April 14, 2011

1971: Faith Receives Official Recognition in Chad and the Central African Republic

At the end of January and mid-February 1971 the Baha'i Faith was officially recognized and registered by the authorities in the Republic of Chad, destined to have its First National Spiritual Assembly at Ridvan, and in the Central African Republic, which will also have its own National Spiritual Assembly for the first time at Ridvan, 1971.

The recognition and registration, which is the equivalent to Incorporation, is a vital step forward for the Faith in both these countries, and represents a double victory in each case due to the difficulties which preceded these registrations.

In Chad, where the number of believers in the capital, Fort Lamy alone, had reached more than one thousand, application for registration was submitted during 1970 and was rejected by the authorities on the grounds that no new religion had been registered since the country became independent. As an appeal against this decision, the Baha'is in Fort Lamy immediately began a proclamation campaign by presenting the case and Baha'i literature to different ministers in the Government, many of whom were most sympathetic and receptive to the Faith. However it was found that the matter would have to be submitted for a final decision to the Head of State.

Early in January, at the request of the Universal House of Justice, Dr. Aziz Navidi, international lawyer and pioneer for many years in Monte Carlo and Mauritius, flew into Fort Lamy to assist the Baha'is there by presenting the world-wide character and international status of the Baha'i Faith to the authorities. After nearly two weeks of constant effort, the recognition was finally granted and the By-laws registered and published in the official government journal.

The achievement of the same goal in the Central African Republic was even more dramatic. An application for recognition and registration had been submitted by the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Bangui in October 1969, but a whole year passed without any reply being received in spite of the constant efforts of the Assembly to obtain legal status.

Then, during the celebration of the Birth of Baha'u'llah on the evening of November 11th, the believers gathered for the meeting were arrested for suspected subversive activities. They remained under arrest for four days while an extensive enquiry was made into the Faith and were finally released when the true character of the Faith became apparent and the suspicions were found to be without foundation. However, since the Faith had not yet been given legal status, the believers were prohibited from teaching, holding meetings of any kind without prior permission, or from distributing Baha'i literature.

The application for recognition was again brought before the authorities and it was decided that the application must be submitted to the Council of Ministers for final approval.

After three months, the Baha'is application had still not been placed before the Council of Ministers, and so, on completion of his mission to Chad, Dr. Aziz Navidi flew into Bangui to take up the application with the highest authorities.

A file of documents presenting the principles, the world-wide recognition of the Faith, including its being granted consultative status at the United Nations, and appreciations from non-Baha'i authorities and individuals was prepared and submitted to the President of the Republic, General Jean-Bedel Bokassa. After studying the file, the President had it presented before the Council of Ministers. On 13th February, in a special session called for that purpose, the Council of Ministers at last approved the registration of the Faith in the Central African Republic.

Immediately following the meeting of the Council of Ministers, a radio communique was prepared at the Presidency and broadcast in each news bulletin thereafter for twenty-four hours, in the national language, Sango, as well as in French and English. The radio communique gave a brief history of the Faith and its principles, its non-political character and insistence upon loyalty to Government, the basic statistics of the Faith throughout the world, its status and membership among the United Nations Non-Governmental Organizations and establishment in over sixty major sovereign states in all continents.

Thus was the Faith first proclaimed far and wide throughout the country, and was brought, not only to the attention of the Head of State himself and his Ministers, but also to the entire population of the country by radio for the first time in the Central African Republic. 
(Baha’i News May, 1971)