Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in support of the motion that itself arose initially from the witness testimony and documentary evidence both before the foreign affairs subcommittee on human rights and beyond, to which my colleague, the member for Davenport, referred, which demonstrated that since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, Baha'is have faced a systematic and state-orchestrated campaign of religious persecution and prosecution in their Iranian homeland, indeed a persistent and pervasive assault on their fundamental rights protected under international covenants to which Iran is a state party, again referred to by my colleague.
In its early stages, more than 200 Baha'is were killed and at least 1,000 imprisoned, targeted solely because of their religious beliefs. In the early 1990s the government shifted its focus to the systematic deprivation of social, economic and cultural rights, impeding and obstructing the development of the Baha'i community, including measures to deprive the Baha'i of their livelihood and to destroy their cultural heritage—in a word, to disenfranchise the Baha'i from equal participation in all aspects of Iranian life.
Most important, in the last several years there has been a resurgence of more extreme forms of persecution directed at the 300,000 members of the Baha'i community in Iran, that country's largest minority.
This upsurge has alarmed human rights scholars and monitors who fear not only for the Baha'i community affected by the government's renewed campaigns of hatred and incitement, but also that such attacks portend something worse, that they constitute a number of warning signs that often foreshadow widespread ethnic, racial or religious cleansing, including—and these are some of the warning signs—the exclusionary “classification” of minority groups into categories of “us versus them”; the singling out of the Baha'i for special opprobrium and repression; the use of the state media to dehumanize and demonize the Baha'i among their fellow Iranians; the orchestration of hate groups for targeted intimidation and fear; the proliferation of assaults on members of the Baha'i community, their homes and their properties; the ongoing denial of higher education to Baha'i youth; the manifold restrictions on their right to a livelihood; the ongoing attempts to destroy their religious, cultural and spiritual heritage; the arrest and imprisonment, as referred to by my colleague, the member for Davenport, of national-level Baha'i leaders in March and May 2008 in a manner that is eerily similar to the events of the 1980s when scores of Baha'i leaders were rounded up and killed; the whole reflected and foreshadowed in the public disclosure in March 2006, referred to in our motion, by a United Nations official of a governmental plan instructing state intelligence services, police units and the Revolutionary Guard to make “a comprehensive and complete report of all activities of the Baha'i sect for the purpose of identifying all individuals of this misguided sect”.
As Asma Jahangir, United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion, put it, “such monitoring constitutes an impermissible and unacceptable interference with the rights of members of religious minorities”, while others characterized these orders as reminiscent of the steps taken against the Jews in Europe and a dangerous step toward the institution of Nuremberg-type laws.
All this stereotyping, denigrating and demonizing is of a religious minority that itself has the highest respect for all religions.
As the Baha'i international community has put it in its own communication to the Iranian government:
Our Writings refer to Islam as “the blessed and luminous religion of God” and the Prophet Muhammad as “the refulgent lamp of supreme Prophethood,” “the Lord of creation” and “the Day-star of the world,” Who, “through the will of God, shone forth from the horizon of Hijaz.” The station of Imam Ali is described in terms such as “the moon of the heaven of knowledge and understanding” and “the sovereign of the court of knowledge and wisdom.”
I will close by reading into the record an excerpt from a heroic open letter by a group of Iranian academics, writers, artists, journalists and activists throughout the world to the Baha'i community, a letter signed by more than 300 of the most prominent Iranian intellectuals. It reads as follows, and I am only excerpting from it:
We are ashamed...
As Iranian human beings, we are ashamed for what has been perpetrated upon the Baha'is in the last century and a half in Iran...
According to historical documents and evidence, from the commencement of the Babi Movement followed by the appearance of the Baha'i Faith, thousands of our countrymen have been slain by the sword of bigotry and superstition only for their religious beliefs. Just in the first decades of its establishment, some twenty thousand of those who stood identified with this faith community were savagely killed throughout various regions of Iran.
We are ashamed that during that period, no voice of protest against these barbaric murders was registered...
We are ashamed that in addition to the intense suppression of Baha'is during its formative decades, the last century also witnessed periodic episodes of persecution of this group of our countrymen, in which their homes and businesses were set on fire, and their lives, property and families were subjected to brutal persecution--but all the while, the intellectual community of Iran remained silent;
We are ashamed that during the last thirty years, the killing of Baha'is solely on the basis of their religious beliefs has gained legal status and over two-hundred Baha'is have been slain on this account...
We are ashamed of our silence that after many decades of service to Iran, Baha'i retired persons have been deprived of their right to a pension...
We are ashamed of our silence over this painful reality that in our nation, Baha'is are systematically oppressed and maligned, a number of them are incarcerated because of their religious convictions, their homes and places of business are attacked and destroyed, and periodically their burial places are desecrated;
We are ashamed of our silence when confronted with the long, dark and atrocious record that our laws and legal system have marginalized and deprived Baha'is of their rights, and the injustice and harassment of both official and unofficial organs of the government towards this group of our countrymen;
We are ashamed for all these transgressions and injustices, and we are ashamed for our silence over these deeds.
They close with:
We, the undersigned, asked you, the Baha'is, to forgive us for the wrongs committed against the Baha'i community of Iran.
We will no longer be silent when injustice is visited upon you.
We stand by you in achieving all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights.
And in a closing, heroic expression and clarion call:
Let us join hands in replacing hatred and ignorance with love and tolerance.