Theme of youth features at interreligious Congress

ASTANA, Kazakhstan, 13 July 2015, (BWNS) — For growing populations of youth across the planet to become constructive participants in the life of society and contributors to social progress, a fundamental shift in thinking is required about the role of religion in society.

This was one of the main points made by the Baha’i International Community delegation to the 5th World Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, held in Kazakhstan on 10-11 June.

This year’s Congress, chaired by the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, had 80 delegates representing some ten religions and over forty countries. Among those who attended were Ban Ki Moon, Secretary-General of the UN, and King Abdullah II of Jordan.

The Baha’i International Community was represented by Joshua Lincoln, Secretary-General of the Baha’i International Community, Serik Tokbolat from the Baha’i International Community Office at the United Nations, and Lyazzat Yangaliyeva, the Director of the Office of Public Information for the Baha’is of Kazakhstan.

The focus of the Congress was dialogue among religions, and between religions and leaders of thought and government. Reflecting on the Congress, Ms. Yangaliyeva commented that the striking diversity of faiths present brought into sharp focus the challenge and necessity of cooperation among them if humanity is to build a more peaceful world.

On a panel discussion titled "The Influence of Religion on Youth: Education, Science, Culture, and Mass Media", Mr. Lincoln spoke about positive social change, young people, and the role of religion.

"Religious communities are communities of practice where spiritual teachings are translated into social reality," he stated. "Within them, a process of capacity building that enables young people to participate in the transformation of society, and protects and nurtures them, can be set in motion."

In his comments, Mr. Lincoln also spoke about the contrasting images that have come to define youth in popular thought. Although vulnerable to radicalization on one extreme and apathy and inertia on the other, his remarks highlighted the promise that lies in the young generations.

"Young people can see the contradictions in this world," said Mr. Lincoln. "We know that youth have an acute sense of justice, a yearning for meaning and purpose, a desire to serve and contribute meaningfully, a thirst for knowledge and an innate attraction to what is good and beautiful.

"These characteristics are intrinsic, though they may remain latent and dormant in whole populations when the education and moral empowerment of youth is neglected."

For religion to play a positive role, its leadership must, however, "scrutinize the orientation that has become deeply embedded in so many communities toward the ‘other’, and challenge the pervasive and harmful claims of privileged access to truth that have fueled some of the most bitter conflicts in the world."

Religious extremism and religious co-existence were some of the other issues discussed at the Congress.

Convened every three years, the Congress is an initiative of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Its Secretariat is headed by the President of the Senate, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. The next Congress will be held in 2018.

To read the article online, view photographs and access links:

For the Baha’i World News Service home page, go to:

Baha’i shopkeepers in Iran pressured against observing their religious holy days

GENEVA, 16 June 2015, (BWNS) — Tens of Baha’is’ shops in the cities of Rafsanjan, Kerman, Sari and Hamadan have been sealed by government authorities in an effort to pressure Baha’is not to observe their religious holy days.

These shops, mostly small businesses, offering services like household appliance repairs or the sales of automobile parts or clothing, were sealed in April and May when the owners closed their stores in observance of Baha’i holy days during those months.

Further to these closures, Iranian authorities told some of the shopkeepers that if they do not sign a pledge that they will only close their stores on recognized national holidays their business licenses will be revoked and their stores closed permanently.

"This recent attempt by authorities in Iran to prevent Baha’i shop owners from observing Baha’i holy days on a few days of the year is an act against the laws of Iran itself and one which violates international human rights norms," said Ms. Diane Ala’i, representative of the Baha’i International Community’s United Nations office in Geneva.

"Such small enterprises are virtually the only means of economic subsistence left to Baha’is and their families in Iran today" said Ms. Ala’i. "Baha’is have been banned from all government employment and other private sector businesses are frequently pressured to dismiss them."

Many or all of these same shops had been shut down by authorities last October when at least 80 shops in those same cities as well as in the city of Jiroft were closed by authorities after the owners temporarily closed their businesses to observe Baha’i holy days. After extensive appeals by the Baha’is, and some international publicity about the closings, the shops were eventually allowed to reopen. These actions have been reported in the 2015 annual report of the European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance titled "State of Freedom of Religion or Belief".

"These recent developments take the persecution against the Baha’is in Iran to a new level entirely, because it is not as if the Baha’is openly advertise that they close their shops because of a Baha’i holy day," Ms. Ala’i said. "They merely wish to exercise their right to freedom of worship."

"It is all clearly part of a continuing effort by the government to make Baha’is invisible by striving to eliminate all aspects of their existence," she said.

The news comes just as governments, employers, and workers’ representatives from around the world gather in Geneva for the 104th International Labour Conference, where the topic of discrimination in the workplace is a major concern.

"The fact that news of these incidents, blatant examples of religious persecution, come as the world is discussing workplace discrimination only serves to highlight once again the degree to which Iran has failed to live up to international human rights norms," said Ms. Ala’i.

She noted that in 2014, the International Labour Organization, at the 103rd International Labour Conference, called on Iran to address discrimination against Baha’is, saying it has "deep concern" regarding "the systematic discrimination against members of religious and ethnic minorities, particularly the Baha’is, and once again urges the Government to take immediate and decisive action to address such discrimination".

Baha’is are officially restricted from engaging in certain types of businesses. In 2007, the Public Places Supervision Office issued a letter to police throughout the country saying Baha’is should be banned from "high-earning businesses" and from "sensitive" categories, such as the press, jewelry, photography, and computer and Internet-related businesses, as well as the food industry.

Moreover, small shops run by Baha’is have not only been the subject of frequent closures by government agents but also arson attacks and other assaults, perpetrated in an atmosphere where hatred against Baha’is has been incited through a national anti-Baha’i media campaign, as has been documented previously.

To read the article online, view photographs and access links:

For the Baha’i World News Service home page, go to:

Sete Anos de Injusyiça no Irã

O que você acharia de não ter direito a educação, não ter direito a escolher sua religião, não ter direito a manifestar sua opinião livremente, e se você for mulher não ter direito sequer a ter os mesmos direitos de um homem! Parece incrível que isso ocorra ainda no sec. XXI, não é mesmo?! Mas isso acontece ainda, no Irã. Em 2008, sete pessoas foram presas por um único crime: ser Baha’i, mas será que ser Baha’i é crime?

A Fé Bahá’í é uma religião mundial independente, que surgiu na antiga Pérsia (atual Irã) em 1844. Foi fundada por Bahá’u’lláh, título de Mirzá Husayn Ali (1817-1892), e não possui dogmas, rituais, clero ou sacerdócio. Com aproximadamente 6 milhões de adeptos, é a segunda religião mais difundida no mundo. No Brasil são cerca de 70 mil bahá’ís espalhados em todas as regiões.

Como o Estado tem o direito de privar uma pessoa de sua liberdade, de sua família, de seus filhos, de sua educação simplesmente por ter uma religião que não é a oficial daquele país? O governo iraniano decretou que os baha’is são uma ameaça ao Regime Islâmico, o qual tem autoridade teológica sobre seu povo e achando-se no direito de puni-lo. Centenas de adeptos já foram perseguidos, presos, torturados e mortos.

Desde a Revolução Islâmica no Irã 1979, os bahá’ís têm sido sistematicamente perseguidos como uma questão de política do estado. Durante a primeira década deste perseguição, mais de 200 bahá’ís foram mortos ou executados, centenas de outros foram torturados ou presos, e dezenas de milhares perderam o emprego, acesso à educação e outros direitos – tudo apenas por causa de sua crença religiosa. Ataques liderados pelo estado sobre a maior minoria religiosa não-muçulmana do país se intensificaram na última década. Desde 2005, mais de 700 bahá’ís foram presos. A constante ameaça de ataques com bombas, incêndios as residências e prisões está entre as principais características da perseguição aos bahá’ís do Irã hoje. A opressão aos iranianos baha’is estende do berço ao túmulo.

Segundo Gabriel Marques, Secretário Nacional da Comunidade Bahá’í do Brasil, a perseguição contra os bahá’ís no Irã não é uma simples política de governo. “Essa perseguição não é uma ação do governo atual ou do anterior, nem depende da posição do governante – ou seja, é uma política de estado que vem sendo implementada desde o início da Fé Bahá’í, em 1844. Documentos revelados pela ONU comprovam que o objetivo dessa política, que foi intensificada com a Revolução Islâmica em 1979, é eliminar a viabilidade da comunidade bahá’í do Irã por meio da supressão econômica, do impedimento do acesso à educação e da instabilidade gerada pelas prisões e detenções arbitrárias, que podem ocorrer a qualquer momento, com qualquer bahá’í naquele país.”

Atualmente 117 bahá’ís estão na prisão, tudo sob falsas acusações exclusivamente relacionados com a sua crença religiosa. A lista inclui todos os sete líderes bahá’ís, que permanecem atualmente na prisão, cumprindo sentença de 20 anos de prisão injustamente.

Perfil dos presos:

Mahvash Sabet, de 62 anos, era professora e diretora de uma escola. Foi afastada da Função Pública por “heresia”. Durante 15 anos foi responsável pelo Instituto Bahá’í do Ensino Superior, onde lecionava Psicologia e Gestão. O Bihe (sigla inglesa) oferecia uma alternativa acadêmica aos jovens bahá’ís proibidos de frequentar universidades nacionais. Foi presa em março de 2008. Os outros seis foram detidos nas suas casas, em maio desse mesmo ano. São eles a psicóloga Fariba Kamalabadi, 52 anos, mãe de três filhos; o empresário Jamaloddin Khanjani, 81 anos (a sua mulher morreu em 2011, mas ele não foi autorizado a assistir ao enterro), pai de quatro filhos; o industrial a quem foi negado o sonho de ser médico Afif Naeimi, 53 anos, pai de dois filhos; o engenheiro agrônomo Saeid Rezaie, 57 anos, pai de três filhos; o assistente social forçado a ser carpinteiro Behrouz Tavakkoli, 63 anos, pai de dois filhos; e o optometrista Vahid Tizfahm, 42 anos, pai de um filho.

Além destas sete lideranças, mais de uma centena de outros bahá’ís também encontram-se presos atualmente no Irã, incluindo professores universitários do Instituto Bahá’í de Ensino Superior (Bihe).

Acusações formais: “Espionagem, propaganda contra a República Islâmica e corrupção na Terra.” A lei prevê a pena de morte para espionagem e “corrupção na Terra”.

Estes são alguns dos mártires no Irã, que lutam pelo direito de expressarem sua fé religiosa. Alguns deles ministravam aulas de virtudes para crianças. Que virtudes estamos deixando para as gerações futuras de nosso planeta?

No dia 21 de maio, o gramado em frente ao Congresso Nacional, em Brasília, foi palco do ato “7 anos de Injustiça”, campanha que iniciou no dia 14 de maio e reuniu a sociedade civil, membros de diversas religiões e representantes do Estado, integrando o país na luta pelos Direitos Humanos e Tolerância Religiosa no mundo.

O evento fez parte da campanha mundial pela libertação das sete lideranças bahá’is mantidas presas no Irã desde 2008. Centenas de mensagens foram enviadas via redes sociais para os prisioneiros e foram expostas em um banner gigante em frente ao Congresso Nacional. O evento começou às 10h e contou com músicas e orações em sua programação.

A mobilização aconteceu em todo o mundo e reuniram milhares de pessoas. No Brasil, o tema chegou à Câmara e ao Senado, onde parlamentares e servidores demonstraram seu apoio aos prisioneiros por meio de declarações em vídeo. Confira alguns trechos:

“Farei um pronunciamento no plenário do Senado, fazendo um clamor para que as autoridades iranianas escutem o senado brasileiro e escutem o apelo que o mundo inteiro está fazendo.” – senadora Gleisi Hoffmann (PR)

“Todo ser humano tem o direito de exercer a sua religiosidade. Por isso, todo apoio a comunidade bahá’í, todo apoio a liberdade de crédo.” – deputada federal Erika Kokay (DF)

“Espero que a comunidade internacional, a ONU, todas as pessoas de boa vontade, os crentes e os não crentes… continuem nessa campanha pela liberdade religiosa, pela diversidade, pelo Estado laico… e que o governo do Irã afinal se sensibilize e pare com essa perseguição, porque essa é uma perseguição a todos nós.” – deputado federal Chico Alencar (RJ)

“A Declaração Universal dos Direitos Humanos tem como um dos seus pontos mais altos a defesa da liberdade religiosa. A comunidade bahá’í, pelo o seu trabalho, pela sua luta, [que] está legitimada aos olhos do mundo como detentora de direitos, sujeita a liberdade.” – deputada federal Margarida Salomão (MG)

“Eu me incorporo àqueles que defendem a religião Bahá’í. Não podemos tolerar em hipótese alguma que no Irã pessoas que professem essa religião estejam sendo presas.” – senador Otto Alencar (BA)

“Todo apoio a luta da comunidade bahá’i no Irã e no mundo inteiro pela liberdade de expressão das suas crenças religiosas, pela liberdade de expressão da sua cultura. Dou todo apoio à luta do povo bahá’í.” – Rogério Thomaz Junior, jornalista (Comissão de Direitos Humanos e Minorias da Câmara dos Deputados)

“Nós, militantes dos Direitos Humanos no Brasil e em todo o mundo, acreditamos que a democracia é um caminho importante juntamente com a liberdade da prática da fé de cada pessoa. Acreditamos também que todos os cidadãos do Irã possam respeitar a fé alheia e libertar essas pessoas.” – Vinícius Borba, militante dos direitos humanos (Comissão de Direitos Humanos do Senado Federal)

“A pergunta que todos no Plenário devem estar se fazendo é: qual o crime cometido pelos bahá’ís? Foi professar uma religião que acredita que Deus é um só, que a humanidade é uma só. Eu quero dizer que eu também acredito. Assim me associo nesta data a todas as pessoas de boa vontade na luta pela imediata cessação de toda forma de intolerância religiosa e pela merecida liberdade [às lideranças bahá’ís no Irã]” – senador Paulo Paim (RS)

A campanha “7 anos de Injustiça”, é uma mobilização para pressionar o governo iraniano pela libertação das sete lideranças bahá’ís presas no país e pelo cumprimento dos acordos de Direitos Humanos. A mobilização está acontecendo via internet e é feita em todo o mundo, possibilitando a participação de qualquer pessoa. A divulgação tem sido feita pelo Facebook e sites da Comunidade Bahá’í.

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Global solidarity with seven imprisoned Iranian Baha’is

NEW YORK, 26 May 2015, (BWNS) — A global campaign to call attention to the long and unjust imprisonment of seven Iranian Baha’i leaders spawned a worldwide outcry this month on the seventh anniversary of their arrest.

From simple village assembly halls to government chambers, individuals and groups raised their voices to denounce the unjust incarceration of the seven, along with the 110 other Baha’is currently jailed for their religious beliefs and other prisoners of conscience in Iran.

"We were touched by the depth and heart with which people around the world, from so many different backgrounds and experiences, came together in support of the seven wrongfully imprisoned Baha’i leaders in Iran," said Bani Dugal, principal representative of the the Baha’i International Community’s United Nations Office, which coordinated the campaign.

"The degree to which people everywhere understand the magnitude of injustice experienced by Iranian Baha’i citizens as a result of government policy was truly highlighted by this campaign. We can see their support in not only the official statements that the campaign generated, but also the songs, poems, personal stories and other demonstrations of solidarity it produced. The suffering of the Baha’is is mirrored in that of other religious minorities and free-thinkers in Iran. An improvement in conditions for the Baha’i community will signal a greater respect for the human rights of all citizens," said Ms. Dugal.

The campaign took the theme "Seven Days in Remembrance of Seven Years in Prison for the Seven Baha’i Leaders."

Each day of the week-long campaign, starting 14 May 2015, was dedicated to one member of the seven: Mahvash Sabet, Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm.

The campaign prompted numerous articles in the news media, statements of support from senior government officials, parliamentarians, and human rights organizations, and hundreds if not thousands of events and observances organized by individuals and groups around the world to honor the seven.

In moving displays of sympathy and unity with the imprisoned Baha’i leaders, relatives and friends of the seven also posted numerous personal accounts and recollections. The niece of Saeid Rezaie, Pooneh Heidarieh, recorded a video honoring her uncle. Other video interviews with relatives of Fariba Kamalabadi and Behrouz Tavakkoli, were also widely distributed. A number of relatives of the seven were quoted in an extensive article on Iranwire.

The campaign was most visible on social media, using the hashtag #7Bahais7years. Two Facebook event pages in English and Persian also served as rallying points for the campaign.

"What was most inspiring about this global campaign was that it highlighted, through a vibrant social media community, the injustices faced by the seven imprisoned Baha’is. We saw messages, videos, and images on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter from nearly every continent, displaying a wide variety of creative expression," said Ms. Dugal.

For example, in Germany and Austria, young people who had gathered at previously scheduled conferences to consult and plan about serving humanity through neighborhood processes and projects decided to dedicate their time and musical devotions to the seven.

In Zaragoza, Spain, a group dressed in striped prison costumes gathered in front of the provincial council building, holding signs calling for all prisoners of conscience in Iran to be freed.

And in India, in the village of Barama in Assam, a group of children arranged a special prayer meeting in an orphanage on 20 May. Photos show children holding up signs saying: "We are with you Yaran." (Yaran means "friends" in Persian.) This was a frequent slogan on signs at vigils around the world – from Vietnam to Brazil, South Africa to Australia – as people young and old came together to share stories, say prayers, and sing songs in support of Iran’s persecuted Baha’i citizens.

Officials from around the world have been among those raising their voices in support of the prisoners:

● In Brussels, five members of the European Parliament issued video statements calling the imprisonment of the seven "cruel" and "unacceptable."

● In Brazil, Federal Deputy Luiz Couto, former president of the national human rights committee, and at least two other Federal Deputies, lent their support to the campaign.

● In Canada, Minister of Foreign Affairs Rob Nicholson issued a statement saying the continued imprisonment of the seven "serves as disturbing reminder of the Iranian regime’s blatant disregard for religious freedom."

● In Germany, Human Rights Commissioner Christoph Strasser issued a statement calling for the immediate release of the seven. "The seven detainees were each sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment in a trial that lacked any transparency and disregarded fundamental rule-of-law principles," he said.

Other human rights activists and organizations also raised their voices.

● Nasrin Sotoudeh, an Iranian lawyer who was for a time imprisoned with several members of the seven, recorded a video statement calling their 2010 trial "utterly unjust" and asking Iranian authorities to "release them today."

● Mahnaz Parkand, an Iranian lawyer who defended the seven at their 2010 trial and was later forced to flee Iran, spoke out several times while visiting Washington DC, explaining how Iran prevented the seven from receiving a fair trial.

● Sini Maria Heikkila of Christian Solidarity Worldwide issued a video statement saying "if Iran is serious about addressing human rights concerns, ensuring the rights of religious minorities is a vital first step."

● Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in a blog post that Iran’s brutal treatment of Baha’is highlights the "true nature" of its government. "The truth about life in the Islamic Republic is revealed not by the smooth diplomats it sends abroad for international negotiations, but by the suffering of these peaceful and vulnerable citizens," said Mr. Abrams.

Actors and musicians added their voices to the campaign, as well. British actor/comedian, Omid Djalili, recorded a video message for the imprisoned Baha’is. "We say seven years, seven Baha’is, that is seven years too many." Also in the UK, actress Fiona Wade lent her support in a video statement. On 20 May, Shane Lynch, of the Irish band, Boyzone, issued his own message honoring Behrouz Tavakkoli.

Musicians Grand Hindin Miller and Sonbol Taefi from New Zealand created a special music video for the occasion and, in the USA, singer-songwriter Shadi Toloui-Wallace released a special song written for the seven.

"We are moved by the international show of support for these seven Baha’i leaders. It is through efforts such as these, taken around the world – at the grassroots level, in the media, and among government officials – that awareness will be raised about their plight," said Ms. Dugal. "We hope that these calls for their release serve to ensure that in 2016 a campaign marking their eighth year of captivity will not be necessary."

To read the article online, view photographs and access links:

For the Baha’i World News Service home page, go to:

Sacred symbol placed at apex of Chile temple

SANTIAGO, 30 April 2015, (BWNS) — In the early morning of 29 April, just before dawn, 65 representatives of various institutions and agencies of the Baha’i community, assembled within the superstructure of the Baha’i House of Worship for South America to commemorate a charged and meaningful milestone in its construction—the placement of a Baha’i symbol at the apex of the temple.

On that special day, the ninth day of Ridvan, a calligraphic rendering of the invocation "O Glory of the All-Glorious", referred to as the Greatest Name, was lifted into position some twenty-nine meters above the ground, at the highest point of the temple’s dome. As it was raised towards its destination, the voices of the choir could be heard chanting sacred verses in a joyful and reverent atmosphere.

Decades ago, the late Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum—wife of the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith and Hand of the Cause of God—had prepared a small ornamental silver case containing dust collected from the inner Shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land. That silver container was placed within the heart of the wooden carving of the Greatest Name, before it was raised to its permanent spot at the apex of the House of Worship, symbolically connecting the House of Worship with the Holy Land and the spiritual center of the Baha’i Faith.

The carving of the symbol of the Greatest Name was itself a significant process, explained Mr. Samadi, the project manager for the House of Worship. Crafted out of the wood of a tree native to Chile, named roble pellin, the Greatest Name was "made with the hands and love of Chilean artisans," he stated.

Reflecting on the event, Mr. Rodriguez, member of the National Assembly of the Baha’is of Chile, stated, "This was an incredible day, marking a profoundly spiritual process which connects us with the center and essence of our Faith".

To read the article online, view photographs and access links:

For the Baha’i World News Service home page, go to:

Religious leaders and World Bank commit to ending extreme poverty

Religious leaders and World Bank commit to ending extreme poverty

WASHINGTON, 9 April 2014, (BWNS) — A group of diverse religious leaders has issued a statement giving strong support and "moral consensus" to a World Bank-initiated effort to end extreme poverty in 15 years.

The statement, "Ending Extreme Poverty: A Moral and Spiritual Imperative", was released today at a media teleconference featuring World Bank President Jim Young Kim and representatives of the religious groups which drafted it, including Bani Dugal, the Principle Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

"Ending extreme poverty will require a comprehensive approach that tackles its root causes – including preventable illness, a lack of access to quality education, joblessness, corruption, violent conflicts, and discrimination against women, ethnic minorities and other groups," said the statement, whose authors included representatives of the Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh faiths.

"It will also call for a change in the habits that cause poverty – greed and hedonism, numbness to the pain of others, exploitation of people and the natural world," said the statement.

Ms. Dugal said Baha’is were happy to participate in the initiative and to endorse the statement.

"In general, faith has the capacity to tap the deepest reservoirs of human motivation and therefore release the collective will and raise the consciousness of the people, in a way that brings the moral dimension of poverty to the fore," said Ms. Dugal.

"In the Baha’i view, individuals have a responsibility to assist the poor, but societies and their institutions are responsible for creating the conditions where poverty can be eradicated.

"Efforts to fulfil that responsibility and to promote the well-being of all have been blocked largely by the pursuit of self-interest and overall disunity that sadly seems to characterize many of our individual and institutional pursuits today.

"What is needed is a new vision of society where cooperation is the dominant mode of social and economic interaction, and where recognition of our underlying oneness and interdependence is firmly upheld," said Ms. Dugal.

The statement emerged from a February 2015 meeting of religious leaders, representatives of faith-based organizations, and Bank officials, which was convened as part of an overall effort by the World Bank Group to bring an end to extreme poverty worldwide by 2030.

In his invitation to religious representatives, Dr. Kim explained that "the most sensible and smart plan" for ending extreme poverty "will likely fall short unless we can also capture the moral imagination of people."

More than 30 religious leaders and representatives of faith-based organizations who participated in the process which led to the "Moral Imperative" statement have pledged to support efforts to end extreme poverty through their programs and work, if not already so engaged.

Ms. Dugal said Baha’i communities around the world seek to contribute to the eradication of poverty mainly through efforts at the grassroots level to build capacity through education and other processes, with the goal of enabling individuals everywhere to become protagonists of their own progress and development.

"These efforts, which Baha’i communities around the world are currently engaged in, also encourage individuals to consider their social responsibilities towards others," said Ms. Dugal. "At the national and international levels, we also seek to participate in discourses that emphasize the moral and spiritual dimension of development and social progress."

In addition to Ms. Dugal, today’s media teleconference included the Reverend David Beckmann, President of Bread for the World; the Reverend Nicta Lubaale, General Secretary of the Organization of African Instituted Churches; Ms. Ruth Messinger, President of American Jewish World Service; Dr. Sayyid Syeed, National Director of the Islamic Society of North America; and the Reverend Jim Wallis, President of the Sojourners.

To read the article online, view photographs and access links:

For the Baha’i World News Service home page, go to:

UN Special Rapporteur commends documentary on denial of education for Baha’is in Iran

UN Special Rapporteur commends documentary on denial of education for Baha’is in Iran

GENEVA, 22 March 2015, (BWNS) — A high UN official has praised the film "To Light a Candle", a documentary on the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran, as an important effort in making better known the plight facing young Baha’is who are being deprived of access to higher education in Iran.

Speaking at a side event to the 28th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, commended the film, stating that "it is important to use a medium as accessible as a movie documentary to convey the message about rights".

Speaking to the audience after the screening, Dr. Shaheed commented: "I consider the Baha’is to be the most persecuted minority in Iran."

"I am quite distressed by what appears to be a systematic policy of discrimination against Baha’is, including in the education sector," he further stated, adding that the policy is quite explicit, to the extent that Baha’is are expelled from university if their religious beliefs become known.

Also present at the showing was the film’s director, Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist and filmmaker who was imprisoned in Iran in 2009.

"I am not a Baha’i, but I care deeply about the situation of Baha’is in Iran and human rights in general in Iran," said Mr. Bahari.

"Throughout the past 35 years, whenever we see that the situation in Iran has become more repressive, we’ve seen that the first victims of this repression are the Baha’is," said Mr. Bahari. "As Dr. Shaheed rightly said, the Baha’is are the most persecuted minority in Iran, and as such they are a barometer of what is going on in Iran."

The screening of the film was sponsored by the Baha’i International Community and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

Country representatives, NGOs, human rights activists, and other groups participating in the sessions of the Human Rights Council attended the event.

"To Light a Candle" highlights the peaceful and constructive response of Baha’is to a longstanding ban on their youth from attending universities, one dimension of a comprehensive, government-sponsored campaign of persecution of the Baha’i community in that country.

To read the article online, view photographs and access links:

For the Baha’i World News Service home page, go to:

Top UN officials say human rights violations in Iran continue unabated

Top UN officials say human rights violations in Iran continue unabated

GENEVA, 13 March 2015, (BWNS) — Members of minority groups, including Baha’is, continue to face persecution and discrimination in Iran, despite promises by the government to the contrary, according to two high level UN officials.

In reports to the Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also expressed concern over the continuing high rate of executions in Iran, the jailing of journalists and human rights activists, the lack of freedom of expression, and discrimination against women.

The reports were issued on the eve of next week’s session on Iran’s response to the Council’s 2014 Universal Periodic Review (UPR). In October 2014, at the Council’s review of Iran’s human rights record, governments from around the world made 291 recommendations to the Iranian government regarding steps it could take to ameliorate its human rights violations. At a session scheduled for Thursday, 19 March, the Iranian government will indicate which of these recommendations it plans to accept.

Dr. Shaheed, in a report issued yesterday, expressed a particular concern that widespread human rights violations continue unabated despite numerous promises from Iran to take steps to end or ameliorate them at Iran’s 2010 UPR session.

"The Special Rapporteur recognizes a number of Government efforts to implement the 2010 UPR commitments, but regrets that a majority of them remained unimplemented by 2014 and that underlying causes of violations highlighted during the UPR and in his 2011 and biannual 2012, 2013, and 2014 reports remain unaddressed," said Dr. Shaheed.

Altogether, he added, the fact that other governments had given 291 recommendations to Iran in October 2014 "reflect this reality" that human rights are unimproved.

Dr. Shaheed said, for example, that violations against Iran’s Baha’i community remain unabated.

"Despite statements from high-ranking officials that Baha’is are entitled to citizenship rights, they continue to face discrimination, arrest, and arbitrary detention in connection with their religion," said Dr. Shaheed.

"Between September and December 2014, security forces in the cities of Isfahan, Tehran, Shiraz, Hamedan, Karaj and Semnan reportedly arrested at least 24 Baha’is, bringing the total number of Baha’is in detention to 100."

Mr. Ban, in his report, which was issued 3 March, also expressed concern over Iran’s continuing persecution of Baha’is.

"Members of ethnic and religious minority groups continue to face persecution, including arrest and imprisonment, the denial of economic opportunities, expulsion from educational institutions, deprivation of the right to work, and closure of businesses and the destruction of religious sites, such as cemeteries and prayer centers," said Mr. Ban.

The two senior officials also expressed concern over the continued detention and harassment of journalists, human rights defenders, and women’s rights activists.

"The continued crackdown on media professionals, the pervasive restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression, including the closure of newspapers and magazines, and the ongoing monitoring, filtering and blocking of websites that carry political news and analysis raise great concern," said Mr. Ban.

Diane Ala’i, the Baha’i International Community’s representative to the United Nations in Geneva, welcomed both reports and urged governments to vote in favor of continued international monitoring of Iran’s human rights situation when the resolution to renew the mandate for the Special Rapporteur comes before the Council later this month.

"As both Ahmed Shaheed and the Secretary-General have clearly indicated, Iran continues to violate the human rights of its people at all levels of society, whether you are a woman, a journalist, a lawyer, or a religious or ethnic minority – or simply an average citizen," said Ms. Ala’i.

"Iran has long promised to respect the human rights of its citizens but it remains evident that these promises are hollow, and that the only protection for Iranians comes from continued monitoring and expressions of concern by the international community," she said.

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