Ethnic and religious minorities must not be seen as second-class citizens, former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said in a meeting with people from Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan Province.
“The Iranian nation represents a beautiful rainbow of ethnicities, religions, orientations and cultures,” he said. “Our people have called for an Islamic Republic but republicanism does not entail that anyone who is non-Muslim or from an ethnicity different to that of the majority is to be seen as a second-class citizen. This is not the democracy that our revolution wanted. Republicanism means the absence of tyranny, whether it is the tyranny of an individual or a special group.”
The former two-time head of state said that the Iranian nation was a “far-reaching circle capable of containing all [its] identities.” “When we look at Iran, we see that it’s a multi-ethnic country. There are various sects and even religions within it. Iranian society is not a homogeneous one with a single ethnicity, denomination or religion,” Khatami stressed. “Iran’s different ethnicities, cultures, customs and religions have been formed throughout history, their roots are historical roots.”
“Homogenising is neither possible nor favourable.”
Khatami, whose administration made great strides in decentralising power, empowering local institutions and promoting greater participation among Iran’s minorities, made note of the additional difficulties faced by provinces such as Sistan and Baluchestan “where in addition to the existence of more religious minorities, there is also a persistent and long-term impoverishment.”
“Management has to be diffused, women as well as representatives of different ethnicities and religions must show greater participation in the [political] scene,” he went on to add.
The reformist politician argued that political participation in provinces such as Sistan and Baluchestan had been noticeably greater in the reform years (1997-2005). “Why? Because in that period, people felt that a person had come [to office] who respected the people’s votes and spoke in a manner that made everyone feel respected and reassured. I think this brought security to our society.”
Khatami argued that the hight turnouts in the 1997 and 2001 presidential elections in Sistan and Baluchestan demonstrated the great efforts made by his administration to eliminate discrimination in the area.
In his recent report on the situation of human rights in Iran, the UN’s Special Rapporteur, Ahmad Shaheed, said that he was “concerned by reports of targeted violence and discrimination against minority groups.” “These include encroachment on their rights to freedom of assembly, association, expression, movement and liberty,” the report noted.
Shaheed claimed that “Sunnis are reportedly not allowed to build any mosques and houses of worship and are also prevented from offering prayers in congregation.”
The veteran reformist politician said that “freedom of thought, freedom of speech and debate” were essential in making sure rulers are held accountable for their actions. “The people must protest, criticism is a right of the people,” Khatami continued. He expressed hope that Iran would one day set an example of co-existence and progress not only for Islamic countries, but also for the rest of the world.
Khatami also said the recent terror plot allegations put forth by the US against Iran had been “fabricated.”
“Today there is a great conspiracy against Iran. What’s been claimed is fabricated. They claim an assassination was about to take place. This shows that there are plots and conspiracies against Iran, and now is the time for us to converge more than ever before so as to render the enemy’s conspiracies ineffective.”
Recently Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that US authorities had charged two Iranians over a plot to kill Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to America, as “the opening act” of a major terror attack on American soil. “This conspiracy was conceived, sponsored and directed from Iran,” alleged Holder.
During their meeting with the former president, the people of Sistan and Baluchestan voiced their frustration over some of the obstacles faced by Iranian Sunnis, such as a lack of direct communication between Sunni leaders and the state as well as authorities’ lack of trust in locals to assume senior management roles.