Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Comic Depicting the Dilemma of Egyptian Baha'is


This comic was published on the 13th of December on page-19 of Al-Ra'i [the opinion] newspaper in Kuwait. It addresses the current situation of the Baha'is of Egypt. It's author is Mr. Amro Salim. It translates as follows:

The writing on the right side of the comic next to the child's head states: "the judiciary forced the [Ministry of] Interior to place (-) in the religion section of the [ID] card of the Baha'i."

The angry father of this bewildered child is complaining to the officer at the police station by saying: "I want to make a [police] report regarding the headmaster of the school of my boy...they are teaching the boy the Baha'i [religion] Ya-Basha [sir]!"

As to the evidence shown to the officer, he points to a page from a notebook with the title "arithmetic" that shows under the title "2 - 1 = 1" with the minus sign, in bold, resembling the dash (-) for religion on ID cards.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Egypt's Supreme Court Postpones Verdict Again!

Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court convened today to rule on the appeal described in this previous post and quoted below:
The first one will be on 15 December 2008 at Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court when a decision is expected regarding the appeal of a non-party (by an Islamist lawyer) to the 29 January 2008 ruling that allowed the Baha'is to obtain identification documents and birth certificates by inserting dashes "--" in place of religion in these documents. It is expected that the court will endorse the recommendation of its own State Judiciary Council to reject the appeal since the appellant, as stated by the council of judges, has no right to interfere with this lawsuit, and since the defendant (the Ministry of Interior) had not appealed the ruling and had accepted it on its face.

The court decided to postpone its verdict again until 19 January 2009.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Upcoming Court Dates to Watch in Egypt

The Baha'is of Egypt are eagerly awaiting two court dates that might greatly influence their struggle to obtain identity documents.

The first one will be on 15 December 2008 at Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court when a decision is expected regarding the appeal of a non-party (by an Islamist lawyer) to the 29 January 2008 ruling that allowed the Baha'is to obtain identification documents and birth certificates by inserting dashes "--" in place of religion in these documents. It is expected that the court will endorse the recommendation of its own State Judiciary Council to reject the appeal since the appellant, as stated by the council of judges, has no right to interfere with this lawsuit, and since the defendant (the Ministry of Interior) had not appealed the ruling and had accepted it on its face.

The second date is scheduled for 17 January 2009, on which Cairo's Seventh Circuit Administrative Court will rule on a challenge (a stalling tactic--not an appeal) to the same ruling of 29 January 2008 of the First Circuit Administrative Court, in which another Islamist lawyer challenged the competence of the judge. Consequently, the judge had referred the case out of his court to the Seventh Circuit Court for an unbiased determination.

Meanwhile, as of today, the Baha'is of Egypt remain "without identity."

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Revolution Without Rights? Search for Equality in Iran

The following is a recent report of the UK-based Foreign Policy Centre. The FPC refers to itself as "Britain's leading progressive foreign affairs think tank," and this report is one of the first (if not the only) to compare women, Kurds and Baha'is in Iran. It focuses on identity-based discrimination and systemic obstacles to equality in Iran, and it draws on the experiences of all three groups to underline common concerns.

Publications

A Revolution Without Rights? Women, Kurds and Baha'is Searching for Equality in Iran

[Cover of A Revolution Without Rights? Women, Kurds and Baha'is Searching for Equality in Iran]

Geoffrey Cameron

£4.95, plus £1 p+p.

Download A Revolution Without Rights? (3.14 megabyte PDF; need help viewing PDFs?)

In this new Foreign Policy Centre pamphlet, written by Geoffrey Cameron and Tahirih Danesh, the authors examine the religious, legal and social obstacles to equality faced by women, Baha'is and Kurds in Iran, comparing the experiences of the groups.

Cameron and Danesh evaluate the Iranian government's compliance with its own constitution and look at how Iran's treatment of women and minorities measures up to the international agreements it has signed. The pamphlet lays out practical steps that British and European policy-makers can take to support the equal treatment of women and minorities with their fellow citizens in Iran.

The pamphlet will be launched on Tue 25 Nov at 6.15pm in the Wilson Room, Portcullis House. Full events details can be found on our homepage: www.fpc.org.uk

If you would like to attend, please send your details by email to: events@fpc.org.uk

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Iran Press Watch

A new site named Iran Press Watch is worth a visit on a regular basis. It provides the latest news regarding the Baha'is of Iran and their persecution by their own government. It also updates its readers with the world's reaction to the gross injustice experienced by the Baha'is of Iran.

In its latest post, the site reported on a speech made by a Brazilian congressman regarding the current condition of the Baha'is in Iran. The following is a reprint of that post:
Brazilian Congressman on Baha’is in Iran
December 1, 2008

The following is a speech provided by Congressman Geraldo Resende at the October 16th, 2008 Session of Congress in Brazil. Translated by Sam Cyrous.

BAHÁ’ÍS: MORE THAN A RELIGIOUS QUESTION — A QUESTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Congress: Iran astonishes the world with its Nuclear Program and, above all, with the intransigence of its President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in not allowing members of the United Nations Organization — the UN — to inspect its nuclear facilities, but what I wish to bring up here is another issue regarding Iran which has not received the attention that it deserves from the rest of the world — the persecution of the followers of the Bahá’í religion and the imprisonment of its believers who have been falsely charged with espionage.

Since May 14th, seven Iranian Bahá’ís have been kept in captivity, without access to lawyers and without any communication with their families. They are people of goodwill who have committed the “crime” of belonging to a religion unrecognized by the Iranian State. These seven Bahá’ís, who make up a group that took care of the interests of more than 300 thousand Iranian Bahá’ís, were arrested arbitrarily and taken from their homes and commercial establishments by the Iranian police. This group’s work consisted of providing help to the Baha’i community through the establishment of regular prayer meetings, children activities, funerals, weddings, and a few other community activities. And what is even more worrisome, Mr. Chairman, is that after four months, these Bahá’ís continue to be incarcerated in a completely arbitrary way, and have now been accused of espionage and of belonging to an anti-Islamic and anti-Iranian group. More recently the situation of the Bahá’ís has worsened. This June, three Bahá’ís of Iranian origin, all with successful businesses and families established in Yemen, had their houses attacked and their documents, CDs, photographs and even computers confiscated.

Despite any formal accusation, government officials indicated that these Bahá’ís were detained under suspicion of some sort of “proselytization,” a violation of the law in Yemen, which is denied by the Bahá’ís, but which puts them under the threat of imminent deportation to Iran, where Bahá’ís are intensely persecuted and would probably face prison and torture. Mr. Chairman, these accusations are not true. I know many Bahá’ís in my State, and I know perfectly well that they do not involve themselves in any political or religious disputes and, above all, they struggle vigorously for peace and unity in the world. It is important to remember that it was the Persian government which exiled the founder of the Bahá’í Faith to the city of Akka [part of the Ottoman Empire at the time], today part of Israeli territory. Therefore, accusing Bahá’ís of having political connections with Israel because of the fact that their holy shrines, with the mortal remains of the founders of their faith, are located in that region clearly demonstrates the intention of the Iranian government to discriminate against these seven Bahá’ís at any cost. Noble colleagues, even other Iranian citizens are rising in defense of the Bahá’ís, because they, neighbors, colleagues and friends, know that Bahá’ís are not part of any secret Israeli organization, and that they deserve all due respect as human beings.

The Iranian and Muslim Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shirin Ebade, rose up to defend the Bahá’ís, resulting in a newspaper alleging that Shirin’s daughter had converted from Islam to the Bahá’í Faith, an accusation which has no foundation [and which carries a death sentence in Islamic law]. Analyzing this question, we clearly understand that those who defend the Bahá’ís are also being persecuted, and for this reason the Brazilian government, as well as other governments in the world, should denounce these sad violations, since these seven Bahá’ís are at risk of being executed at any moment. All vulnerable groups in Iran count upon international pressure to aid their plight, to ensure that their rights will be preserved and that they will be treated with at least minimal dignity. Iranian Bahá’ís are only one more of these groups that apprehensively await for action to be taken in their defense.

It should be clear, Mr. Chairman, that the Bahá’í Faith preaches the unity of God, of Religion and of Humankind. Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Bahá’í religion, states that the fundamental objective animating the Faith of God and His religion is the protection of the interests of humanity and the promotion of unity, and the nourishment of the spirit of love and friendship for all of humanity. The Bahá’í Faith is an independent world religion with its own laws and scriptures that emerged in 1844, in Persia, currently known as Iran. Bahá’u’lláh, whose given name was Mirzá Husayn Ali, lived between the years of 1817 and 1892. The Faith which he founded does not possess dogmas, rituals, clergy or a sacerdotal class. The Bahá’í International Community with approximately 6 million followers is the second most widely diffused religion in the world, surpassed only by Christianity. Bahá’ís reside in 178 countries of the world and can be found in practically all territories of the globe. The Bahá’í Faith has been established in Brazil since February 1921, when Lady Leonora Holsapple Armstrong arrived to teach the religion to its residents. Today, [Brazilian] Bahá’ís are a contingent of approximately 47 thousand people, from diverse social, cultural and economical classes, who reside in approximately 1,215 Brazilian municipalities.

It is important to remember, Mr. Chairman, that this very National Congress of Brazil has honored Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, in a solemn session held on May 28th of 1992, the centenary year of his passing, an occasion at which representatives of many political parties spoke about the life and teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. Also in 1992, during the World Conference for Environment and Development, Eco ‘92, the Bahá’í Community conveyed its greetings to all the Chiefs of State and Government in the Official Conference and offered as a gift to the city of Rio de Janeiro and to all those who promoted the World Conference, a beautiful monument in shape of an hourglass, dedicated to World Peace, established in the Aterro do Flamengo, and conceived by renowned artist Siron Franco, who is also a member of the Bahá’í Community. In addition, the Bahá’í Community is distinguishing Brazil with the establishment of economic and social development projects in diverse regions of the country. For example, here in Brasília, the community has established the SCHOOL OF NATIONS, which promotes an education embracing concepts of the unity of humankind and world citizenship. The Bahá’í International Community is the first non-governmental organization formally credentialed by the United Nations, approximately 50 years ago, which has supported all of the actions of the United Nations, aimed at the establishment of world peace, tolerance, and understanding amongst the peoples of the world.

Considering all which has been previously stated, Mr. Chairman, the Bahá’í community residing in the Brazilian state looks for action from this government, which has always shown itself to be concerned with human rights.

Thank you very much.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Egypt: Yet Another Newborn Denied Birth Certificate

A baby, named Shehab Shady Moussa, was born in Cairo on the 9th of November of this year to Baha'i parents. When his father went to the civil affairs agency, charged with registering newborns and producing their birth certificates, he was told that they received recent instructions from the Ministry of Interior forbidding them from issuing birth certificates to Baha'is. This is despite multiple court rulings ordering the Ministry to issue certificates to children born to Baha'is with dashes "--" inserted in place of their religious identity.

This news item was published in today's edition of Cairo's Al-Badeel newspaper (attached, with a photograph of the Minister of Interior, Habib Al-Adly). The baby's father told the newspaper that this means that his newborn child cannot be counted in Egypt's census, he cannot be vaccinated against serious infectious diseases and that the baby's mother cannot obtain maternal leave from her employment.

This newborn can be now added to a long list of Egyptian children, born to Baha'i parents, who live in the shadows, and whose existence has been denied by their own government. They are deprived of all their human and civil rights, including the rights to health care and education. By doing so, Egypt continues to be in gross violation of all international covenants that guarantee the rights of man, to which Egypt is a co-signatory.

The entire world must express its outrage at this inhumane treatment of children in a nation considered to be a so-called mainstream, moderate and modern, as well as one that is regarded to represent a unique ancient civilization--admired by all. Is this what Egypt wants to be remembered by? One would doubt this very much, and one would expect otherwise.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Is the World Ready for Religious Unity?

The world continues to express its hunger for a solution to its widening disunity. An example of such movements--intended to break through the divisive nature of religious intolerance and widespread dislike of what others believe in--is a newly formed alliance between the technology industry and Hollywood elite. A project, named Charter for Compassion, was launched 3 days ago during a Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference in California.

Along with the religious scholar Karen Armstrong, the group, named "Tedizens," includes several celebrities such as Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin as well as other Internet icons and widely-recognized entertainment industry names, such as Forest Whitaker and Cameron Diaz.

What is even very telling and worth noting is that Charter for Compassion--as stated below in the introduction to its movement--is inviting people of all nations, all faiths and all backgrounds to contribute to the writing of its charter:
Over the next four weeks, everyone is invited to help write the Charter for Compassion. Please choose the active phase below, read the description, be inspired by the sample text, and share your own words or suggestions for that section of the Charter. [link]

In order to find out more about the background of this project and to know what is meant by the "Golden Rule," please view the video below, which is introduced by Karen Armstrong.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Defenders of Baha'is in the Middle East Prominently Featured

The Muslim Network for Baha'i Rights (MNBR), an independent website organized by youth from the Middle East and dedicated to the defense of the Baha'is in the region, was just featured in The Media Line (TML) website.

As pointed out in its information page:
The Media Line (TML) is a unique non-profit news organization established to enhance and balance media coverage in the Middle East, promote independent reporting in the region, and break down barriers to understanding in the Arab and Israeli journalism communities.

TML’s mission is to provide credible, unbiased content, background and context to local media outlets throughout the Middle East and around the world, including the United States, Canada, Europe and Australasia.

In addition to its own reporting, which reaches millions of news consumers daily, TML promotes accuracy and fairness among other regional journalists by designing and implementing ongoing educational, training and dialogue-building projects.

For ease of access, the full article is also posted below:


Muslims for Baha’i Human Rights
Written by Esra'a Al Shafei
Published Thursday, November 13, 2008
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Iran might be famous for Avicenna, the Cyrus cylinder, and its leaders' scathing remarks, but for over 6 million Baha'is across the world, it holds a special significance, as it is the birthplace of their faith.

Founded a century and a half ago, the Baha'i faith encourages the independent investigation of "truth," and calls – among other things – for the unity of religion and humankind, and the elimination of gender inequality. However, one of its central tenets – that Islam is not the final revelation of God – has led to it being declared a heresy, and its adherents denounced as apostates.

The earliest followers of the Baha'i faith in Iran experienced imprisonment, expulsion and execution, but as the faith's followers grew in number and spread over more countries in the region, it soon became evident that other states would not provide a safe haven for Baha'is to freely practise their faith.

Communities from Morocco to Egypt, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere underwent an onslaught of propaganda attacks and arrests, and several countries placed a ban on all Baha'i activities.

While in recent years the situation of Baha’is has improved (with Indonesia, for instance, repealing a ban on Baha’i activities), Iran remains the only country where Baha'is experience grave persecution. To date, however, hardly any Muslim-majority countries recognize the Baha'i faith as an independent religion. The lack of recognition rendered many Baha'is incapable of obtaining identification documents, effectively denying them their right to equal citizenship.

The Muslim Network of Baha'i Rights was founded in an effort to address and challenge the discrimination that Baha'is have to suffer under the supposed banner of Islam. Its mission is to secure their basic human rights within our societies, through raising awareness of the plight of Baha'is in many Muslim-majority countries, and encouraging fellow Muslims to speak out against such injustices.

Propaganda campaigns (spread primarily by state-owned media and religious clerics) have led to a deep and dangerous misunderstanding amongst many Muslims of Baha'is and their faith, wrongly associating them with political ideologies like Zionism or referring to them as "Satanists."

Since Baha'is are often censured within the mainstream media, such claims are hardly corrected, putting members of the faith in a very difficult situation. It is our responsibility as Muslims, and as members of the dominating majority, to raise awareness of who Baha'is actually are and to make sure that they are treated equally within the law and society. They are citizens of our countries regardless of their faith, which for the record is extremely respectful of Islam.

As practising Muslims we don't believe in the Baha'i faith, but why should that stand in the way of granting them their full rights? Why should our religious differences justify decades of abuse, wrongful imprisonment, murder, denial of education, and other crimes?

Baha'is have been ignored in their requests for peaceful coexistence, and despite the abuse they have never resorted to violence. It is therefore time for us to stand up and demand that their rights are fully ensured and legally protected. It is time for us to help Baha'is factually refute wrong accusations within regional media outlets that have dire consequences for their security.

As a strategy, and a recruitment tool, we have relied on the power of the Internet, the most open network in the world, to reach our target audience in an honest, uncensored fashion. It is to our advantage that increasingly more people rely on the Internet for news instead of traditional media, which in much of the Middle East is heavily censored. Many curious people resort to the Internet for research because of the amount of information that resides in it.

One of our biggest accomplishments was our successful utilization of creative media in order to raise awareness about the abuse perpetrated against the Baha'i minority in the Middle East, and encourage others into taking action.

Before any significant changes are made to the perceptions of citizens of the Middle East, or discriminatory laws are removed, it is important that we start a discussion, and our media productions have been more successful than any written post in achieving that.

Our first video campaign was documented in one of Egypt's most prominent papers within one week of its launch. Some of our comics have also been published and used in relevant conferences around the world. When the site was first established in the summer of 2007, it was covered by BBC Persian Service in an exclusive article only three weeks later. We owe this success to the accessibility of the Internet, where we break our way into global media outlets without having to worry about censorship.

Despite the amount of controversy we continue to stir in the Muslim world, we are committed to the cause of championing equal rights for the Baha’i minority in the region.

Esra'a Al Shafei is the executive director of MideastYouth.com and the Founder of the Muslim Network for Baha'i Rights. She is based in
Bahrain.

Copyright © 2008 The Media Line. All Rights Reserved.

Have comments? Email editor@themedialine.org.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Another Favorable Court Ruling for the Baha'is of Egypt

Yesterday, 11 November 2008, witnessed another favorable milestone for the Baha'is of Egypt. Cairo's Administrative Court ruled in favor of a Baha'i university student, Hady Hosni Al-Qousheiry, and allowed him to obtain an ID card with dashes "--" in place of religious identification.

Mr. Hady Hosni, who was suspended from the Faculty of Agriculture at Alexandria University because he was unable to obtain an ID card to remain enrolled in the university, was forced to sue for his right to obtain this official document. As required by law, a new computerized ID card is necessary for acquiring a military draft postponement certificate needed for continuation of enrollment in higher education.

This court action is similar to the 29 January 2008 court action that allowed other Baha'i litigants to obtain ID cards and birth certificates, which is awaiting a final decision on the 15th of December by the Supreme Administrative Court because of a non-party appeal to the ruling.

This recent court decision should be regarded as a very significant one. This is because it affirms, again, the trend and the general leaning of the courts that favor finding a just solution to the dilemma of the Baha'is of Egypt. It also conforms to the constitutional guarantees of equal rights to all citizens of Egypt. In its decision, however, the court qualified these constitutional guarantees. It affirmed that "freedom of belief" is unrestricted and is a right for all humans, but that "freedom of religious practice" is regarded as limited to Egypt's only "three recognized religions," i.e. Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

The question is: how could one separate "religious belief" from "religious practice?"

P.S. See Egyptian media coverage here....

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Prayer for America

In 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spent from April to December touring North America. He is shown here (at center) with Bahá’ís at Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois, USA, in 1912.

Nearly a century ago, Abdu'l-Baha, the son of the founder of the Baha'i religion and the leader of the Baha'i community during that time period, revealed the following prayer on the occasion of his visit to the United States of America. As witnessed recently in the news, his words were indeed prophetic and his promises are gradually being realized:
O Thou kind Lord! This gathering is turning to Thee. These hearts are radiant with Thy love. These minds and spirits are exhilarated by the message of Thy glad-tidings. O God! Let this American democracy become glorious in spiritual degrees even as it has aspired to material degrees, and render this just government victorious. Confirm this revered nation to upraise the standard of the oneness of humanity, to promulgate the Most Great Peace, to become thereby most glorious and praiseworthy among all the nations of the world. O God! This American nation is worthy of Thy favors and is deserving of Thy mercy. Make it precious and near to Thee through Thy bounty and bestowal.

- `Abdu'l-Bahá

Monday, November 03, 2008

Egypt's Supreme Court Intimidated into Another Postponement!

Even though the Supreme Court's State Judicial Council had paved the way for the Supreme Administrative Court to reject the appeal of a "non-party" to the lawsuit, in which Cairo's Administrative Court has permitted the Baha'is to obtain ID cards with "dashes" instead of religious identification, the Supreme Administrative Court appears to be hesitant to render a final decision in the case.

Today, in its scheduled session to rule on the appeal, Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court decided to postpone, again, its ruling and re-scheduled it for 15 December 2008. Reportedly there were several hostile extremists present in the court chambers today, slandering the Baha'is and terrorizing the court proceedings. The Court was not able to render its decision in this atmosphere of terror and the apparent state of anarchy.

Today is a dark day for justice and a dark day for Egypt!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Eloquent Review of the Case of the Baha'is of Egypt

The prominent Lebanese website Menassat [Platforms] has just published an article, written by the journalist Alexandra Sandels, and based on an interview with an Egyptian Baha'i blogger. The most striking aspect of this article is that it, very nicely and very clearly, presents and defines the case of the Baha'is of Egypt. It is also very timely, particularly when considering the imminent supreme court final decision awaited by many on the 3rd of November.

Regarding the website, it is described as follows:
Menassat.com is a website focusing on news, trends and events concerning the media in the twenty-two countries of the MENA region (Middle East & North Africa, defined as the twenty-two member states of the Arab League).

Menassat literally means "platforms" in Arabic; it also holds the acronym for the MENA region.

Our goal is to promote good journalism in the region by providing a platform for Arab journalism as well as specific tools to empower Arab journalists.

Menassat's editorial team is based in Beirut, Lebanon, with correspondents throughout the region....
The full article is posted below with credit to Menassat.

Setting the record straight about Egypt's Baha'i


Followers of the Baha'i faith in Egypt are living as second-class citizens because the authorities do not recognize their religious affiliation on official documents. MENASSAT met with Baha'i blogger Shady Samir, who uses the Internet to advocate for the rights of Egyptian Baha'i.
By ALEXANDRA SANDELS
Shadi ID
Shady Samir, and the old ID card that allowed Egyptians to avoid stating their religion. The new ID cards no longer have that option. © Alexandra Sandels

CAIRO, October 29, 2008 (MENASSAT) – It has been fours years since Shady Samir lost his father, but the Egyptian state still doesn't consider him to be officially dead.

Samir's father was an adherent of the Baha'i faith, and in order for him to obtain a death certificate, he would have to posthumously convert to one of Egypt's three official faiths – Christian, Muslim or Jewish.

It is only one of many problems faced by the adherents of the Baha'i faith in Egypt.

It was issues like these, coupled with the misinformation being spread about the Baha'i faith that prompted Samir to join the information war and "set the record straight" with his blog Egyptian Baha'i.

The Baha'i religion was founded by Bahá'u'lláh in nineteenth-century Persia. It emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind. There are an estimated five to six million Baha'i around the world in more than 200 countries and territories

Stateless

Samir's father may remain officially "alive" for some time to come, seeing that he specifically asked his family not to resort to a posthumous conversion to obtain the death certificate.

"It was his last will to die as a Baha'i," Samir told MENASSAT.

Official papers like identity cards and birth certificates are obligatory in Egypt and not having them can cause immense obstacles. Egyptians cannot enroll in schools or universities, receive medical treatment, or even buy a car without a national ID card.

Those Baha'i who refuse to change religion on their official papers effectively become "stateless" in their own country, without the right to access the most elementary public services.

Instead, most Baha'i tend to possess passports – the only official Egyptian document that doesn't require statement of religious affiliation.

"The government certainly makes it easy for us to leave. Is it done on purpose? I don't know," Samir shrugs.

WATCH THE TRAILER FOR AHMED EZZAT'S FILM, IDENTITY CRISIS



In a bid to regain their basic rights in their own country, Egypt's Baha'i community has been fighting a court battle since 2004 to get their faith recognized on the new, computerized ID cards. Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court reversed a December 2006 ruling in favor of the Baha'i after the government appealed.

Legal battle

Since then, the Bahai community have gone back to demanding the right to leave the religion field on official papers blank.

"We want our documents without being forced to write something we're not. It's as simple as that," says Samir.

A court case involving three Bahai citizens demanding this right has been on-going for some time.

The suit concerns 15-year-old twins Imad and Nancy Raouf Hindi, who found themselves unable to obtain birth certificates unless they claimed to be Muslim, Christian or Jewish.

It also involves 19-year-old Hosni Hussein Abdel-Massih, who was suspended from his university due to his inability to present an identity card.

On January 29, 2008. Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice again ruled in favor of the Baha'i plaintiffs, allowing them to obtain birth certificates and identification documents without being required to state a religious affiliation.

But Egypt's Ministry of Interior has yet to implement the ruling and Egyptian Baha'i remain in a legal vacuum.

"Now when you ask for ID papers, they tell you to wait for the final verdict in the case," Samir sighs.

After the initial December 2006 ruling, there was a lot of coverage of the Baha'i in the Egytpian media. But Samir felt it often misrepresented his religion or in some cases even slandered it.

It was what spurred him to start his blog, Egyptian Bahai.

"It is an outlet for me to correct false information that is said about us on blogs and in the media. I mainly target news that spreads untrue information about the Baha'i," he says.

Death threats

Samir gets "lots of feedback" on his blog, he says. but the majority of it is negative.

"I get comments like 'The Bahai faith is not a religion. Stop and think about what you are doing.'"

One message read, "If I see you I will kill you."

The situation of the Egyptian Baha'i has attracted the interest of Egyptian and international human rights organizations.

Several protests were staged in Cairo during in 2006 and 2007 in support of the Baha'i, in which activists held up enlarged versions of Baha'i ID cards.

In February 2007, freelance Egyptian filmmaker Ahmed Ezzat released the documentary "Identity Crisis," in which he portrayed the situation of the Baha'i.

The film focuses in part on the December 2007 verdict. It shows a group of Islamist activists at the courthouse triumphantly shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) while holding up the Quran before a stunned group Baha'i, human rights activists and journalists.

One of the Islamist activists, Mohamed Salem, proceeds to state before the camera that Baha'i are apostates and that "infidels should be killed."

The film goes on to interview rights activists and Egyptian Baha'i such as Dr Basma Moussa, an assistant professor in oral surgery at Cairo University, who claims that Egypt's highest Islamic institution, Al-Azhar, issued a certificate stating she was an apostate, which delayed her tenure for several years.

Ezzat's film was banned from several Egyptian film festivals, including the Alexandria Film Festival.

Samir, whose wife is American, recently obtained his Green Card for the US, but he says that he won't leave his country until he is granted his rights.

"I don't want to run away. I will receive all my rights. I believe that," he says.

Baha'i have lived in Egypt for more than a hundred years. In 1924, Egypt became the first Muslim country to recognize the Baha'i faith as an independent religion apart from Islam.

But ever since President Nasser shut down the Baha'i national assembly in the 1960s, and the government proceeded to confiscate Baha'i properties such as libraries and cemeteries, there has been no official record of the group.

Baha'i institutions and community activities remain banned under Egyptian law to this day.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Egypt Drops Allegations of Baha'i Links to Zionism

In a surprise move, Egypt's Ministry of Religious Endowment (Awqaf) has just made public statements that vindicate the Baha'is of Egypt of any links to Zionism--accusations that were previously alleged, without any proof, by the same Ministry.

This new development was published in Copts United website two days ago. The independent site of "the Muslim Network for Baha'i Rights" provided a translated summary of the article in one of its recent posts. The following is some of what the Network has provided in its post.
In an unprecedented move that represents a positive development in the dealing of the Ministry of Religious Endowments with Egypt’s Baha’i community, Sheikh Salim Abdul Jaleel - the under-secretary for religious advocacy, gave the following response to a query on the Ministry’s accusations that Egyptian Baha’is support the Zionist movement:
There is no proof available that incriminates the Baha’is of Egypt with supporting Zionism. But I generally say that the existence of any sect that follows a faith that isn’t divinely inspired serves our enemies. But to state that the Baha’i Faith serves Zionism or that it’s related to it or that its movements are dictated by Zionism or that it is linked to it - these are all accusations that lack evidence, and it’s being repeated by the Intelligence agencies, and not Islamic scholars.

Not only do we accept calls for dialogue, but in fact we call others with whom we disagree to dialogue in order to reach a common ground.

Previously, however, the Ministry of Endowment had been quite vocal in its opposition to the Baha'is as was described in a previous post, quoted below:
...the Ministry of Religious Endowment, headed by Mr. Zaqzouq, has just instructed all mosques in Egypt to launch an attack on the Baha'is. The second, attached, Rose Al-Youssef newspaper article, published today, proudly announces this fresh piece of news.

In brief, the article states that the Ministry has distributed to all Mosque leaders (Imams) a book called "Baha'iy'ah and the position of Islam," aimed at telling people to watch-out for those Baha'is who are out to get them and destroy Islam in the process.

The book, and the article, repeat the usual falsehood that has been propagated in Egypt (and Iran) about the Baha'is, that is: the usual unfounded propaganda about connections to Zionism, etc.... It accuses the Baha'is of being apostates, and explains how Sheikh Al-Azhar in 1947 had classified them as such, and had declared their marriages to be null and void. It even incites Egyptians "to warn their youth about the dangers of 'Baha'iy'ah' so that they don't fall for its entrapment."

It must be emphasized that this development should be regarded as a very significant change of course in the position of this Ministry which, among its other responsibilities, is charged with overseeing all mosques and Islamic religious institutions in the country.

This also speaks for an emerging current of understanding and acceptance that appears to reflect a better appreciation of what the Baha'is are all about. The government and its agencies, as well as numerous prominent members and leaders of the society, appear to be learning the truth about the Baha'i Faith and the desire of the Egyptian Baha'is, as obedient citizens and well-wishers of their homeland, to join hands with their fellow Egyptians in promoting their collective welfare.

Although this transition is gradual and guarded, it demonstrates that the Egyptian authorities are finally nearing the conclusion that Baha'is are indeed well-wishers of their beloved country and that their intentions are to serve their fellow citizens and to promote unity and harmony wherever they reside. It is only natural that this gradual change of heart is happening...it is because of the unshaken course pursued by the Baha'is of Egypt in their struggle. They have always responded to aggressors with dignity, respect and resilience, even when they were faced with unprecedented vicious attacks by some. Additionally, while maintaining their composure and dignity, they have never hesitated to refute misrepresentations of their religion by some of the media and by the extremist elements of the society.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

An Update: Personal, Egypt & Iran

This past week has been full of events on many fronts, both personal and public. On a personal level, I would like to share the arrival of our first grandchild in San Francisco, a peaceful and happy baby girl who looks up to a future full of peace and harmony. More specifically to a future when people are not segregated based on their color, race, religion, ethnicity, class, political orientation, nationalism, or culture. A future when all people share the same opportunity regardless of where they are or who they are, and where people feel comfortable in their homelands without intimidation or alienation caused by ugly and divisive political and social rhetoric .

Regarding the recent news from Egypt, most significant is the decision of Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court on 20 October to postpone its final verdict on the question of issuing ID cards to the Baha'is until its next session of 3 November 2008.

As was posted before, "the State Council of the Supreme Administrative Court has produced a judicial memorandum requesting the Supreme Administrative Court to issue a final judicial judgment that affirms the [29 January 2008] ruling of Cairo's Administrative Court, which allowed placing dashes '--' for the Baha'is of Egypt in the religion section, since neither the Ministry of Interior nor the Attorney-General appealed the decision of the Administrative Court."

It is hoped and expected that the Supreme Court will abide by the decision of its own State Judicial Council. This will surely ease some of the serious difficulties encountered by the Baha'is of Egypt on a daily basis, simply because of their inability to possess identification documents and birth certificates.

Additionally, Egypt's National Council for Human Rights, a government-appointed official organization, has just proposed to the government the passing of a law that forbids discrimination based on religion, a law that would ensure equal treatment for all Egyptian citizens regardless of their belief.

As to Iran, a revealing piece of information has just made the world aware of a document vindicating the Baha’i youth prisoners in Shiraz. The youth, named: Raha Sabet, Haleh Rouhi and Sasan Taqva, have by now completed 10 months of their four-year sentence and continue to be incarcerated in the prison facility of the Ministry of Intelligence (known as Pelak 100), which is reserved only for interrogations and temporary arrests.

The two-page document, belonging to the office of the Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei], discovered in relation to the humanitarian activities of the 54 Baha’is in Shiraz arrested on 19 May 2006 on the charge of “participating in activities against state security,” showed that these individuals are indeed innocent. Of interest, the document's date is 16 June 2008, but it remained a secret until now, and the Iranian authorities did nothing to correct its wrongdoing and release these innocent youth. In order to read the entire translated (very revealing) document and view the original one, please refer to this site, named Iran Press Watch.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bringing About Social Awareness Through Art

The following video illustrates clearly how art can contribute to the cause of human rights and its role in bringing about social awareness. It is indeed an inspiration to the youth everywhere, providing an example on how to engage oneself and be useful to society through creativity.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Iran's Baha'is Caught Between Apostasy Law and Barriers to Education

Iran continues to deprive Baha'i students of their right to education. A recent article in the Baha'i World News Service states:
Baha'i students attempting to gain admittance to universities and other institutions this fall found that their entrance examination results were frozen and their files listed as “incomplete” on the Web site of the national testing organization.

Baha’is who had successfully enrolled in universities in previous years continue to be expelled.

And those who have sought redress through the courts have been disappointed, their cases rejected.

The website of the Muslim Network for Baha'i Rights, an independent site launched by a group of Muslim youth, has recently published a post about the resentment expressed by Muslim youth of the flagrant violation of the rights of the Baha'is of Iran. In that article, the site published a comic that depicts the students' dilemma. They wrote the following:
Over the past two years a new tactic was employed: namely, denying Baha’i students admission by alleging their files are incomplete. Last year, almost 800 (of over 1,000) students had their dreams shattered this way. But this year, when trying to login to the national university examination website, Baha’i students were redirected to: http://82.99.202.139/karsarasari/87/index.php?msg=error_bah

Whether the Iranian authorities were caught in the folly of their ways, or “error_bah” was intentional is a tough call. But should the authorities want to upgrade their message for the next academic year, we have a fitting suggestion:




Subsequently, the same site published another post with a new comic addressing the apostasy law contemplated by Iran's government. The introduction to the comic is quoted below:

You may have heard about the “Apostasy bill” in Iran, which left many shivering in fear. If passed, it will be considered a “criminal” act to convert to another faith (or to simply be a part of another one.)

The Christian and Baha’i communities of Iran are most likely to be affected by this decision.

This comic was inspired by this news, to show the absurd measures that the IRI is taking to persecute innocent minorities in Iran.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Interesting Proposal by an Egyptian Justice

Addressing the crisis of religious identity on official documents in Egypt, Justice Ra'afat Abdel-Rasheed wrote an interesting proposal that was published on 6 October 2008 in Egypt's leading independent Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper.

He indicated that, according to Egypt's constitutional guarantees, the crisis of religious identity involving the Baha'is deserves a just solution and that citizens must be treated equally regardless of their religion or belief. He stated, however, that since Egypt recognizes only three religions (Islam, Christianity and Judaism) as "heavenly" religions, thus any other Egyptian citizens such as the Baha'is can be identified with their "belief" rather than their religion. He explains that this would avoid opening the door for questions on whether or not the government recognizes the Baha'i belief.

He proposes that ID documents contain one section for religion and another one for belief. Thus Baha'is can be identified correctly as "Baha'is" but only under the section that identifies "belief" and not "religion."

He also added that regardless of the belief identified on these documents, the Baha'is must be treated equally, just the same as all other citizens, and should not be deprived of any opportunities for employment in the public sector provided that they qualify for the position applied for.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Breaking News for the Baha'is of Egypt

The case of the Baha'is of Egypt has just undergone an important new development that appears to finally permit the tentative resolution of their struggle in their quest for their civil rights. As can be recalled, on 29 January 2008, Cairo's Administrative Court had ruled that Baha'is can obtain identification documents with dashes "--" inserted in place of religious identification in the required section of these documents.

This ruling was not appealed by Egypt's Ministry of Interior or any other responsible agency or authority. It was appealed, however, by an Islamist lawyer, named Abd El-Mageed El-Aanany. He was not a party to the lawsuit, but appeared to act on behalf of extremists. Last July, the Egyptian media announced that the judicial State Council, which is a panel of judges at the highest level of the State charged with acting on such judicial matters and appeals before the Supreme Administrative Court, had rejected the appeal by El-Aanany and upheld the administrative court's ruling to allow the Baha'is obtain identification documents. In its decision, the Council had affirmed that the only authority that has interest in this case is the Ministry of Interior, not this lawyer or any others for that matter.

The appeal was heard by the Supreme Court, on 27 September 2008, which decided to postpone it until 20 October 2008 for a decision. Meanwhile, in yesterdays edition of Rose El-Youssef newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Egyptian government, an article (attached) announced that "the State Council of the Supreme Administrative Court had produced a judicial memorandum requesting the Supreme Administrative Court to issue a final judicial judgment that affirms the [29 January] ruling of Cairo's Administrative Court, which allowed placing dashes '--' for the Baha'is of Egypt in the religion section, since neither the Ministry of Interior nor the Attorney-General appealed the decision of the Administrative Court."

The article goes on to state: "The Judicial Council affirmed in its report that no citizen or any other intruder has the right to interfere with or appeal the lawsuit involving the Baha'is that was before the Administrative Court." It based its opinion on the fact that those who appealed were not a party to the lawsuit and that only the Ministry of Interior and the Attorney-General had the right to appeal.

This development should be regarded as a very important step towards the normalization of the status of the Baha'is of Egypt. It puts an end to all unjustified and frivolous challenges and appeals brought by extremists who would want to put a stop to any judgment favoring the Baha'is. With the expected enforcement of this ruling, the Baha'is will soon be able to obtain ID cards and birth certificates, and hopefully many other documents, that would allow them a normal and decent life in their homeland. Additionally, in doing so, Egypt's judiciary is in a position to prove its true independence in its quest for justice.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Canada's National Post on Religious Persecution in Iran

Some writers have the gift of engaging one's attention with great ease even when they write about subjects that may not be as popular or familiar as some other headlines that fill the media these days. A very good example of this is the following article recently written by Barbara kay who is a regular columnist for Canada's National Post newspaper. She approaches the subject of Iran's persecution of Baha'is from a human side that is truly informative, touching and convincing.

For ease of access, the full article is posted below and linked here as well.

Posted: August 08, 2008, 11:30 AM by Kelly McParland
It was a lucky day for me and my two then-toddlers when 14-year-old Susan answered my help-wanted ad for a mother’s helper (as nannies were then called). For years, this gentle, patient girl proved to be an indispensable and much-loved fixture in our Montreal household, and thereafter a valued friend.

Outwardly a typical post-religious Canadian of indeterminate Christian heritage, Susan incubated spiritual longings. She surprised us when she announced she was not only embracing the Baha’i faith, but marrying the American, Iranian-born uncle of her best friend, whose parents were leaders of the Montreal Baha’i community.

That was my introduction to Baha’is and their religion.

I learned that the Baha’i faith — founded in the 19th century as a heretical offshoot of Shia Islam — offers a benign belief system, promoting admirable values, such as universal literacy and high educational aspiration, and is generally respectful of both secular and religious knowledge within a democratic and egalitarian mode of self-governance.

Baha’is are casteless, generally open-minded (they actually promote inter-racial marriage) and — believing there are many paths to God — pluralistic in spiritual outlook. They tend to be rigourously non-partisan and pacifistic. A well-integrated and undemanding minority wherever they congregate, with no expansionist political goals, they typically seek neither government entitlements nor special accommodation from society.

Who could possibly resent, fear or hate this blameless global community of a mere five-million apolitical souls?

In a word: Iran.

Western Baha’is were alarmed to learn that on Aug. 2, a group of seven Baha’i leaders in Iran, arrested in May on false accusations of bombing a mosque in Shiraz, have “confessed” to operating an “illegal” organization with ties to Israel and other countries.

Other Baha’i leaders have categorically rejected any such suggestion. Given the precepts and track record of the faith — and the character of the Iranian regime — most observers will have little difficulty deciding whom to believe.

These Baha’is, confined — with no formal charges laid — in Teheran’s infamous Evin Prison, have been denied access to attorneys for 11 weeks. The son of one of them, Behrouz Tavakkoli, is presently a student at the University of Ottawa. He fears for his father’s life.

With good reason. Baha’is are 300,000 strong in Iran (the birthplace of the Baha’is’ founder, Baha’u’llah). But their community’s security has always remained fragile at best, in some cases summoning to mind the Jews’ situation under the Nuremberg Laws in 1930s Germany. Under the 1991 Golpaygani directives (named for the secretary of Iran’s Supreme Revolutionary Cultural Council), Baha’is’ employment was curtailed, while some were denounced as Zionist agents and tortured.

Iran’s Pahlavi shahs (1927-79) visited relatively light and sporadic abuse on Baha’is, although even in that comparatively tolerant era their schools were frequently closed and their sacred texts banned.

Ayatollah Khomeini and his mullahs ratcheted up the persecution. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, over 200 Baha’i community notables have been killed outright or “disappeared,” including 10 women whose “crime” was to teach religion to children. Islamist hostility continues to provoke a state of internal community crisis, graphically illustrated in the current witch hunt.

Ironically, the bitter news of the recent (doubtlessly forced) confessions follows on the heels of an announcement early in July that the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO had named two Baha’i shrines in Israel of “outstanding universal value” as world cultural heritage sites.

The official classification puts the Baha’is’ northern Israel holy places, housing the tombs of both Baha’u’llah and his spiritual antecedent, the Bab, among humankind’s most awesome creations: the Great Wall of China, the Vatican, the Old City of Jerusalem, the Taj Mahal, Stonehenge and the Pyramids, as well as the sadly Taliban-demolished Bamiyan Buddhist statues in Afghanistan.

Canada is doubly linked to this great honour. The World Heritage Committee announced the new ranking from Quebec City. And the Baha’i shrines were designed by Montreal architect William Sutherland Maxwell, who also designed the Chateau Frontenac tower, Quebec City’s most recognizable landmark.

The Baha’is are peaceable contributors to every society they’ve settled in. They are perfectly safe and at home among Jews in Israel, and among Christians in the West. So what is Iran’s problem? What have the Baha’is done to deserve the wretched treatment that country metes out to them, and when will those innocent Baha’i leaders in Evin Prison be freed?

I called the Iranian embassy in Ottawa to pose these very questions. The telephone rang and rang and rang. But nobody answered.
National Post
bkay@videotron.ca

Friday, September 26, 2008

US State Department Slams Iran & Egypt for Violating Religious Freedom

In its 2008 annual report on international religious freedom, released a few days ago, the United States Department of State was very critical of Iran and Egypt for their violations of religious freedom of minorities in their respective countries.

Iran carried the full brunt of this forceful report, mostly because of the extreme nature of its violations, particularly since the minorities involved represent a significant percentage of the country's population, as stated in the following quotation from the report:
Recent unofficial estimates from religious organizations claim that Baha'is, Jews, Christians, Sabean-Mandaeans, and Zoroastrians constitute two percent of the total population. The largest non-Muslim minority is the Baha'i religious group, which numbers 300,000 to 350,000. Unofficial estimates of the Jewish community's size vary from 25,000 to 30,000.

The report is quite comprehensive and accurately reflects the current desperate condition of the Baha'is as well as--to a lesser extent--other religious minorities in that country. Because of its highly urgent and alarming nature, readers are encouraged to read the full report linked here.

As to Egypt, the report was also detailed and comprehensive, accurately and clearly describing the case of the Baha'is of Egypt, their legal battles and their inability to obtain identification documents, even though court verdicts have ruled in their favor regarding this specific identity right.

The State Department's report elaborated on a very critical point related to the Baha'i Case in Egypt, that is the applicability of constitutional guarantees to the Baha'is. It reports, as quoted below, that, according to the Egyptian courts, Baha'is are not protected by these guarantees simply because they are not considered to be the followers of a recognized religion in Egypt:
A lower court ruling interpreted the Constitution's guarantee of religious freedom as inapplicable to Muslim citizens who wish to convert to another religion. This ruling is under appeal. Separate court rulings provided for 13 Christian born converts to Islam to obtain identity documents indicating their conversion back to Christianity and allowed some Baha'is to obtain civil documents. However, the courts included requirements effectively identifying the Christian converts and Baha'is as apostates, potentially exposing them, if implemented, to risk of significant discrimination by both governmental and societal agents. In addition, a lower court held that the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of religion does not apply to Baha'is.

This "spin" alone is quite ominous, and appears to represent a devious misrepresentation of the constitution aimed at legalizing discrimination against the Baha'is and other "non-recognized" religious minorities in Egypt. It must be emphasized, however, that this interpretation, or spin, does not make it right--it must be seen as only an interpretation rather than a legitimate or justifiable conclusion. It can be easily debated and refuted using the text of the Egyptian constitution itself.

Furthermore, Egypt is a co-signatory and a "Party" to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and is under the obligation to conform to its articles. Accordingly, in attempting to justify its treatment of the Baha'is, Egypt has violated several articles of this Covenant, among which is Article-2 of Part-III stating: "1. Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."

Again, in order to appreciate the full impact and nature of the report, readers are encouraged to view it at this link to the State Department's website.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Egyptian Media Reacts to USCIRF Report

In response to the annual report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) that condemned Egypt, along with few other countries such as Iran, for its violations of human rights (linked here), Egypt's leading newspapers--not unexpectedly--varied widely in their reaction from condemnation and rejection of the report, to denial of the accusations brought by the USCIRF, to simply stating the key points brought to light by this report.

For example, Rose Al-Youssef newspaper, which is considered to be the mouthpiece of the government, was the most vocal in its rejection and condemnation. It mocked the report in a cheap way and denied all its allegations and statements on human rights violations in Egypt.

Al-Masry Al-Youm, on the other hand was the paper that was most objective and unbiased in its reporting, accurately reflecting the true content of the report without any criticism. While the Arabic version of the publication can be seen here, the English translation is linked to here and is also posted below:
US State Department: Egyptian Government Backtracked on Respecting Freedom of Belief

By
Mohamed Abdel Khalik Mesahil 21/9/2008

The annual report for 2008 by the US International Commission on Religious Freedoms included a negative image about the religious freedoms in Egypt.

The report, recently issued by the US State Department, said there was general backtracking on the Egyptian government respect of the freedom of belief.

The report said the government imposed restrictions on performing some religious rituals although they are enshrined in the constitution. It mentioned some positive steps.

However, it accused the government of failure to stop what it called discrimination against Christians. The police had slow response to some sectarian incidents, not to mention obstacles to the building and renovation of churches.

The report noted that the government does not recognize Muslims embracing Christianity or any other religion and bans them from performing rituals although there was no law banning Muslims from embracing other religions. The police harass them and accuse them of inciting sectarian disputes.

The report criticized, in general, the government practices against non-Muslim minorities, focusing, in particular, on its failure to officially recognize followers of the Baha'i. The Bahaists have no IDs.

The report monitored government discrimination against the Christians, saying that the government, represented by Ministry of Religious Endowments, finances the building of mosques and pays salaries of imams, but does not do the same with churches.

Moreover, the ministry controls all mosques and preachers, as well as different activities in mosques and keeps churches out of government control.

It criticized Al-Azhar being entitled to seize publications and artistic works. It referred to the failure to recognize the sect of Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormon Church. The government also stopped the advice sessions held for the Christians who embraced Islam.

The report monitored the government practices against the Muslim Brotherhood Group and the detention of hundreds of its members. It also monitored what it called the growing anti-Semitic feelings in Egyptian newspapers.

Friday, September 19, 2008

USCIRF Harshly Critical of Iran & Egypt

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has just published a statement for immediate press release concerning the escalation of extreme measures taken by Iran's government against its religious minorities. Additionally the Commission has released its 2008 Annual Report with Iran being listed under "Countries of Particular Concern," and Egypt listed under "Watch List Countries."

The full text of the Press Release is posted below:
Sept. 17, 2008: Iran: USCIRF Concerned Over Apostasy Death Penalty Threat to Christians, Baha’is, Muslim Dissenters; Calls for Release of Prisoners

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Sept. 17, 2008

Contact: Judith Ingram

Communications Director

(202) 523-3240, ext. 127

communications@uscirf.govThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it


WASHINGTON—Iranian citizens are threatened by their own government’s recent moves toward instituting a penal code that for the first time would legally enshrine the death penalty for so-called apostasy. If the proposed penal code, which is nearing final passage, is approved as expected in parliament, members of many religious minority communities could be subject to death sentences. The United States and other governments that value freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief must speak out forcefully against the apostasy provision in the new penal code making its way through the Iranian Parliament.

“The new penal code provision prescribing the death penalty for the so-called crime of apostasy and other crimes is a huge step backwards for human rights,” said Commission Chair Felice D. Gaer. “Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has disparaged foreign criticism of the penal code as ‘global arrogance,’ but no objective observer can present the recent developments in Iranian law as anything but regression. Religious freedom in Iran remains a chimera.”

Christians, Baha’is, and even some Muslims have been subject to arbitrary arrest and are threatened. The Iranian government this month leveled apostasy charges against two reported Christians, Mahmoud Matin and Arash Basirat. They were among more than a dozen reported Christian converts who were detained in the southern city of Shiraz in May; the others have been released but informed that legal cases remain pending against them. Five more Christians were arrested in August, including Ramtin Soodmand, the son of Assemblies of God pastor Hossein Soodmand, who was executed in 1990.

Iranian authorities consider Baha’is to be apostates because of their claim to a religious revelation subsequent to that of the Prophet Mohammed, despite the fact that Baha’is do not consider themselves Muslim. Since 1979, Iranian authorities have killed more than 200 Baha’i leaders, thousands have been arrested and imprisoned, and more than 10,000 have been dismissed from government and university jobs. Seven Baha’i leaders, who were arrested in March and May, remain in Evin prison in Tehran without access to legal counsel. No formal charges have been made against them, although media reports recently quoted an Iranian official as saying that the Baha’is had “confessed” to operating an “illegal” organization with ties to Israel and other countries. Such baseless claims have been made repeatedly in the past by Iranian authorities. At present, more than 20 Baha’is currently are in prison in Iran on account of their religious identity.

The year 2008 has seen other disturbing evidence of the Iranian government’s utter failure to abide by international standards. While the government has announced its suspension of stoning to death—although this is not the first time such claims have been made—Iran has continued the brutal execution of minors, with reliable reports that at least six have been executed this year, two of them just last month. Four women leaders of the One Million Signatures campaign, which is dedicated to ending discrimination against women in the application of Islamic law in Iran, have been jailed for six months for allegedly “spreading propaganda” against Iran’s Islamic system by advocating for its reform.

In recent years, hundreds of prominent Muslim activists and dissidents from among the Shi’a majority advocating political reform have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms on charges of seeking to overthrow the Islamic system in Iran; others have been arrested and detained for alleged blasphemy and criticizing the nature of the Islamic regime. Reformists and journalists are regularly tried under current press laws and the Penal Code on charges of “insulting Islam,” criticizing the Islamic Republic, and publishing materials that deviate from Islamic standards.

Because of the Iranian government’s egregious and systematic violations of religious freedom and other human rights, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused, the Commission continues to recommend that Iran be included on the State Department’s list of “countries of particular concern.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom calls on the U.S. government and its allies to pressure Tehran to end punishments for so-called apostasy, including the death penalty, release religious prisoners, and end its practice of systematically marginalizing its religious minorities.

Further, the Commission urges the U.S. government to continue to speak out vigorously about such cases and on behalf of others in Iran who have been imprisoned solely because of their religion or belief, and encourage other foreign governments to engage Iran on religious freedom and human rights issues.

“Iran’s human rights record is abysmal, and the soon-to-be codified call for the death penalty for apostasy underlines the danger that the intolerance of the Iranian regime poses to its own people,” Gaer said. “The Iranian government should respect the international commitments it has taken on in the field of religious freedom and other human rights, including the freedom to have or adopt a religion as set out in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party.”

For further details on the status of religious freedom in Iran and relevant policy recommendations, see the Iran chapter in the Commission’s 2008 Annual Report at http://www.uscirf.gov/images/AR2008/annual%20report%202008-final%20edition.pdf . For a transcript of the Commission’s February 2008 hearing on Iran, see http://www.uscirf.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2036&Itemid=36 .

Sunday, September 14, 2008

It Takes More Than Words to Change Any Society

The editor-in-chief of Cairo's newspaper Nahdet Masr, Mr. Muhammad El-Sheb'h, has written an editorial, yesterday, about the question of freedom and equality in the Egyptian society.

As an introduction to the subject, he indicated that it is easy for the American society to be critical of the lack of freedom in Egypt. He then explains that the same standards cannot be transferred from one society to the other, simply because the Egyptian society functions under a different set of traditions and rules. And that it will take time, increased awareness and vigorous cultural transformation for the Egyptian society to accept these norms of freedom.

He goes on to stress that this should not be an excuse to justify the poor treatment of religious minorities, such as the Baha'is, Quran'ists and agnostics. He also points to the fact that women are not treated equally in Egypt, citing examples of discrimination in employment and promotion, and giving examples of the paucity of women candidates nominated or elected to positions of political leadership, even in so-called liberal organizations and parties.

He also speaks about the inequality resulting from people's religious identity being displayed on ID cards and such other official documents, leading to discrimination in employment and citizenship rights. He then elaborates on the perceived need to ultimately remove religious identity from such documents.

It is indeed refreshing to read this article because it points out that there are leading Egyptians that are not afraid of being publicly honest about their true feelings when addressing issues of freedom and equality. This is a relatively new phenomenon that speaks for the inherent courage and gestalt that is omnipresent in Egypt. Voices like these are Egypt's hope for a bright future.

It must be also said that it takes a lot more than words to change any society. For example, even though discrimination is officially frowned upon in the west, one can find many examples of it that continue to show its ugly face, as can be seen in the words and actions of some of the people living in these so-called liberated and modern societies.