Bahai News -- Hutton Inquiry (9-2-03)

The Hutton Inquiry

Transcript for 9-2-03


16 MR DINGEMANS: Mr Leith, please.
17 MR JOHN BARNABUS LEITH (called)
18 Examined by MR DINGEMANS
19 Q. Can you tell his Lordship your full name?
20 A. I am John Barnabus Leith.
21 Q. What is your occupation?
22 A. I am the Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of
23 the Baha'is of the United Kingdom.
24 Q. The Baha'i faith is a religion, is that right?
25 A. That is correct, yes.

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1 Q. When did it start?
2 A. The Baha'i faith started in the middle of the 19th
3 Century in the country now known as Iran and was founded
4 by a figure we consider to be a prophet of God who had
5 the title of Baha'u'llah or Glory of God.
6 Q. What is the Baha'i attitude to other religions?
7 A. The Baha'i faith is that all the great religions come
8 from the same source, namely from God, so we are very
9 happy to work with and welcoming towards people of other
10 faiths.
11 Q. Does that include every other religion, Christian,
12 Jewish, Muslim?
13 A. Yes, all the great religions, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist. We
14 believe they all come from the same source. We believe
15 there is a historical chain of religions and that
16 Baha'u'llah is the latest of the messengers of God.
17 Q. We have heard that Dr Kelly, after he converted to the
18 Baha'i religion, started reading the Koran. Would that
19 be something consistent with the Baha'i religion?
20 A. It would. I did not know that until I read Mrs Kelly's
21 evidence, but yes, it would be perfectly consistent.
22 I know Baha'is are in fact encouraged to read the Koran.
23 Q. And also other religious books, the Bible, the Koran?
24 A. Yes indeed, I know that Baha'is read the scriptures of
25 all the great religions in addition to our own Baha'i

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1 scriptures.
2 Q. How many Baha'is are there in the world?
3 A. Somewhere between 5 and 6 million. It is difficult to
4 have an exact count because many of the Baha'is of the
5 world live in very poor countries and statistics are not
6 easily kept.
7 Q. Is there a formal structure if you are a Baha'i?
8 A. Yes, we have. The affairs of our faith are governed by
9 elected councils at local level, at national and
10 international level. We have no priests or ministers so
11 we are not, as has been referred to in some of the
12 press, a church. We do not consider ourselves to be
13 a church. We do not have an ecclesiastical structure.
14 Q. How do you get elected as a member of a local body?
15 A. Well, each year on 21st April the Baha'is in each
16 locality elect nine of their members to serve on what is
17 called the local Spiritual Assembly, which is the local
18 governing council for that locality, and their term of
19 office is for one year. Those who serve on these bodies
20 can be re-elected any number of times. But nobody
21 stands for election and there is no canvassing, there is
22 no nomination. It is a secret ballot.
23 Q. So you just vote for someone else who is in the same
24 community as you?
25 A. Yes, each person in the locality has nine votes, and so

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1 they exercise those nine votes; and out of all -- the
2 nine people who receive the most votes out of all the
3 votes cast serve on the local assembly for that year.
4 Q. And why 21st April? Is that a significant day?
5 A. It is a significant day, yes, it marks a particular
6 historic occasion in the history of the Baha'i faith.
7 Q. Which is?
8 A. Which is the Baha'u'llah who had been exiled to Baghdad
9 in 1853 from his native Persia announced his mission in
10 1863, in other words 10 years after he had arrived in
11 Baghdad, he announced his mission to a number of his
12 very close followers and associates on that day in 1863.
13 Q. What mission did he announce?
14 A. That he had come to bring a message from God, that the
15 message that God wished the world to have at this
16 particular time is that all human beings of whatever
17 ethnic group, whatever creed, whatever language,
18 wherever they live in the world are all part of a single
19 human family and that the work of this time is to make
20 that a reality.
21 Q. And if you had been elected on the local level, how
22 would one then progress to a national and international
23 level?
24 A. You use the word "progress", it is not really
25 a progression.

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1 Q. Sorry.
2 A. Because there is no career structure, as it were.
3 Again, the national body is elected by delegates who
4 are, in turn, elected by Baha'is at local level. So it
5 is a two stage election for the national governing
6 council, so that the local Baha'is elect delegates, the
7 delegates go to our national convention and there the
8 delegates, of whom there are 95, each year vote for the
9 national assembly on the same principle as the voting
10 for the local Spiritual Assembly.
11 Q. And what do you know of Dr Kelly's conversion to the
12 Baha'i faith?
13 A. Our records show that he became a Baha'i in
14 September 1999 in the United States. At first we
15 thought that he had become a Baha'i in New York but
16 subsequently it became clear that he actually became
17 a Baha'i in California; and I understand from what
18 I read in The Times that there was a Baha'i in Monterey,
19 California.
20 Q. If you do not know from your own knowledge ...
21 A. I do not know that.
22 Q. He became a Baha'i in the United States?
23 A. He certainly became a Baha'i in the United States, yes.
24 Q. Did he then follow the religion back in Oxfordshire?
25 A. Yes did, yes.

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1 Q. How did he do that?
2 A. He attended meetings organised by the local Spiritual
3 Assembly of the Baha'is of the Vale of White Horse.
4 That local assembly, at that time, covered the whole
5 administrative district of the Vale of White Horse.
6 Q. Is that one of the 95 districts?
7 A. No, this is the local government district of the Vale of
8 White Horse. The local assembly covered that whole area
9 and they organised the usual range of Baha'i meetings
10 including regular prayer meetings and discussion
11 meetings and other such meetings which he attended.
12 Q. And did he have any -- was he elected on to the --
13 A. He was, yes. He was a member of the local Spiritual
14 Assembly of the Vale of White Horse for a time, less
15 than a year I think, I am not sure of the exact time.
16 Q. That is one of the nine?
17 A. He was one of the nine within that locality.
18 Q. Did he have any role in --
19 A. He served for a time as the treasurer of that local
20 Spiritual Assembly.
21 Q. How long did he do that for?
22 A. I could not tell you the exact length of time but I know
23 it was fairly brief.
24 Q. On the Baha'i faith website there is a little heading
25 relating to suicide. Has that always been there or was

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1 that put up, as it were, after Dr Kelly's death?
2 A. May I ask which website?
3 Q. It is the baha'i.org.uk. It says this:
4 "Baha'i leave questions of forgiveness and judgment
5 to God."
6 A. That was put up subsequent to Dr Kelly's death.
7 Q. To explain the thing?
8 A. Correct, yes.
9 Q. If I can just read the extract and ask you to comment on
10 it:
11 "Suicide is always tragic because it cuts life
12 short, but people who suffer hardship and distress
13 deserve compassion."
14 Can you just help his Lordship with the Baha'i
15 attitude to suicide?
16 A. Indeed. The act of suicide is condemned in the Baha'i
17 writings because it is an undue curtailment of the life
18 that should be lived to the full. However, Baha'is and
19 the Baha'i institutions do not and never would take
20 a condemnatory attitude to people who unfortunately
21 commit suicide. Quite the opposite. There would be
22 a great deal of sympathy, as indeed there has been in
23 the case of Dr Kelly, and Baha'is would pray for the
24 progress of the soul of that person as they have for the
25 soul of Dr Kelly.

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1 Q. And do the Baha'is believe in an afterlife?
2 A. Indeed, yes. We see it as a continuation of a single
3 process that begins in this life of coming ever closer
4 to God, through our normal religious practices of prayer
5 and study of the Baha'i scriptures and meditation and
6 reflection, and really attempting to live according to
7 the Baha'i teachings to the best of our ability.
8 Q. I think you wanted to comment on an article in
9 a newspaper which claimed that Dr Kelly had spoken about
10 his work. Did Dr Kelly speak about his work, as far as
11 you knew?
12 A. He did not, or at least he did not ever in my hearing
13 and I understand from the Baha'is in Abingdon that he
14 did not at Baha'i meetings talk about his work. He was
15 extremely discreet. The particular press comment
16 claimed that he had spoken at a Baha'i meeting
17 critically about the September dossier. This was not in
18 fact the case. I was at that meeting. It was not
19 a meeting organised by the Baha'i local assembly, it was
20 privately organised and he was invited to speak to an
21 audience of Baha'is and non-Baha'is about his work as
22 a weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 until 1998; and he
23 did so with the aid of slides. He did not mention the
24 dossier. Nobody asked him about the dossier.
25 Q. Did you, yourself, know Dr Kelly?

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1 A. I had met him perhaps three maybe four times. I do not
2 claim to have known him well. However, I certainly did
3 know him and he came to -- I have a house in Abingdon
4 and he came to that house and came to Baha'i meetings
5 there, and so to that extent I knew Dr Kelly and engaged
6 in conversation with him on those occasions.
7 Q. And is there anything else surrounding Dr Kelly's death
8 that you can assist his Lordship with?
9 A. I would like to say that the Baha'i community extends
10 the greatest sympathy to Mrs Kelly and to the Kelly
11 family. We do not in any way believe that there is
12 anything in the Baha'i teachings or in the life of the
13 Baha'i community that would have induced Dr Kelly to
14 commit suicide. There were allegations made that the
15 Baha'i faith condones or accepts suicide; this is not
16 the case, as I have explained, and so there is -- the
17 Baha'i community itself and the Baha'i teachings are
18 extremely positive in their ethos, very much to do with
19 the affirmation of life and the development of
20 qualities, and we do not believe that there is anything
21 in the experience that Dr Kelly would have had of the
22 community or his study of the Baha'i teachings that
23 would have led him to suppose that committing suicide
24 was a good act.
25 However, of course, as I said, we do extend the

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1 greatest sympathy to his family and we are -- you know,
2 we are praying for the progress of his soul.
3 Q. And is there anything else you would like to say?
4 A. No. That is all. Thank you.
5 LORD HUTTON: Thank you very much indeed.
6 A. Thank you, my Lord.

©Copyright 2003, The Hutton Inquiry (UK)

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