With this ruling, all legal challenges and appeals, brought by those extremists who oppose the Baha'is in Egypt, have been defeated in court. The Ministry of Interior, the principal party to the lawsuits, has never challenged or appealed the ruling that favored the Baha'is.
With this final verdict, there are no legal or administrative obstacles left that could prevent the Baha'is of Egypt from obtaining ID cards or birth certificates in their homeland.
Even though this significant step is considered to be a very welcome development in their struggle for their civil rights, the Baha'is of Egypt continue to suffer from consequences of the 1960 Presidential Decree-263, of the late President Gamal Abdel-Nasser, that outlawed the Baha'i Faith in Egypt.
More details to follow....
The great significance of this historic ruling is clearly emphasized in the press release by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). The Arabic version of the press release can be seen here.
Freedom of Religion and Belief Program
16 March 2009Five-Year Legal Battle Ends in Favor of Baha’i Egyptians:Supreme Administrative Court Upholds Right to Identification Documents without Discrimination
Today’s final decision by the Supreme Administrative Court upholding the right of Baha'i Egyptians to obtain mandatory identification documents without stipulating any religious affiliation is a welcome end to a long legal battle against official religious discrimination, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) said today.
The ruling, which is not subject to appeal, permanently revoked the government policy over the past eight years of forcing Baha'i citizens to convert to one of the three state-recognized religions - Islam, Christianity or Judaism - as a prerequisite for obtaining official identification papers. Such papers are necessary for accessing most basic rights in Egypt and they must mention a citizen’s religious affiliation. EIPR lawyers, acting on behalf of Baha’i individuals, challenged the policy on the grounds that it violated the rights to freedom of belief, equality and privacy, and contravened the percepts of Shar’ia (Islamic law).
"The significance of today's decision goes far beyond the direct remedy it provides for hundreds of Baha’i Egyptians who have been the immediate victims of this arbitrary and discriminatory government policy,” said Hossam Bahgat, Executive Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. “This final ruling is a major victory for all Egyptians fighting for a state where all citizens must enjoy equal rights regardless of their religion or belief.”
Today's decision (in appeal no 10831/54) upheld a similar ruling issued by the lower Court of Administrative Justice in January 2008, which had found that the Interior Ministry’s treatment of Baha’is wishing to obtain mandatory official documents was illegal. It also ordered the Ministry’s Civil Status Department to grant them documents that did not mention any religion instead of forcing them to misidentify their religious affiliation as Muslim or Christian. While the Interior Ministry did not appeal the lower court decision, several private lawyers challenged the decision in a number of judicial appeals and the Ministry has used these appeals as justification for not implementing the decision for more than one year now.
"Now that all legal challenges against restoring the rights of Baha’is have been dismissed, the government has no more excuses for dragging its feet in ending this abusive policy without delay,” said Bahgat.
With the introduction of computer-generated identification documents in Egypt around the year 2000, the Interior Ministry’s Civil Status Department decided, without legal basis, to stop issuing or renewing official documents for Baha’i Egyptians unless they agreed to change their religious affiliation in public records to one of three officially recognized religions. In 2004 the Interior Ministry went a step further and started confiscating birth certificates and identity cards from Baha'i individuals if these documents showed their adherence to the Baha’i faith.
In the same year some Baha'i individuals whose papers had been confiscated without legal justification challenged the new policy before the administrative court, and in April 2006 the Court of Administrative Justice decided in their favor and ordered the government to recognize their adherence to the Baha’i faith in all official documents. The Interior Ministry however appealed the decision, which was later reversed by the Supreme Administrative Court in December 2006.
In January 2007, Baha'i Egyptians once again sought recourse from the administrative court, this time asking for the right to obtain identification documents without revealing their religious conviction. The Court of Administrative Justice found in their favor in January 2008. Shortly afterwards, the Interior Ministry announced that it would not appeal the decision issued in favor of the Baha'i applicants, but that it would not implement it until courts have decided on all legal challenges filed against it by a number of private lawyers.
The inability to obtain or renew identification documents for more than eight years has caused severe difficulties for Egypt’s Baha’i citizens whose number is thought to be around 2,000 individuals. Basic daily activities – such as registering for school, opening a bank account, engaging in a property transaction, collecting a pension check, immunization of children – all require a national ID or a birth certificate.
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