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Mandeans of Ahwaz appeal against persecution

The Mandean community has released the following statement, asserting its right to freedom of worship and criticising endemic discrimination. The Mandeans, like the Ahwazi Arabs, are indigenous to southwest Iran. Followers of a Gnostic religion committed to non-violence, they originate from the followers of John the Baptist, pre-dating both Christianity and Islam, and continue to practice ancient baptismal rites. During the period of Arab self-rule before 1925, they were allowed to worship as they please and were able to live and work freely, often as goldsmiths and merchants. Although many Muslims recognise them as "followers of the Book", today they endure violent persecution, particularly by Shi'ite militias in post-Saddam Iraq and under the current Iranian regime. They risk becoming extinct as they are forced into religious conversion.

The Mandaean of Iran have lived in the area of Khuzestan in Southern Iran close to the borders with Iraq for over 2000 years. Their numbers are currently estimated to be between 5,000-10,000.

The Mandaean religion has not been recognised legally under Article 13 of the Iranian constitution as a result the Mandaean community is not protected by law and not recognised as a religious minority with rights and freedom to practise their religion. They are discriminated against in all policy decisions. 

Throughout recent years the Mandaean of Iran have suffered persecution and harassment as a result of religious discrimination.

Most recently two Mandaean youth were killed in Ahwaz - Farhan Jasib Zahrooni and Hadi Haider Zahrooni - following a minor road accident. As the punishment for such killing is much lighter than for the rest of the population, the [compensation] for killing a Mandaean is one quarter of that demanded by law for killing a Muslim.

Like other minorities, the Mandaeans suffer varying degrees of discrimination in education and employment. They are often denied access to higher education.The Mandaeans are treated as second class citizens. They are exposed to continuous pressure to convert to Islam.

There is a pressure on Mandaean women and girls in particular to be forced into marriages with Muslim men. Worse still there has been reported incidents of rape of Mandaean women in which the court has judged that the perpetrator had 'purified' the women, instead of being punished.

The Mandaeans are considered ‘unclean' by their Muslim neighbours experience social problems when touching or handling food when shopping and are even denied medical treatment due to this taboo.

Moreover, there have been attacks on their places of worship, the Mandi. The Mandaean religion demands of the Mandaeans to Baptise in the running waters, mostly on the river sides. However, places for baptism at the river side are highly polluted and prevent these rites from taking place. Cemeteries have also been decimated as has happened in Ahwaz in 2001.

These are few of the difficulties the Mandaeans in Iran are facing today:
  1. The Mandaean are not recognized in the country's constitution article 13
  2. The Mandaean religious minority is illegal
  3. They can not choose their jobs and have to follow the government instructions
  4. They are not permitted to work in health or foodstuffs departments or opening restaurants
  5. They do not have civil rights in the country courts as Iranian citizenship
  6. Mandaean youth are prevented from studying at university unless they have to write "Muslim" on the application
  7. Government offices forbid the employment of the Mandaeans
  8. Mandaean children are forced to study Islamic theology and memorize verses from Quran and in this way they try to make the Mandaean children accept the Islamic religion
  9. The Mandaeans can not be educated in the common law to become a lawyer or judge
  10. They are not permitted to register or start any kind of associations or societies for their welfare
  11. The Mandaeans are allowed to vote but cannot stand for election. They are only allowed to vote for Muslims.
  12. The Mandaeans are obligated to serve in the army, taking no consideration to their pacifist religious believes which prohibits them from carrying arms.
  13. The Mandaeans cannot build their prayer houses (Mandi)
  14. The Mandaean cemetery is under government custody
As a result of all this, Mandaean families are forced to leave Iran and migrate to other parts of the world. In the year 2011 alone some 300 families have fled Iran, There are now many Mandaean families all over the globe.

We urge the international community to intervene on the behalf of the Iranian minorities and to pressurise the Iranian government to give recognition to the Mandaeans as a religious minority, to protect them under the law and to give them equal rights and the freedom to worship in their country Iran.

Source: Mandean Union