On May 9, 2017, the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights heard testimony in relation to the subcommittee’s annual Iran Accountability Week.
The Chair of the Subcommittee, Michael Levitt, opened the meeting saying, “we, as the human rights subcommittee, want to be on record that the human rights abuses in Iran are always top of mind and to ensure that these issues maintain their significance and publicity.” He noted the intensification of human rights abuses and repression in Iran, in recent years.
The subcommittee heard testimony from Ms Corinne Box, Director of Government Relations for the Baha’i Community of Canada, and Hon. Irwin Cotler, former Attorney General and founding chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.
Prof. Cotler called the condition and situation of the Baha’is in Iran “a litmus test of the state of human rights in Iran and the future of justice and peace with respect to Iran.” He enumerated a number of ways in which Iran’s government is undermining the rights of its citizens.
In her testimony, Ms. Box highlighted several areas of concern in relation to recent human rights abuses against the Baha’is in Iran. The first is the continued imprisonment of the leadership of the Baha’is of Iran. Jailed in 2008 and tried without due process, these seven Baha’is – two women and five men – were sentenced to the longest jail sentence given to any prisoner of conscience in Iran. “We hope that our government will take this occasion to join an international outcry that emphasizes the fact that, under Iran’s own penal code, the seven are now overdue for conditional release,” Ms. Box told the subcommittee.
A second issue raised by Ms. Box was the increased effort by the government to incite hatred against Baha’is. She noted that since the beginning of 2014, more than 20,000 items of anti-Baha’i propaganda have been published or broadcast through a variety of media. There were more than 11,000 in 2016 alone. Without access to any means of mass communication to respond to false allegations and misrepresentations, the result of this campaign of incitement has been widespread prejudice and acts of violence against Baha’is.
Finally, Ms. Box highlighted an ongoing campaign by the government of Iran to advance “apartheid-like economic discrimination,” the objective of which is “to impoverish, isolate, and ultimately drive Baha’is out of Iran.” This includes denial of access to higher education, exclusion from public sector employment, and various obstacles to participate in the private sector. Since 2007, more than 1000 incidents of direct economic persecution have been documented, including the revocation of business licenses, harassment, raids, and fines – all related to religious discrimination.
“We hope that our elected representatives and government will use all means available to hold Iranian authorities to account,” said Ms. Box. “As Canada pursues diplomatic re-engagement with Iran, we cannot ignore the need for a constructive dialogue on human rights and inclusion…. In our dialogue with Iranian authorities we must call upon the government to take clear and concrete steps to emancipate the Bahá’ís.”
Prof. Cotler echoed these recommendations, asking the subcommittee to “call on the Iranian regime to cease and desist from its prosecution and persecution of the Bahá’í community and, in particular, to release the seven Baha’i leaders.”
He also raised the alarm that Iran’s persecution of Baha’is is being extended to other countries with whom it has influence, citing the case of Yemen in particular.
Prof. Cotler closed his testimony by urging the committee to live up to its “specific and distinguished role” of letting political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Iran “know that they are not alone and that we stand in solidarity with them, that we will not relent in our advocacy and our pursuit of justice.”