The right to freedom of religion for the Baha’i in Iran

Published: 03 November 2017 Author: Stefan Talmon

The Federal Government has been concerned about the situation of the 300,000-member strong religious Baha’i community in Iran for many years. According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran more than 90 Baha’is are currently in detention in prison in the country. The Federal Government has taken a particularly strong interest in the fate of the seven members of the ad hoc Baha’i leadership committee who were arrested on 5 March and 14 May 2008. After being held for over two years without charge the seven were sentenced on 8 August 2010 to 20 years’ imprisonment each for espionage, propaganda against the government, collusion and collaboration for the purpose of endangering national security and spreading corruption. However, it was widely considered that the real reason for their imprisonment was the fact that they managed the religious and administrative affairs of their community.

On 12 May 2017, the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office issued the following statement on the detention of leading members of the Baha’i faith in Iran:

“The seven leading members of the Iranian Baha’i community have now spent nine years in jail. Their arrest and conviction completely disregarded fundamental rule of law principles.

There must be an end to the persecution of the Baha’is and other religious minorities on account of their faith. Such measures violate the right to freedom of religion or belief, a right which Iran has undertaken to protect and respect by signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The sentences originally imposed on the leading members of the Baha’i faith were reduced to ten years, a term which the detainees have now served almost in full. Against this background, I call upon the Iranian judiciary to finally quash these sentences and to release the Baha’is without delay, along with all other prisoners held on account of their religious beliefs.”

The Commissioner made express reference to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which provides in Article 18, paragraph 1, that everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and that this right shall include freedom to have or adopt a religion or 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. Iran ratified the Convention on 24 June 1975. Despite the Islamic revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in April 1979, Iran continues to be bound by its obligations under the Convention. The discrimination and persecution of the Baha’i and other religious minorities in Iran constitutes a violation of these obligations.

Following the release of two of the seven community leaders, the Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid stated on 1 November 2017:

“I welcome the fact that two of the seven leading members of Iran’s Baha’i community have finally been released from prison after being incarcerated for almost ten years. Mahvash Sabet was released in September and Fariba Kamalabadi at the end of October. However, five more leading figures are still in jail.

I thus call upon the Iranian judiciary to release the remaining five leading Baha’is without delay, along with all other prisoners held on account of their religious beliefs.

It is high time to put an end to the persecution of the Baha’is and other religious minorities on account of their faith. Such measures violate the right to freedom of religion or belief, a right which Iran has undertaken to protect and respect by signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

The Federal Government has not been alone in expressing its concern about the limitations and restrictions on the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief in Iran and in calling for the release of the seven community leaders. The United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly called upon the Iranian Government “to release all religious practitioners imprisoned for their membership in or activities on behalf of a recognized or unrecognized minority religious group, including the seven Baha’i leaders declared by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the Human Rights Council to have been arbitrarily detained since 2008”.

Category: Human rights

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Author

  • Stefan Talmon is Professor of Public Law, Public International Law and European Union Law, and Director at the Institute of Public International Law at the University of Bonn. He is also a Supernumerary Fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford, and practices as a Barrister from Twenty Essex, London. He is the editor of GPIL.

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