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Canadian leaders assail Iran court ruling to confiscate Baha’i properties on Ivel

Jose Kalathil

NEW DELHI: More than 40 top Canadians including former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, former Supreme Court judges, justice ministers, legal academics and practicing lawyers, have raised deep concern over “new and intense violations” of the human rights of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Baha’i community, according to a press release issued by the Baha’i International Community’s Office in Geneva. In an open letter to the country’s Chief Justice, Ebrahim Raisi, the intellectuals specifically condemned a recent court ruling to confiscate Baha’i properties in Ivel, a village in northern Iran.

“Members of the Baha’i Faith have been persecuted in Iran since the Faith’s establishment over 170 years ago,” the letter states. “Under the current Iranian government, Baha’is have experienced home raids, attacks on properties, confiscation of possessions, dismissals from employment, denial of access to higher education, imprisonment, and execution. Baha’is have sought legal remedies, but to little avail.”

The unprecedented outpouring of support comes after Baha’i-owned properties have been unjustly confiscated by Iranian authorities in Ivel. The confiscations, which have occurred solely on religious grounds, have left dozens of families internally displaced and economically impoverished.

Article 49 of the Iranian Constitution—which was used by Iranian courts to justify the seizures in a final ruling in October 2020—requires the government to prove the legitimacy of such seizures under Islamic law. Despite this requirement, however, numerous official documents unmistakably reveal religious prejudice as the sole motive behind the confiscations. Some records show, for instance, that Baha’is were told that if they converted to Islam, then their properties would be returned.

“The 2020 rulings now establish a dangerous constitutional precedent of judicially sanctioned confiscation that nullifies legitimate property interests based only on the owners’ religious affiliation, thus departing not only from international human rights standards but also from the text and intent of the Iranian constitution itself”, the letter to Chief Justice Raisi states.

Religious discrimination against the Baha’i community, it further states, “can provide solid grounds for prosecution of Iran’s authorities before international criminal courts and other international institutions.”

Despite repeated attempts by the Baha’is in Ivel to appeal for their rights, their lawyers were given no opportunity to see court documents to prepare a defense or to present any arguments.

The situation in Ivel is an “alarming new chapter” in the persecution, the letter says, noting that Ivel’s Baha’i community, which dates to the mid-1800s, was once a “thriving and peaceful multi-generational community…of farmers and small business owners”. But since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Baha’is in Ivel have been “forced from their homes, imprisoned, harassed, and their property torched and demolished.”

“This letter from prominent legal figures demonstrates that the cruel treatment meted out to the Baha’is by the Iranian authorities has not gone unnoticed by the international community”, says Diane Ala’i, Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva. “It has, instead, served to galvanize public conscience around the world.”

“We know the Baha’i Faith to stand for values of peace, justice, and unity—values which have been under sustained attack by the Iranian authorities for decades” the letter states, in its concluding remarks. “Today, as members of the Canadian legal profession who believe in the rule of law, we too stand with the Baha’is of Iran and call upon you, as the head of the Iranian judiciary, to address this new abuse inflicted upon the Baha’is of Ivel,” the letter added.

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