Perspective: Iran and the rule of law

By Bani Dugal
Principal Representative of the Bahá'í International Community to the United Nations

Respect for human rights is a clear indication of a nation's commitment to the rule of law, to humanitarian principles, and to honesty in its public affairs.

And there is no better measure of Iran's genuine commitment to human rights than the way it treats its largest religious minority, the 300,000-member Bahá'í community of Iran, who are by their religious principles committed to nonviolence and noninvolvement in politics.

Unfortunately, since 1979, when the Islamic Republic of Iran was established, Bahá'ís have faced a systematic and ongoing religious persecution at the hands of the Iranian government. In the early 1980s, until international pressure caused Iran to pull back from the brink, some 200 Bahá'ís were killed, hundreds were imprisoned, and thousands were deprived of their livelihood, access to education, and virtually all civil rights.

Today, there are deeply disturbing signs that the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran is gearing up for a new round of persecution against this innocent community.

Most worrisome is news of the discovery by United Nations officials of a secret letter from the Iranian military's high command to various government agencies calling for them “to identify persons who adhere to the Bahá'í faith and monitor their activities.”

Sent on 29 October 2005 to the Ministry of Information, the Revolutionary Guard and the police force, the letter states that Iran 's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, had ordered that such information be collected “in a highly confidential manner.”

Asma Jahangir, the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on freedom of religion or belief, told the world about the letter's existence in a statement on 20 March 2006, saying that “such monitoring constitutes an impermissible and unacceptable interference with the rights of members of religious minorities.”

Ms. Jahangir also expressed concern that the information gained as a result of such monitoring will be used as a basis for the increased persecution of, and discrimination against, members of the Bahá'í Faith.

Anyone familiar with some of the last century's most egregious episodes of human rights violations can easily read between the lines of such a letter. The identification and monitoring of minority groups are rarely undertaken with good intentions, especially when it involves the state military, police and other authorities.

Other recent trends and events in Iran likewise contribute to a great sense of urgency when Bahá'ís look to the near future.

First, there is the re-emergence of the Hojjatieh Society. Founded in 1953 as a specifically anti-Bahá'í organization by a charismatic Shiite Muslim cleric, the Hojjatieh Society has today reemerged in Iran as an influential if secretive faction that has been linked in news articles and Web blogs with the current Iranian administration.

Second, Iran 's government-controlled news media has begun a propaganda campaign against the Bahá'ís. Kayhan , the official Tehran daily newspaper, has carried more than 30 articles about the Bahá'ís and their religion in recent months, all defamatory in ways that are meant to create provocation. Radio, television and internet programs have joined in as well with broadcasts condemning the Bahá'ís and their beliefs.

We all know what hateful propaganda can lead to. Again, recent history offers too many examples of its horrific consequences.

Accordingly, we make an urgent plea to all nations and peoples on behalf of our Iranian coreligionists that they not allow a peace-loving, law-abiding people to face the extremes to which blind hate can lead. The ghastly deeds that grew out of similar circumstances in the past should not now be allowed to happen. Not again. Not ever.