In new affront, authorities say they will bury an Iranian Baha'i as a Muslim

August 10, 2011

GENEVA, Switzerland — In an outrageous new incident of religious discrimination, authorities in the city of Tabriz, Iran, have refused to allow Baha'is to bury a relative in accordance with Baha'i law – and instead have promised to entomb the deceased woman without a coffin under Muslim rites.

"To anyone who understands the culture of the Middle East, the idea that the government would force a family to bury their loved one according to the rites of another religion is beyond the pale," said Diane Ala'i, the representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.

She noted that according to Baha'i rites of burial, the deceased must be interred in a coffin, whereas under Muslim law, no coffin is used.

"This incident demonstrates the almost unbelievable length to which Iranian authorities are willing to go to express their prejudice and animosity against Baha'is," she said.

The incident began on Monday when authorities in Tabriz told the family of Mrs. Fatemeh-Soltan Zaeri that they would be unable to bury her in the local cemetery according to Baha'i law. Instead, they said, she would have to be interred according to Muslim customs.

The family objected, noting that the cemetery has always been accessible to members of all religions in the area to bury their dead as they wished.

In response to this protest, authorities demanded that Mrs. Zaeri be buried without a coffin – and they withheld her body for 48 hours, preventing them from taking her body somewhere else.

Yesterday, when the family member contacted cemetery authorities again, pleading that her body be released so they could bury her elsewhere, they were advised that she would be buried on Thursday anyway, without a coffin, in a Muslim ceremony – and that only her husband would be allowed to be present.

This is but the most recent incident in a long history of problems facing Baha'is over the proper burial of their dead. In many cities in Iran, Baha'is have long been blocked from using Muslim cemeteries, but have instead been allowed to create their own.

However, these Baha'i cemeteries have been frequently vandalized and desecrated.

In the past year or so, Baha'i cemeteries in Tehran, Ghaemshahr, Marvdasht, Semnan, Sari, and Isfahan have been defaced, bulldozed, or in some way blocked to the Baha'i community. In late April, a small Baha'i cemetery in Gilavand with only four graves was desecrated by intruders using a tractor; all four tombs were destroyed. Earlier, in March, a Baha'i family in Najafabad was prevented from burying a loved one in the Baha'i cemetery there, despite their having secured a permit to do so.

"Iranian officials repeatedly deny that their government persecutes Baha'is on account of their religion. Harassment over Baha'i burials and the desecration of cemeteries are clear indications that the persecution is based solely on religion and not the result of any threat posed by Baha'is," said Ms. Ala'i.