In the shadow of the Football World Cup, a forgotten issue: the situation of the Baha’is
By Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers
European Times (09.12.2022) – https://bit.ly/3UJUW2b – In the shadow of the Football World Cup in Qatar, voices of non-Muslims have been heard and listened to at the European Parliament at a conference organized on 6 December by Dutch MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen under the title “Qatar: Addressing the limitations of religious freedom for Bahá’ís and Christians.”
This initiative of MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen, a member of the EP Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief, was a followup of the resolution of the European Parliament on the “Situation of human rights in the context of the FIFA football world cup in Qatar” adopted on 24 November last plenary session. On that occasion, the Parliament called “on the Qatari authorities to ensure respect for the human rights of all persons attending the 2022 World Cup, including international guests and those living in the country, including for their freedom of religion and belief.”
During the conference, the situation of the Baha’is was addressed by Rachel Bayani from the office of the Baha’i International Community in Brussels. Here is a large excerpt of her intervention:
“Baha’is have lived in Qatar for almost 80 years. They are a very diverse community with members of Qatari citizenship or from other nationalities. They all consider Qatar their home.
Nevertheless, the community has suffered instances of discrimination and human rights violations over many decades. The cumulative effect of these acts has now become untenable because they threaten the very viability of the community. Over the decades, and more intensely in recent years, Baháʼís in Qatar have approached the Qatari authorities directly and with an open hand to seek remedy in areas where the State falls short of its obligations. Although various assurances and promises have periodically been given, they have not materialised.
Baha’is forced to leave the country
More and more Baháʼís have been forced to leave the country. The human rights violations they suffer are of various types, ranging from surveillance, the harassment of school children and students, the bulldozing of a Baha’i cemetery, violations in the employment sector and the sudden termination of work contracts, the non-recognition of personal status or marriage laws, the impossibility of family reunification, the refusal of a residency permit or the blacklisting for ‘security’ reasons because of their religious affiliation.
In some cases, Baháʼís resident in the country for generations are simply instructed to leave with no explanation whatsoever, are deported or have been refused permission to re-enter the country. Baha’i leadership positions are targeted with for instance the Chair of the National Assembly of the Baha’i of Qatar who is a Qatari national having recently been presented with a court ruling sentencing him in absentia to a period of imprisonment and a fine, and this clearly because of his religion.
In the employment sector, Baháʼís are systematically denied ‘certificates of good conduct’ needed for employment. This is a clearance to be obtained from state security. Baha’is are being refused these certificates though they have not committed any crime or misdemeanour. There is no transparency to the clearance process nor any right or means of appeal. Because employment is the key to residency, many families have lost their residency, and ultimately had to leave the country.
These problems, characterised as incidental by the authorities, and even presumed to be so by the Baháʼís themselves, gradually took the form of a pattern that was impossible to ignore or explain away.
The Baha’i community being invisibly and noiselessly suffocated
The Baha’i community knows all too well what it looks like when a country wants to extinguish an entire community. We have the example of Iran and how it systematically carries out its effort to slowly suffocate a community economically, socially and intellectually. One of the characteristics of that strategy is to proceed in a very calculated manner with the purpose to evade international attention.
The Baha’i community in Qatar counts in the low hundreds today. If it were not for the discrimination and the fact that many were forced to leave the country, the Baha’i community would today be much larger. So it is the survival of the community that is at stake.
His Highness Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar, said during his address to the United Nations General Assembly some weeks ago that the State of Qatar wanted to celebrate our common humanity, no matter how diverse our religions and nationalities may be. The Baha’i International Community welcomes these noble sentiments. And we thank His Highness for sharing them with the world. We look forward to a time when these words become reality with respect to the Baha’i community living in Qatar.”
And MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen concluded by saying “I call on Qatar to uphold the rights of the Baha’i community and to ensure that Baha’is are no longer expelled from the country or forced to leave.”
Photo: European Parliament: MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen, Rachel Bayani and Anastasia Hartman on the right, a deported Baha’i on the left