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Iran lifts ban on non-Muslim city council member after outcry

Iranians celebrate their victory after they won 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Group B match against Morocco on 15 June, 2018 in Tehran, Iran [Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency]
Iranians celebrate their victory after they won 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Group B match against Morocco on 15 June, 2018 in Tehran, Iran [Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency]

A top Iranian body on Saturday lifted a ban imposed by a hardline-led council on a politician from the minority Zoroastrian religion who had been elected to a city council in the central city of Yazd, the state news agency IRNA reported.

The rare reversal came after a widespread public outcry, lobbying by reformists and criticism by President Hassan Rouhani over of the ban by the Guardian Council, which vets laws and elections for compliance with Iran’s Islamic constitution.

The Expediency Council, tasked with resolving conflicts between parliament and the Guardian Council, backed parliamentary amendments allowing members of recognised religious minorities to run for city councils, IRNA reported.

The ruling allows Sepanta Niknam, a Zoroastrian elected to Yazd’s city council, to join the assembly after being suspended by the Guardian Council in 2017, which said only Muslims were allowed to run in the election.

Rouhani, a pragmatic Muslim cleric, had contacted the parliament speaker over Niknam’s case and last month called his suspension “saddening”, according to the presidential website.

Iran’s constitution mandates a total of five reserved seats in the 290-seat parliament for recognised religious minorities – Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians.

Zoroastrianism is Iran’s pre-Islamic religion. The Baha’i faith, which also has followers in Iran, is not a recognised religion in Iran, where the Shia religious establishment considers it a heretical offshoot of Islam.

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