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Agreement Reached To Allow Elected Zoroastrian To Serve

Sepanta Niknam, a member of Yazd city council.

President Hassan Rouhani’s Chief of Staff has announced that the Islamic Republic’s parliament and judiciary have reached “a good consensus” over the controversial case of a Zoroastrian member of Yazd City Council.

The agreement permits the Zoroastrian member of Yazd city Council to attend its sessions until the law concerning participation of religious minorities is amended, state run Iran labor News Agency, ILNA cited Mahmoud Vaezi as saying, on Wednesday, November 8.

Sepanta Niknam, 32, is the first Zoroastrian who has served as a city councilor in Yazd and the only non-Muslim in all city councils in Iran. However, he was suspended after serving a 4-year full term, and re-elected this year.

The Court of Administrative Justice led by the head of the judiciary, ultra conservative ayatollah Sadiq Amoli Larijani ordered the Governor of Yazd to suspend the Niknam’s membership, after an administrative court decision.

This was prompted by criticism from some of the Guardian Council’s ultra-conservative members who insisted that a non-Muslim cannot be a member of a body which makes decisions about Muslims.

But this led to a constitutional disagreement. Parliament is the body allowed by law to supervise local Councils – not courts or the Guardian Council.

But now parliament and the Judiciary have stepped in with an agreement to solve the issue, at least temporarily.

Vaezi, who was speaking at the end of a cabinet session, also maintained that Rouhani’s government is in favor of the joint decision by the parliament and judiciary o allow Niknam to serve.

Earlier, it was said that Rouhani has personally written a letter to the Supreme Leader, ayatollah Khamenei, seeking his position vis-à-vis the controversial case.

The Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani had also written a letter to the Islamic Republic’s judiciary, requested permission for Niknam to attend the city council sessions until the law concerning the procedure of religious minorities’ participation in Iranian elections is amended.

According the Islamic Republic’s Constitution, officially recognized members of religious minorities, Zoroastrianism, Judaism and Christianity are free to nominate themselves as candidates for local elections.

However, the Court of Administrative Justice cancelled the democratically elected Zoroastrian’s membership in Yazd’s City Council, while he had already served a 4-year full term and got re-elected this year.

The head of Yazd city council, Gholam Ali Sefid and several other members of the council have come to Niknam’s rescue. They have announced that they will resign from their posts if the suspension is not revoked.

The conservative court’s decision was prompted by a complaint from a rival, Ali Asghar Bagheri, who was one of Niknam’s opponents in last May’s elections.

Niknam garnered more than 20,000 votes, ranked 7th and kept his seat in Yazd city council, while Bagheri, with only 7707 votes, ranked 45th and was left out of the eleven-member council.

Some members of parliament recently announced the possibility of changes in the law, which might limit the impact of minorities on elections or even bar Muslims from voting for minority candidates.

In Iran, City Council elections, contrary to presidential and parliamentary elections are not supervised by the influential Guardian Council chaired by the 90-year old ultra conservative ayatollah Ahmad Jannati. It is parliament’s responsibility to supervise city council elections.

The Islamic Republic’s judiciary has not yet reacted to President Rouhani’s comments on the agreement reached between the speaker of the parliament, Ali Larijani and his younger brother, the head of judiciary, ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani.