Asma Jahangir, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, has released a letter sent by Ayatollah Ali Khameni, Iran's supreme leader. The letter was sent to the Ministry of Information, the Revolutionary Guard, and the Iranian police, and asks those government agencies to identify followers of the Baha'i faith and collect information on them.
In a statement released by the U-N, Ms. Janahangir says "Such monitoring constitutes an impermissible and unacceptable interference with the rights of members of religious communities." She calls on Iran's government to stop from categorizing its citizens based on their religion and to "ensure that members of all religious minorities are free to hold and practice their religious beliefs, without discrimination or fear."
There are estimated to be between three-hundred-thousand and three-hundred-fifty thousand Baha'is in Iran. The Baha'i faith originated in Iran during the 1840s as a reformist movement within Shi'a Islam. The Iranian government considers Baha'is to be apostates because of their claim to a valid religious revelation subsequent to that of the Prophet Muhammad.
The U.S. State Department's current religious freedom report says Baha'is are "banned from government employment." In addition, Baha'is are "regularly denied compensation for injury or criminal victimization." According to the State Department report, Iran's government prohibits the Baha'i community "from official assembly and from maintaining administrative institutions." These "broad restrictions," says the State Department, "undermine their ability to function as a community."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan says the situation for Baha'is in Iran is worsening:
"We call on the regime in Iran to respect the religious freedom of all its minorities, and to ensure that these minorities are free to practice their religious beliefs without discrimination. And we will continue to monitor the situation of the Baha'is in Iran very closely, and to speak out when their rights are denied."
Mr. McClellan says that the U.S. is committed to raising this issue of the treatment of the Baha'is "in the United Nations and other organizations, and to ask all those who have any sort of influence in Tehran to defend the rights of the Baha'i and other religious minorities."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.