1120 GMT January 23, 2018
Efforts are underway to prevent the dismissal of Sepanta Niknam, the Zoroastrian member of the Yazd City Council in central Iran who has been suspended on religious grounds.
Niknam is one of approximately 25,000 Zoroastrians living in Iran, a predominantly Shia Muslim country of 80 million inhabitants, while Yazd is home to Iran's second-largest Zoroastrian community, after Tehran.
He was elected, with more than 21,000 votes, for a second successive term in May as one of the 11 members of the Yazd City Council.
A complaint was lodged by a losing candidate in September on the grounds of Niknam's religion, arguing it was not in keeping with Iran's Constitution for a member of a religious minority to make decisions on behalf of the entire population of a Muslim-majority city.
Speaking to Iran Daily on the sidelines of the 23rd Press Exhibition underway in Tehran, Gholam-Ali Sefid, the head of Yazd City Council, added, “We are required to work towards fostering unity among the Muslims and other religious minorities such as Zoroastrians.
"Zoroastrians, as a religious minority in Iran, have coexisted peacefully with Muslims in Yazd for a long time."
He said Zoroastrians have always been among the city’s benefactors, adding a large number of schools and hospitals in Yazd have been built and endowed to citizens by Zoroastrians thanks to their benefactions.
“Zoroastrians have always accompanied and assisted Muslims very well in holding or performing their rituals. They cook food and distribute it among the people of Yazd as oblation during the first ten days of the lunar month of Muharram which marks the martyrdom of the third Shia Imam and the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Imam Hussein (PBUH), and 72 of his loyal companions in 680 AD. Zoroastrians have good feelings and attitudes towards Muslims. We should refrain from making a move that has the potential to even slightly damage this unity and solidarity. We should endeavor to promote it.”
Iran's Administrative Court suspended Niknam and referred the matter to the Guardian Council, the country's powerful election supervisory body, which agreed to the suspension.
Commenting on the verdict by Iran's Administrative Court on dismissing Niknam from his position, he said while all the members of the Guardian Council are strongly insisting upon the dismissal of Niknam, the intervention of the Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei in this case can help resolve the issue.
“My perception is that the Leader would not agree with Niknam’s removal from his position.”
He added Yazd City Council is very much interested in restating Niknam and has, so far, resisted carrying out the verdict.
“Of course he is currently not feeling well due to psychological strains he was placed under and as a result of what happened to him in the past few days, and is on sick leave. Therefore, he has not been here to be conveyed the verdict.”
He said the people of Yazd are very satisfied with the stance adopted by the government, Parliament and city councils on the issue and efforts to prevent Niknam’s dismissal.
“They express their gratitude to the Friday prayer leader of the city [for his efforts to lift Niknam’s suspension] and request him not stop his efforts to this end.”
Sefid added Niknam has previously served a term as the member of Yazd City Council and had done nothing wrong during his tenure.
“He worked assiduously during that period and had a good interaction with the people.”