The 28-year-old Iranian student Sarah had intended to marry in Germany with her German boyfriend. As a foreigner, she had to submit to the civil registry a so-called “certificate of eligibility for marriage”, certifying that there were no obstacles – for example, that she was not already married in her country of origin.
This requirement applies to all foreigners, but in this case it did not stop there: “They informed me at the registry office that, as an Iranian, I also needed to present my father’s permission in the form of a document that also contained the name of my fiancé,” Sarah says.
This requirement is based on the 1929 Treaty of Friendship between the then German Empire and the Empire of Persia. When consulting DW, the German Ministry of Justice clarified: “With regard to Iran, the residence agreement of February 17, 1929 should be considered. The preservation of its validity for the Federal Republic of Germany was confirmed on November 4, 1954.”
The relevant agreement includes; “With regard to personal, family and inheritance rights, those who belong to each state remain, even in the territory of the other, subject to the provisions of the laws of their country of origin.”
At the mercy of the male’s will
These “national laws” that render Iranian women incapable citizens have been continuously tightened since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. All decisions about their lives are made by men: marry, work or travel, it all depends on the deference – or rather, mercy – of the father.
After marriage, the husband takes on this role. For emancipated women like Sarah, who came years ago to study in Germany, it is unacceptable that such laws also apply outside Iran.
In mid-April, an anonymous netizen wrote on Twitter: “My girlfriend wanted to get married in Germany, and the authorities are asking for her father’s permission.” The tweet sparked an outcry: a user from Iran asked: “Do reactionary Sharia laws also apply in Germany?”
In December 2021, the testimony of two Iranian women, on the German TV program WDRforyou, about their difficulties with the civil registry, aroused alarm and misunderstanding: for one of them, her brother had to sign the permission, because she no longer had it. A father, grandfather or uncle is alive.
Burden of marriage in Iran
For women in Iran who want to marry in Germany, the alternative to this humiliating procedure is a laborious and expensive liberation process as well. Bureaucratic and legal pitfalls along the way are numerous and difficult to predict.
Example: The Bavarian state brochure, dated December 2019, which lists the certificates needed for this process, warns that applicable state regulations “prohibit marriage between an Iranian Muslim and a non-Muslim”.
Also according to the German Ministry of Justice, “It is a universally common practice to indicate the nationality of the spouses in legal matters relating to marriage. Others cause problems for the spouses.”
The truth is that a German-Iranian marriage performed in Germany does not automatically take place in Iran. The act must be registered with a representation of the state, which will again require the permission of the bride’s father. Also, if the husband is a non-Muslim, he will have to convert to Islam. Finally, religious observance is mandatory in Iranian representation on German soil.
Some Iranian women have no interest in having their marriage recognized by their country of origin, as married women face several drawbacks: the husband can prevent them from leaving Iran, or request separation at any time, and automatically receives custody of the children.
It’s time to study an outdated treaty
It is noteworthy that in troubled times the Persian-Persian friendship treaty also had beneficial effects. In the early 1940s, Iranian diplomat Abdolhossein Sardari obtained 500 to 1,000 blank German passports after negotiations with the main organizer of the persecution and extermination of Jews in Germany and the occupied territories, Adolf Eichmann.
In Paris, Sardari granted these passports to Iranian and non-Iranian Jews and their families. In this way, he saved up to 2,000 people from persecution and extermination. For this act, in 2004 the diplomat was honored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Currently, despite a binational agreement, at least four German citizens are trapped in Iran, being held hostage to possible political exchanges. “We will study this treaty,” promises the foreign policy expert and Secretary General of the Liberal Democratic Party Bijan Gir Saray, adding: “Old regulations that discriminate against women must be abolished.”