Saturday, March 31, 2007

Recent Video on the Baha'is in Iran and Egypt

The following post was just published on Barney Leith's blog "Barnabas quotidianus".

It gives a link to a recently produced video by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States. The content of the video is described in Barney's post quoted below.

The video can be also viewed here....

Barnabas quotidianus » Baha’is in Iran and Egypt - USA NSA video

"I can highly recommend this fascinating video about the situations of the Baha’is in Iran and Egypt. It explains what the Baha’is in Iran and Egypt are suffering as a result of the persecutions [in] their respective countries; it shows the terrible (il)logic of the denial of ID cards to the Egyptian Baha’is; and it explains the work of the US National Spiritual Assembly’s Office of External Affairs in defending the human rights of the Baha’is.

The video is a copyright production by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Egypt: Commissioner's Advisory Report Revisited

Last October, Egypt's State Council's Commissioner released his report in preparation for the November and then the final 16 December 2006 Supreme Administrative Court session which was to decide on the fate of the Baha'is of Egypt.

In order to provide some background information and in light of the recently posted article published in the Daily Journal by John E. Noyes, it may be timely to revisit the October post which addressed the Commissioner's report. It is interesting indeed to reflect back on that report as it might help us understand how the Supreme Administrative Court had reached its decision.

More recently, a French lawyer writing for a legal blog named New Legal World Order published a three part article analysing Egypt's Supreme Court's decision regarding the Egyptian Baha'is. The posts can be seen here, here and here. Of note, the Egyptian legal system is based on the French system, and the State's Commissioner position and duties are quite similar in both countries, except that--based on the analysis of this case--Egypt's Commissioner did not appear to act independently and without bias as he is supposed to, and as mandated by French jurisprudence.

To be brief, it is clear that Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court accepted the State Commissioner's report on its face and had based its entire case and arguments on that report. It dismissed most procedural arguments from the plaintiff (government appellant) and entirely ignored the defendants' (Baha'is) legal arguments. It simply repeated word for word the commissioner's report which was essentially a verbatim reproduction of opinions from previous court cases involving the Baha'is over the preceding decades.

The following is a re-publication of the October post, with added comments (in red) pointing to how the case had panned out:

In preparation for Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court session scheduled for 20 November 2006, the long-awaited government Commissioner's Advisory Report that was requested by the court was released on Thursday, 12 October 2006, and a summary of the report was published in Rose el-Yousef newspaper yesterday. The 24 page report, as expected, supported the opinions of the appellants, i.e. the Ministry of Interior and the other government agencies who had appealed the lower Administrative Court's ruling which granted the Baha'is their right to indicate their religion on government-issued official documents.

It is not surprising that this clearly biased and one-sided report repeats the exact same illogical and unjustified statements and conclusions that have been circulating among the Egyptian fundamentalist establishment for many years.

In brief, it concluded that since the Baha'i Faith is not recognized in Egypt as a "divine religion," therefore its followers in that land have no rights whatsoever and that they simply do not exist! Consequently, they concluded that Egypt's Constitutional guarantees of freedom of belief and religion do not apply to the Baha'is. That Egypt is not bound to its commitment as a cosignatory to the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and that the Baha'is, in Egypt, should not be under its protection--since, as far as they are concerned, Egypt should have no obligations towards them! That the Baha'i are apostates (whether or not they descended from an Islamic background). That they are a threat to the "general [public] order" of the State, and that all their marriages are null and void.... That "methods must be defined that would insure that Baha'is are identified, confronted and singled out so that they could be watched carefully, isolated and monitored in order to protect the rest of the population as well as Islam from their danger, influence and their teachings." The report also calls for the original plaintiffs (the Baha'i family that won the case) to be charged for all court costs!

The travesty of this report is that it identifies the Baha'is as a threat to the nation, isolates them in a corner, deprives them from every right to citizenship, strips them from all their civil rights, calls for their elimination and expulsion, declares their children as illegitimate and their men and women as cohabiting out-of-wedlock.... Above all, Rose el-Yousef newspaper made sure that this report got published expeditiously so that it would serve its own purposes and agenda in its propaganda campaign against the Baha'is.

If the Supreme Administrative Court accepts this report on its face, then we should wonder if any sense of decency or humanity can have a place in that country!

--It did accept it on its face as reflected in its 16 December 2006 decision.

As most of us know, these allegations, misrepresentations, illogical and slanderous conclusions have no basis in fact and have no legal justification. It is inconceivable that a modern civilization in the 21st century could degenerate to this point of oppression of its minorities under the watchful eye of the rest of the world. One would certainly hope that, if in the remote possibility that such conclusions and judgements became contemplated for implementation by the court, the anticipated consequent outrage expressed by the world would be a deterrent to such possible outcome.

--There was and continues to be an outrage, but this did not act as a deterrent to the court.

It is also prayerfully hoped and expected that the Supreme Administrative Court will stand for justice and for its duty to uphold the guarantee of human rights to its constituency, and that President Mubarak will stand for his noble calling and quest for justice for all his citizens when he addresses the nation this upcoming Thursday as was published in this previous post.

--The court did not "stand for justice" or for "its duty to uphold the guarantee of human rights to its constituency." President Mubarak's action, specific to this case, remains to be seen.

It is essential that when religious tolerance is promoted, it must also include tolerance towards religious beliefs other than Egypt’s "recognized three." Anything less than that would be a waste of time and of no use. We can't say that “we are tolerant to only the few we recognize, and anything else is not our concern.” This would not be tolerance.

--Egypt continues to state that it only accepts the "recognized three" religions. It insists on refusing to accept the legitimacy of any other denominations, thus denying them their civil rights.

The issue is not whether or not a religion is divine--this is a whole different matter--the issue is that any religious belief must be respected, regardless of its origin or legitimacy. This is how today's world functions and is what the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights has been based on. It is essential that this nation must provide the guarantee of equality and of civil rights to all Egyptian citizens, even those who happen to have a different religious belief. No law-abiding human being in this world expects any less than that. Egypt is no exception.

The Baha'is are not, and have never been, a threat to anyone or anything, and in particular "General [Public] Order" (al-Nezam el-Aam) as claimed by the many proclamations made by Egypt’s fundamentalist establishment as well as the biased sections of the media; all this rhetoric has been fabricated in order to defame the Baha' is an excuse and a "catch phrase" that is intended to manipulate the masses and justify the injustices.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Egypt: A Crucial Law Article in California's Daily Journal

The following article was published on 13 March 2007 in the Daily Journal, one of the largest legal journal in the western United States. Its author, John E. Noyes, is an international law professor at California Western School of Law in San Diego and president-elect of the American Branch of the International Law Association. The article is entitled "Egypt's Law of Intolerance" and published in the Forum Column.

The Daily Journal is described as follows:

As a publisher of 13 newspapers devoted primarily to legal matters, Daily Journal Corporation is journalism's legal eagle. Among its newspapers are the Los Angeles Daily Journal and the San Francisco Daily Journal, which together bring in more than 40% of the company's sales. Daily Journal also produces other legal publications such as magazines, court rules, state regulations, and online foreclosure information. Subsidiary Sustain (93%-owned) offers technology enabling justice agencies to automate their operations. Munger, Marshall & Co., which is controlled by Daily Journal chairman Charles Munger (also vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway) and secretary Ira Marshall, owns 40% of the company.

Another site describes the Journal's profile as:
Daily Journal Corporation. The Group's principal activity is the publishing of newspapers and web sites covering California, Washington, Arizona, Colorado and Nevada. The Group also publishes the California Lawyer, The Code of Colorado Regulations and other corporate counsel magazines. The Group serves as a newspaper representative specializing in public notice advertising and produces several specialized information services. The products of the Group also include technologies and applications to enable justice agencies to automate their operations. The Group publishes 13 newspapers of general circulation that covers news of interest to the general public. The Group supplies case management software systems and related products to courts and other justice agencies, including district attorney offices and administrative law organizations. The Group operates throughout the United States.

The Article:

Daily Journal Newswire Articles © 2007 The Daily Journal Corporation. All rights reserved.
• select Print from the File menu above GOVERNMENT • Mar. 13, 2007

Egypt's Law of Intolerance
By John E. Noyes

Egypt is purportedly a U.S. ally in the war on terrorism and in the effort to promote democracy in the Middle East. Recent developments must lead us to question that proposition. A legal ruling in Egypt, which raises serious questions about the scope of religious freedom in that country, could affect security as well as basic human rights.

The December decision by Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court threatens human rights by insisting an Egyptian couple declare themselves to be Muslim, Christian or Jewish in order to obtain a national identity card. The case involved members of the Baha'i faith, a religion with more than 5 million followers worldwide that stresses themes of unity among the world's religions. Now, according to the Supreme Administrative Court, the Baha'is cannot state their own religious affiliation on national ID cards and other government documents, nor can they just leave their religious affiliation blank.

This decision affects other religious minorities too. Egyptians must have national ID cards to obtain basic civil rights in their country. Because of the December court ruling, the Baha'i couple's three young children cannot attend school. Without a proper national ID card, a citizen may also be denied a job, financial services and medical care. The court's decision poses a critical dilemma for Egyptians who are not Muslims, Christians or Jews. They must either lie about their religious affiliation - something that is both a criminal offense and, for many, an offense against their religious beliefs - or be denied basic rights due to all citizens.

The court decision is a definite setback for Egypt and its citizens, and may increase civil unrest and contribute to security concerns. Although Egypt is an Islamic country, many other countries where Islam is either the state religion or a source of law have not taken the discriminatory steps Egypt has taken. Other Islamic states in the region - including Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, the Sudan, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates - do not require listing religious affiliation on national identity cards.

International law emphasizes freedom from religious discrimination as a basic human right. Relevant legal instruments include the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which emphasizes everyone's right to freedom of religion, and the 1981 U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. Egypt is a member of the United Nations and has pledged, by accepting the U.N. Charter, to promote the observance of "fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion."

Egypt is also a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty that guarantees citizens the right to be free from government coercion impairing an individual's "freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice." Press accounts quote former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros-Boutros Ghali, speaking in August 2006 in his capacity as president of Egypt's National Council for Human Rights, as stating that Egypt "should either approve and recognize all religions or eliminate religious classification from ID cards." To discriminate by denying members of some religions access to basic rights of citizenship is in itself a gross abuse of human rights. Such discrimination may also contribute to a climate in which additional persecution and civil instability become possible.

The independent, bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed its deep regret over December's Egyptian court decision. According to Commission Chairperson Felice Gaer, "The court's ruling denies Egyptian Baha'is their rights as citizens of Egypt and would subject them to particular hardship in obtaining education, employment, and social services." The U.S. Commission also noted that Egypt's policies concerning listing religion on a national ID card appear to violate anti-discrimination provisions in Egypt's Constitution, in addition to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and interpretations of various U.N. bodies.

The U.S. government monitors situations of religious extremism and religious intolerance around the world. Such situations not only abuse basic human rights, but they can give rise to instability as well. A U.S. State Department spokesman said that the December judicial ruling "flies in the face of stated Egyptian commitments to freedom of expression," and urged the Egyptian government to address this "fundamental issue of religious freedom."

The world has seen too many tragic examples of religious discrimination leading to other human rights abuses and conflict. The denial of basic rights to religious minorities in Egypt affects us all, regardless of our own religious beliefs.

John E. Noyes is an international law professor at California Western School of Law in San Diego and president-elect of the American Branch of the International Law Association.
© 2007 Daily Journal Corporation. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Egypt: Rights of Baha'is and Current Government's Stand

This is a news report, aired on Al-Hurra Television that examined the challenges facing the Egyptian Baha'i citizens. The recording can also be watched directly at this link.

The reporter, Tareq El-Shamy, interviewed a Baha'i family living in Cairo, a representative of the Egyptian government and a representative of a Christian church.

The program, which was televised on the 19 March 2007 broadcast, is entitled: Eye on Democracy.

The first interviewee, Dr. Labib Iskandar Hanna, spoke of some of the difficulties facing the Baha'is, such as their inability to obtain birth certificates for their newborn children, and their inability to obtain ID cards, death certificates, bank accounts or the acquisition and sale of property. He described the current situation as "civil death."

The second interviewee, Raymona El-Hamamsy, spoke of her past humiliating public dismissal from high school, even though she was named "the exemplary student," simply because she wrote her religion as Baha'i on the required document.

The last interviewee, Mr. Rifaat Fikry who is a representative of a Christian church, spoke about discrimination against Christians, women and Baha'is in Egypt.

The most revealing interview in this program--the one before last--is with the government's representative, Mr. Hany El-Nazer representing the ruling National Democratic Party [al-Hizb al-Watany al-Democraaty], and a member of the Supreme Political Council.

The brief statements made by Hany El-Nazer appear to betray the government's current strategy and "party line" regarding the Baha'i crisis. The following is a literal translation (from Arabic) of his statements:

"On the subject of the Baha'is, I would like to tell you something...we must recognize that in the Egyptian society there are Muslims and Christians and Jews. These are known divine religions, and they are respected. Then you start something and after you start it, you want to legalize it? This cannot be--so we are not starting something and then say the ID and legalizing...this talk is not permissible, and it is not useful to talk about it."

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Clear Example of Respect and Appreciation

The following is a post from Barnabas quotidianus blog regarding greetings of the British government to the UK Baha'i community. This message clearly illustrates the respect and appreciation for the contributions of the Baha'i community to the welfare of Britain and the entire planet.

It is hoped that the Egyptian and Iranian governments would also, in time, express their appreciation and respect for this world embracing Faith that contributes greatly to the advancement of human society.

Barnabas quotidianus » Baha’is of UK receive greetings from Tony Blair

Our National Spiritual Assembly has just received greetings messages for Naw-Ruz from our Prime Minister, the Rt Hon. Tony Blair MP:

Naw-Ruz greetings from the Prime Minister (Rt Hon Tony Blair MP).

March 2007

It gives me great pleasure, once again, to send my best wishes to the Baha’i community in the UK as you celebrate Naw Ruz. The United Kingdom deeply values the presence of the Baha’i community and the unique contribution you make.

The words of your founder, that “the earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens”, have perhaps an even greater resonance in 2007 than ever before. The universal challenges of climate change, and its potentially disastrous impact on millions of people across the globe, remind us forcefully that we are all fellow citizens of the world, all sharing in its destiny. As we confront these challenges I have no doubt that you, and your fellow Baha’is in other countries, have much to contribute to the debate and the pursuit of possible solutions, drawing on the tradition of working for social justice of which Baha’is can rightly be so proud.

With my best wishes to you all for the forthcoming year.

[Signed] Tony Blair

The Rt Hon. David Cameron MP, the Leader of the Opposition, has also sent a message:

March 2007

Happy Naw-Ruz

I am delighted to send all members of the Baha’i community my best wishes for a Happy New Year.

The principles which the Baha’i community hold dear - in particular unity and also the promotion of social justice, a belief in the importance of family life, and a concern for the environment - are of central importance to our society today.

The fact that so much work has been carried out to put these values into practice, through development projects around the world does great credit to your faith.

I know also that you will have in your thoughts at this time those communities elsewhere who face persecution because of their faith. Freedom to worship and to hold religious belief is a fundamental right which we must always cherish.

May I once again send my good wishes to you and your families at this time.

[Signed] David Cameron

They’re very good messages and they will be read out at our official Naw-Ruz reception in the House of Commons this evening.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Is This What the Egyptian Government Wants?

In a post dated 27 January 2007, entitled "ID Cards in Egypt: Yet Another Unusual Statement," and subtitled "Ministry of Interior Instructs Egyptian Citizens to Lie," the deputy minister of interior Essam el-Deen Bahgat When asked how the Baha'i matter should be dealt with, he responded by stating "we will enter the religion of the father whether he was Christian or Muslim in the religion section for the Baha'i applicants. If he [she] refuses, then we will not issue an ID card, and he will have to deal with the consequences."

If we follow the logic of the Egyptian government's official stand in its attempt to force the Baha'is to lie about their true religious identity and register themselves--for example--as Muslims, one wonders what the outcome could be!

As an exercise, let us assume that the Baha'is in Egypt do lie about their identity as they have been instructed by their government--even though the Baha'is would normally refrain from such an admission--the following partial list will illustrate the possible consequences of such a scenario:

1) Any Egyptian Baha'i man (with Muslim ID) can marry a Muslim woman, even though Shari'ah Islamic law forbids this possibility.
2) Any Egyptian Baha'i can be buried in a Muslim cemetery.
3) Any Egyptian Baha'i can have equal access to job opportunities--even in preference over Egyptian Christians.
4) Any Egyptian Baha'i can attend university and even graduate with the highest grades (normally reserved to Muslim students).
5) Any Egyptian Baha'i can obtain a birth certificate for his or her newborn child.
6) Any Egyptian Baha'i can be easily granted a death certificate so that his or her "Baha'i" family can receive their inheritance.
7) Any Egyptian Baha'i can receive inheritance from a Muslim parent.
8) Any Egyptian Baha'i can open a bank account.
9) Any Egyptian Baha'i can purchase or sell a property.
10) Any Egyptian Baha'i can obtain a driver's license.
11) Any Egyptian Baha'i can obtain a passport and travel the world freely.
12) Any Egyptian Baha'i can obtain a military draft number and serve in the armed forces.
13) Any Egyptian Baha'i can be considered for high-level government, academic, industrial, commercial, professional job, or any other highly sought after employment.
14) Any Egyptian Baha'i can teach in any public school or university.
15) Any Egyptian Baha'i child can be vaccinated and can receive all kinds of social services.
16) Any Egyptian Baha'i can be treated in a public hospital.
17) Any Egyptian Baha'i can receive social services, cost of living allowances and pension.
The list goes on....

Is this what the Egyptian government wants?

On the other hand, based on Egypt's constitution, aren't all these privileges the right of every Egyptian citizen regardless of his or her religion, belief, ethnic background, colour or creed?

While Egypt Plunges Deeper, Vietnam Floats to the Surface


Posted on Wednesday, March 21, 2007 (EST)
Vietnam has legalised the Bahai faith, which authorities say has about 7,000 followers in the communist country, the state-controlled media reported Wednesday.

HANOI (AFP) - Nguyen Huu Oanh, vice chairman of the government's Religious Affairs Committee, "presented a certificate to ratify religious activities of the Vietnam Bahai religious community," said the Vietnam News Agency.

Human rights and religious freedom groups routinely criticise Vietnam for violating religious freedoms, including the harassment of some Buddhist groups and members of mainly Christian Protestant ethnic minorities.

Vietnam pledged greater religious freedom in a government report issued in early February and said that more than 20 million of its 84 million citizens were state-registered followers of major religions in 2005.

The Bahai faith, which stresses the unity of humanity and its religions, was founded in Iran in 1844 and has over five million followers worldwide, according to the official Bahai website in the United States.

Photograph: (courtesy 2007 AFP/File - Sven Nackstrand)

Also see "France 24"

Monday, March 19, 2007

BBC World Service on the Baha'is of Egypt

On Sunday, 18 March, BBC World Service [no longer available] aired its broadcast regarding the Baha'is of Egypt in its half hour program named Heart & Soul. One can listen to the program using Real Player at this link [no longer available].

The following is an introduction to the program, published on the BBC website:

"There are about seven million Bahais living in more than two hundred countries around the world. The faith first arrived in Egypt in the 1860s, and was recognised as a religion. But now the Bahais are struggling to assert their rights as Egyptian citizens. As the small community of Bahais prepare to celebrate their New Year this week, Eva Dadrian finds out about their religion, and why they are facing daily discrimination.

When the Egyptian government introduced new computerised Identity Cards, it forced its citizens to choose from only 3 religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. To get ID cards, followers of Bahai are now having to lie about their religion. Heart and Soul finds out how they are trying to fight to gain recognition for their Bahai faith."

Comment: it is important to stress that the statements made by those individuals opposing the Baha'is later in the program, reflect expressions that were simply their own personal opinions and interpretations. They had no theological foundation or supporting scholarly proofs to their claims--they were only personal judgments. For example, when they stated that the "Baha'i Faith is not a religion," one must realize that it is not up to these individuals to make that dogmatic determination or judgment, and wrap it to the audience in the guise of a known--taken for granted--fact.

Near the end of the program and voiced from the courtroom, an argument was made by an Islamist fundamentalist who attempted to make a case that, since the Supreme Court had ruled against the Baha'is then it was fait accompli, and he implied it as a final judgment on the Baha'i case. Again, the facts before us demonstrate that the court had not addressed the case before it, i.e. the civil right of the Egyptian Baha'is to be issued ID cards, but rather attempted to rule on the legitimacy and the divine origin of the Baha'i Faith. This was neither under its jurisdiction nor what the court was asked to decide on in the appeal before it. Instead of hearing the merits of the current case, the court had simply repeated--verbatim and without even minor editing--previous statements made, decades earlier in older court rulings, on unrelated cases brought before the Egyptian courts regarding the struggle of the Egyptian Baha'i community in its quest for equal treatment and justice.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Egypt: Freedom of Expression & Freedom of Religious Beliefs

The US Representative from Arizona, Congressman Trent Franks wrote a letter to the Washington Post regarding the issue of freedom of expression and religious freedom in Egypt, citing the case of imprisoned Egyptian blogger Abdelkareem Nabil Soliman as well as the Supreme Administrative Court Case regarding the Baha'is of Egypt. He also posted on the Congress Blog that people are "created equal and possess a sacred dignity intrinsic to being creatures made in the image of God Himself." And that "one of the most fundamental natural rights of every individual is the right to freely worship and think according to one’s conscience. It is the cornerstone of all human freedom."

He argues that although Egypt states: speech defaming religion can be limited for "not just Islam but all religions." Yet Egyptian law protects only the three "heavenly religions," and Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court has refused to recognize the Bahais, who were declared incompatible with Egypt's nature as an Islamic state. No action has been taken to protect faiths other than Islam, including the Christian Copt minority, a move Mr. Soliman called for.

The entire letter is posted below as well as in the copy of the Washington Post article linked in this post.

Free This Egyptian Blogger

Saturday, March 10, 2007; Page A18

The sentencing of Egyptian blogger Abdelkareem Nabil Soliman [editorial, Feb. 28] seriously threatens freedom of expression and religion throughout Egypt.

While Mr. Soliman was critical of extremism within Islam, the ability to discuss one's religious beliefs is an important aspect of freedom of religion and expression, both of which are essential in democratic societies and should not be prohibited in legislation. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief has stated that "defamation of religions may offend people and hurt their religious feelings, but it does not necessarily or at least directly result in a violation of their rights, including their right to freedom of religion."

In a March 5 letter, the Egyptian Embassy stated that speech defaming religion can be limited for "not just Islam but all religions."

Yet Egyptian law protects only the three "heavenly religions," and Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court has refused to recognize the Bahais, who were declared incompatible with Egypt's nature as an Islamic state. No action has been taken to protect faiths other than Islam, including the Christian Copt minority, a move Mr. Soliman called for.

Egypt is an ally of the United States in the struggle for freedom, receiving nearly $2 billion in foreign aid annually. However, Congress is concerned with Egypt's stifling of basic human rights. I call on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to immediately pardon Mr. Soliman.


U.S. Representative (R-Ariz.)


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Egypt Denies Violations of Human Rights Indicated in US Report

Cairo-- In a front page article of today's issue of Nahdet Misr newspaper, Egypt's Foreign Minister, Ahmad Abu Al-Gheit, attempted to deny the violations of human rights stated in the recent US annual human rights report. He accused the report of "lying and deceiving," and stated that "America is not the guardian of human rights." he also belittled the source of the report as "having no standing since the United Nations has not given any nation the right to be the guardian of human rights in the world." The Minister described the report as a "routine publication that was prepared by those who are not aware of the facts regarding the countries reported on, including Egypt." He also said that "what the report includes regarding Egypt represents misguided vision that is built on inaccurate and incomplete information, and that some of the cases referred to are still in litigation, while others have been decided on already in courts."

He stressed that "the Egyptian government wastes no effort in studying the reports of Egypt's National Council for Human Rights, and what it includes in observations and ensure the protection of the rights and freedoms of the Egyptian citizen."

He clarified that "Egyptian-American relations are important and based on mutual interests, pointing that both nations agree in their vision regarding the importance of human rights, even though there might be differences, at times, as to some matters of application which is a natural phenomenon that does not influence relations between the two countries."

The newspaper added that "the report criticised the status of religious freedom in Egypt, concentrating on the Baha'i case, the crisis of building churches and the incidents of girls' kidnapping in the south of Egypt...."

Since the Foreign Minister has now formally denied the existence of human rights violations in Egypt, one would wonder what to believe! The respected Minister, by making these statements, has now put the onus on the Egyptian government to prove once and for all that, indeed, there are no violations of human rights in Egypt. Does this also mean that the Baha'is will now be able to obtain their legitimate full civil rights and be treated as equals under the law? Does it mean that they will be now granted the rights of their Egyptian citizenship, such as being issued ID cards, of which they have--allegedly--been deprived?

Update: also see this BBC News Report.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Yes, Women Can Become First-Class Citizens in Egypt

In celebrating International Women's Day on 8 March, the following interview with an Egyptian Baha'i woman was published earlier this week in Copts United as a component of the magazine's coverage of this important occasion. On the index page the article was given the following title: "Religions came for humans and not to manufacture countries. The world now needs the Baha'i Faith."

Basint Moussa is the journalist conducting the interview, and Basma Moussa (no relation) is the person interviewed for this article.


[Translator’s notes appear in square brackets [ ].]

Dr. Basma Moussa in a dialogue for “Hiya wa Huququha” [Her and her rights]

4 March 2007

Basint Moussa

“I am a woman and a Bahá’í; nonetheless, I feel I am a first-class citizen” is a phrase I heard at one of the seminars. I gazed, astonished, at the lady who said it, telling myself: “How can this lady feel this way? Doesn’t she know that we are a male-dominated society that glorifies men? Doesn’t she know that we live in a country that has an official religion and only recognizes three religions, its official religion being of a higher status than the other two?” Because of my strong belief that every individual has his reasons for what he says, I requested to meet with her so that I could learn more about her and how she thinks. Of course, I did not forget to ask her about the secret of feeling like a full citizen. Here with us today is Dr. Basma Moussa, a professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at the Faculty of Dentistry, Cairo University.

** Dr. Basma, your specialty is surgery. Some perhaps would consider that it is not easy for a woman to work in the field of surgery?

The surgeon should certainly be calm and collected and be able to deal with developments that suddenly arise in the operating room. These capabilities are found in some women and men, and not exclusively in men. Woman is capable of coping with difficulties better than man, and there are many examples that attest to this, but I will only mention one: pregnancy. For nine months (almost a year), woman bears many difficulties, whereas man may not be able to carry a bag, placed on his abdomen, for more than two hours, let alone nine months. Thus, the fact that woman has her own functional and psychological characteristics does not mean that she is less capable of withstanding [difficulties]; on the contrary, those characteristics give her great strength.

** Then, what are the reasons for the discrimination against woman if she possesses all this strength and these capabilities?

The cultural education that has been planted in people’s minds that woman was created to serve man is what has given rise to all that we have referred to, and this is totally false. Added to this is the erroneous understanding of the revealed verses and religious laws and convincing woman of her obligation to observe these laws; so woman becomes part of what causes the problem and not a means for resolving it, and this is a real catastrophe.

** The youth of tomorrow are the children of today. What is your assessment of the situation of the Egyptian child, health-wise, psychologically and culturally, in this day?

We cannot deny that, compared to the past, there has been great advancement in health, in terms of caring for the child, but this advancement in health, albeit needing more support, is not met with attention and obvious interest in educating the child and building psychological strength within him. The greatest proof of this is in education; [our education system] does not engage the child in any creativity; rather, he is treated as if he is merely a recipient of academic information. This pattern of education creates people who lack the value of participation and, hence, collaboration and love.

** But there are those who consider that the role of the school is education and not the development of values such as love, collaboration and participation, as those are the responsibility of the family.

Education does not rest on the family alone, but it rather rests on several pillars, including the school, of course. We need the school to plant in the children a love for the homeland and a desire to collaborate with all people irrespective of any differences of opinion and religious belief. The society we live in produces people who, although they work together, do not collaborate or love one another; they simply see it as a job to gain money. This is a detestable individualism that reflects great selfishness. So if we learned in school to work with love, we would give a lot more than we would gain from this work, and our society would succeed and develop because its people would work and deal with each other with much love. This is what we need now: love to build our homeland, Egypt.

** How would you see the teaching of religion in Egyptian schools?

When I was a child at school studying Islamic education, not because I was forced to but because my roots are Muslim, the Christian students would leave the classroom in the religion hour and play in the school courtyard or have another lesson. In my opinion, this is a type of discrimination that the child perceives in his [everyday] life. In addition, the religion teacher would, for the most part, explain and teach based on his own understanding and not according to the religious education that should be followed. Therefore, I am of the opinion that comparative religion should be taught, that is, the child should know about all the religions and study them throughout his schooling and then choose what he wants to believe in. This is what I learned as a Bahá’í; we teach our children all the religions because the source of all these religions is one, as Bahá’u’lláh said: “ye are all the fruit of one tree and the leaves of one branch”. In England, for example, they are considering adding a subject called “morals” [behavior], which would include the nine world religions--a "world religion" [would be defined as] the one in which more than half a million people believe.

** Comparative religion sounds good, but Dr. Muhammad Imarah once mentioned in a discussion that belief in a particular religion does not necessarily mean disbelieving in others. What would you comment on that?

I do not understand how an individual could charge others with heresy, because even disbelief in a particular religion does not mean heresy. To be an infidel is to disbelieve in God, not in religions. A Muslim disbelieves in Christianity or vice versa, but both believe in God. The Bahá’í Faith considers that all religions came for a particular period of time; therefore, the laws differed from time to time, but the spiritual teachings of all religions are the same. However, we focus on the laws, which are a source of disagreement, and forget about our common spiritual teachings. Science develops and changes with time, and the Word of God, which is [true] religion, changes according to the needs of the age in which we live. At one point it was Christianity and at another Islam. A Bahá’í believes in all of that, and the Bahá’í Faith is a continuation of natural evolution of religious laws; therefore, the world today needs it now.

** So, is your difficulty as Bahá’ís in Egypt with Islam or with the laws taken from Article 2 of the Constitution?

We, as Bahá’ís, do not have any problem with the beliefs of any previous religion; we have a problem with the interpretations which some give to religious scriptures. I do not understand how a State can have a religion, for a country is not a person. Religion is higher in its station than to just manufacture countries. Religion came to humans in order to add the new dimension needed in people's lives. Moreover, Article 151 of the Egyptian Constitution considers that the treaties that Egypt signs are under the power and authority of the law [to enforce them]. Egypt has signed many treaties on human rights. Where is the efficacy of this signature and its implementation in reality? Is this whole matter merely a signature [ink on paper]?

** After the recent ruling regarding the Bahá’í religion and the extent of the legality of embracing it in official identity papers, how is your life and that of your children going?

I have a passport which I need to renew, but I cannot do that because they will not enter my religion as Bahá’í. This will create many difficulties for me, as I am invited to many medical conferences outside of Egypt. I apologize and am embarrassed to explain the reasons, which may surprise some or may lead some to ridicule the mentality that exists in my country, Egypt. My son, who will be graduating from university, also does not yet have an identification card, and this will cause many problems for him.

** This is an extremely difficult situation, your not being able to travel outside the country and your son not having an identification card; some may say, just write “Muslim” and then do whatever you want in the privacy of your prayer chamber?

First of all, I believe in my right as an Egyptian to embrace whichever religion I choose. I am not a Muslim, so why should I claim to be one? My religion teaches me not to lie, and I do what I believe in, whatever the cost. I am confident that my country will admit one day my right to write down my religion. Change is part of life, and I am confident that the difficult current condition, which is worsening, will one day change.

** Let us return to an important question. Why do you feel that you are a full citizen in a society that has denied you so much?

God created me free and rational in a country that suffers from erroneous understandings in many matters. My role is to feel inside that I am not less than anyone else and that I am a citizen, and this positive feeling inside me will no doubt enable me to defend, with all my strength and using all legitimate means, my right as a citizen through the ordinances and laws that order our relationships as individuals within the society.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Just Published: US State Department Annual Report on Human Rights

Attention! See Egyptian newspaper update below

The annual report of the US Department of State on Human Rights Practices around the world was just published on 6 March 2007. The lengthy section on Egypt (which deserves careful reading) includes an extensive report on the vilolations of human rights of the Baha'is in Egypt (Arabic translation of the report).

Below are some of the paragraphs found in this report concerning the Baha'i struggle:


Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 6, 2007

c. Freedom of Religion

The constitution provides for freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites; however, the government placed restrictions on the exercise of these rights. According to the constitution, Islam is the official state religion and Shari'a (Islamic law) the primary source of legislation. Religious practices that conflict with the government's interpretation of Shari'a are prohibited. Members of non-Muslim religious minorities officially recognized by the government generally worshiped without harassment and maintained links with coreligionists in other countries. Members of religions not recognized by the government, particularly the Baha'i Faith, experienced personal and collective hardship. Approximately 90 percent of citizens are Sunni Muslims; less than 1 percent are Shi'a Muslims. The percentage of Christians in the population ranged from 8 percent to 15 percent, or between 6 to 11 million, the majority of whom belonged to the Coptic Orthodox Church. There were small numbers of other Christian denominations, including Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, a Baha'i community of approximately 2,000 persons, and a small Jewish community of less than 200 persons.

The law bans Baha'i institutions and community activities, and stripped Baha'is of legal recognition. The government continued to deny civil documents, including ID cards, birth certificates, and marriage licenses, to members of the Baha'i community. The Ministry of Interior requires identity card applicants to self-identify as Jew, Christian, or Muslim. As a result, Baha'is face great difficulties in conducting civil transactions, including registering births, marriages and deaths, obtaining passports, enrolling children in school, opening bank accounts, and obtaining driver's licenses. During the year, Baha'is and members of other religious groups were compelled either to misrepresent themselves as Muslim, Christian or Jewish, or go without valid identity documents. Many Baha'is have chosen the latter course.

On December 16, the Supreme Administrative Court overturning a lower court ruling, decided that Baha'is may not list their religion in the mandatory religion "field" on obligatory government identity cards. In May, the Ministry of Interior had appealed an administrative court ruling issued in April, which supported the right of Baha'i citizens to receive ID cards and birth certificates with the Baha'i religion noted on the documents. The government had indicated that all citizens must be in possession of new computerized ID cards by January 1, 2007, and that old, hand-written cards will no longer be valid. (Egyptian citizens not in possession of valid identity documents may be subject to detention.)

Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm's article regarding the report, entitled "American Extrenal [Affairs]: Egyptian Government Commits Severe Violations of Human Rights"
Published 8 March 2007

US State Dept. Report Continues:
Some elements of the press published articles critical of the Baha'is. For example, on October 16, Roz Al-Youssef, a pro-government newspaper, published excerpts of a government's Advisory Report, which supported the Ministry of Interior's claim to overturn the April 4 ruling. The report argued that because the Baha'i Faith was not recognized in Egypt as a "divine religion," its followers were not entitled to citizenship rights. The report argued that constitutional guarantees of freedom of belief and religion do not apply to the Baha'is, and that Egypt is not bound under its commitment as a cosignatory to the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The report also asserted that Baha'is are apostates, a threat to public order, and recommended that
"methods must be defined that would insure that Baha'is are identified, confronted, and singled out so that they could be watched carefully, isolated and monitored in order to protect the rest of the population as well as Islam from their danger, influence and their teachings."

The National Council for Human Rights gave more attention to religious freedom in its second annual report released in March, calling for a solution for official recognition of Baha'is; addressing the problem of Jehovah's Witnesses; and criticizing religious textbooks for failing to address human rights. The report also recommended that Parliament pass a law to facilitate construction of new places of worship for all religious groups. Finally, the report noted that the council had not received any response from the Ministry of Interior or several governorates to its nine inquiries regarding alleged violations of religious freedom that it had received.

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There generally continued to be religious discrimination and sectarian tension in society during the year. Tradition and some aspects of the law discriminated against religious minorities, including Christians and particularly Baha'is.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Leyli and Farida Shaping History in Egypt

Baby Leyli was born on 24 February 2007 to an Egyptian father and an American mother living in Egypt. Both parents are Baha'is. As expected these days, her parents were very concerned that they might not be able to acquire a birth certificate for Leyli since Baha'is living in Egypt have been denied such right unless they lie about their religion and enter one of the three recognized religions in Egypt.

When Leyli's father went to the registration office which is under the direction of the Ministry of Health, he was informed that the office now has a directive from "higher authorities" (Ministry of Interior) that in case one of the parents is a foreign national and happens to belong to other than one of the three recognized religions, then they are authorized to issue a birth certificate in which the religion of the parents can be entered as "5 dashes."

The procedure for acquiring a birth certificate in Egypt mandates a handwritten certificate initially issued by the Ministry of Health,to be followed by a computerized certificate issued by the Ministry of Interior six months after birth.

When Leyli's sister Farida was born four years earlier, her parents struggled for 14 months in order to obtain a birth certificate for their daughter. This was only possible after the interference of the US State Department. The key to finally allowing Farida a birth certificate was that she would have been unable to obtain a passport to travel without having a birth certificate first, and if she was refused a birth certificate it would have implied that a US citizen (Farida is a dual citizen) was prevented from leaving Egypt, thus creating a diplomatic crisis.

Consequently Farida was issued an Egyptian birth certificate with the religion section left vacant. To our knowledge, this was the first Egyptian birth certificate of its kind, issued under the new computerized system. A detailed account of this matter can be seen at their father's blog linked here....

As can be concluded, that sequence of events prepared the way for her newborn sister, leyli, to obtain a birth certificate without undue delay and without religious classification entered in the required section of the document.

In this post--with the consent of the parents--one can see copies of the handwritten certificate of Leyli (with 5 dashes in place of religion) and the computerized certificate of Farida (with no religious classification section).

If obtaining a birth certificate (devoid of religious classification) for a child born to Baha'i parents in Egypt--with one of the parents being an Egyptian national--is possible even with the current up-to-date computerized system, then why is it not also possible for all children born to Baha'i parents in Egypt? Furthermore, if this was possible to implement under the newly established computerized identification system, why not apply this as well to Identification Cards?

It is obvious that this case presents a clear evidence that such option is quite possible and implementable. This would definitely solve the crisis currently facing Egyptian Baha'is who are unable to enjoy any of their citizenship and basic civil rights because of being prevented from obtaining any of their essential identity documents. It would also solve the extreme hardship facing Egyptian Baha'i children as shown in this previous post.

This solution also does not present any hardship to the authorities, particularly as they are dealing with those extreme elements which are opposed to the Baha'i Faith as a religion.

On another note, the girls' father Shady Samir remains with neither an ID card nor a passport!

P.S. the word "VOID" was added by me.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Egypt & U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) published a statement for immediate release on 19 December 2006, three days after the verdict--denying the Egyptian Baha'is their civil and human rights in their homeland--was handed down by Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court.

The USCIRF describes itself as follows: "The US Commission on International Religious Freedom was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to monitor the status of freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief abroad, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related international instruments, and to give independent policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and the Congress."

Its membership consists of:
Felice D. Gaer, Chair • Michael Cromartie, Vice Chair • Elizabeth H. Prodromou, Vice Chair •Nina Shea, Vice Chair • Preeta D. BansalArchbishop Charles J. ChaputKhaled Abou El FadlRichard D. LandBishop Ricardo RamirezAmbassador John V. Hanford III, Ex-Officio • Joseph R. Crapa, Executive Director.

The following is the text of its press release:

Egypt: USCIRF Regrets Court Ruling Upholding Discriminatory National Identity Card Policy

December 19, 2006

Angela Stephens, Assistant Communications Director,
(202) 523-3240, ext. 114

WASHINGTON-The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan federal agency, deeply regrets the decision by the Supreme Administrative Court of Egypt on Saturday to uphold the Egyptian government's discriminatory policy of prohibiting Baha'is from obtaining a national identity card. A lower court decision in April had allowed members of the Baha'i faith in Egypt to obtain a national identity card and to list their religious affiliation, but the Egyptian government appealed that ruling to the Supreme Administrative Court.

"The court's ruling denies Egyptian Baha'is their rights as citizens of Egypt and would subject them to particular hardship in obtaining education, employment, and social services," said Commission Chair Felice D. Gaer. Baha'is are put to the choice of claiming adherence to a religion other than their own or foregoing an identity card and other official documents.

Last month, the Commission issued a statement noting that Egypt's policy requires all citizens to carry a national identity card that lists one's religion, permitting only Islam, Christianity, and Judaism as choices for that listing. This policy:

• runs contrary to Article 40 of the Egyptian Constitution which states that: "All citizens are equal before the law. They have equal public rights and duties without discrimination between them due to race, ethnic origin, language, religion or creed;"
• violates Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR), to which Egypt is a party. The UN Human Rights Committee has stated that no one can be "compelled to reveal [his or her] adherence to a religion or belief." Furthermore, in a 2004 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief stated that mention of religion on government identity cards is at "variance with the freedom of religion or belief that is internationally recognized andprotected" and that Egypt's policy of excluding "any mention of religions other than Islam, Christianity or Judaism would appear to be a violation of international law;" and
• is inconsistent with the practice of many other countries in the region where Islam is the state religion and/or a source of legislation. Countries in the region that either do not require religious affiliation or do not list it at all on national identity cards include Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, Sudan, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Baha'is of Shiraz Supplicating

Bahá'í Prayer for the Fast in Arabic, chanted by the youth of Shiraz. Please click on the player above or here....

Friday, March 02, 2007

Documentation of "A Faith Denied" in Iran

In response to the denials by Iran of its ongoing and unrelenting persecution of its Baha'i population, it is now timely to turn to the following report entitled "A Faith Denied" which was published in December 2006 by an independent agency named "Iran Human Rights Documentation Center."

The report's cover states the following:

"This report explores how Bahá'í religious practice has effectively been criminalized inside Iran. Bahá’ís are subjected to a level of social exclusion and harassment in Iran that shocks the conscience and A Faith Denied illuminates the persistent role played by the clerical establishment in perpetuating such abuse. Community leaders have been murdered and sites of irreplaceable religious significance destroyed. The report finds rising levels of persecution since the 2005 election of President Ahmadinejad and resurgence of other conservative political figures."

Below is the executive summary of the report, and in order to read the full report, please click here....

Executive Summary

The Bahá’í community of Iran has faced repeated cycles of persecution since the founding of the faith in the mid nineteenth century. Today the Bahá’ís are not free to practice their religion, they suffer from economic and social exclusion, and they have been subjected to executions, arbitrary arrests and the destruction of their property – all carried out with the support of national judicial, administrative and law enforcement structures. Since the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2005, there is evidence to suggest a new cycle of repression may be beginning. The report’s key findings are as follows:

• The Shi’a clerical establishment in Iran has long regarded the Bahá’í faith as a heretical deviation from Islam. The Bahá’í community has suffered most severely when the clerical influence in national affairs has been strongest. This report seeks to demonstrate that the clerical establishment has consistently worked to undermine and ultimately extinguish the Bahá’í faith, a project that has been wholeheartedly embraced by the government of the Islamic Republic.

• The 1950s saw organized anti-Bahá’í campaigns resulting in mob violence, the destruction of religious sites and the formation of private anti-Bahá’í organizations, approved and assisted by senior civil, military and religious leadership figures. The propaganda used to cultivate and justify social persecution created negative stereotypes that continue to have repercussions today. Clerics who gained an influential public voice during these campaigns later gained powerful positions in the post-1979 leadership.

• The consolidation of clerical rule after the 1979 revolution gave rise to a centralized and government-directed anti-Bahá’í campaign. The new Islamic constitution explicitly withheld recognition as a religious minority from the Bahá’ís. Instead the Bahá’í faith was categorized as a political threat – a characterization reinforced by frequent accusations of espionage or other anti-revolutionary criminal activity. This effectively criminalized the Bahá’í religion.

• The first years of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) saw the full range of state coercive force deployed against Bahá’ís. The authorities particularly targeted Bahá’í leadership in an attempt to destroy the community. The members of three successive Bahá’í national councils were arrested and summarily executed. A similar fate befell numerous members of local governing assemblies.

• Another recurring feature of anti-Bahá’í campaigns has been the confiscation and destruction of Bahá’í property, including holy sites, cemeteries, personal property and community institutions. The House of the Báb, one of the Bahá’í community’s most sacred religious sites, was demolished by the Islamic Republic in 1980.

• Economic and social exclusion has been a consistent feature of the Islamic Republic’s treatment of the Bahá’í community. Bahá’ís have been purged from educational institutions and from both state and private businesses at the order of the central government.

• The recent election of President Ahmadinejad and resurgence of conservative political figures appears to have emboldened Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. In November 2005, Ayatollah Khamenei instructed military agencies to identify and monitor all Bahá’ís living within their areas of responsibility. Given the historic hostility of the conservative clerical establishment to the Bahá’í community, there is good reason to fear that this measure is laying the foundation for a new cycle of anti-Bahá’í persecution.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Now Iran Denies Ever Persecuting the Baha'is!?

Despite the horrific atrocities committed by Iran in its persecution of its Baha'i community since its birth in the mid 1800s (click here), a representative of Iran's mission to the United Nations and the Iranian government have just denied that Baha'is were ever persecuted in Iran! Yet another disturbing Semblance to the claims made by Egypt in response to the official reports by human rights organizations of its gross violations of the civil and human rights of Baha'is.

An article published today in Al-Arabia website reported on the recent dismissals of Baha'i students from Iranian universities. This report is based on another article--quoted below--published in the Baha'i World News Service regarding the denial of higher education to Baha'is students in Iran.

Al-Arabia interviewed one of Iran's representative to the United Nations who stated: "This accusation is wrong" adding, "no one in Iran is dismissed from education because of his religion."

Also in response to the fact that hundreds of Baha'is were imprisoned and murdered by the Iranian government since its 1979 revolution, the Iranian government stated it "never arrested or executed any individuals because of their religion."

The article ends with this statement: "Last year the Baha'i International Community accused the Iranian authorities of arresting 54 Baha'i girls who were participating in teaching children under a community service program."

The following article was posted yesterday on the Baha'i World News Service website:

Iranian Baha'is face continuing discrimination in higher education

NEW YORK, 28 February 2007 (BWNS) -- A growing number of Baha'is admitted to Iranian universities this year have been expelled, powerful evidence that Baha'i students in Iran still face severe discrimination and limited access to higher education.

After more than 25 years during which Iranian Baha'is were outright banned from attending public and private universities in Iran, some 178 Baha'i students were admitted last fall to various schools around the country after the government changed its policies and removed religious identification from entrance examination papers.

As of mid-February, however, at least 70 students had been expelled after their universities became aware that they were Baha'is.

"The high percentage of expulsions - which are all explicitly connected to the students' identities as Baha'is - suggests at best that the government is turning a blind eye to discrimination in higher education, and, at worst, is merely playing a game with Baha'i students," said Diane Ala'i, the Baha'i International Community's representative to the United Nations in Geneva.

"While we are happy that for the first time since the early 1980s a significant number of Iranian Baha'i youth have been able to enter and attend the university of their choice, the government's long history of systematic persecution against Baha'is certainly calls into question the sincerity of the new policies," said Ms. Ala'i.

She noted, for example, that another 191 Baha'i students, having successfully passed national college entrance examinations last summer, were unable to enter university this year, either because of the limited number of places for the course of their choice or for other reasons unknown to them.

"International law provides that access to education is a basic human right, and Iranian universities have no excuse for denying students who have successfully passed their examinations the right to attend simply because they are Baha'is," added Ms. Ala'i.

"As long as any Baha'i is unjustly denied access to higher education, we can say that the years of systematic persecution and discrimination against Baha'i students has not yet ended, and we must call for this injustice to be rectified," she said.

The largest religious minority in Iran, Baha'is of all ages have faced systematic religious persecution since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. More than 200 Baha'is have been killed, hundreds have been imprisoned, and thousands have had property or businesses confiscated, been fired from jobs, and/or had pensions terminated.

According to a secret 1991 government memorandum, Baha'is "must be expelled from universities, either in the admission process or during the course of their studies, once it becomes known that they are Baha'is."

One of the chief means the government has used to enforce this policy was to require that everyone sitting for the national college entrance examination state their religion on the test registration forms. Test forms that listed "Baha'i," or that had no listing, were rejected.

In 2004, apparently in response to continued pressure from the international community, the Iranian government removed the data field for religious affiliation. About 1,000 Baha'i students successfully sat for the examination that year and hundreds passed, many with very high scores.

Later that same year, however, in an action that Baha'i International Community representatives characterize as a "ploy," exam results were sent back to Baha'is with the word "Muslim" written in, something that officials knew would be unacceptable to Baha'is, who as a matter of religious principle refuse to deny their beliefs.

Government officials argued that since the Baha'is had opted to take the set of questions on Islam in the religious studies section of the test, they should be listed as Muslims. Baha'is contested the action and were rebuffed; no Baha'i students entered university that year.

The same thing happened in 2005. Hundreds of Baha'i students took and passed the national examination, only to find that the government had listed them as Muslims. Baha'is again contested the action, but without successful redress, and no Baha'is matriculated in 2005.

Last summer, again acting on good faith, hundreds of Baha'is took the national examination. This time, as indicated in the figures above, hundreds have passed, and some 178 were accepted into universities.

Throughout the fall, reports came out of Iran indicating that many of those who had been accepted were being refused entry or expelled once the universities learned that they were Baha'is. As of February, the confirmed figure totaled 70 Baha'is expelled.

"Accounts we have received from those who have been expelled or denied registration at the university of their choice clearly indicate the issue is their Baha'i identity," said Ms. Ala'i.

"One student, for example, received a phone call from Payame Noor University on 18 October, asking whether he was a Baha'i. When he replied in the affirmative, he was told that he could not be enrolled.

"Later, after visiting the university, the student was told that the university had received a circular from the National Educational Measurement and Evaluation Organization, which oversees the university entrance examination process, stating that while it would not prevent the Baha'is from going through the enrolment process, once enrolled, they were to be expelled.

"Another Baha'i student at that same university was told that students who do not specify their religion on registration forms would be disqualified from continuing their education there," she said.

Ms. Ala'i also said that the Baha'i International Community has learned that all universities in Iran except one still include a space for religion on their own registration forms.

"This raises the grave concern that the 191 additional Baha'is who passed their examinations this year but were refused places may in fact be the subjects of discrimination," she said.

"We call on the international community to continue to monitor this situation closely," said Ms. Ala'i. "We would also ask for the continued efforts of educators and university administrators around the world who have participated in a campaign to protest the treatment of Baha'i students in Iran."

uno-bp-07 02 28 -1-EXPELLED-507-N