Iran overturns ban on minority politicians, confirms Jews can hold office

Guardian Council restores suspended Zoroastrian city council member to his position, rules all recognized minorities eligible to run in municipal elections

Sepanta Niknam, a Zoroastrian member of the City Council of Yazd, Iran. (screen capture: YouTube)
Sepanta Niknam, a Zoroastrian member of the City Council of Yazd, Iran. (screen capture: YouTube)

TEHRAN — Iranian authorities ruled Saturday that a member of the minority Zoroastrian religion had been wrongly suspended from his post on a city council.

Sepanta Niknam, a member of Iran’s ancient Zoroastrian religion, was the only non-Muslim elected to the council in the central city of Yazd in May 2017, but he was suspended later in the year following a complaint by one of his fellow councillors.

It had followed a ruling by the ultra-conservative head of Iran’s Guardian Council, which oversees elections, barring religious minorities from standing in municipal polls.

Because the Guardian Council has power only over national elections, the ruling was rejected by parliament, but that did not prevent Niknam’s suspension.

On Saturday, Majid Ansari, a member of the Expediency Council which is charged with resolving disputes between Iran’s multiple centers of authority, said they had finally ruled in favor of Niknam.

“Today, the Expediency Council ruled that the 1996 law on religious minorities is applicable and they can participate in council elections in their town,” Ansari told the reformist ILNA news agency.

He added that Niknam was now free to retake his post on Yazd city council.

Iran officially recognizes “Iranian Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians” as religious minorities.

Iran’s state news agency IRNA quoted Ansari saying all Iranian religious minorities — Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians — are eligible to run in municipal elections.

The national parliament has several religious minority members, including three Christians, a Zoroastrian and a Jew among its 290 deputies.

Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion in Persia, prior to the arrival of Islam, but only counts around 25,000 adherents today, according to government figures.

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