The International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance – a network of 35 like-minded countries created to promote Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that all peoples have freedom to believe or not believe, to change faith, to meet alone for prayer or together for worship – issued a new statement today noting “with grave concern the increased pattern of repression and discrimination against members of the Baha’i community" in some countries around the world.
The statement is the first time the Alliance, also known as IRFBA, has made a direct intervention on challenges facing Baha’i communities as a result of religious prejudice.
Specific countries where Baha'is are persecuted or discriminated against were not named in the statement. But the description of the challenges made it clear that the statement was written in support of the Baha'i communities in Iran, Qatar and Yemen.
In Iran the Baha'is have been persecuted across all aspects of life since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. And in Yemen, on the apparent instigation of Iranian authorities, the Houthi authorities have detained and unjustly prosecuted prominent Baha'is while in Qatar several Baha'is have been blacklisted or deported in recent years.
“We uphold the right of all Baha’is to freedom of religion or belief – to practice their religion and associate as members of that community without harassment, discrimination, fear, or persecution,” the statement added.
There is a “pattern of repression and discrimination against Baha’is [which] includes measures to restrict the educational, economic, and cultural lives of Baha’is; prevent Baha’is from engaging in certain occupations and ‘high-earning businesses;’ confiscate their properties, and expel students from universities who are found to be Baha’is,” IRFBA said in its statement. “Authorities routinely arrest Baha’is, raid their homes, and confiscate their personal belongings without cause. Authorities also arbitrarily detain Baha’is on spurious charges where they are denied legal protections, including access to legal representation. Baha’is have faced lengthy delays before facing trial or summary judgements where they are imprisoned for their beliefs and face ongoing abuse, including allegations of torture.”
Countries where family or other civil laws are based on religion, IRFBA added, and where the Baha’i Faith is not recognized by national authorities, leaves Baha’is with “no legal recourse” in matters of marriage, divorce, and inheritance rights. “This exclusion can also deprive them of the possibility to bury their dead with dignity in accordance with Baha'i practices,” the statement said.
Senior government representatives gather through the IRFBA network to discuss actions their nations can take together to do more to defend the respect for freedom of religion or belief for all and also to protect members of religious minority groups.
The statement also listed 10 actions for states to, where applicable, “enable the equal enjoyment of human rights by Baha’is”. The actions covered livelihoods and property rights, burial practices, university education, due process rights and personal status laws, deportations and blacklisting. States were also urged to not criminalise Baha’i belief and practice nor to single Baha’is out for discriminatory policies and persecution.