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Iran may force color-IDs on Jews, others

By JASON MOTLAGH, UPI Correspondent   |   May 19, 2006 at 3:17 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, May 19 (UPI) -- Iran's parliament passed a new law this week that would force the country's Jews, Christians and other religious minorities to wear color-coded ID badges to designate them as non-Muslims in a move that heralds broader faith-based persecution.

Iranian expatriates confirmed reports the Iranian parliament, or majlis, has approved a law that would require the roughly 25,000 Jews living in the Islamic Republic to attach a yellow strip of cloth to their clothing; Christians would wear red badges and Zoroastrians would wear blue ones.

The law further mandates that non-Muslims adhere to a dress code under which they wear "standard Islamic garments" that remove ethnic and class distinctions, the Canadian National Post reported Friday. The purpose would be to prevent Muslims from shaking the hands of "unclean" non-Muslims in public.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader and highest authority, must approve the law for it to take effect. If ratified, it could take effect as early as next year.

"This is reminiscent of the Holocaust," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, head of the Simon Weisenthal Center in Los Angeles. "Iran is moving closer and closer to the ideology of the Nazis."

The Weisenthal Center has written to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to call on the international community to pressure Iran into abandoning the measure.

"There's no reason to believe they won't pass this," Hier told the Post. "It will certainly pass unless there's some sort of international outcry over this."

The new law was drafted two years ago under then-President Mohammad Khatami but was blocked in parliament. Hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently summoned the matter for review.

Ahmadinejad has deemed the Holocaust to be a myth and has publicly called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

The West believes Tehran is secretly and illegally using its nuclear energy program to develop a weapon, a claim Iran denies. However, Iran has said its armed forces would respond if attacked and an Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander said earlier this month that Israel -- within range of Tehran's missiles -- would be the first target.

Iran boasts the largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside of Israel, but Jews in the country have become increasingly fearful as the Iranian leadership heightens rhetoric for Israel's destruction.

Thirteen Jews were arrested in 1999 and charged with spying for Israel but were eventually pardoned. Although Jews are an officially recognized religious minority in Iran and have a seat in parliament, harassment often goes unreported as they seek to retain a low profile.

In March, U.N. Human Rights Special Rapporteur Asma Jahangir raised alarm of a surge in religious persecution under Ahmadinejad when she reported that followers of the Bahai faith, Iran's largest non-Muslim minority religion, were being closely monitored by state authorities under a new directive.

A top Iranian military official sent a confidential letter October 29 instructing certain government agencies to "identify persons who adhere to the Bahai faith and monitor their activities" and "in a highly confidential manner, collect any and all information about members of the Bahai faith."

The Anti-Defamation League said in a statement this policy targeting Bahais, whose faith is not recognized by the Iranian constitution, "sets a dangerous precedent" that is "reminiscent of the laws imposed on European Jews in the 1930s."

The Bahai faith is a monotheistic religion founded in Iran over 150 years ago. More than 200 Iranian Bahais have been killed and hundreds imprisoned since the 1979 Islamic revolution, according to Bahai officials, including civil servant Dhabihu'llah Mahrami, who died of unknown causes last December in an Iranian prison.

Mahrami, 59, was sentenced to death by an Islamic revolutionary court in 1996 for allegedly converting back to the Bahai faith from Islam, but insisted he had never ceased being a Bahai. His sentence was later commuted to life in prison.

"Unfortunately, Mr. Mahrami's incarceration is not unique," said Adam Ereli, deputy spokesman for the U.S. State Department. "Members of the country's religious minorities -- including Sunni Muslims, Sufis, Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians -- are frequently imprisoned, harassed, and intimidated based on their religious beliefs."

© 2006 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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