Barring Baha'is from applying for national "smart" ID cards is just the latest tactic by Iran's authorities to place economic pressure on the Baha'i community.
Iran’s government has barred Baha'i citizens from holding national "smart" ID cards – resulting in them being unable to open bank accounts, get driving licenses, or complete other basic tasks – by removing the option to state “Other” in the religious affiliations section of ID card applications.
Islam is Iran’s state religion, with Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism recognized in the constitution as religious minorities. Baha’is – who are Iran’s largest religious minority, with 300,000 followers – have been denied recognition and persecuted by the government since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The persecution has taken the form of executions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, state-led propaganda, the denial of access to higher education, as well as efforts to subject Baha’is to economic pressures intended to disrupt livelihoods and to suppress community life.
Baha’is working in the public sector were immediately dismissed after the 1979 Revolution – and many Baha’i-owned businesses were also closed down at the time. Business licenses are routinely revoked or denied; additionally, companies are sometimes pressured to dismiss Baha’i employees.
Iran’s national smart ID cards previously allowed citizens to state “Other Religions” when specifying religious affiliation – meaning that Baha’is were able to apply for and hold ID cards. Baha’is do not hide their religious convictions as a matter of principle.
A Baha'i citizen from Shiraz told IranWire: "I went to a government service counter to register [for an ID card]. The cashier asked me for personal information such as name, surname, date of birth, name of father, mother, and so on, and filled out my registration form in the computer. Then he printed it out and gave it to me to sign. In the personal information column in the Religion section it was written: Islam. When I told him that I was not a Muslim, and to please state 'Other Religions' in my registration form instead of Islam, he replied the only religions in the form are Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism. He said he was allowed to choose only one of these four."
When the Baha’i citizen protested, the official said: "It's not a problem; this is just for registering, it’s just a formality. No one will notice that you wrote Islam! ... The new guidelines state that if the applicant does not choose one of these options, his or her registration will not be accepted."
Articles 19, 20 and 23 of Iran’s constitution guarantee that all Iranian citizens, regardless of their ethnic background or religious convictions, have equal rights and that their human and civil rights are protected under the law. The National Registration Office has also promised that all Iranian nationals over the age of 15 are eligible for a national ID card.
But for several months now the Registration Office – which is under the supervision of the Interior Ministry – has refused to issue national smart ID cards to Baha'i citizens and believers of any religion other than the four listed in Iran’s constitution.
A Baha'i citizen in Kerman explained to IranWire the consequences of not having a smart ID card: “The old national cards are still valid, but many banking and shopping activities are only done through smart cards; for example if one wants to open a bank account, it is possible only with a smart ID card and banks do not accept the old national cards."
Two weeks ago, this citizen lost his bank card. When he went to the bank to get a new card, officials said that issuing it could only be done with a smart ID card: “I could not get a smart card because I was a Baha'i, so I canceled my request. I visited one of the nearby towns where I knew the director of a bank branch. There, I was also told that my identity could not be confirmed by the Registration Office with my current national card number and therefore they could not give me a bank card. The branch director told me that the Registration Office has only been accepting and approving smart ID cards for the past several months."
It is unclear when or why the change came into effect or the reason – though at least one Iranian politician has taken credit the development.
The Member of Parliament for Khomeini Shahr, Mohammad Javad Abtahi, said in January last year that he had called on the Interior Ministry to remove the option to list “Other Religions” on the national smart ID application form. Abtahi claimed [Persian link] that including “Other Religions” allowed “stray sects” to be treated as official.
Another Baha'i citizen from Tehran, describing his attempts to get a smart ID card, said: "After I saw that ‘Other Religions' had been removed, I went to the Tehran Registration Office. There, I was told that, according to new guidelines, the option for ‘Other Religions' was removed and if they want to re-add the option, they need to install a new version [of software] that takes at least several months."
This person further said: "I was then referred to the National Registration Office, where I was told that according to the constitution, the Baha'i faith was not an official religion and that is why the ‘Other Religions' option had been removed and will no longer be included. The only way to get a smart ID card is to choose one of the four religions listed in the registration form."
This Baha'i citizen believes that barring Baha’is from holding smart national ID cards is a new form of placing economic pressure on the Baha'is – as it deprives Baha'i citizens of virtually all economic and social activities in the country. Iran’s government can meanwhile use the fact that Baha’is are barred from holding ID cards to falsely claim before the international community that, based on national records, the number of Baha’is in Iran is far lower than the actual number.
The ID card developments come alongside fresh examples of the Iranian authorities’ longstanding tactics to frustrate the livelihoods of many Baha’is.
In December, in the city of Bandar-e Lengeh, 10 intelligence agents raided the home of a Baha’i citizen named Noushin Hakimi Nuhnejad in Bandar-e Lengeh, searched her residence and confiscated personal belongings such as a mobile phone and religious books, all without presenting a search warrant. The agents then arrested Noushin Hakimi and sealed her home.
Agents later also visited Nuhnejad’s husband Erfan’s workplace and sealed the premises.
According to a Baha'i citizen who spoke with IranWire, Erfan Nuhnejad's joist and concrete block workshop had operated in Bandar-e Lengeh since 1984 and is well known to locals. By sealing it off, six Baha'i individuals employed at the workshop may now be unemployed and their families face an uncertain future.
On the same day, the security forces went to the businesses of two other Baha'i citizens, Vahid Zeraatkar (the son-in-law of Noushin Hakimi) in Bandar-e Lengeh and Ahmed Sabet Sarvestani, in Bandar-e Kong, sealing the premises without giving any reason. They confiscated bank cards, mobile phones and computers.
According to a Baha'i citizen, by sealing these premises in Bandar-e Lengeh and Bandar-e Kong, all Baha’i-owned businesses in the area have been closed down.
Agents also went to the house of Shirin Nuhnejad Zeraatkar, Noushin Hakimi Nuhnejad’s daughter, and after inspecting the house and confiscating personal belongings including a mobile phone, laptop, and camera, summoned Zeraatkar and her husband, Vahid, for interrogation the next day. They were released after several hours.
Erfan Nuhnejad and his daughter Shirin later visited Noushin at the local Intelligence Office; they were able to briefly see Noushin, but there is no further information on the charges against her. Erfan has been staying at his daughter’s home since agents sealed his own house and workshop.