|‘India should take up Baha’is’ concerns with Iran’
9 Jun 2008, 0057 hrs IST
|The five and half million-strong Baha’i community across the world is extremely disturbed over the arrest of their top leadership in Iran. Bani Dugal, principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations, spoke to Ketan Tanna:
Q: Why is the Baha’i community rattled over the arrest of six Baha’i leaders in Iran?
We have not received any information about where they are being held, nor have they been given access to legal counsel. Their only crime is their practice of the Baha’i faith. These arrests are reminiscent of the previous occasions when the national leadership of the Iranian Baha’i community was arrested in 1980-81 which led to the execution of 17 individuals at that time.
Q: Iranian government says the arrested persons were spies.
Accusations that Baha’is are spies are not new. Such accusations are an effort by the government to stir up suspicion and ill will against the Baha’is within the larger Iranian population. Since the Baha’i faith, through an accident of history, has its headquarters in Israel, the Iranian government often charges Iranian Baha’is with being Zionists and spies.
Baha’is are told they will be released if they agree to recant their faith demonstrating clearly that the real issue is their religious beliefs and practice, the right which is theirs under Article 18 of the International Covenant Civil and Political Rights, to which the govern-ment of Iran is itself a signatory.
Q: What kind of persecution does Baha’i community face in Iran and why?
The 3,00,000-member Iranian Baha’i community is the largest religious minority, and the govern-ment has since 1979 undertaken a systematic persecution against them, solely because of their religious belief. Iranian Baha’is face daily the threat of arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. Their young people are denied the right to higher education and the right to make a living. Baha’i homes and properties have been unlawfully seized. And, above all else, they are not free to practise their religion. And the fact that more than 200 Baha’is were killed or executed by the government between 1979 and 1998 keeps Baha’is under a state of constant threat.
Q: India has good relations with Iran. On the other hand, it also has 1.6 million-strong Baha’i community. What can India do in such a situation?
The very fact that India has good relations with Iran and has the largest number of Baha’is gives her a special responsibility to intercede. Given India’s record of upholding the rule of law, religious freedom and affording constitutional protections for all minority religions she is an example that Iran could emulate. The Indian government could take this matter up bilaterally with Iran.