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

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


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 . For a transcript of the Commission’s February 2008 hearing on Iran, see .

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.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

An Independent Scholarly Essay on Iran's Persecuted Baha'is

An essay by a well-known dissident, Ahmad Batebi, on the persecution of the Baha'is in Iran and the deprivation of their youth of higher education, was just published by Iranian.Com on the fourth of September. The essay was originally authored in Farsi and translated to English.

The essay generated several comments that can be viewed at this link to the publishing website. The entire essay is re-posted below:

Freedom for all

The Bahais and higher education in Iran
by Ahmad Batebi

Ahmad Batebi (b. 1977) came to international notice through his appearance on the 17 July, 1999, cover of The Economist magazine, holding up a shirt splattered with the blood of a fellow protester. This photo, which has been called “an icon for Iran’s student reform movement”, was taken during the Iranian student protests of July 1999 in Tehran. Following its publication, Batebi was arrested, tried in closed-door proceedings, found guilty of “creating street unrest”, and sentenced to death. After seven years of torture and imprisonment, he managed to escape, and it is believed that he now lives in the United States. Mr. Batebi is not associated with the Bahai community.(1) The following essay was first published on Tuesday, 2 September 2008, in Persian in RoozOnline. All footnotes were contributed by the translator. -- Ahang Rabbani.

From the first hours of 27 July 2008, the results of the nationwide university entrance examination(2) were available on the official website of the National Organization for Educational Assessment.(3)

However, after entering their personal data on the registration website, most of the Bahai applicants were confronted with the strange system response, “incomplete file”. At present there are no exact statistics on how many Bahai applicants have been rejected on the base of “incomplete file”; in light of the imprisonment of the leaders of the Bahai community in Iran, perhaps such statistics will never become available through official means.

However, “incomplete file” is the most perplexing response to student applicants in place of an actual diploma. This is because if the file of a student is indeed missing some important piece of information such that that he is disqualified from receiving a diploma, then according to the regulations of the Organization for Assessment that student is disbarred from participation in the national examination, and under no circumstances would a permit card be issued for him to attend such an entrance exam.

Interestingly enough, alleging that the file is incomplete means that Bahai applicants can no longer appeal to the country’s judiciary for recourse or to outside sources, because under such conditions it is impossible to show that the file has actually been completed.

The same situation for the Bahai students occurred last year as well, but unfortunately repeated and extensive appeals yielded no action and no investigation by the government, the parliament, the judiciary, or any of the oversight agencies. It is understood that the same pattern will be repeated again this year and that once more, a large contingent of the brightest students of Iran will be deprived of higher education – the most natural right of every citizen.

Even if the Bahai youth of Iran were allowed to participate and pass college entrance examinations, they would still not be immune from the menace of a vengeful ideological government. To illustrate this point, I draw the attention of the esteemed readers to a letter of suffering by Hesam Mithaqi – a student deprived of the right to education:

"In 1385 Sh [2006] I participated in the nationwide college entrance examination and was accepted in the bachelor program for English translation in the Sanai Institute of Advanced Studies in Isfahan.

"Early in the first semester, our professor in the Islamic studies class inquired, 'Do we have any religious minorities in the class?' Miss Rezai [a Bahai], a Christian student and I declared that we were among the religious minorities. I also added that I intended to minor in Islamic studies. The instructor then asked me to name my religion, but since I knew that mentioning the word 'Bahai' would not be prudent, I avoided a direct answer. However, the instructor insisted and I stated that I followed the Bahai Faith.

"After that session, Miss Rezai and I together went to the instructor and suggested that in view of the pervasive circumstances it would be best for him to avoid a discussion of the Bahai Faith in the class and university, since it might result in complications for us, and even for him. He accepted and from that date no such discussion took place in our sessions.

"At the conclusion of the second semester and after we had received our transcripts, we were notified on 14/4/86 [5 July 2007] that back in Farvardin [March 2007] the university had received official instructions for our expulsion. In response, the school authorities had written to their superiors explaining their unwillingness to expel any student in the middle of a semester, and requesting a reconsideration of the original decision. However, they had been confronted with a hostile response. Consequently, they decided to send us along with a letter to the Organization for Assessment so they could determine our status.(4)

"After we had gone to the aforesaid Organization and some time had passed, we were told to refer back to the university as their decision would be communicated to the school. However, we stated, 'We must return to school with your decision.' We were then delivered into the custody of the Organization and told to refer to the Organization’s office in Tehran, on Karim-Khan Zand Avenue, for a response. Also, the reference number of a letter was given to us (86/4/18, m/1/270) and we were informed that the letter had already been sent to the Organization for Assessment’s office in Tehran.

"When we visited the Organization’s office in Tehran, we met with Dr. Nurbakhsh. He said that he had worked diligently to secure the rights of the Bahais and was laboring to secure an avenue for our university attendance. He also suggested that we should not approach various governmental offices as it would bear no fruit.

"After visiting the above-mentioned office, we went to the Science Ministry and there learned that a letter sent by our university to that Ministry had gone missing! However, one of the officials indicated that the said letter was with Dr. Muslemi. When we approached Dr. Muslemi, he denied all knowledge and said that he had sent the file to the Organization for Assessment.

"At the same time, I wrote a letter to Isfahan’s representative to the Islamic Parliament, Dr. Kamran, although his secretary would not give me the letter’s reference number. I also wrote via email to many other members of the Parliament and the office of the President, all of which went unanswered.

"To this day, I continue visiting the offices of the Science Ministry, the Organization for Assessment, the Agency for Revolutionary Education, and offices of representatives of the Parliament and other governmental agencies. However, no logical response has been given to this date, and everyone pretends that they are uninvolved and refers me to other offices.

"Now that two semesters have passed since my dismissal from the university, I have not received an official letter of expulsion. In accordance with the regulations of the Science Ministry, if a student fails to attend two semesters his expulsion is issued automatically. Therefore, I am now considered an expelled student.

"Also, I have tried to receive exemption from military service and – unbelievably! – they have me recorded as a student in the Sanai Institute of Advanced Studies. Because of my exemption as a “student”, therefore they have refused to grant me a general exemption.

It is bizarre that Bahai youth are barred from attending universities, but must enlist for military service."

Article 30 of the Islamic Republic’s constitution requires the government to provide all citizens with free education up to secondary school, and to expand free higher education to the extent required by the country for attaining self-sufficiency.

However, after the Islamic Revolution we have persistently witnessed that nearly all Bahai students have been expelled from Iran’s institutions of higher learning because of their religion, and none were permitted to attend universities.(5)

Moreover, starting four years ago, outwardly permission was granted for Bahai students to enroll in universities. However, every year saw a large segment of these students prevented from enrolling in schools for various excuses, such as incompleteness of files, and those who were able to enroll were mostly expelled on the basis that they were Bahais.

Separate from these difficulties that the Bahai youth of Iran have been confronting, this summer has witnessed many diverse incidents of persecutions visited upon the Bahai communities in many cities of Iran.

Moreover, the leadership of the Bahai community was seized [on 14 May 2008] and to this date remains in Evin prison. These seven Bahais are: Mahvash Sabet; Fariba Kamalabadi; Afif Naeimi; Saeid Rezaie; Vahid Tizfahm; Jamaloddin Khanjani; and Behrouz Tavakkoli.(6)

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These individuals are incarcerated in section 209, administered by the Security and Intelligence Ministry. For the first time, on 20 June 2008 they were allowed a brief contact with their families; in more recent days they have been permitted a second brief contact with their loved ones. However, Behrouz Tavakkoli has been denied all communications with the outside world.

According to reports, the period of their imprisonment has been renewed, and they continue to languish in solitary confinement – despite the fact that Jamaloddin Khanjani and Behrouz Tavakkoli suffer from various ailments, including digestive and skin conditions.

In the course of these events, an interesting development is the proclamation of Ayatollah Montezeri regarding the civil rights of the Bahais of Iran. He, as one of the highest ranking clerics outside of government, openly proclaimed:

"In the Name of God,

"With greetings,

"The congregation of Bahaism not having the heavenly book like those of Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians in the constitution [of the Islamic republic of Iran], are not considered to be among the religious minorities. However, since they are citizens of this country, they have the rights of citizens and the right to live in this country. Furthermore, they must benefit from Islamic compassion, which is stressed in Quran and by the religious authorities."(7)

The civil rights mentioned above should inevitably include all provisions enunciated in the constitution of the Islamic Republic. In this regard, Article 20 of that document proclaims:

All citizens of the country, both men and women, equally enjoy the protection of the law and enjoy all human, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, in conformity with Islamic criteria.

And Articles 22, 23, 28, and 30, respectively, state:

Article 22: The dignity, life, property, rights, residence, and occupation of the individual are inviolate, except in cases sanctioned by law.

Article 23: The investigation of an individual’s beliefs is forbidden, and no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.

Article 28: (1) Everyone has the right to choose any occupation he wishes, if it is not contrary to Islam and the public interests, and does not infringe the rights of others. (2) The government has the duty, with due consideration of the need of society for different kinds of work, to provide every citizen with the opportunity to work, and to create equal conditions for obtaining it.

Article 30: The government must provide all citizens with free education up to secondary school, and must expand free higher education to the extent required by the country for attaining self-sufficiency.

Without doubt, the problem of the Islamic regime with the Bahai Faith is based in ideology. However, the question is: Why is the Shiite sect ruling over the people of Iran, despite the fact that the Bahai Faith believes and respects the foundation of all other religions, especially Islam, is solely attacking the Bahais when other religious minorities, such as the Christians, the Jews or the Zoroastrians are not under similar pressure? From the perspective of this writer, the Shiite persecution has two reasons:

* The appearance of this religion after Islam, as the last divine religion, which according to their belief, is sent by Almighty God for the salvation of the world of humanity.

* The close proximity of certain teachings of the Bahai Faith to key beliefs of the governmental authorities, such as the phenomenon of the Lord of the Age, or the doctrine of Mahdaviyat, or eschatological views.(8) The authorities firmly believe that these issues are the foremost foundation of the divine legitimacy of the Islamic regime, while simultaneously they are also the largest differences between this sect (namely, the Shiites) and all other sects of Islam.

The Bahais believe that the Qaim of the House of Muhammad(9) was manifested in 1844 and has left behind a copious body of writings. Further, the Qaim prophesized the imminent appearance of another Person and that Person is Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Bahai Faith. Also, the Bahais believe that the teachings and exhortations of the Bahai Faith are consistent with the needs of the present age of humanity, the current state of maturity and development of the world, and the requirements of the people over the course of the next several centuries, and that it is this religion that will prepare mankind for the next stage of its global civilization.

This belief of Bahais from the perspective of Shi‘i law is erroneous. This belief is also the principle foundation for the pressure on the followers of the Bahai Faith, and has caused the basic human rights and civil liberties of the vast majority of our Bahai fellow-citizens, despite being native Iranians, to be denied to this day.

In accordance with a certain traditional reading of Shi‘i law, in a society in which a majority are Muslim, the people of the Book are not permitted to proselytize their religion. Therefore, in accordance with the same understanding, in such a society discussion of Bahai beliefs is also forbidden. However, it is imperative to point out that the phenomena of understanding and discernment is personal, and is the sole prerogative of the individual. One person cannot think for another person.

Similarly, every belief is personal – and religious convictions are in like manner personal and not societal. Consequently, to attain to faith is a matter of personal conviction – one cannot order a society to accept or reject certain beliefs. Nor can a society be instructed through a public declaration or announcement to renew or change the beliefs of a people. Therefore, it should be evident that when it comes to matters of belief and religious persuasion, the views of a certain leader or a school of thought or even government cannot be overrule the will of individuals in that society.

Belief and convictions to any religion is a matter of faith and personal understanding. Therefore, it is illogical to expect that such an acceptance could be left to the judgment of others. It is absurd to think that some other person can act as the agent of belief of all others, and on behalf of other people he would be charged to study, to ponder, to doubt, to question, to meditate, to trust in God and to ask for His confirmations and eventually to come to believe. When it comes to gaining faith, one cannot accept a deputy or surrogate.

To recognize and come to faith requires the most personal and deepest exercise of one’s conscience. Each of us, in our own unique way, arrives at this recognition and acceptance which entails the innermost aspects of our spiritual and psychological commitment. How can such a thing be delegated to someone else?

From another direction this question can be raised: Are individual Muslims exempt from the duty to study, contemplate and decide on the validity or the falsehood of claims to Qaimiyyat? Or has God, His traditions, divine teachings and Islamic law left this matter exclusively for the inquiry of religious leaders and the jurists of the age?

In accordance with Shi‘i jurisprudence, is every Muslim not duty bound to first consider the claim of every claimant with his own eyes, mind and discernment, and to look for the right signs and evidences, and only afterwards, in case it is needed, to consult with ecclesiastics and ask for their views? Is each and every Muslim not obligated to carefully consider, read and assess with his own mind the writings of such claimants to Qaimiyyat, and only then, if necessary, to consult with others, perhaps even ranking clerics?

Based on what principle or judgment should Muslims make their beliefs, or disbeliefs, the same, and dependent on the views of religious clerics and mullahs? Every Muslim has the spiritual and religious duty to fully investigate the truth or the falsehood of the claim to Qaimiyyat by himself. The right to come to a conclusion regarding the genuineness or fabrication of a claim to the Qaimiyyat by its various claimants belongs to all people.

Divine tradition has always been that the Messengers of God have addressed each and every person directly, and not merely the religious clerics of the age (such as the absurd claim of the Islamic Republic to have exclusive contact with the Lord of the Age). Therefore, the acceptance or rejection of the claim to Qaimiyyat is a matter for all people and not the sole domain of the ‘ulama. The divine message is for all and not just for a few.

Whether to accept or reject the Bahai Faith and all its exhortations and teachings, like any other spiritual doctrine, requires deep contemplation, study and research.

For what reason then is the Islamic Republic, having thorough command over all financial and media resources of the nation, and maintaining belief and insistence on its own divine and absolutely unquestioned mandate and ideology (which is a belief in Islam through the Rule of the Religious Jurists) and its persistent injection of this belief into all elements of the nation, so afraid of any contact between the people and not only the Bahais but every religious minority group?

Is it not the case that the government believes that Islam (its version of the Rule of the Religious Jurists) is the most complete, unadulterated and precious religious thought, and no other religion enshrines the same truth and validity? Therefore, why are the authorities so afraid of the followers of other religions, particularly the Bahais?

Is it not true that a Muslim should be able to ask his questions from others in complete liberty, and that others are also enjoined to have the freedom to share and expound without any restriction or constraint their beliefs and religious convictions? Given this fact, then the Bahais in all Islamic societies must be given complete and unhindered freedom of expression.

(1) For further details on Ahmad Batebi see here and related links.

(2) Since university seats are limited in Iran, a nationwide examination is administered to identify the best candidates for higher education. This examination is typically given once a year and is known as the National Entrance Examination [Konkúr].

(3) The National Organization for Educational Assessment and Evaluation is a division of Iran’s Ministry of Science, Research and Technology. This organization is responsible for administering nationwide tests which identify candidates for college entrance.

(4) The letters given to the students are numbered: 86/391/4, 86/390/4 and 86/390/4.

(5) For the entire period of 1980-2004, no Bahai was admitted to any institution of higher education in Iran. Since 2004, a handful of Bahais have gained admittance. In order to educate its youth, the Bahai community of Iran has formed its own university, where a worldwide network of instructors provide lectures through electronic and internet means. This university has now been forced to suspend its operations as well at the demand of authorities in Tehran.

(6) For details of the arrest and imprisonment of these Bahai leaders, see here.

(7) This decree was issued on 14 May 2008. The Persian original can be found here.

(8) Islam teaches that at the end of time, the Promised Mahdi will appear and will right all wrongs. The Bahais believe that this promise was fulfilled in the Person of Baha’u’llah, the Founder of their religion.

(9) Qaim means the One Who will arise. For the Muslims He represents the Promised One, and for the Shi‘is He also represents the Twelfth Imam, Who went into hiding in 873 AD, and is expected to reappear at the “end of time” to bring justice and equity to the world.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Iran Update: Most Recent News on Detained Baha'is

The Baha'i World News Service has just updated its page entitled "Iran Update." The new release states the following:

Last updated: 4 September 2008

Baha’i leaders still in prison; Nobel Prize winner continues in their defense:

The seven members of a Baha’i coordinating committee remain in Evin Prison in Tehran, and there are fears for their safety. Their families have no information about formal charges against them, although it has been more than a month since a government prosecutor was quoted in the press as saying the individuals had “confessed” to operating an “illegal” organization with ties to Israel and other countries – charges categorically denied by the Baha’i International Community. (See BWNS article.)

Mrs. Shirin Ebadi – a prominent Iranian human rights attorney who is a Nobel laureate – maintains that she and her colleagues at the Defenders of Human Rights Centre in Iran are prepared to defend the jailed Baha’is, despite criticism and false accusations leveled at her and her family because of their involvement, including charges that she or her daughter have become Baha’is. Mrs. Ebadi is a Muslim, and the Baha’i International Community confirms that neither she nor her daughter have ever been Baha’is. She has stated that attorneys have been trying to get access to those in jail but such access has been denied. (For more information about Mrs. Ebadi, see official Baha’i statement dated 12 August 2008.)

The seven members of the Baha’i coordinating committee who are in prison are Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, Mr. Vahid Tizfahm, and Mrs. Mahvash Sabet. The first six have been jailed since May, and Mrs. Sabet since March.

On 19 August, Mr. Tavakkoli’s wife was detained and held for four days after she visited the prosecutor’s office and pressed for clarification of her husband’s situation.

At least 22 Baha’is currently in jail

Three Baha’is who were jailed in Tehran on 19 August for no known reason have been released. It was the second time in six months that the three, Mr. Touraj Amini, Mr. Iraj Amini, and Mr. Payman Amoui, were detained.

There are still at least 22 Baha’is in jail in Iran who are being held because of their religion.

Oppression of Baha’is continues unabated:

The broad-based, government-backed campaign to stamp out the Baha’i community continues.

A number of tactics are used to prevent Baha’is from earning a living. In one recent example, a Baha’i working at a real estate agency in Shiraz was fired from his job when a group of agents met and decided that dealing with Baha’is is against Islamic law. At the meeting, a number of baseless allegations were made against the Baha’i – allegations he strongly denied – and an anti-Baha’i leaflet published by the city council and the police was distributed.

Other recent reports from Shiraz show the multifaceted nature of the campaign against the Baha’is:

* Three different versions of an anti-Baha’i brochure titled “Baha’ism: A Colonial Dance” were widely circulated in the city. The brochure included common false accusations about the Baha’i Faith.

* A number of Muslim neighbors of Baha’i families have received “visits” from people who attempt to distort their perception of the Baha’i Faith and discourage them from associating with the Baha’is.

* A Baha’i youth who was a national judo champion was expelled from the national team before the team traveled to international competitions. After appeals were lodged, it was learned that there is a general directive prohibiting Baha’is from competing, coaching, or refereeing on national teams.

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