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Egyptian court ruled in favour of Baha'i rights

April 8, 2006

CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian court has ruled in favour of a couple who have been fighting for two years
for the right to identify themselves as members of the Baha'i faith in official documents, judicial sources said
on Saturday.

Egyptian authorities had confiscated the identity papers of the couple and the birth certificates of their three
children and refused to issue new ones unless they register as Muslims.

But an administrative court ruled last Tuesday that Egypt's small Baha'i community has the right to official

Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said: "This ruling is a true victory for
freedom of religion and belief as guaranteed both in our constitution and in international human rights treaties."

"The court sent a strong message that it is the right of every Egyptian citizen to adopt the religion of their
choice, not the religion imposed on them arbitrarily by Interior Ministry officials," he added.

The Egyptian constitution guarantees freedom of religion but in practice officials are reluctant to recognize
religions other than Islam, Christianity and Judaism, which many Muslims believe to have a special elevated

The Baha'i faith, an offshoot of Islam, originated in Iran 150 years ago and claims five million members in
191 countries.

The treatment of Egypt's Baha'i community, which Bahgat's group estimates at 2,000 people, has been an
irritant in relations between the government and human rights groups.

The National Council for Human Rights, a state-financed group set up in 2004, said in its annual report this
week that because of their problems with official documents Baha'is have trouble at schools and universities,
with birth and death certificates and exemptions from military service.

The problems of the Baha'is in Egypt date back to 1960, when the authorities dissolved Baha'i institutions,
apparently because the religion has its world centre in what is now Israel. Orthodox Muslims consider Baha'is
heretical because they call their 19th century founder a prophet.

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