Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Victory for Human Rights in Egypt: Baha'is Can Have ID Cards & Birth Certificates

At last...happy faces in the courtroom

Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice has just ruled now in favor of the Egyptian Baha'is, allowing them to obtain identification documents and birth certificates. The verdict opens the door for the Egyptian Baha'is to leave the religious classification section blank (enter dashes or "other") on all identification documents and other official documents including birth certificates, according to the court's ruling. The final choice between these allowed options will be determined later. In effect, the Egyptian Baha'is will now be able to enjoy all their rights of citizenship in their homeland.

This particular verdict involves the case of the 14-year-old twin children, Emad and Nancy Raouf Hindi who, until this date, were without Egyptian birth certificates. It also involves the case of the 18-year-old university student, Hussein Hosni Bakhit Abdel-Massih, who was dismissed from the university consequent to his inability to obtain a military postponement certificate required for the continuation of his education. Since he was not permitted the issue of a national ID number and an ID card because of being a Baha'i, he could not obtain the required military certificate.

These cases suffered six postponements before today's ruling. This verdict illustrates Egypt's willingness to move forward in her path towards progress and tolerance. It is also a testimony to the emerging independence of the judiciary. It upholds Egypt's commitment towards the enforcement of equal rights to all her citizens.

More news and updates to follow....

See BBC Arabic coverage here: مصر: بطاقات هوية للبهائيين بدون ذكر الديانة

See Reuters coverage here: Egypt Baha'is win court fight over identity papers

See IHT's Daily News Egypt coverage here: Favorable verdict a victory for Bahais

"While a written verdict has not yet been issued, Bahgat [of EIPR] told Daily News Egypt that the Administrative Court’s chief judge stated that even though Bahais do not belong to one of the three religions officially recognized by the state, they enjoy the right to refuse to identify himself as one of these religions. He also said that members of the Bahai faith have the right to access state services."

See AFP coverage here: Egypt's Bahais score breakthrough in religious freedom case

See Arabic Blog coverage here: زى ام العروسة

See Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) coverage here: Egypt: Court Prohibits Withholding Documents from Baha’is
Government Should Implement Discrimination Decision Without Delay

See Canada's National Post coverage here: Egypt grants Baha'is access to official ID
Minority Rights;
Members must leave religion box blank


United Nations Office
866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 120, New York, NY 100 17 USA
Telephone: 1-212-803-2500, Fax: 1-212-803-2566, Email: uno-nyc@bic.org

Press Release

For Immediate Release
29 January 2008

For more information, contact Bani Dugal in New York at 212-803-2519 (office) or 914-329-3020 (mobile) or Diane Ala’i in Geneva at +41 (-22)-798-5400 (office) or +41 (-78)-60-40-100 (mobile)

Egypt court upholds Baha’i plea in religious freedom cases

CAIRO (29 January 2008) -- In a victory for religious freedom, a lower administrative court here today ruled in favor of two lawsuits that sought to resolve the government’s contradictory policy on religious affiliation and identification papers.

The Court of Administrative Justice in Cairo upheld arguments made in two cases concerning Baha’is who have sought to restore their full citizenship rights by asking that they be allowed to leave the religious affiliation field blank on official documents.

“Given the degree to which issues of religious freedom stand at the heart of human rights issues in the Middle East, the world should cheer at the decision in these two cases today,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

“The compromise offered by the Baha’is in these two cases opens the door to a way to reconcile a government policy that was clearly incompatible with international law -- as well as common sense,” said Ms. Dugal.

“Our hope now is that the government will quickly implement the court’s decision and allow Baha’is once again to enjoy the full rights of citizenship to which they are duly entitled,” said Ms. Dugal.

The decisions today concerned two cases, both filed by Baha’is, over the issue of how they are to be identified on government documents.

The first case involves a lawsuit by the father of twin children, who is seeking to obtain proper birth certificates for them. The second concerns a college student, who needs a national identity card to re-enroll in university.

The government requires all identification papers to list religious affiliation but restricts the choice to the three officially recognized religions -- Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Baha’is are thus unable to obtain identification papers because they refuse to lie about their religious affiliation.

Without national identify cards -- or, as in the case of the twin children, birth certificates -- Baha’is and others caught in the law’s contradictory requirements are deprived of a wide range of citizenship rights, such as access to employment, education, and medical and financial services.

These problems were highlighted in a report issued in November by Human Rights Watch and the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

“Employers, both public and private, by law cannot hire someone without an ID, and academic institutions require IDs for admission,” said the report. “Obtaining a marriage license or a passport requires a birth certificate; inheritance, pensions, and death benefits are contingent on death certificates. The Ministry of Health has even refused to provide immunizations to some Baha'i children because the Interior Ministry would not issue them birth certificates accurately listing their Baha'i religion.”

The issuance of birth certificates is at the heart of the first case, which concerns 14-year-old twins Imad and Nancy Rauf Hindi. Their father, Rauf Hindi, obtained birth certificates that recognized their Baha’i affiliation when they were born.

But new policies require computer generated certificates, and the computer system locks out any religious affiliation but the three officially recognized religions. And without birth certificates, the children are unable to enroll in school in Egypt.

The second lawsuit was filed by the EIPR last February on behalf of 18-year-old Hussein Hosni Bakhit Abdel-Massih, who was suspended from the Suez Canal University's Higher Institute of Social Work in January 2006 due to his inability to obtain an identity card because of his refusal to falsely identify himself as either a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew.

In both cases, lawyers representing the Baha’is have made it clear that they were willing to settle for cards or documents on which the religious affiliation field is left blank or filled in, perhaps, as “other.”

This solution is what makes these two cases different from the lawsuit that was rejected by the Supreme Administrative Court last year. In that ruling, the Supreme Administrative Court rejected a decision by the lower that upheld the right of Baha’is to be properly identified on government documents.

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  1. I applaud the court's ruling amidst high pressure. It's a victory for justice in Egypt, and must be a big relief for the baha'is. I wonder how this ruling will reflect on the issue of obtaining recognition of 'changing' ones beliefs, like christians that are labelled as 'muslim' on their ID cards. Or perhaps atheists preferring to have a dash instead of one of the religions on their ID cards?

  2. One would think that there will be a "domino effect!"

  3. A great victory for Egypt and the Baha'is of Egypt.

  4. I pray that Iran and other Middle Eastern countries follow in Egypts foot steps. Egyptians should be proud for setting this example!

  5. This is a relief for many Egyptian Baha'is! Let us hope the government speeds up the implementation of this ruling without delay or procrastination so that all citizens are treated equally regardless of their religious convictions or beliefs.

    Afshin's comment is timely as some Iranian Baha'is are imprisoned in Shiraz under false accusations with the true accusation being that they are Baha'is.

    May freedom rein in Iran as it is beginning to in Egypt!

    The independence of the Egyptian courts is now manifest to the rest of the world.

    We do appreciate justice as exhibited by this esteemed court.

  6. Nabil, you are quite correct...the implementation of the ruling must be swift, otherwise the Baha'is will continue to suffer needlessly. This link will show what Iran just did on the same day...what a contrast!


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