GENEVA (4 September 2014) – Three United Nations experts on human rights in Iran , freedom of religion, and minority issues have today renewed an appeal to the Government of Iran to stop the destruction of a Bahá’í cemetery in Shiraz by Revolutionary Guards.
“We are dismayed by reports that excavation work has resumed at the cemetery, where at least 950 members of the Bahá’í faith were buried,” the experts said.
“Cemeteries, like places of worship, are an essential part of how people exercise and manifest their right to freedom of religion or belief. Their significance goes beyond their physical presence,” said Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. “Attacks on cemeteries are unacceptable and are a deliberate violation of freedom of religion or belief. The Government of Iran must take urgent action.”
Revolutionary Guards are reported to have erected a sign at the cemetery detailing plans to build a cultural and sports centre, mosque, library, restaurant, theatre and child care facility on the site. Remains that were disinterred during initial excavations in April are said to have been placed in a nearby trench.
“Bahá’í s have religious rites and practices for the disposal of the deceased in their own cemeteries and the Government has the obligation not only to respect them but to protect them from destruction,” said Special Rapporteur on Iran Ahmed Shaheed.
The Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák, also urged the Iranian Government to take concrete steps to protect religious minorities. “The Bahá’ís have been subjected to persecution and acts of violence. The authorities must protect them from further discrimination and stigmatisation,” she said. “Measures should be put in place to protect and maintain the cultural heritage of religious minorities, including burial grounds and other sites of religious significance,” she added.
The Bahá’í community leaders have made representations to the Iranian authorities and Muslim clerics to save their cemetery. The three experts voiced shock at comments by the commander of the Revolutionary Guards in Shiraz who allegedly said that Bahá’ís had “no rightful place” in Iranian society and that the Islamic regime would not take note of a “foul, unclean, and rootless sect”.
“Those responsible in government, religious communities, civil society organisations and the media should jointly and clearly speak out against incitement to hatred against minorities, in this case the Bahá’ís,” said Mr Bielefeldt.
“The existence and religious identity of Bahá’í s must be protected on an equal footing with other major religions in Iran, and they must be afforded the right to profess and practise their own religion freely and without interference or any form of discrimination,” said Mr Shaheed.
He also called on the Government of Iran to review the cases with a view of releasing the estimated 126 Bahá’í s currently in prison for organising religious gatherings, advocating for the right to education or managing the religious and administrative affairs of their community.