An Iranian Baha’i woman accused of “propaganda against the government” for proselytising has been acquitted in an unprecedented verdict. Many observers said the acquittal amounted to the first official acceptance since the late 1970s of the minority religion that emerged in Iran in the mid-19th century, Iran Wire reported.
Baha’ism spread from Iran as a spin-off of Islamic Shi’ism and is the largest minority religion in Iran. However, followers of Baha’ism in the country have been persecuted since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Hundreds have been murdered and imprisoned. Thousands more have fled abroad.
The statement on the verdict in the case of Lisa Tibanian concluded that belonging to the Baha’i faith—which teaches the essential worth of all religions and is thought to have up to eight million adherents worldwide—or proselytising were not crimes in Iran.
The court said the woman could not be prosecuted as she accepted the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It added that proselytising would only be deemed a crime in Iran when it was aimed against Iran’s political system. Otherwise, the judge said, “religious proselytising in a way that cannot be construed as against the Islamic Republic of Iran and its regime is not a crime”.
Judges in Iran have previously defined any and all religious, social or civil society activities pursued under the Baha’i faith as propaganda against the regime, punishable according to Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code.
Over the past year, the Iranian judiciary has stepped up efforts to target Baha’is. Several dozen have been arrested and charged with committing crimes against the state.
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