By Maryam Dehkord
July 14, 2021
According to Article 14 of Iran’s Constitution, the Government of the Islamic Republic and all Muslims are obliged to treat non-Muslims well and to respect “Islamic justice” and their human rights. The principle applies to those who do not “conspire against Islam and the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Article 3 says the government is obliged to do everything in its power to eliminate unjust discrimination and to create equal opportunity for all, in all material and spiritual fields, and to “ensure the universal rights of men and women and the establishment of … equality of all the people before the law.”
But does “Islamic justice” really include non-Muslim citizens in all contexts? If a non-Muslim citizen, and a member of a religious minority, has an accident at work, resulting in disability or death, how will the law deal treat them?
Farough is the nickname of an Assyrian Christian in Iran. Seven years ago, he was hired as a technical worker in one of Iran’s industrial factories. He suffered a serious injury two years after he was hired as a result of an accident at work: “I lost three fingers on my right hand due to a lack of safety at work. It was no longer possible for me to continue working in that department. I was going convalescing when the factory managers sent me a message and said that, if I complain, I will be fired and that the blood money [compensation] will be paid in full; but that if I dropped the complaint, I would receive less blood money but would keep my job. I had just gotten married and you know the [dire] job situation in Iran. That’s why I thought I would not complain and keep my job.”
Farough says that, when he returned to the factory after his recovery, he was offered an office job by the managers: “They said I could no longer work in the production line; come and be a clerk. I accepted. They were supposed to do an expert examination and pay me a blood money, but when I was paid, I realized that the amount I received was much lower based on the fact that I was a religious minority.”
The Christian citizen says that the discriminatory treatment by the laws at work did not end there. “I decided to go to university and get a degree that was compatible with what I was doing,” he said, explaining that now with a clerical job, he has more time than in the past. “I studied business management … to get a promotion and salary increase at my workplace, but this turned out to be a fantasy.”
He added: “I have a vocational degree from a university and my English is excellent. But there was no change in my working conditions, and finally, the new manager of the factory, who is a very religious person, told me not to pursue this issue anymore, because I would lose what I have.”
“I know that expelling me is easy for them,” Farough said. “Being a religious minority gives me the right to be discriminated against by the authorities. As I speak to you about these problems, one of my colleagues, who received a bachelor’s degree … from the University of Applied Sciences, has been promoted and given a raise, because he is a Muslim. I meanwhile have all the right conditions for employment and career advancement but, just because I am a Christian, I am deprived of any promotion.”
Farough is not the only citizen of a religious minority who has been discriminated against in the workplace because of his beliefs. Citizens of many of Iran’s religious minorities face similar situations when they are in a disadvantaged position.
A citizen of the Yarsan faith told IranWire: “Yarsans have no social, administrative or political status, due to not being recognized in the Constitution, and their identities are being denied. In legal disputes at work, Yarsan citizens are generally forced to hide their beliefs and identities in order to receive their rights, and have to present themselves as Shiites and Muslims, otherwise, their complaints will not be processed. Their loss can be physical injury and disability or death. In these cases, Yarsan citizens have no choice but to hide their identities; unless the issue somehow gets into the media and the authorities have no chance of concealing them.”
The Yarsan citizen, who did not want to be named, referred to the murder of Mitra Ostad, the second wife of Mohammad Ali Najafi, a former politician and mayor of Tehran. “If you remember, the case of Mitra Ostad being a Yarsan was mentioned during the investigation of the case and was raised in the media. The allegation was made with the aim of acquitting Mr. Najafi. They wanted to make it permissible to shed the blood of this young woman by raising this issue, so that only blood money should be paid to the accused and the victim’s family could not even demand retribution.”
Inheritance and Blood Money for Non-Muslims in the Islamic Penal Code
According to Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, retribution is provided by a murderer if their victim is a Muslim. But under the same law, if the victim is from a religious minority, the punishment for the murderer is simply the payment of blood money. Paying blood money is only possible for official religious minorities (i.e. Sunni Muslims, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians) and mostly the blood money value of a non-Muslim is not equal to that of a Muslim.
Earlier, the Assyrian MP Jonathan Bat Kelia, a member of Iran’s parliament, referred to parliament’s efforts to draft a bill addressing the issue of non-Muslim blood money values, saying: “This bill was approved by the sixth parliament, but the Guardian Council rejected it. Finally it was approved the order of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic.”
He also referred to Article 881 of the Civil Code, which refers to religious minorities as “infidels” in inheritance laws: “We are upset, because the civil law that was passed in 1937 and again in 1991 has created a situation in which I not know today if I am regarded as an infidel or a religious minority; because this law says that an infidel does not inherit from a Muslim. This means that if the son of a religious minority family becomes a Muslim and dies, the other members of the family cannot inherit from him. Or my son, who knows this law, if he formally becomes Muslim, he is the only one who can inherit from me, and my other children will not inherit, which will destroy the families of religious minorities.”
Shahin Milani, a lawyer and executive director of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, is a Baha’i and the son of a victim of a forced disappearance in the Islamic Republic. “Many Baha’is have been persecuted since the beginning of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, but what has bothered some families is that not only are there no punishments for those who kill Baha’is, there is not even a search for the killer or killers,” Milani told IranWire.
Iranian Religious Minorities’ Property Rights
Another inequality that religious minority citizens suffer in Iran is the issue of their property and assets. If a citizen of a religious minority encounters a legal problem with property, there is no guarantee that his or her property will be reclaimed or that he or she will be compensated.
Salem is a member of the Mandaean minority living in Ahvaz. He told IranWire about the usurpation of one of his paternal estates by the Ahvaz municipality: “My paternal grandfather’s house on Farhang Street has been in limbo for years. The municipality has encroached on the Mandaeans’ lands in that area, and we have neither permission to renovate nor permission to sell. The municipality does not accept to buy the land. Once or twice we went to negotiate and sell but the price they offered was so low that we laughed. This year, Ahvaz was introduced as the city of Mandaeans, but we, the Mandaeans, are wandering around town looking for the smallest amount of legal work.”
The issue of usurpation does not only include the personal property of informal religious minorities. Even government property belonging to official minorities has sometimes been seized by religious groups and institutions.
One example is the plot of land on Patrice Lumumba Street belonging to the Assyrian Church in Tehran, where, a few years ago, a Muslim mourning committee, in consultation with church officials, agreed to use the premises for mourning ceremonies for a year.
“Church officials allowed the committee to stay there for one year,” said Jonathan Beth Church, a representative of the Assyrians. “But seven or eight years have passed and the committee did not leave. Even my meeting with Ali Younesi, Hassan Rouhani’s special assistant for ethnic and religious affairs, was useless, and he said that he could not do anything about it. We interviewed the press and media about this for two years, until we were finally able to get back the church land.”