Iran’s ID-card policy turns unrecognised religious minorities into ghosts

Iran’s ID-card policy turns unrecognised religious minorities into ghosts

By Fred Petrossian

The Islamic Republic’s decision to remove the “other religions” option from the national ID-card application form looks set to deny millions of Iranians their citizenship.

Under the new regulations from the National Census Bureau, ID-card applicants must choose only from the short list of recognised religions: Islam, Zoroastrianism, Judaism and Christianity.

Members of unrecognised religious minorities, such as Baha’is, Yarsan, Mandaeans, and Christian converts – whose conversions are not recognised – will either have to deny their beliefs or live as ghosts, devoid of citizenship rights.

Human rights defender and Nobel Prize Winner Shirin Ebadi has written a letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to protest against the new policy.

Said Mahmoudi, professor of international law at Stockholm University, told Article18 the policy is a “violation of a basic obligation of international law” and a “flagrant breach” of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which Iran has signed.

According to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

At the same time, Article 19 of Iran’s own constitution states: “All people of Iran, whatever the ethnic group or tribe to which they belong, enjoy equal rights; and colour, race, language, and the like, do not bestow any privilege.”

But in spite of these pledges, European researcher Behnaz Hosseini, who has published numerous articles and books on religious minorities, told Article 18: “The Shiite state wants to keep minorities marginalised in order to hold onto power itself. The regime intensifies the pressure on minorities to make them immigrate, or, in the case of the Yarsan, to rob them of their own identity by Islamising them.”

Fear-based obedience

The Islamic Republic’s efforts to “identify” minorities have increased in recent months.

In September, the Minister of Education said children who profess an unrecognised religious faith at school were engaging in “propaganda” and should be banned.

In other words, from the outset, the government of religious apartheid seeks to institutionalise fear-based obedience in the children of religious minorities.

The persecution of religious minorities began in the early days of the revolution, with the arrest and execution of Baha’is and extrajudicial killings of Christian converts and those who stood up for them

Persons belonging to even the recognised minorities, including Sunni Muslims, became at best second- or even third-degree citizens.

But this new policy marks a new chapter in Iran’s marginalisation of religious minorities, creating a new minority of unseen ghosts within the Islamic Republic, who exist outside of the system – ghosts whose only crime is their refusal to deny their religious beliefs.

In converting a group of citizens into ungodly ghosts, Iran is following in the footsteps of other inhumane political systems, such as apartheid South Africa, which marginalised blacks, or Nazi Germany, where Jews were rounded up and killed.

By denying its citizens the right to receive a national identification card only because of differences in religious belief, the Islamic Republic has shown once again that it is serious about repressing religious minorities, in spite of persistent international condemnation.