Sunday, 4 May 2008

Extremely poor treatment of the Baha’i community in Iran

The Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom indicates that: “the government of Iran engages in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused.”

Commissioners at a USCIRF public hearing on Iran, February 2008

The extremely poor treatment of the Baha’i community by the government of Iran is the major concern of the Baha’is around the world. This report names Iran in the list of 11 countries that violates freedom of religion. Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, all religious minority are suffering from severe persecution in Iran. Over the past few years, the Iranian government’s poor religious freedom record has deteriorated, especially for religious minorities and in particular for Baha’is, Sufi Muslims, and Evangelical Christians, including intensified harassment, detention, arrests, and imprisonment.

To access the 2008 annual report, click here
(For Iran, please see page 154-161)

The following is an extract of the report that outlines the barbarism and harassment faced by Baha’is and those of other unrecognised religious minorities in Iran:

The constitution of Iran formally recognizes Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians as protected religious minorities who may worship freely and have autonomy over their own matters of personal status (e.g. marriage, divorce, and inheritance). Nevertheless, the primacy of Islam and Islamic laws and institutions adversely affects the rights and status of non-Muslims. Members of these groups are subject to legal and other forms of discrimination, particularly in education, government jobs and services, and the armed services. Non-Muslims may not engage in public religious expression and persuasion among Muslims; some also face restrictions on publishing religious material in Persian. In 2004, the Expediency Council—an advisory body appointed by the Supreme Leader with ultimate adjudicating power in disputes over legislation between the Majlis and the Guardian Council—authorized collection of equal blood money for the death of Muslim and non-Muslim men. Baha’is, Sabian Mandaean men, and all women remain excluded from the revised ruling. According to the law, Baha’is can be killed with impunity.

Since August 2005, the Iranian government has intensified its campaign against non-Muslim religious minorities. A consistent stream of virulent and inflammatory statements by political and religious leaders and an increase in harassment and imprisonment of, and physical attacks against, these groups indicate a renewal of the kind of oppression seen in previous years. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of the Guardian Council, has publicly attacked non-Muslims and referred to them as “sinful animals” and “corrupt.” In November 2005, after publicly criticizing Ayatollah Jannati’s remarks, the lone Zoroastrian member of the Iranian parliament was charged with the “dissemination of false information, slander and insult” by Iranian authorities, although the case never went to trial. In March 2006, the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief confirmed that religious freedom conditions are worsening for all religious minorities in Iran, particularly Baha’is. In early 2008, the Iranian parliament began considering a new law that would impose serious punishments, including the death penalty, on converts from Islam. Although the Iranian government has in the past applied the death penalty for apostasy under Islamic law, it has not been explicitly codified. If this recently proposed penal code is passed, it would seriously endanger the lives of all converts from Islam, particularly members of the Baha’i faith, who are already considered apostates, even if they are fourth- or fifth-generation Baha’i adherents.

The Baha’i community has long been subject to particularly severe religious freedom violations in Iran. Baha’is, who number approximately 300,000 – 350,000, are viewed as “heretics” by Iranian authorities, and may face repression on the grounds of apostasy. Since 1979, Iranian government authorities have killed more than 200 Baha’i leaders in Iran, and more than 10,000 have been dismissed from government and university jobs. Baha’is may not establish places of worship, schools, or any independent religious associations in Iran. In addition, Baha’is are barred from the military and denied government jobs and pensions as well as the right to inherit property, and their marriages and divorces are also not recognized. Baha’i cemeteries, holy places, and community properties are often seized and many important religious sites have been destroyed.

In recent years, Baha’is in Iran have faced increasingly harsh treatment. Baha’i property has been confiscated or destroyed and dozens of Baha’is have been harassed, interrogated, detained, imprisoned, or physically attacked. In 2007, Baha’i cemeteries were destroyed in Yazd and outside of Najafabad. In the past several years, a series of articles in the government-controlled newspaper Kayhan, whose managing editor is appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, have vilified and demonized the Baha’i faith and its community in Iran. In March 2006, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief revealed a confidential October 2005 letter from the Iranian Chairman of the Command Headquarters of the Armed Forces to several Iranian government agencies directing these entities to collect information on all members of the Baha’i community in Iran and to monitor their activities. An August 2006 letter from the Iranian Ministry of Interior requested provincial officials throughout the country to “cautiously and carefully monitor and manage” all Baha’i activities. Moreover, the Iranian Association of Chambers of Commerce reportedly is compiling a list of Baha’is in every type of trade and employment. In the past, waves of repression against Baha’is began with government orders to collect such information, and the new directives have created a renewed sense of insecurity and fear among Baha’i adherents.

In the past two years, dozens of Baha’is have been arrested, detained, interrogated, and subsequently released, in some cases after weeks or months in detention. Charges typically ranged from “causing anxiety in the minds of the public and of officials” to “spreading propaganda against the regime.” In December 2005, Zabihullah Mahrami, a Baha’i who had been jailed for more than 10 years on charges of apostasy, died in prison under mysterious circumstances. In May 2006, 54 Baha’is, mostly young women in their teens and 20s, were arrested in Shiraz while teaching underprivileged children non-religious subjects such as math and science. In November 2007, three of the Baha’is were sentenced to four years in prison for “spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic.” According to numerous media reports, the other 51 Baha’is were given one year suspended sentences, conditional upon their attendance at courses held by the state’s “Islamic Propaganda Organization,” which would require them to sign documents saying they are Muslim. They have refused to participate in these courses. Throughout the fall of 2006, several other Baha’is were arrested and released, pending trial. Approximately 150 Baha’is have been arbitrarily arrested since late 2004. Dozens are awaiting trial, while others have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from 90 days to one year. All of those convicted are in the process of appealing the verdicts. As of this writing, 10 Baha’is are in prison and there are more than 60 Baha’is awaiting trial on account of their religious beliefs.

In the past, Baha’is in Iran have not been allowed to attend university. Significantly, in the fall of 2006, because the 2006-2007 applications did not require students to list religious affiliation, for the first time in decades nearly 300 Baha’i students were admitted to a number of universities and colleges in Iran; however, the majority of those admitted were later expelled when it became known that they were Baha’is. Although more than 1,000 Iranian Baha’i students registered for the national university entrance examination in 2007, only 77 have been able to enroll during the current school year. The low number is reportedly due to the fact that more than 800 Baha’i students were only told months after they had completed the examination that their files were “incomplete.” In August 2006, the Baha’i International Community received a copy of a confidential letter issued sometime in 2006 by the director general of the Central Security Office of Iran’s Ministry of Science, Research and Technology, which instructs 81 Iranian universities to expel any student who is discovered to be a Baha’i, whether at the time of enrollment or in the course of his or her studies. Furthermore, during the past year, young Baha’i schoolchildren in primary and high schools increasingly have been vilified, pressured to convert to Islam, and in some cases, expelled on account of their religion. In December 2007, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning the Iranian government’s poor human rights record, including its continued human rights abuses targeting religious minorities and the escalation and increasing frequency of violations against members of the Baha’i faith.

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