An Open Letter to the Chief Justice of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi,

We are a group of Canadians in the legal profession – including a former Prime Minister, former Ministers of Justice and Attorneys-General, retired Justices of the Supreme Court of Canada, retired judges, legal academics and practicing lawyers – who are deeply concerned about new and intense violations of the basic human rights of the Bahá'í religious minority of Iran.

Members of the Bahá'í Faith have been persecuted in Iran since the Faith’s establishment over 170 years ago. Under the current Iranian government, Bahá'ís have experienced home raids, attacks on properties, confiscation of possessions, dismissals from employment, denial of access to higher education, imprisonment, and execution. Bahá'ís have sought legal remedies, but to little avail.

Recently, one of the oldest Bahá'í communities in Iran has come under intense attack.

The Bahá'í community in the village of Ivel (pron. ee-VELL) has existed since the founding of the Bahá'í Faith in the mid-1800s. At one time this was a thriving and peaceful multi-generational community largely made up of farmers and small business owners. Over decades, however, this community has faced severe persecution. Since the 1940s, many of Ivel’s Bahá'ís have been forced from their homes, imprisoned, harassed, and their property torched and demolished.

The year 2020 brought an alarming new chapter in this saga, when two Iranian courts issued judgments that declared ownership of lands by 27 Bahá'ís in the village to be illegitimate on the basis of their religious belief. In a novel interpretation of Article 49 of the Iranian Constitution which permits confiscation of illegitimately obtained property, on August 1, 2020 Judge Hasan Babaie of a constitutional court in Tehran pronounced that ownership of property by adherents of the “perverse sect of Bahá'ísm” was illegal. This decision was affirmed in an appeal court judgment of Judge Mohammad Sadegh Savadkouhi on October 13, 2020, after a legal process that denied the Bahá'ís and their lawyers any opportunity to see the relevant files, to prepare a statement of defence, or to produce any documents or arguments.

On its face, Article 49 of the constitution allows the government to confiscate “illegitimate” properties that were obtained through “usury, usurpation, bribery, embezzlement, theft, gamble, misuse of Islamic government endowments, misuse of government contracts and transactions, uncultivated lands and others belonging to the public, houses of ill repute, and other illegitimate sources.” The 2020 rulings now establish a dangerous constitutional precedent of judicially sanctioned confiscation that nullifies legitimate property interests based only on the owners’ religious affiliation, thus departing not only from international human rights standards but also from the text and intent of the Iranian constitution itself.

History is filled with examples of unjust and oppressive governments arbitrarily deciding that the race, gender, religion, or beliefs of an individual determines whether or not they can own land and participate in the public and economic life of society. The Iranian authorities, like some other governments around the world today, are continuing this heinous practice that violates the most basic international human rights norms. Religious and political discrimination against law-abiding citizens of Iran, and its Bahá'í community in particular, not only results in Iran remaining condemned and isolated in the international community, but also can provide solid grounds for prosecution of Iran’s authorities before international criminal courts and other international institutions. Conversely, swift restoration of the rights of the Bahá'ís of Ivel can serve as a precedent to correct abuses suffered by other Iranian Bahá'ís, and indeed all those who have experienced persecution and confiscation merely because of their beliefs.

We know the Bahá'í Faith to stand for values of peace, justice, and unity – values which have been under sustained attack by the Iranian authorities for decades. Violations of the human rights of Iran’s Bahá'ís have already been decried by the Canadian government, the United Nations and numerous human rights organizations. Today, as members of the Canadian legal profession who believe in the rule of law, we too stand with the Bahá'ís of Iran and call upon you, as the head of the Iranian judiciary, to address this new abuse inflicted upon the Bahá'ís of Ivel.

  • The Right Honourable / Le très honorable Brian Mulroney

    18th Prime Minister of Canada

    Companion of the Order of Canada

    Senior Partner, Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP

  • Irwin Cotler

    Former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of Canada

    Professor Emeritus, McGill University Faculty of Law

    Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights

  • Allan Rock

    Former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of Canada

    President Emeritus, University of Ottawa

    Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa

    Queen’s Counsel

  • Jody Wilson-Raybould Puglaas

    Former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of Canada

    Member of Parliament for Vancouver-Granville

  • Ian Binnie

    Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada (retired)

    Companion of the Order of Canada

    Queen’s Counsel

  • Frank Iacobucci

    Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada (retired)

    Companion of the Order of Canada

  • Louis LeBel

    Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada (retired)

    Companion of the Order of Canada

  • Marshall Rothstein

    Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada (retired)

    Companion of the Order of Canada

    Queen’s Counsel

  • Harry S. LaForme

    Justice of the Court of Appeal for Ontario (retired)

  • John I. Laskin

    Justice of the Court of Appeal for Ontario (retired)

  • Patrick J. LeSage

    Former Chief Justice of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice

    Member of the Order of Canada

  • Marion Allen

    Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia (retired)

  • Marilynn C. Borowicz

    Judge, Provincial Court of British Columbia (retired)

  • Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond

    Professor, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia

    Director, Indian Residential School History & Dialogue Centre

    British Columbia Representative for Children and Youth (2006-16)

    Judge, Provincial Court of Saskatchewan (retired)

  • Melanie Adrian

    Associate Professor, Department of Law and Legal Studies, Carleton University

  • Payam Akhavan

    Senior Fellow, Massey College

    Distinguished Visiting Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto

  • Benjamin L. Berger

    Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University

    York Research Chair in Pluralism and Public Law

    Member of the College of the Royal Society of Canada

  • Faisal Bhabha

    Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University

  • John Borrows

    Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria

    Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law

    Order of Canada

    Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada

  • Lisa Dufraimont

    Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University

  • Mohammad Fadel

    Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto

    Former Canada Research Chair for the Law and Economics of Islamic Law (2006-16)

  • Robert Leckey

    Samuel Gale Professor, Faculty of Law, McGill University

  • Larissa Katz

    Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto

    Canada Research Chair in Private Law Theory

  • Ravi Malhotra

    Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa

  • Louise Mandell

    Former Chancellor, Vancouver Island University

    Partner Emeritus, Mandell Pinder LLP

    Queen’s Counsel

  • Errol P. Mendes

    Professor, University of Ottawa Faculty of Law

    Order of Ontario, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Law Society Medal

    Editor-in-Chief, National Journal of Constitutional Law

    President, International Commission of Jurists, Canadian Section

  • Bradford W. Morse

    Professor of Law, Thompson Rivers University

    Former Dean of Law, Thompson Rivers University (Canada)

    Former Dean of Law, Te Piringa - Faculty of Law, University of Waikato (New Zealand)

    Professor Emeritus, University of Ottawa (Canada)

  • Nicole O'Byrne

    Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of New Brunswick

  • John Packer

    Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa

    Director, Human Rights Research and Education Centre

  • Hossein Raeesi

    Adjunct Professor, Department of Law and Legal Studies, Carleton University

  • Darryl Robinson

    Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Queen’s University

  • Craig M. Scott

    Professor and Director, Graduate Program, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University

  • Mark Walters

    Professor and Dean of Law, Faculty of Law, Queen’s University

  • Jeremy Webber

    Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria

    Former Dean of Law at University of Victoria (Canada)

    Former Dean of Law at University of Sydney (Australia)

  • Rolando E. Aguilera

    Legal Counsel, Indigenous Justice Division, Ministry of the Attorney General, Ontario

  • Noora Akhavan

    Barrister and Solicitor

  • Aref Amanat

    Amanat Law Corporation

  • Frank S. Borowicz

    Queen’s Counsel

    Nash Johnston LLP

    Governor, Vancouver Board of Trade

  • Gary Caroline

    Principal, Caroline Law Corporation

    President, Ofelas Group

  • Mark G. Carter

    Mark G. Carter Law Corporation

  • Renata Colwell

    Associate, Mandell Pinder LLP

  • Roshan Danesh

    Queen’s Counsel

  • Ramin Erfanifar

    Erfanifar Law Corporation

  • Nika Farahani

    Barrister and Solicitor

  • Michael Feder

    Queen's Counsel

    Partner, McCarthy Tetrault LLP

  • Erin E. Fitzpatrick

    Barrister and Solicitor

  • Brenda Gaertner

    Partner, Mandell Pinder LLP

  • Raymond Gemmill

    Partner, Gemmill, Johnston, Jeffries PC

  • Lawrence Greenspon

    Founder, Greenspon Granger Hill Lawyers\ Member, CIJA Legal Task Force

  • Donald B. Johnston

    Partner, Aird & Berlis LLP

    Honorary Consul of Belgium in Ontario

  • Howard J. Kaufman

    Counsel, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP

  • Barbara Landau

    Lawyer, Mediator and President, Cooperative Solutions Inc.

  • Richard Marceau

    General Counsel & Vice-President for External Affairs, Centre for Israel & Jewish Affairs

  • Brock Martland

    Queen’s Counsel

    Partner, Martland & Saulnier

  • Julie Mouris

    Associate, Conway Baxter Wilson LLP

  • Clarine Ostrove

    Partner Emeritus, Mandell Pinder LLP

  • David Paterson

    Paterson Law Office

  • Leslie Hall Pinder

    Founder, Mandell Pinder LLP

  • Geoff Pollock

    (Bencher, Law Society of Ontario)

    Geoff Pollock & Associates Professional Corporation

  • Natalia Rodriguez

    Partner, Conway Baxter Wilson LLP

  • Laylee Rohani

    Partner, Cook Roberts LLP

  • Stuart Rush

    Queen’s Counsel

  • Erica Stahl

    Associate, Mandell Pinder LLP

  • Jeff Surtees

    Executive Director, Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta

  • Tim Thielmann

    Founding Partner, Sage Legal LLP

  • Dana Urban

    Queen’s Counsel

    International Criminal Law Consultant

  • Douglas S. White III Kwulasultun

    Queen’s Counsel

    Chair of BC First Nations Justice Council


International Supporters

  • Payam Beheshti

    Partner, Simmons & Simmons Middle East LLP

  • Jiten Mishra

    Lawyer and Researcher, India

  • G.V. Rao

    Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India

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Contact us at: openletter.ivelbahais@gmail.com