Monday, 9 October 2017
A Zoroastrian city councilor in Iran has been suspended from his position, highlighting an emerging battle over the rights of the country's religious minorities to run for office.
Sepanta Niknam, a member of the city council in the central city of Yazd, was suspended temporarily by a branch of Iran's Administrative Court of Justice, council chief Gholamali Sefid said on October 9.
Niknam was the only non-Muslim elected to the council in May.
"We will try to make sure this verdict does not become finalized, and even if this happens, we will take other measures," Sefid told Iran's official news agency, IRNA.
Zoroastrians are followers of the ancient Iranian religion Zoroastrianism. Yazd is one of their hubs and home to thousands of followers.
The court issued the temporary suspension following a lawsuit filed by Ali Asghar Bagheri, a city-council candidate who failed to receive enough votes to secure a seat.
The verdict notes that based on the opinion of the religious scholars on the Guardians Council, members of religious minorities are prohibited from becoming members of city councils.
The Guardians Council, which oversees presidential and parliamentary elections in Iran and preapproves candidates, does not have any direct role in city-council elections.
Since Niknam's first election to the council created no issues, Sefid said, "it will be a big shock to the people and the council" if the suspension is confirmed by the court.
"It will have domestic and international political consequences and will harm the harmony between Yazd's Muslim majority and Zoroastrian minority," he added.
Ali Motahari, the deputy speaker of the Iranian parliament, has called the suspension illegal and said the verdict was issued only based on the opinion of Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the head of the Guardians Council. Motahari promised to bring the matter up in the legislature.