Since the smart ID card is required for access to basic government services or to make bank transactions, rights activists maintain that the application process is the latest in a series of discriminatory state policies that have targeted some 350,000 Baha’is in Iran since the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The application process essentially forces Baha’is to declare themselves from one of four religions that are recognized by Iran’s constitution: Islam, Christianity, Judaism, or Zoroastrianism.
The Baha’i faith is not officially recognized in Iran. Application forms for the identification card do not specify other faiths and do not include an option for applicants to declare they are from “other religions.”
Thus, to obtain new identification car, Baha’i applicants have to violate one of the basic principles of their faith — an express prohibition against lying about their religion.
Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), says the new rule is “severe and undisguised discrimination.”
He describes the application process as “a flagrant violation of Iranian and international law.”
“With this new rule, the Iranian government is effectively stripping many religious minorities in the country of their basic rights and access to the most fundamental services as citizens,” Ghaemi said in a January 27 statement.
In January 2019, conservative lawmaker Mohammad Javad Abtahi called on the Interior Minister to remove the option “other religions” from application forms for national ID.
Abtahi claimed that the option was legitimizing “devious sects,” a term Islamic hard-liners use to refer to the Baha’is faith.
Simin Fahandej, a spokeswoman for the Baha’i international community in London, told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda on January 24 that the application process for the new identification cards is yet another case of state pressure on Baha’is.
“This is another example of the harassment Baha’is have been subjected to in the past forty years,” Fahandej said. “This means that Baha’is have to either give up their religion or give up their citizen’s rights,” she said.
Rights activist Bahareh Hedayat, a former political prisoner who’d been held for seven years at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, posted details on Twitter last week about what happened when a Baha’i questioned the application process.
Hedayat shared what she said was a reply from the National Registry Office, saying: “Dear citizen—the religion you have in mind has not been included in the law and no solution has been considered. You may submit your application under the current conditions.”
Human Rights Watch says Iranian authorities routinely harass, prosecute, and imprison Baha’is solely for practicing their faith. The U.S.-based rights group says Iranian authorities also destroy burial places of Baha’is.
In recent years, many Baha’is have been banned from attending universities. Their private businesses have also been shut down and dozens have been imprisoned on vague charges.
Javaid Rehman, the United Nations’ special rapporteur to Iran, said in a July 2019 report that Baha’is “have suffered from the most egregious forms of repression, persecution and victimization.”