Memorandum submitted by Barnabus Leith,
Bahai Community of the UK
1. This evidence is submitted by the Secretary
General of the Bahai community in the United Kingdom. This community
has been established in the UK since the end of the nineteenth
century and Bahai's are currently to be found throughout the country.
Approximately 40 per cent of the 6,000 or so Bahai's here are
of Iranian origin or descent and a significant number of these
came here as refugees from persecution in Iran, the country of
origin of the Bahai Faith. Intermarriage has resulted in a significant
number of Bahai families in the UK being mixed British-Iranian.
2. The UK Bahai community has been involved
in defending the human and civil rights of the Bahai community
in Iran since 1979. Since that time, representatives of the Bahai
community's national governing council, the National Spiritual
Assembly, have been in regular touch with Ministers and officials
at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about the situation in
Iran and have received considerable support and assistance over
the years. Our analysis of evidence from the Bahais Iran and of
comments from the Bahai International Community's UN Office in
New York indicates that this support has contributed significantly
to amelioration of the difficult conditions in which the Iranian
Bahai community has been living.
3. Since the Islamic Revolutionary regime
took power in Iran in 1979, Bahais have been harassed and persecuted
solely on account of their religious beliefs. They have repeatedly
been offered relief from persecution if they were prepared to
recant their Faith.
4. With approximately 300,000 members, the
Bahai Faith is Iran's largest religious minority, but it is not
recognised as a religion by the Iranian Constitution. The Islamic
regime refers to it as a heresy and a conspiracy. As "unprotected
infidels", Bahais have no legal rights, although Iran is
a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights which guarantees freedom of religious belief.
5. A secret Iranian Government document
published by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in
1993 confirms that Iran's anti-Bahai actions reflect deliberate
government policy. Produced by Iran's Supreme Revolutionary Cultural
Council on 25 February 1991 and approved by the Islamic Republic's
Supreme Leader, this document sets forth specific guidelines for
dealing with "the Bahai question" so that Bahai "progress
and development shall be blocked". It is no less than a blueprint
for the slow strangulation of the Bahai community.
6. The Bahais in Iran are no strangers to
persecution. Attacks and pogroms against Bahais have happened
regularly since the foundation of the community in Iran over 150
years ago. Historically, attacks on Bahais were frequently made
for theological reasons by Iran's Muslim clergy, since they believe
that no religion should appear after Islam. The fact that there
is no clergy in the Bahai Faith may also have been perceived by
them as a threat to their own status.
7. The Bahai community in Iran poses no
threat to the authorities. The principles of the Bahai Faith require
Bahais to be obedient to their government and to avoid partisan
political involvement, subversive activity and all forms of violence.
The Bahai community in Iran is not aligned with any government,
ideology or opposition movement. Furthermore, showing goodwill
to the followers of all religions is a tenet of the Bahai Faith
and Bahais are not enemies of Islam nor, indeed, of Iran.
8. The Bahais seek no special privileges.
They desire only their rights under the International Bill of
Human Rights, of which Iran is a signatory, including the right
to life, the right to profess and practice their religion, the
right to liberty and security of person, and the right to education
9. Encouraging statements have recently
been heard from representatives of the Iranian Government in international
fora. At the 88th Session of the International Labour Organisation
in June 2000, the representative of Iran stated, "Although
the members of the Bahai faith did not belong to a recognised
religious minority, under the terms of the legislation approved
by the Expediency Council in 1999, all Iranians enjoyed the rights
of citizenship irrespective of their belief." In the Summary
Record of the 618th meeting of the Committee on the Rights of
the Child, held in May this year, Ambassador Khorram, representative
of the Iranian Government, is reported as having said that the
adoption of this new law had improved the situation of those who
followed "non-recognised religions and beliefs such as the
10. Measures were recently taken by the
Government of Iran which made it possible for married Bahai couples
to be registered as husband and wife, and for the children of
such couples to be registered.
11. Following a period of apparent intensification
of persecution in the Mashhad area after mid-1998, during which
Mr Ruhu'llah Rawhani was executed and three other Bahais were
sentenced to death, on 3 February 2000 two of themMr Sirus
Dhabihi-Muqaddam and Mr Hidayat Kashifi Najafabadi, who had been
imprisoned at the same time as Mr Rawhaniwere informed
orally that their death sentences had been reconfirmed. We have
recently been notified that the third Bahai sentenced to death
in MashhadMr Manuchehr Khulusihas been released,
although it is not clear what gave rise to his release nor the
status of the verdict against him.
12. In December 1999, the Bahai International
Community was unofficially informed that Mr Dhabihu'llah Mahrami's
death sentence for apostasy had been commuted to life imprisonment
by an amnesty of the President. We were also informed that consideration
was being given to the similar commutation of the death sentence
on Mr Musa Talibi, but no confirmation that this has occurred
has been received.
13. Towards the end of December 1999, we
were informed that Mr Farzad Khajeh, Dr Sina Hakiman and Mr Habibu'llah
Ferdosian, who had been convicted in connection with their participation
in the activities of the Institute for Higher Bahai Studies, had
14. Since 1979, more than 200 Bahais have
been killed, and 15 others have disappeared and are presumed dead.
15. Mr Ruhu'llah Rawhani, executed by hanging
on 21 July 1998 after having served nine months in solitary confinement
stood accused of converting a woman to the Bahai Faith. The woman
concerned refuted the accusation, stating that her mother was
a Bahai and she herself had been raised as a Baha«'i. There
is no evidence that Mr Rawhani was accorded any legal process
or access to a lawyer, and no sentence was announced prior to
16. Arbitrary arrests of Bahais continue.
17. Since November 1997 there have been
53 Bahais arrested and imprisoned, and 46 released.
18. Since 1983 the Bahai community has been
denied the right to assemble officially and the right to maintain
its administrative institutions, those democratically elected
governing bodies which in other countries organise and administer
the religious activities of the community. Since the Bahai Faith
has no clergy, the denial of the right to elect these institutions
threatens the very existence of a viable religious community.
These sacred institutions perform many of the functions reserved
to clergy in other religions and are the foundational element
of Bahai community life.
19. Gradually over the last few years the
Iranian Bahais have developed makeshift arrangements to worship
in small groups, to conduct classes for children, and to take
care of other community needs. However, authorities continue to
harass the Bahai community by disrupting meetings and occasionally
arresting teachers of children's or "family life" classes.
20. Events in Khurasan suggest an intensification
of efforts to terrorise members of the Faith and to suffocate
the spiritual life of the Bahai community in the region by further
curtailing activities aimed at providing education to Bahai children
and youth. An example of this abuse was the arrest, detention
and summary sentence of two teachers in Mashhad, the capital of
Khurasan, to three years' imprisonment, while their students were
given suspended sentences, to be carried out should the young
people again commit the "crime" of participating in
such classes. In September 1998, three more Bahais , Mrs Nahid
Sabeti, Mr Manouchehr Sharifi and Mr Hushmand Sanani, were arrested,
this time in Bujnurd, northern Khurasan, for participating in
Bahai "Family Life" gatherings. After spending six days
in prison, they were released, having also been given suspended
sentences of five years' imprisonment.
21. The use of suspended sentences is a
new tactic devised by the Ministry of Information (Intelligence)
to prevent Bahais from participating in monthly religious gatherings.
It is a threatening device, and the Bahais in Iran are fearful
that it may be extended to other parts of the country if allowed
to go unchallenged. As has been the recent practice of the Government
of Iran, no written documentation relating to the arrest or punishment
of the Bahais has been provided to them.
22. Bahai cemeteries, holy places, historical
sites, administrative centres and other assets were seized shortly
after the 1979 revolution. No properties have been returned and
many have been destroyed.
23. Seizure of cemeteries throughout Iran
has created problems for Bahais who have difficulties burying
their dead and identifying gravesites. They are permitted access
only to areas of wasteland, designated by the Government for their
use, and are not permitted to mark the graves of their loved ones.
24. The property rights of Bahais are generally
disregarded. Since 1979, large numbers of private and business
properties belonging to Bahai's, including homes and farms, have
been arbitrarily confiscated.
25. In 1998 over 500 Bahai homes throughout
Iran have been raided at the hands of intelligence officers. When
queried about the seizure of personal household effects like television
sets and pieces of furniture, these officers claimed that they
had been authorised by the Attorney General to take anything they
26. Seizure of personal properties, together
with the denial of access to education and employment, continues
to erode the economic base of the Bahai community.
27. The confiscation of property is only
one of the ways in which the government is systematically weakening
the economic base of the Bahai community. Many Bahais in Iran
have also been deprived of the means to earn a living. In the
early 1980s more than 10,000 Bahais were dismissed from positions
in government and educational institutions because of their religious
beliefs. Many remain unemployed and receive no unemployment benefits.
The pensions of Bahais dismissed on religious grounds were terminated;
some of the Bahais have even been required to return salaries
or pensions paid to them. Bahai farmers are denied admission to
farmers' co-operatives, which are often the only sources of credit,
seeds, pesticide and fertilizer.
28. Bahais throughout the country have
been bullied and intimidated into abandoning their professions.
For example, fabricated excuses were used to force one Bahai doctor
to close his practice. Another Bahai doctor was arrested, beaten,
slandered, and forced to co-operate with the security guards.
29. An entire generation of Bahais has been
systematically barred from higher education in legally recognised
public and private institutions of learning in Iran.
30. Having been denied access to higher
education for years, in 1987 the Bahais established their own
higher education programme to meet the educational needs of as
many of their young people as resources will allow. By 1996 several
hundred students were enrolled, and 11 had graduated with the
equivalent of a bachelor's degree.
31. In late September 1998, more than 36
faculty members of the Bahai Institute of Higher Education (BIHE)
were arrested in cities across the country. They have since been
released. The arrests were carried out by officers of the Iranian
Government's intelligence agency, the Ministry of Information,
and also involved the seizure of textbooks, scientific papers
and documentary records, some 70 computers, and items of furniture
useful to students, including tables and benches. Those arrested
were asked to sign a document declaring that BIHE had ceased to
exist as of 29 September 1998 and undertaking that they would
no longer co-operate with it. The detainees refused to sign any
32. The Bahai Faith places a high value
on education, and Bahais have always been among the best-educated
groups in Iran. Being denied access to higher education for years
is demoralising to Bahai youth. This erosion of the educational
level of the community is, as authors of the policy envisioned,
inevitably leading to the impoverishment of the community.
33. Unlike Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism,
the Bahai Faith is not recognised in the Iranian Constitution:
therefore, Bahais fall into the category of "unprotected
infidels" whose rights can be ignored with impunity. In general,
the pressures placed on Bahais by the judicial system have increased.
34. While neither Bahai marriage nor divorce
is legally recognised in Iran, measures have recently been taken
by the Government of Iran which make it possible for Bahai couples
to be registered as husband and wife and to register their children.
The right of Bahais to inherit is denied. An article in the Iranian
newspaper Khaber, dated 21 July 1999, dealt with the matter
of inheritance by Bahais under the laws of Iran in its section
devoted to answering legal questions. The article describes different
circumstances in which a Bahai claimant to an inheritance cannot
enjoy the rights of an inheritor because a Bahai "is considered
an infidel and is excluded from the inheritance".
35. The freedom of Bahais to travel outside
or inside Iran is often impeded by Iranian authorities and sometimes
denied. Although the last years have witnessed an increase in
the number of Iranian Bahais given passports. It is not clear
whether there has been a change of policy on the part of the Iranian
government on this issue.
36. Such treatment is not confined to Iran
itself. Bahais applying to Iranian embassies abroad to renew their
passports or to obtain visas to return to Iran have often found
officials similarly uncooperative. However, the Iranian embassies
in some countries do not require the applicants to state their
religious affiliation; in such countries, Bahais are more likely
to be able to obtain visas or to renew their Iranian passports.
Passport application forms which require applicants to declare
their affiliation with a "recognised religion" have
been used to pressure Bahais to recant their religious beliefs.
37. Furthermore, in a number of communities
the practice of summoning Bahais to the security offices on various
specious pretexts and insulting and belittling them, so as to
create fear in their families and weaken their spirits, still
38. In spite of relentless oppression over
the last 21 years, the Iranian Bahai community survives and maintains
its identity. Its strength and determination, as well as the pressure
of world public opinion as expressed in resolutions passed by
the United Nations and the Parliaments of several countries, have
made it possible for the Bahai community to continue to exist
in a difficult and hostile environment. The Bahais have devised
ways of teaching the Faith to their children, of worshipping in
small groups in private homes, of providing some education to
their youth, and of preserving the spirit of the community even
without their religious institutions, which were disbanded by
order of the Islamic government.
39. The commutation of the death sentence
of Mr Dhabihu'llah Mahrami and possibly that of Mr Musa Talibi;
the release of a number of prisoners (Mr Manuchehr Khulusi, Mr
Farzad Khajeh, Dr Sina Hakiman and Mr Habibu'llah Ferdosian);
measures taken by the Iranian Government which enable Bahai couples
to register their marriages and their children; the greater ease
with which Bahais are now able to obtain passports; and statements
by Iranian representatives in international fora that their government
is concerned to provide for the rights of all citizens of Iran,
including those who are members of religious minorities not recognised
by the country's constitutionthese are all hopeful signs.
However, a serious level of persecution of the Bahais remainssome
continue to be detained in prison by reason of their religion,
a number of them under sentence of death; others are subject to
arbitrary detention for short or longer periods; all Bahais are
subject to discrimination in respect of social, economic, legal
and educational matters; and the Bahai community continues to
be denied the right to elect its administrative institutions,
around which the communal spiritual and social activities of Bahais
40. The current circumstances are best understood
in the context of the unique nature of the persecution to which
Iranian Bahais have been subjected for over a century. The Iranian
Bahai community has frequently served as a scapegoat, used by
various factions struggling for political ascendancy. This has
been the case regardless of the changes in the political or dynastic
regime. Whenever political leaders have felt a need to divert
public attention from some economic, social, or political issue,
they have found the Bahai community an easy target because of
the senseless hostility and prejudice inculcated in the public
by generations of ecclesiastical propaganda.
41. It is not the actions of the Bahais
but the circumstances of Iranian history that have conspired to
make the "Bahai case" a litmus test of sincerity for
Iranian public figures who represent themselves as voices of reform
42. The present Secretary General of the
UK Bahai community and his office have been in regular contact
with officials at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Most of
the contact has been with the Iran Desk and has involved sharing
of information by telephone and fax as well as regular meetings
in which the situation of the Bahais in Iran has been discussed
and action by the FCO considered.
43. Following the execution of Mr Ruhu'llah
Rawhani, immediate steps were taken by the Foreign Office to pass
information to the British Embassy in Tehran and to seek joint
action with EU partners, Government displeasure at the execution
was conveyed to the Iranian Charge in London.
44. We have always found the officials we
have dealt with to be sympathetic and helpful and to have taken
actions that have contributed to the protection of the Bahais
45. In addition to meetings with Iran Desk
Officials, meetings have also been held with the Director, Middle
East and North Africa.
46. The Secretary General has also met on
three occasions with Ministers of Statethe late Derek Fatchett,
Geoff Hoon, and latterly with Peter Hain. On each occasion, the
Secretary General was courteously received and listened to by
the Minister and it is our impression that the involvement of
the Foreign Office was reinforced by these meetings.
UN COMMISSION ON
47. Each year for many years the representatives
of the Bahai community have met with representatives of the FCO's
Human Rights Policy Department and Ambassador Audrey Glover in
the run-up to the sessions of the Commission on Human Rights and
of the General Assembly. The UK has been, and continues to be,
an initiator and co-sponsor of the annual resolution on human
rights in Iran, a resolution that has had the greatest importance
in bringing the plight of the Bahais in Iran to the attention
of governments and ensuring that it remains on the political agenda
world-wide. The annual renewal by the Commission of the mandate
of Professor Maurice Copithorne, the Special Representative on
Iran, has ensured that accurate information about the condition
of the Iranian Bahai community has been placed, year by year,
on the public record. Furthermore, in recent years the resolution
has called for the phased, but ultimately complete, emancipation
of the Bahai community in Iran in line with the recommendations
made by Professor Abdelfattah Amor, the UN Special Raporteur on
Religious Intolerance, in 1996. The UK Government's continued
support for these resolutions is an important plank in our defence
of the Iranian Bahai community.
UK IN THE
48. Historical links between Britain and
the Bahais in Iran and the Middle East go back more than 150 years.
There are many references to historically significant moments
in the development of the Bahai community in archival government
documents: the British Library contains some significant Bahai
manuscripts. Baha'u'llah, founder of the Bahai Faith, wrote to
Queen Victoria (amongst other significant monarchs): he praised
the abolition of the slave trade, commented favourably upon British
parliamentary democracy and called for peace in the world. Abdu'l-Baha,
Baha'u'llah's eldest son and Head of the Bahai community after
his father's death in 1892, was rescued from execution by the
Turkish authorities in Palestine at the end of the First World
War by General Allenby's army and was subsequently knighted for
his humanitarian services in feeding the populace of Haifa in
the famine consequent upon the war. Immediately before the Great
War Abdu'l-Baha visited the West and gave his first public address
in London. His grandson, Shoghi Effendi, who was Guardian of the
Bahai Faith from 1921 to 1957, was educated at Balliol and died
in London, where he is buriedhis grave in the New Southgate
Cemetery is a place of pilgrimage for Bahais all over the world.
49. The UK Bahai community is one of the
longest established in the West and has played a special role
in assisting the growth of Bahai communities in many parts of
50. This community feels a particular responsibility
for the defence of our co-religionists in Iran and is happy to
have had so much support from the Government over the years. We
look forward to continuing and reinforcing this co-operation.