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Iran Lifts Ban On Zoroastrian City Council Member


Sepanta Niknam

A top Iranian body has lifted a ban imposed on a member of the minority Zoroastrian religion who had been suspended from his post on a city council in the central city of Yazd, Iranian media reported.

Sepanta Niknam was the only non-Muslim elected to the council in the central city of Yazd in May 2017.

He was suspended later in the year following a complaint by one of his fellow councilors.

It followed a statement from the head of the powerful Guardians Council that religious minorities should not have a representative in towns where the majority of the population was Muslim.

The Guardians Council, which oversees presidential and parliamentary elections in Iran and preapproves candidates, does not have any direct role in city council elections.

The reversal came after a widespread public outcry and criticism by President Hassan Rohani.

Ali Motahari, the deputy speaker of the Iranian parliament, had called the suspension illegal and said the verdict had been issued only based on the opinion of hard-line cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who heads the Guardians Council.

The Expediency Council, tasked with resolving conflicts between parliament and the Guardians Council, backed parliamentary amendments allowing members of recognized religious minorities to run for city councils, the government new agency IRNA reported on July 21.

The ruling allows Niknam to rejoin the city council in Yazd, where he had served during a previous term without facing any issues.

Rohani had contacted the parliament speaker over Niknam's case and last month called his suspension "saddening," according to the presidential website.

Zoroastrians are followers of the ancient Iranian religion Zoroastrianism. Yazd is one of their hubs and home to thousands of followers.

According to Iran's constitution, a total of five seats in the 290-seat parliament are reserved for recognized religious minorities -- Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians.

The Baha’i faith is not officially recognized in in Iran, where its followers face state persecution.

With reporting by IRNA, Reuters, AFP and AP
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