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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
09BAGHDAD2567
2009-09-24 11:12:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Baghdad
Cable title:  

BAHAI CASE TESTS IRAQ'S RESPECT FOR

Tags:   KIRF  PHUM  PGOV  SOCI  IZ 
pdf how-to read a cable
VZCZCXRO3489
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHIHL RUEHKUK
DE RUEHGB #2567/01 2671112
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 241112Z SEP 09 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4822
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE
						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BAGHDAD 002567 

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/16/2019
TAGS: KIRF PHUM PGOV SOCI IZ
SUBJECT: BAHAI CASE TESTS IRAQ'S RESPECT FOR
MINORITY/RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

Classified By: Political Counselor Yuri Kim for Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
.



1. (C) SUMMARY: Leaders of Iraq's small Bahai community are
requesting the assistance of the Ministry of Interior (MOI)
in their bid to receive identification documents that would
list their religion as Bahai rather than Muslim. Although
the MOI issued a small number of ID cards listing the Bahai
faith in 2007, a senior official told the Bahais that he
could take no further action unless he received permission
from an Iraqi court. The MOI has offered to assist the Bahai
in presenting their case in court, an encouraging sign of the
GOI's respect for minority rights. END SUMMARY.



--------------------------


Bahais Long Struggle for Recognition


--------------------------





2. (U) According to Iraq's Bahai leaders, their community has
struggled for official GOI recognition for nearly 40 years.
In 1970, the Bahai religion and its activities were outlawed
in the Iraqi penal code by Law 105. Prior to Law 105, the
Bahai faith enjoyed recognition in Iraq with members of the
community being registered as such during the Iraqi census of


1957. In 1975, the MOI issued an internal regulation, Rule
358, under which those identified previously as Bahai were
issued new registration documents identifying them as Muslim.
Bahais could not obtain passports, buy or sell property,
register marriages, or obtain ID cards unless their religion
was administratively changed to Muslim. As a result, all but
a handful of Bahais had their religion changed in order to
carry on with their lives.



3. (U) Since the ratification of Iraq's new Constitution, the
Bahai community has pressed the GOI to recognize the Bahai
faith and restore Bahai ID cards and passports. Bahai
leaders estimate that there are approximately 2,000 members
in their community. In 2007, the MOI took the first step in
addressing the issue when it canceled Rule 358, enabling
first-time registrants to obtain new ID cards that listed
"Bahai" as their religion. However, when Bahais who had had
their religion changed to "Muslim" asked to receive new ID
cards, the MOI legal advisor informed that it was illegal for
any Muslim in Iraq to change his or her religion. Although
the Bahais argued that they had never officially converted
and that the change in religion was administrative only, the
MOI remained adamant that it could not violate Iraqi law.



--------------------------


Embassy Hosts a Bahai-MOI Discussion


--------------------------





4. (C) To find a way forward, the Embassy hosted a meeting
for three leaders from Iraq's Bahai community -- Abdel Razzaq
Abaychi, Sarmad Moqbel, and Dr. Thana Aqiqi -- with the

Ministry of Interior's Director General for Passports and
Nationality, Major General Yasseen al-Yasiri, on September


14. The Bahais reiterated their case to al-Yasiri, whom they
had met previously and who expressed sympathy for their case.
However, al-Yasiri told the Bahais that his hands were tied
with respect to issuing new ID cards until an Iraqi court
issued a legal opinion overturning the 1970 law that bans
their religion on the grounds that it is unconstitutional and
allowing for the Bahais to have their religion changed back
from Muslim.



5. (C) Al-Yasiri suggested that one course of action would be
for individual Bahai families to take their individual cases
to a lower court to receive a favorable opinion and offered
MOI assistance in presenting their case. Alternatively, he
suggested that the Bahai community as a whole, take its case
Qsuggested that the Bahai community as a whole, take its case
to a federal court and ask that Law 105 be invalidated on
constitutional grounds. The Bahai leaders responded that
they were open to this course of action if the MOI could not
take action otherwise, but expressed concern that Iraqi
judges would be fearful of issuing a ruling in their favor as
it would appear to be in violation of Islam and thus draw the
ire of extremist elements. Al-Yasiri commented that the
situation was difficult, but advised the Bahais to wait until
after the conclusion of national elections, when the
political atmosphere might be more conducive to their case.



--------------------------


The Bahais Next Move


--------------------------





6. (C) Bahai leaders told Poloff they would take al-Yasiri's
recommendations back to their community and would make a
decision together. They noted that there was not a rush
because they agreed with al-Yasiri's assessment that they
would need to wait until after the elections. They also
noted that they have a long-term time horizon and see their

BAGHDAD 00002567 002 OF 002


struggle as a three-step process. The first step was to
establish the precedent that ID cards could be issued with
Bahai listed as their religion, which they had accomplished
in 2007. The second was to change the religion on documents
for those community members whose religious affiliation had
previously been administratively changed to Muslim. Finally,
the Bahais would focus on changing the documents for the
children of Bahai members who were born with Muslim listed as
their religion and thus had no previous documents with Bahai
listed as their religion.



7. (C) COMMENT: The case of the Bahai community represents an
important test of the independence of Iraq's judicial system
and its respect for minority rights. Given that Article 43
of the Iraqi Constitution gives citizens the freedom of
religion, it would appear on its face that the 1970 law
outlawing the particular religion of the Bahais is
unconstitutional. However, the Bahais have reason to fear
that in an atmosphere of sectarian tensions, an Iraqi judge
would not feel confident enough to issue a ruling in their
favor. Al-Yasiri's offer to involve the MOI in their case
was a positive signal that the GOI is supportive of minority
rights. END COMMENT.
HILL