United Nations

UN report calls for an end to intolerance against the Baha'is of Iran

In Brief: 

Abdelfattah Amor, UN legal expert from Tunisia, says the ban on Bahá'í Institutions and other oppressive measures should be ended.

GENEVA - Saying that Iran's treatment of the Bahá'í community should be regarded as a violation of a 1981 United Nations declaration on religious intolerance, the United Nation's chief expert on the issue has called on Iran to end the ban on Bahá'í institutions and other oppressive measures against Iran's Bahá'í community.

On 23 February 1996, in a report to the UN Commission on Human Rights, Professor Abdelfattah Amor of Tunisia, the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance, challenged Iran's claim that the Bahá'í Faith is a political organization and is therefore not subject to the declaration.

"With regard to the Bahá'ís, the Special Rapporteur hopes that a clear distinction will be drawn between questions of belief or other questions of a political nature," wrote Prof. Amor. "In that connection, it should not be presumed that the entire community has been politicized or is engaged in political or espionage activities. Considering the religious principles of the Bahá'í community, the Special Rapporteur believes that there should not be any controls that might, through prohibition, restrictions or discrimination, jeopardize the right to freedom of belief or the right to manifest one's belief."

"For this reason," Prof. Amor continued, "the Special Rapporteur recommends that the ban on the Bahá'í organization should be lifted to enable it to organize itself freely through its administrative institutions, which are vital in the absence of a clergy, and so that it can engage fully in its religious activities."

Professor Amor also said that all of the properties of the Bahá'í community that have been confiscated by the Iranian Government should be returned or compensated for. Bahá'ís, Prof. Amor said, should also be granted freedom of movement, full access to the institutions of higher education, the right to freely bury and honor their dead.

The 1981 Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief calls for members of the United Nations to ensure that everyone "shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have a religion or whatever belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching."

The Bahá'í International Community welcomed the report. "Given the refusal of Muslim authorities in Iran to accept the religious character of the Bahá'í Faith, it is significant that such a highly respected jurist from North Africa should determine that, under the framework of international law, the ban on Bahá'í activities in Iran should be lifted," said Techeste Ahderom, the Bahá'í International Community's main representative to the UN.

"We can only hope and pray that the Iranian authorities will at long last recognize the nonpolitical character of the Bahá'í community and grant our Iranian co-religionists the right to freely practice their religion," said Mr. Ahderom.

Since 1979, the Iranian Bahá'í community, the largest religious minority in Iran, has suffered intimidation, discrimination, violence and even death simply because its religious beliefs differ from those held by the authorities. More than 200 Bahá'ís have been killed or executed and thousands more have been imprisoned, fired from their jobs, or deprived of access to education.

Most recently, Zabihullah Mahrami, a 49-year-old Bahá'í, was convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death in January by the Islamic Revolutionary Courts of the Province of Yazd. The Court charged that Mr. Mahrami, born into a Bahá'í family, had converted to Islam in 1981, but had then committed apostasy when he reaffirmed his Bahá'í beliefs recently.

After word of this sentence was extensively publicized in the international media, Iran's Supreme Court quashed the verdict, passing it back to a civil court (not a revolutionary court) in Yazd. This decision was handed down in March.