Muslim and non-Muslim Iranians took to social media to express their disagreement when Zoroastrian Sepanta Niknam was suspended from his city council seat because of his religion. Niknam defeated a Muslim candidate in the election last year in Yazd, a historic city in central Iran.
When the head of the Parliament and the President also expressed their opposition to the suspension, the matter was referred to the Expediency Council, an independent body created by the Supreme Leader to reconcile the Guardian Council and Parliament if they face deadlock.
“Sepanta’s suspension from a position he was democratically elected for highlights an emerging battle over the right of Iran’s religious minorities to run for office,” said Mansour Borji of Article 18, a London-based advocacy organization, in an interview with World Watch Monitor.
“…the majority of Iranians do not share the same discriminatory values as those of the ruling clergy.”
“Sepanta was voted for by Muslims and non-Muslims alike and won against a candidate openly backed by the country’s ultra-conservative elite. This vividly illustrates the fact that the majority of Iranians do not share the same discriminatory values as those of the ruling clergy.”
In October 2017, Niknam had to take six months’ authorized leave of absence, during which the Expediency Council was to deliver its ruling. Borji believes the Expediency Council will delay the decision until the issue is forgotten and that Niknam’s reinstatement is unlikely.
In April 2017, Ahmad Jannati, a conservative cleric and senior member of the Guardian Council, said religious minorities should not be allowed to stand as candidates at all, since this violated the wishes of the Islamic Republic’s founding father Ruhollah Khomeini.
In October 1979, at the beginning of Iran’s Revolution, Khomeini said candidates should “first of all be Muslims… Second, they should believe in our movement. They should be trustworthy and sincere in their faith.” He also stated that since it was against Khomeini’s wishes for non-Muslims to rule, it was “therefore against the tenets of Sharia [Islamic law].”
Niknam recently tweeted that he did not want an exception to be made for him. “I proclaim here that until this issue is resolved for all religious minorities, I will not return to the [City] Council… I will only go back to the Yazd Council if the law permitting religious minorities to be elected is reaffirmed by the Expediency Council. If this is not going to be principally dealt with, and this issue is only resolved for me personally, and the problem remains for minorities in future elections, I will not attend the Council meetings.”
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