Bahai News - U.S. Baha'is Ask Iran's President: Does His Call for Religion and Liberty Apply to Baha'is?
U.S. Baha'is Ask Iran's President: Does His Call
for Religion and Liberty Apply to Baha'is?
WASHINGTON, Jan. 16 /PRNewswire/ -- American Baha'is have directed a
letter to the President of Iran expressing hope that his recent public
message to the American people signals that the freedom of the Baha'i
community in Iran openly to practice its religion will be guaranteed.''
Citing President Mohammad Khatami's broadcast remarks declaring
religiosity, liberty and justice'' to be the aspirations of the Islamic
Revolution'' today, the Secretary of the 130,000-member American Baha'i
community asked the President, are the Baha'is of Iran -- your nation's
largest religious minority -- included in those aspirations?''
Baha'i Secretary Robert C. Henderson reminded President Khatami that a
resolution adopted by the United Nations General
Assembly in December specifically urges the emancipation of the Iranian
Because of your expressed dedication to the principles of freedom, justice
and the rule of law,'' Dr. Henderson wrote, we
who enjoy such freedoms hope that our co-religionists in Iran, who have
been deprived of them, will be granted their full rights
as law-abiding citizens of your nation.''
The Baha'i Faith is not recognized as a legitimate religion in Iran, and
the community of approximately 300,000 members is not
permitted to elect its leaders, organize schools or conduct other
religious activities. Since the 1979 revolution, more than 200
Baha'is have been executed solely on account of their religion. Four
Baha'is are currently under sentence of death, two of them
on charges of apostasy.
While violent actions against individual Baha'is have been markedly
reduced since the late 1980s, Baha'is continue to be
harassed and imprisoned on account of their religious beliefs. Since
President Khatami took office last summer, there has been
no discernible change in Iranian Government policies aimed at
suppressing the Baha'i community, according to U.S. Baha'i
spokesman Firuz Kazemzadeh. Community properties seized shortly after
the revolution have not been returned. Baha'is
continue to be denied jobs and pensions and are barred from enrollment
in Iranian universities. These measures reflect policies
set forth in a secret Iranian Government document which was published by
the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 1993.
America's 130,000 Baha'is reside in more than 7,000 cities and towns
across the United States and represent all races, cultures
and ethnic origins. Some 10,000 Iranian Baha'is have taken refuge in the
U.S. since 1979.
The American Baha'is will publish the full text of their letter to the
Iranian President in major American newspapers (text below).
Current Situation of Baha'is in Iran -- January 1998
- Iran's largest religious minority: some 300,000 Baha'is live in
all regions of Iran, where the Baha'i Faith emerged in the mid-nineteenth
- The Baha'i Faith is not recognized as a legitimate religion; the
regime regards it as a heresy and conspiracy. As "unprotected infidels,"
Baha'is have no legal rights.
- Secret Iranian Government document published by UN Human Rights
Commission in 1993 confirms official policy to suppress Baha'i
community: written by the Supreme Revolutionary Cultural Council and
signed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, this "blueprint" dated Feb. 25,
1991 sets forth specific guidelines for dealing with Baha'is so that
"their progress and development are blocked."
- No discernible signs of change are seen since President Khatami
took office in August 1997. Since the late 1980s (even before Ayatollah
Khomeini's death), there have been fewer violent actions against
individual Baha'is, but continuing pressures aimed at destroying the
- More than 200 Baha'is (mostly elected community leaders) have been
executed since 1979, solely on account of religion. Two Baha'is were
killed in 1997; four are currently under death sentence, two of these
for apostasy. Fewer than 20 Baha'is are now in prison (compared with
nearly 750 in 1986), but individuals face harassment and arrest on
account of religious beliefs.
- Baha'is are not allowed to elect leaders, organize schools or conduct
other religious activities. Elected assemblies which normally govern
the community were disbanded by Iranian Government order in 1983.
Since Baha'is have no clergy, the ban on organizations threatens the
survival of the community.
- All cemeteries, holy places and community properties were seized
soon after the 1979 revolution. Many have been destroyed; none returned.
Many individual properties have been confiscated.
- Baha'is are denied jobs and pensions: more than 10,000 have been
dismissed from government and university posts since 1979. Documents
show dismissals were due to Baha'i beliefs.
- Baha'i students have been barred from universities since the early
1980s, and recently from the fourth year of high school. Denial of
education limits economic opportunities and impoverishes the community.
- Baha'i marriages and divorces are not recognized, and the right to
inherit is denied.
- Baha'is are persecuted on purely religious grounds -- they have
never engaged in illegal activity or participated in any form of opposition
to the government.
U.S. and world response: The U.S. Congress has adopted seven resolutions
(most recent, 1996) condemning Iran's persecution of Baha'is and urging
religious rights for the community. The 1997 UN General Assembly Resolution
(A/RES/52/142) calls for emancipating the Baha'i community.
The following is the full text of the ad containing a letter from the
American Baha'is to the Iranian President:
[from the New York Times on Saturday, January
17, 1998, on the op-ed page 25.]
A RESPONSE TO THE PUBLIC
MESSAGE OF PRESIDENT KHATAMI
TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE
January 13, 1998
His Excellency President Mohammad Khatami
Islamic Republic of Iran
We, the American Baha'is, residing in more than seven thousand cities and
towns across the United States and representing all
races, cultures and ethnic origins in our nation, have listened with great
interest to your words addressed to the American
people, of which we are an organic part.
Your message prompts us to address you directly, because of your expressed
dedication to the principles of freedom, justice
and the rule of law -- principles which, as you noted, are cherished by
the American people.
We who enjoy such freedoms hope that our co-religionists in Iran, who
have been deprived of them, will be granted their full
rights as law-abiding citizens of your nation.
We are particularly encouraged by your assertion that religion and
liberty are consistent and compatible.'' As you said,
Human experience has taught us that prosperous life should hinge on
three pillars: religiosity, liberty and justice.'' These, you
concluded, are the assets and aspirations of the Islamic Revolution as
it enters the twenty-first century.''
Are the Baha'is of Iran your nation's largest religious minority
included in these aspirations?
Your explicitly stated determination to fulfill the provisions of the
Iranian Constitution and to establish the rule of law gives us
hope that the freedom of the Baha'i community in Iran openly to practice
its religion will be guaranteed.
May we not expect, in the light of your commitment to human dignity and
freedom, that the United Nations General Assembly
Resolution (A/RES/52/142), which calls for the emancipation of the
Baha'i community of Iran, will now be implemented?
THE BAHA'IS OF THE UNITED STATES
Robert Calvin Henderson
NATIONAL SPIRITUAL ASSEMBLY OF THE BAHA'IS OF THE UNITED STATES
1320 NINETEENTH ST., N.W., SUITE 701 WASHINGTON, D.C. 20036 202-833-8990
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Baha'is of the United States
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