The Bahá’í religion has faced persecution and severe human rights violations throughout the world. This is especially true in Iran which has the highest number of followers of the Bahá’í faith. There are more than five million Bahá’ís in communities spanning over two hundred countries. Iran’s Constitution does not recognize the faith despite it being the largest religious minority in the country and, therefore, the Bahá’í cannot freely exercise their religion because they are not deemed “People of the Book” by Article 13 of Iran’s Constitution. The religion has also faced discrimination in other parts of the world, such as Europe during the reign of the Nazis. The faith was outlawed in 1937 and an unaccounted number of individuals belonging to the faith were put on trial and sent to their deaths in concentration camps. On April 18, 2018, the leader of the Houthis in Yemen, Abdul-Malek al-Houthi, delivered a speech where he vehemently denounced those belonging to the Bahá’í faith. The rhetoric employed in his speech calling the Bahá’í religion a “satanic movement” is concerning and can incite acts of violence and further increase the persecution against the Bahá’í. Today the Bahá’í community continues to endure systematic discrimination and struggles to secure their human rights.
The United Nations Human Rights Council (38th Session)(“Council”) on June 2018 found that Bahá’ís face relentless persecution solely for their religious beliefs. In Iran, despite the government’s vow to end religious discrimination, there is an increasing number of anti-Bahá’í propaganda. Bahá’í students who wrote to their government after being denied enrollment in university because of their faith were sentenced to five years in prison for being part of an “anti-state Bahá’í cult.” This is because Iran and other countries that discriminate against Bahá’ís see them as a religion that contradicts the principles of Islam. On March 26, 2018, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, issued a religious decree or fatwa stating “You should avoid any association and dealings with this perverse and misguided sect.” One of the results of this government orchestrated persecution has been economic strangulation. Bahá’í individuals in Iran are deprived of the possibility of earning a living wage due to the denial of employment in the public sector and denial of business-related permits.
The Iranian government is engaged in the economic suppression of Bahá’ís. Economic strangulation is defined as “punishment of a group by cutting off commercial dealing with them.” This economic deprivation leads to a lack of income, which is the most standard feature of poverty. However, poverty does not take into account the social, cultural, and political aspects at play. Poverty includes a nullification of economic and social rights such as “the right to health, adequate housing, food and safe water, and the right to education.”
Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that “everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.” In addition, Iran signed and ratified a Governance Priority Convention called the Employment Policy Convention on June 10, 1972, which aims to achieve full employment and raise the standard of living . Article 1, Section 2, of the Employment Policy Convention states that the “policy shall aim to ensure that—(a) there is work available for those seeking to work; (b) that such work is as productive as possible; (c) there is freedom of choice of employment … irrespective of race, colour [sic], sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.”
Iran needs to live up to its responsibilities under the Employment Policy Convention as related to Bahá’ís. Iran must find more adequate solutions to ensuring Bahá’í rights in the pursuit of growth and development. Iran must also examine the circumstances needed for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living for those Bahá’í individuals facing persecution and economic strangulation.