Fatwa against Baha'i community prompts concerns for Iran's religious minority

Christians account for less than one per cent of the population of IranAP

Christian Solidarity Worldwide has voiced concern about the future for religious minorities in Iran after a fatwa was issued against the Baha'i community.

The fatwa, or religious edict, was issued by the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khameni, on 31 July. It labels Baha'is as a "deviant and misleading sect" and calls on Iranians to avoid them.

Baha'is account for the largest religious minority in Iran, with over 300,000 followers, but it has been refused legal status and 200 of its leaders have been killed or executed since 1979. Thousands more have been imprisoned. In 2010, seven Baha'i leaders were sentenced to 20 years in prison for "forming an illegal cult". The US Commission on International Religious Freedom puts the number of Baha'is currently being held in prison for their beliefs at 110.

They suffer further discrimination in employment and learning, with Baha'is being excluded from further education and public sector jobs.

CSW said that as ultimate power lies with the Supreme Leader, it was questionable whether incoming president Hassan Rouhani could meet his promise to rule with moderation and ensure the rights of religious minorities.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said previous fatwas had resulted in "intense" crackdowns on members of the Baha'i community.

He called upon the Supreme Leader and incoming president to uphold the rights of the Baha'i community as equal citizens and guarantee religious freedom for all religious communities.

"There was cautious optimism following the election of Hassan Rouhani, who has promised a more moderate approach than his predecessor. However, this news raises questions as to whether he will be able to do so, since ultimate power clearly resides elsewhere," he said.

"The fatwa also calls into question the possibility of any early improvements in the plight of Iran's religious minorities."