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Iranian Officials At Odds Over Call To Bar Religious Minorities From Elections

Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani (file photo)

Legislatiors said Iran's parliament speaker dismissed a call by the head of the Guardians Council to prevent members of religious minorities from running in city council elections, but the influential council's spokesman asserted that the prohbition is mandatory.

The contradictory stances left it unclear whether candidates from religious minorities in the predomnantly Shi'ite Muslim country would be barred from the municipal elections, which are being held alongside the presidential vote on May 19.

Ghasem Mirzayi, a lawmaker and member of the board in charge of overseeing municipal elections, said on April 19 that parliament speaker Ali Larijani had issued a “written order” stating that the law should be observed, meaning that religious minorities should not be barred from ballots.

Mirzayi spoke a day after the ILNA news agency published a letter in which the head of the Guardians Council, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, said that religious minorities should not be allowed to run in Muslim-majority cities.

Jannati said their participation would violate Islamic law and go against comments by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the 1979 revolution against the shah and is considered the founder of the Islamic republic.

Mirzayi said Jannati’s suggestion was “illegal” as the Guardians Council is not in charge of vetting those running for city councils.

“The parliament is in charge of overseeing the city council elections and the Guardians Council has nothing to do with it,” Mirzayi was quoted as saying by Iranian media.

But Guardians Council spokesman Abbas Ali Khadkhodayi contradicted those comments, saying on April 20 that the implementation of Jannati’s communique was “obligatory” for all.

“For example, in the[central] city of Yazd, a Zoroastrian had become head of the city council. But based on the recent viewpoint of the Guardians Council, from now on, in cities with a majority Muslim population, non-Muslims cannot become members of the city councils,” Khadkhodayi said in an interview with the ISNA news agency.

Esfandiari Ekhtiari, who represents Zoroastrians in the Iranian parliament, had earlier also said that Larijani had told the board to act according to the law. Ekhtiari told the ISNA news agency that Jannati’s call was a violation of the constitution that officially recognizes Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians as religious minorities.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, ISNA, and the BBC
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