com/pdf/2005_08/buck_islam_minorities.pdf
6. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook (2008). Available at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/eg.html
7. Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt . Available at http://www.sis.gov.eg/En/Politics/Constitution/Text/040703000000000001.htm
8. Egypt Policy Focus (2005). In US Commission on International Religious freedom Reports. . Available at http://www.uscirf.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1410&Itemid=1
9. El Ahram Newspaper, 20 November 2008. Available at http://www.elahram.com/Index.asp?CurFN=egyp8.htm&DID=9772
10. European Parliament resolution of 17 January 2008 on the situation in Egypt. Available at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=MOTION&reference=P6-RC-2008-0023&language=EN
11. GEORGES, NAEL (2007). Human Rights and the Baha’i Community in Egypt. In Middle East Pact. France: Toulouse. Available at http://www.mep-online.org/Human-rights-and-the-Baha-i
12. Human Rights Situation in Egypt 2006/ 2007 (2007). Third Annual Report of National Council for Human Rights . Available at http://www.nchr.org.eg/en/annual_report06.html
13. Human Rights Watch & Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (2007). Prohibited Identities State Interference with Religious Freedom, Vol 19, No. 7(E). Available at http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2007/11/11/prohibited-identities
14. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966). United Nations General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI). Available at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm
15. Islam on Line (2008). Available at http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?pagename=IslamOnline-Arabic-Ask_Scholar/FatwaA/FatwaA&cid=1122528622570
16. Islam Memo (2008). Available at http://www.islammemo.cc/hadath-el-saa/2006/12/17/24336.html
17. PREECE, JENNIFER ( 2005). Minority Rights: Between Diversity and Community. Cambridge, UK : Polity Press.
18. TAD STAHNKE & ROBERT C. BLITT ( 2005). The Religion-State Relationship and the Right to Freedom of Religion or Belief: A Comparative Textual Analysis of the Constitutions of Predominantly Muslim Countries. Washington: United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Available at http://www.uscirf.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1887&Itemid=1
19. The Muslim Network of Baha’i Rights (2008). Available at http://www.bahairights.org/2008/09/22/roundup-on-status-bahais-in-muslim-majority-countries/
20. The Baha’i Faith Index (2008). Available at http://www.bahaindex.com/en/news/human-rights/5012-iran-apostasy-bill-appears-likely-to-become-law
21. United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Annual Reports Chapters on Egypt 2002-2008. Available at http://www.uscirf.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1410&Itemid=1
22. VAN DER VOORT, KARLIJN (2007). Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court Denies Constitutional Rights to Baha’i Religious Minority. Available at: http://works.bepress.com/karlijn_van_der_voort/1

Monday, February 02, 2009

Perhaps Next Time You Might Get Your Rights!

After ruling on all the cases before the court today, and in the midst of confusion and lack of accountability, the Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court's Judge informed those present that he has not "seen" the Baha'i file needed to announce the verdict in that case!

The answer to this situation was quite simple: come back again on 16 February 2009, and by then, may be...just may be, the judge will have something to say. In the interim, the Baha'is of Egypt are left hanging and with very little hope for justice or civil rights....

Following the initial hearing of the appeal on 27 September 2008 by this court and the scheduled verdict date of 20 October, this is the fifth postponement (3 November, 15 December, 19 January 2009 & 2 February) by Egypt's Supreme Administrative court regarding the appeal brought by Islamist lawyers in their attempt to reverse the 29 January 2009 ruling that permitted the Baha'is of Egypt to obtain ID cards and birth certificates with dashes [--] inserted in place of religious identification.

Attached is a prayer by Abdu'l-Baha, the son of the Founder of the Baha'i religion, revealed for the Baha'is of Egypt. It was scanned from Howard Colby Ives [early American Baha'i] personal papers in the U.S. National Archives.

Below, is the complete version of the prayer for the Baha'is of Egypt that was sent for publication in 1919 by Shoghi Effendi Rabbani who later became the Guardian of the Baha'i Faith:

STAR OF THE WEST

Recent Tablet to the Bahá'ís of Egypt

Translation of the blessed Tablet revealed by 'Abdu'l-Bahá and sent by him for publication

Haifa, Palestine, March 17, 1919.

TO THE STAR OF THE WEST:

Dear Sir: I herewith enclose a copy of a Tablet recently revealed for the
friends and maid servants of the Merciful in the country of Egypt, which the
Beloved wishes you to publish in the columns of your well known STAR THE WEST.
Shoghi Rabbani.

To the friends and the maid servants of the Merciful in the country of Egypt
Upon them be El Baha el Abha!

0 ye who are sincere! 0 ye who are attracted! 0 ye who are of the new creation!

God, the Praised and the Exalted, hath said: "Are these the same as the old
creatures Nay rather, they are clothed in garments of a new creation!" Then know
ye that in the estimation of God, the example of the creatures is like unto a
pure, blessed tree of a wonderful trunk and strong seeds. He causes it to grow
gracefully, then its roots become firm, its twigs spring forth, its leaves
become verdant, its flowers bloom and its fruits appear. Then its shade expands
over all the regions, until it reaches its ultimate evolution and growth,
attains to its development and height, its significance become perfect and its
branches extend over the East and the West of the earth.
Then its creation is completed, its evolution is accomplished, its hopes become
evident, it obtains its desire, it attains to its utmost perfection and its
beauty becomes manifest. Then its withering begins, its leaves turn yellow, its
flowers become scattered, its fruits fall down and its earthly elements return
to the layers of its soil. No fruits remain upon it, no leaves, no
attractiveness, no beauty, no sweetness and no freshness, until it becomes like
unto an old hollow palm tree.

Then a new tree grows from its seeds, green, verdant and freshened by the
divine outpouring, the merciful breeze, the heat from the Sun of Reality, the
heavy rain from the clouds of the abundant mercy and the blowing wind from the
wafting place of Providence. "Whatever verse we abolish or forget we replace by
a better one." This is the example of the new creation, the miraculous cycle and the second resurrection, which is in conformity with the first creation.

Then thank ye God, the Praised and the Exalted, for the light of guidance, this
complete bounty and this great bestowal.
He chooseth for His mercy

whomsoever He wisheth." Then it is incumbent upon ye to cry out with most
wonderful melodies:

Praise be to the One who created this marvelous dispensation!

Praise be to the One who made this new creation wonderful!

Praise be to the One who ordained this great outpouring!

Praise be to the One who shone forth with this evident light!

Praise be to the One who renewed this wonderful springtime!

Praise be to the One who perfumed the nostrils of the people of oneness with
the merciful fragrance which is diffused in all the countries! "And

thou didst see that the land which was barren and lifeless when we caused the
water to descend upon it, moved and grew and brought forth a beautiful pair of
all things."

Praise be to the One through the outpouring of Whose clouds these countries
became verdant!

Praise be to the One through the heavy rain of Whose compassion these rose
gardens became beautified!

Praise be to the one through the current of Whose stream, these reservoirs
became overflowing!

Praise be to the One who has chosen the sincere ones to spread His teachings in
the countries!

Praise be to the One who selected for His mercy pure souls; through the
fragrance of whose love and perfumed breaths the hearts of the pious throb!

Praise be to the One who made the stars of guidance to smite the wicked!

Praise be to the One who guided the chosen community to the upright way and
straight path!

- SW v. 10, p. 73-74