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A UK HR Tribunal in 2006 found the Bahai persecution claims in Iran to be exagerrated

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May 17, 2011, 9:11:52 PM5/17/11

The Tribunal's conclusions may be summarised as follows:-

(a) an Iranian Baha'i is not, as such, at real risk of
persecution in Iran;

(b) such a person will, however, be able to demonstrate a well-
founded fear if, on the particular facts of the case, he or she is
reasonably likely to be targeted by the Iranian authorities (or their
agents) for religious reasons. Evidence of past persecution will be of
particular relevance in this regard. It is doubtful if a person who
has not previously come to the serious adverse attention of the
authorities, by reason of his or her teaching or particular
organisational or other activities on behalf of the Baha'i community
in Iran, will be able, even in the current climate, to show that he or
she will be at real risk on return.


May 17, 2011, 9:12:56 PM5/17/11

The Tribunal's assessment
It is clear from the evidence before us that Baha'is in Iran face
substantial discrimination, which extends beyond the purely religious
field to such matters as education, work, ownership of property and
access to justice. The evidence does not, however, show that the
nature and prevalence of this discrimination is of such intensity and
generality as to amount to persecution for the purposes of the Refugee
Convention. It is significant that none of the outside observers who
have had cause to consider the situation of Baha'is has formed the
conclusion that a person is at real risk of persecution in Iran merely
by reason of being a Baha'i. That includes Baha'is who practise their
faith. Each of the witnesses who gave evidence on behalf of the
appellant and his wife are Baha'is. In both their oral and written
utterances, they refer to the Baha'is as being persecuted. Whilst the
use of such language is understandable, it does not compel a
conclusion on the part of this Tribunal that any Iranian Baha'i,
practising or not, who makes his or her way to the United Kingdom,
should without more be accorded international protection.

The account given by the appellant and his wife of their experiences
in Iran confirms the conclusion the Tribunal has reached on this
issue. The sentences of imprisonment which the appellant was given can
be seen from his evidence to have been inspired by the fact that the
appellant had family connections with prominent Baha'is and, more
particularly, because of the appellant's own religious teaching
activities within the Baha'i community. Putting that matter aside,
both the appellant and his wife were able to study and become doctors
and, albeit with difficulty, practise their profession in a variety of
places in Iran. The confiscation of their home was, we find, most
likely to have been an aspect of the authorities' adverse attention
towards the appellant as a result for what they perceived to be his
teaching and community activities. The appellants were able to travel
abroad and return without significant difficulties. We say so, bearing
in mind what the appellant and his wife described as an unpleasant
incident at the airport when they returned to Iran in 2001.

In making these findings, the Tribunal is mindful of the present
government in Iran; in particular, the presidency of Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, who was elected in June 2005 and who, it is clear from
the evidence, is beginning to pursue a more conservative and
uncompromising set of policies than those of his predecessor. The fact
is, nevertheless, that according to the latest reports, relatively few
Baha'is are being arrested and imprisoned, considering the overall
size (300-350,000) of the Baha'i community in Iran. As we have already
noted, even Human Rights Watch, in its 2006 report, goes no further
than to opine that Iran's ethnic and religious minorities 'are subject
to discrimination and, in some cases, persecution'. The express
reference to the Baha'is, which follows this quotation, refers to the
community continuing 'to be denied permission to worship or engage in
communal affairs in a public manner'. That Baha'is are able to pursue
their religious observances in domestic settings is clear. It is many
years since they were last permitted in general to worship in public
halls and the like. The evidence before us does not show such a
flagrant denial of a Baha'i's freedom of religion as to amount to an
effective denial for that right (Ullah & Do [2004] UKHL 26).
Similarly, whilst Baha'is are on occasion deprived of their rights to
property, the evidence before us does not show that any Baha'i,
regardless of his or her circumstances, is at real risk of being
deprived of his or her home or business. The evidence before us as to
the Iranian state's attitude towards the recognition of Baha'i
marriages is, we have to say, somewhat unclear. On the appellant's own
account, and that of his wife, official attitudes appear to fluctuate.
Overall, the Tribunal does not find that the evidence discloses such a
state of affairs as, when combined with the other matters to which we
have referred, can properly lead to the conclusion that a Baha'i is
entitled to protection under the Refugee Convention or the ECHR should
he or she make such a claim to the authorities in this country.

As a consequence of these findings, the Tribunal has considered
whether the evidence shows that a particular description or category
of Baha'i in Iran is currently at real risk of persecution or other
serious ill-treatment or whether the undoubted persecution that
certain Baha'is suffer, such as those imprisoned for their faith, is
merely random or otherwise so unpredictable as to prevent any
particular Baha'i being identified in advance as being at real risk.
At the hearing, Mr De Mello, Mr Leith and Mr Wheatley sought to
emphasise the importance of the information contained at paragraph 25
of Mr Leith's statement:

'25. There are believed to be 300,000-350,000 Baha'is in
Iran. We clearly do not expect the Iranian authorities to prosecute
all of them. While interrogating one of the Baha'is arrested 2005, an
intelligence agent stated: 'We have learned how to confront (the
Baha'is). We no longer pursue ordinary (Baha'is); we will paralyse
your inner core.' The comment seems to define the current strategy of
the Iranian authorities in their latest attempt to undermine the long-
term viability of the Baha'i community. The new policy is
characterised by identifying and targeting a group of Baha'is who play
an ad hoc but vital role in providing communal activity and leadership
for the wider community'.

Mr Leith and Mr Wheatley were of the view that the appellant would be
considered to be in that category on the basis of his leadership role
in the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education and other areas of Baha'i
activity. Taking the appellant's account at face value for the moment,
he told us that he ceased to work on behalf of the Institute, at their
suggestion, after he had been released from his second sentence of
imprisonment. His evidence was, however, to the effect that he had
nevertheless pursued the promotion of the Baha'i faith by means of the
teaching system produced by the Ruhy Institute.

The Tribunal has adopted a cautious approach to what is said to have
been the comments of the Iranian intelligence agent, as set out in
paragraph 25 of Mr Leith's report. Although he possesses undoubted
considerable knowledge of the position of Baha'is in Iran, Mr Leith is
not (and no doubt would not claim to be) an impartial observer. His
job is to foster the interests of his co-religionists in Iran.
Furthermore, the comments of the intelligence agent are unsourced.
Both Mr Leith and Mr Wheatley told us that they were received as part
of the ongoing system of contacts and information-gathering operated
by the external affairs office of the National Spiritual Assembly for
the Baha'is in the United Kingdom.

On the other hand, we are mindful that the bodies which Mr Leith and
Mr Wheatley represent are relied upon by the Home Office, the US State
Department and others as sources of information about the position of
Baha'is in Iran. The Tribunal has no reason to doubt that Mr Leith
has, at paragraph 25 of his report, accurately described what he has
been told was said to a Baha'i by someone operating within the
intelligence community within Iran. The real question is whether the
comments are reasonably likely to represent present Iranian government
policy or, given the complex nature of the Iranian state security
apparatus, the policy of some form of organisation that is sponsored
or at least condoned by those in power and which is able to act
against those Baha'is which are regarded as 'inner core'.

It cannot be denied that a policy along the lines of that described in
paragraph 25 of the report would make sense, from the point of view of
a regime that has for long regarded Baha'is as wholly inimical to a
Shi'ite theocratic state. The targeting of Baha'i teachers in 1998 is
sufficiently documented and the claimed policy could be said to be a
development of this. Any religion which does not have formal preachers
but which nevertheless needs to subsist and flourish through the
efforts of those involved in its teaching and ad hoc organisation is
likely to be weakened by the removal of those who have shown aptitude
and inclination in such areas.

The evidence before the Tribunal also demonstrates that the forces of
conservatism and reaction in Iran are gaining in strength, following
the election in June 2005 of President Ahmadinejad. The reformist
tendencies of former President Khatami, which encouraged Baha'is to
write the open letter of 2004, are in retreat, in the opinion of
outside objective observers. Paragraph 3 of Dr Ghanea's report refers
to an expression of 'deep concern at the serious violations of human
rights' in Iran, on the part of the European Union Council (November
2005), whilst in the following month the EU Presidency noted 'that the
human rights situation in Iran has not improved in any significant
respect in recent years, and in many respects has worsened'. The US
Commission on International Religious Freedom considered, even before
the election of the new President, that 'over the past year, the
Iranian government's poor religious freedom record deteriorated,
particularly for Baha'is, evangelical Christians and Muslim
dissidents, all of whom faced intensified harassment, detention,
arrest and imprisonment.'

For these reasons the Tribunal is able to place some weight on the
comment recorded in paragraph 25 of Mr Leith's statement. The fact
remains, however, that as matters stand it is only a single comment,
from an unnamed individual, whose alleged words have, it seems, not
been passed directly to Mr Leith by the person to whom they were
spoken. It would accordingly be going too far to use the statement as
the basis of a conclusion that all Baha'is, who comprise, or are
regarded by the Iranian state security apparatus as comprising, an
"inner core" are as such at current real risk of persecution. On the
other hand, we do not consider that the totality of the evidence in
this appeal does no more than show that some Baha'is are randomly
persecuted and the appellant is a person who happens to have been so
persecuted. The appellant has been an active teacher and has suffered
previous sentences of imprisonment for what were plainly religious
reasons. That is essentially accepted by the respondent. The
credibility of the appellant's claim to be in current well-founded
fear was challenged by the respondent at the hearing on the basis that
the alleged telephone conversation and other evidence of renewed
adverse interest in the appellant by the authorities since he last
left Iran were not believable. Whilst not accepting that there is
evidence of a concerted policy to take out the inner core of the
Baha'i community in Iran, we nevertheless find that, having regard to
the current political situation, the background evidence and the
evidence of Messrs Leith and Wheatley, shorn of its more rhetorical
aspects, provide support for the appellant in assessing the
credibility of that part of his claim which was challenged by Mrs
Petterson (see paragraphs 82 to 85 below).


May 17, 2011, 9:19:55 PM5/17/11
Sec 81, (b)...It is doubtful if a person who has not previously come

to the serious adverse attention of the authorities, by reason of his
or her teaching or particular organisational or other activities on
behalf of the Baha'i community in Iran, will be able, even in the

current climate, to show that he or she will be at real risk on

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