Category Archives: Foreign Affairs

Ominous Arrests of Baha’is in Iran

Iranian intelligence agents arrested six members of an informal Bahá’í committee on May 14 in a development that strongly resembles earlier arrests that ended in disappearances and executions.

The six men and women were arrested at their homes, which intelligence agents searched for several hours.  The six were then taken to the notorious Evin prison in Tehran.  They are members of a committee that looks after the needs of the 300,000-member Iranian Bahá’í community.  A seventh member of the committee was arrested in the northeastern city of Mashhad in March.

The latest arrests bear a disturbing resemblance to an earlier series of arrests in 1980 and 1981, shortly after the revolution of 1979.  All nine members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Iran were arrested in August 1980 and disappeared without a trace.  Eight members of the replacement assembly were executed in December 1981.

Since the Iranian revolution, over 200 Bahá’ís have been killed or executed in Iran, although there have been no executions since 1998.  The May 14 arrests are the latest events in an escalating campaign of persecution against the Bahá’ís, the largest religious minority in the county.  Among other recent developments:

  •  A campaign of harrassment, intimidation, abuse and expulsion of primary and second school students;
  • A group of young Bahá’ís working with underprivileged youth was arrested and imprisoned;

This week’s arrests have aroused numerous responses:

  • The U.S. State Department issued a statement condemning the arrests.  “We urge the authorities to release all Baha’is currently in detention and cease their ongoing harassment of the Iranian Baha’i community,” the statement says.
  • The non-partisan Institute on Religion and Public Policy issued a statement about the latest arrests.  “These latest arrests, however, are particularly disturbing because they signal that the government is worsening its abuse of and increasing its attacks against Bahá’ís,” the statement quoted IRPP President Joseph K. Grieboski as saying.
  • The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center issued a statement: “The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center is gravely concerned for the safety of the detainees,” citing the 1980 and 1981 arrests and executions.  In a blog posting, National Review Online called IHRDC “one of the most careful and politically-neutral human-rights organizations.” 
  • The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a statement on the recent arrests: “This development signals a return to the darkest days of repression in Iran in the 1980s when Baha’is were routinely arrested, imprisoned, and executed,” the statement quoted Commission Chairman Michael Cromartie as saying. 

For more information on the persecution of the Bahá’ís of Iran, go here.

The U.S. House of Representatives is considering House Resolution 1008, which condemns the persecution of the Bahá’ís of Iran.  In a letter, U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall of Georgia’s 8th District informed me that he is a sponsor of the resolution.  Thank you, Rep. Marshall, on behalf of Bahá’ís everywhere.

 

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Persecution of Baha’is Making News

In an earlier post, I outlined the renewed persecution of the Bahá’ís of Iran and the progress of House Resolution 1008, which condemns that persecution and calls on the Iranian government to full religious and civil freedom to the Baha’is.  I’m happy to report that my own representative, Jim Marshall of the 8th District of Georgia, is co-sponsoring that bill.

But the Baha’is are not the only people being persecuted in Iran.  Non-Baha’is are persecuted, and part of that is associating them with the Baha’is.  In an article in the Canadian site National Post, Payam Akhavan, a law professor at Canada’s McGill University, discusses the plight of Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi:

… Most recently, a shadowy group calling itself the “Association of anti-Baha’is” warned her to “watch your tongue” and stop “serving the foreigners and the Baha’is” — a reference to Iran’s largest religious minority, whose faith has been described by the government as a “heresy” and vigorously persecuted. Particularly disturbing is the warning that because her daughter is involved in the “un-Islamic and Baha’i based faith … we will kill her.”

In Iran, just being like a Bahá’í can get you threatened and possibly killed.  But Akhavan sees such tactics as a sign of the regime’s weakness:

As the country’s vast oil wealth is squandered by corrupt leaders, leaving little hope of prosperity for Iran’s highly talented younger generation, and as demands for an open and democratic society are brutally crushed in torture chambers and public hangings, the nuclear issue and confrontation with the West is an expedient means of exploiting nationalist sentiments and distracting attention from the profound failures of the government. It is in this context that Dr. Ebadi and the Bahá’ís become the source of all evil; a scapegoat for people’s daily woes.

But Akhavan also warns the West against giving Iran’s regime too much credit:

In the Western imagination, Iran is often perceived through the incendiary polemics of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and visions of an imminent nuclear apocalypse. George W. Bush speaks of the “axis of evil,” and his cowboy diplomacy gives the illusion of acting tough against fanatics. Other alarmist commentators even speak of birth rates among Muslims as the biggest threat to Western survival. But to well-informed observers, Iran powerfully demonstrates that these same Muslim youth are the generation that yearns for freedom and pluralism, and constitute a great source of hope that deserves our support.

The emerging civil society in their midst also demonstrates that giving a privileged platform to Islamic demagogues that satisfy our fantasies of a new crusade against loathsome barbarians does a great disservice to those such as Dr. Ebadi who struggle for universal values and prepare the path for a future with a shared humanity, rather than leading us towards a catastrophic clash of civilizations.

Peta’s Journal discusses the plight of Bahá’ís in Egypt.  She reports with some delight finding out about a group called The Muslim Network for Bahá’í Rights.  Peta quotes the Bahraini founder of the group from a BBC article:

“When I talk to my friends about the Bahá’í faith, they tell me that it is a satanic religion. I ask them to provide me with one of the principles of this religion, but they have no answer. Some think that the Bahá’í s are a sect of Shi’i Islam which is also a mistake. They don’t know anything about it, but they are nonetheless suspicious of its followers.”

The Muslim Network for Bahá’í Rights lists “several cases of injustice against Bahá’í s in Egypt, including the exclusion of an Egyptian seventeen year old high school student from her final exams. Failing to complete said exams excludes the student, Kholoud Hafez, from consideration by universities.”  But Reuters reported progress, including permission to obtain government identity papers that don’t mention their faith — since that information would often work against them.

Why this persecution?  Philippe Copeland, in a post on Bahá’í Thought, argues it’s a question of power:

While the Revelation of Baha’u’llah is strictly non-partisan and supra-national in nature, its implications are political in the sense that it is ultimately about the radical redistribution of power from its concentration in the hands of the few to the masses of humanity who must participate as equals in the creation of a global society. Such a radical redistribution of power is truly the last becoming first and the first last, a resurrection of human nobility and possibility, long buried beneath an unjust social order.

 

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Text of House Resolution Condemning Persecution of Iranian Baha’is

H. RES. 1008

Condemning the persecution of Baha´’ı´s in Iran.

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

FEBRUARY 28, 2008

Mr. KIRK (for himself, Mr. ANDREWS, Mr. WILSON of South Carolina, Mr. WEXLER, Mr. WOLF, Mr. CANTOR, and Mr. MCNULTY) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs

RESOLUTION

Condemning the persecution of Baha´’ı´s in Iran.

Whereas in 1982, 1984, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 2000, and 2006, Congress declared that it deplored the religious persecution by the Government of Iran of the Baha´’ı´ community and would hold the Government of Iran responsible for upholding the rights of all Iranian nationals, including members of the Baha´’ı´ faith;

Whereas on March 20, 2006, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir, revealed the existence of a confidential letter dated October 29, 2005, from the chairman of the command headquarters of Iran’s Armed Forces to the Ministry of Information, the Revolutionary Guard, and the police force, stating the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, instructed the command headquarters to identify members of the Baha´’ı´ faith in Iran and monitor their activities;

Whereas the United Nations Special Rapporteur expressed ‘‘grave concern and apprehension’’ about the implications of this letter for the safety of the Baha´’ı´ community;

Whereas in May 2006, 54 Baha´’ı´s were arrested in Shiraz and held for several days without trial in the largest roundup of Baha´’ı´s since the 1980s;

Whereas in August 2006, the Iranian Ministry of the Interior ordered provincial officials to ‘‘cautiously and carefully monitor and manage’’ all Baha´’ı´ social activities;

Whereas in 2006, the Central Security Office of Iran’s Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology ordered 81 Iranian universities to expel any student discovered to be a Baha´’ı´;

Whereas in November 2006, a letter issued by Payame Noor University stated that it is Iranian policy to prevent Baha´’ı´s from enrolling in universities and to expel Baha´’ı´s upon discovery;

Whereas in 2007, more than two-thirds of the Baha´’ı´s enrolled in universities were expelled upon identification as a Baha´’ı´;

Whereas in February 2007, police in Tehran and surrounding towns entered Baha´’ı´ homes and businesses to collect details on family members;

Whereas in April 2007, the Iranian Public Intelligence and Security Force ordered 25 industries to deny business licences to Baha´’ı´s;008 mstockstill on PROD1PC66 with BILLS

 

 

Whereas in 2006 and 2007, the Iranian Ministry of Information pressured employers to fire Baha´’ı´ employees and instructed banks to refuse to provide loans to Baha´’ı´-owned businesses;

Whereas in July 2007, a Baha´’ı´ cemetery was destroyed by earthmoving equipment in Yazd, and in September 2007, a Baha´’ı´ cemetery was bulldozed outside of Najafabad, erasing the memory of those Iranian citizens;

Whereas in November 2007, the Iranian Ministry of Information in Shiraz detained Baha´’ı´s Ms. Raha Sabet, 33; Mr. Sasan Taqva, 32; and Ms. Haleh Roohi, 29, for educating underprivileged children;

Whereas Mr. Taqva reportedly was detained while suffering from an injured leg which required medical attention;

Whereas on January 23, 2008, the State Department released a statement urging the Iranian regime to release all individuals held without due process and a fair trial, including the 3 young Baha´’ı´s being held in an Iranian Ministry of Intelligence detention center in Shiraz;

Whereas the Government of Iran is party to the International Covenants on Human Rights; and

Whereas in December 2007, the Iranian Parliament published a draft Islamic penal code, which violates Iran’s commitment under the International Covenants on Human Rights by requiring the death penalty for ‘‘apostates’’, a term applied to Baha´’ı´s and any convert from Islam:

Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives—

 (1) condemns the Government of Iran for its  state-sponsored persecution of Bah´a’´ıs, calls on the Government of Iran to immediately cease activities aimed at the repression of the Iranian Bah´a’´ı community, and continues to hold the Government of Iran responsible for upholding all the rights of its  nationals, including members of the Bah´a’´ı community;

(2) condemns the Government of Iran’s continued imprisonment of individuals without due process and a fair trial;

(3) calls on the Government of Iran to immediately release Bah´a’´ıs: Ms. Raha Sabet, Mr. Sasan Taqva, and Ms. Haleh Roohi; and

(4) calls on the Government of Iran and the Iranian Parliament to reject a draft Islamic penal code, which violates Iran’s commitments under the International Covenants on Human Rights.

 

 

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Iran Persecuting Baha’i School Children

Reports coming out of Iran show a new phase in that nation’s long persecution of the Baha’is, Iran’s largest religious minority.  The latest reports focus on harassment, intimidation, abuse and expulsion of Baha’i children in primary and secondary schools.  The Baha’i International Community first reported these abuses in April 2007, and recent reports indicate an escalating trend in recent months.

You can go here to find out more about this persecution, but here is a quote from the official U.S. Baha’i website:

Bahá’í school children in Iran are being subjected to cruel and harsh treatment as part of a government-sponsored campaign against the Bahá’í community. Reports indicate that Baha’i pupils are secretly monitored and reported upon by school officials, are subjected to vilification by their teachers and school administrators, and are forced to listen to vile and outrageous tales about the teachings of their Faith and the moral behavior of Baha’is. It has now become clear that Baha’i pupils in primary and secondary schools are being expelled on the basis of the stipulation in the “Golpaygani memorandum” that Baha’is “can be enrolled in schools provided they have not identified themselves as Baha’is”. Pupils are often expelled when they identify themselves as Baha’is, when they try to defend the Faith against utterly unfounded accusations, or when they respectfully attempt to correct gross misrepresentations of the Faith’s history in the textbooks they must study. It has also been reported that Baha’is in secondary schools are to be given grades sufficient to graduate but too low to allow entrance to university.

The above site also includes a link to a .pdf file offering more details.  That report includes accounts of expulsions, vilification of the Baha’i Faith, and even kidnapping and assault.  In a tribute to their classmates, some of these persecutions have led to protests and resistance by the Baha’is Muslim classmates.

What can you do?

First, follow this link for information about the current wave of persecutions.  Then, spread the word to all people of good will.   You can also contact your local U.S. Representative and ask him or her to cosponsor House Resolution 1008, which condemns the current persecution and calls upon the Iranian government to stop it.  HR 1008 is the 10th resolution Congress has passed concerning the persecution of the Baha’is.  Baha’is everywhere are grateful to members of Congress for their support of our beleaguered fellow believers in Iran, and their support of religious freedom in Iran and around the world.

For More Information:

State Department 2007 Religious Freedom Report on Iran, which offers details on the persecution of Baha’is, as well as Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians.

Persecution.org, which focuses on Iranian persecution of Christians.

Go here for a 2003 article on the situation of Iranian Jews, but also this Christian Science Monitor article for a nuanced account of Jewish life in Iran in 2007. 

I have not yet found a good account of the situation of Iran’s Zoroastrians.  I welcome any contributions.

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