This article is based on a short documentary entitled “The Story of the Economic Suppression of the Bahá’ís in Iran” which was produced by a few Bahá’ís and their friends in Iran to show Iranians a glimpse of the economic, social, and cultural pressures exerted on the Bahá’ís of that country.
Following Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iranian Bahá’ís faced the denial of both their citizens’ and human rights. The Bahá’í Faith is an independent religion whose adherents represent Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority, nevertheless, they are not recognized by their country’s Constitution and are actively persecuted by their own government. The Iranian media have contributed to this persecution by publishing a constant stream of hateful propaganda aimed at vilifying the Bahá’ís in the eyes of Iranians.
The result has been the destruction or confiscation of Bahá’í religious, historic and cultural sites, Bahá’í cemeteries and Bahá’í-owned hospitals and clinics, as well as the expulsion of Bahá’í teachers, professors and students from academic institutions – all with the aim to economically suffocate the Bahá’í community.
Initial attempts to paralyze the lives of the Bahá’ís in Iran began by seizing the companies that belonged to the Bahá’í community or those that were owned by individual Bahá’ís. This was followed by the confiscation of properties belonging to Bahá’ís who had already been executed. Little is known as to the whereabouts of the confiscated assets, or the names of those who benefitted financially from their appropriation, but it is clear that the goal was to marginalize the Bahá’í community in an attempt to make it helpless and destitute.
From the beginning of the revolution, the Islamic regime installed new committees in every office and ministry in the country. Among their main activities was to expel Bahá’ís from government positions. Employees who refused to convert to Islam were fired from work and their retirement benefits were entirely dissolved. The appointment of Mohammad-Ali Rajai as the minister of education, and later as the prime minister, served to significantly increase the efforts to dismiss Bahá’ís from academic institutions. At the start of 1980, Iranian newspapers published reports on the collective expulsion of Bahá’í elementary and high school teachers. As a result, universities, government offices, museums and even private companies were gradually forced to follow suit.
In the initial months following the victory of the Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Sadoughi, hostile toward the Bahá’ís, ordered, during a Friday prayer sermon, the expulsion of all Bahá’ís from their positions. Following his comments, groups of misguided people in various towns invaded the homes of Bahá’ís, ransacked their belongings, beat them, and set their properties on fire. According to a statement published in the Kayhan newspaper on 7 December 1981, expulsion of all Bahá’ís from government positions had become the regime’s official policy. As a result, the contracts of all Bahá’í doctors, nurses, teachers and other professionals were terminated. In almost every case, the verdicts issued to those fired stated that only if the dismissed person recanted their Faith and converted to Islam could they then return to work.
Another blow to the Bahá’í community came in 1984, when clerics and Islamic courts announced that the payment of salaries to dismissed Bahá’í employees was, and had always been, illegal. As a result, it was mandated that any payment ever made to a Bahá’í must be returned. Many were unable to comply with this order and were subsequently imprisoned.
Compared to those employed by the government, Bahá’í farmers and villagers faced even more severe circumstances. Farmers, whose families had worked for generations on their lands, earning their livelihood, suddenly lost everything by the order of certain clerics and Friday prayer leaders.
During Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, the persecution of the Bahá’ís of Iran increased unprecedentedly in intensity and scope, and this abuse continues today. Bahá’ís are often denied the right to work, even in the private sector, they are randomly questioned, arrested and detained, their homes and businesses are invaded and their shops and offices forcibly closed.
In 2008, new economic pressures began in the city of Semnan, with the arrest of some members of the Bahá’í community and the sealing off of their business premises. These attacks were subsequently extended to other cities such as Hamadan, Tonekabon, Rafsanjan, Sari, Ghaemshahr, Babol, Bandar-e-Torkaman, Motel-Ghou, Jiroft and Kerman.
Semnan served as a pilot to explore a strategy of economic persecution that could be executed on the Bahá’ís in other parts of the country. According to Semnan’s Friday prayer leader, “If we can expel Bahá’ís from Semnan, we will be able to expel all the Bahá’ís of Iran.” The ultimate intent of this process was to oppress the Bahá’ís to the point that they had no choice but to leave their homeland.
Currently, all Bahá’í businesses, factories, shops, orchards and agricultural lands in Semnan are prohibited from engaging in any business. Bahá’ís who used to be factory managers, farmers, businessmen and successful industrialists, who had previously received the accolades of higher government authorities and even had received letters of appreciation from the Islamic Republic’s ministries, can hardly survive financially and have resorted to in-house occupations, peacefully refusing to allow this unjust oppression by the authorities to drive them from their native country.
Another means used by the government of Iran to exert economic pressure on the Bahá’í community is the legal ownership of inherited property. Influential clerics who were hostile toward the Bahá’ís took steps to deprive them of their rightful inheritance. If there was a Muslim relative in the family of a deceased Bahá’í, the entire inheritance would be allocated to that person, regardless of the relationship. In cases where there was not a Muslim relative, the assets would be seized and ownership transferred to newly-created government foundations.
In 2014, the premises of several Bahá’í businesses were sealed on the pretext that the owners had disobeyed the regime by closing their shops to observe a Bahá’í holy day. There are nine days in a year on which Bahá’ís suspend work. According to Trade Union regulations in Iran, anyone holding a business license is allowed to close his business for up to 15 consecutive days for any reason. Regardless of this, the Public Places Supervision Office considers the closing of business premises on Bahá’í holy days to be a disturbance to the foundation of Iran’s Islamic Republic, and a cause of disruption to public opinion.
A great number of businesses have also been forcibly closed in Hamadan, Kerman, and Tonekabon. Simultaneously, in cities such as Sari, Ghaemshahr, Babol, Babolsar, Motel-Ghou and Noor, the strategy of suffocating the Bahá’ís financially is pursued through the temporary and occasional shutting down of shops, and the expulsion of music teachers and art students from private practice.
For many years, the Bahá’í International Community has reached out to human rights organizations, requesting help in defending the oppressed Bahá’ís of Iran. The officials of the Iranian government claim that these legal defences are plots against Iran by Israel, the United States, and the United Kingdom, and denounce the Bahá’ís as subjects and spies of these countries. These accusations are often repeated in the official state media of Iran.
In response to the appeals by the international community for Iran to uphold the human rights of its Bahá’ís citizens, Iran’s representative to the Human Rights Organization, Mr. Javad Larijani has said: “Let me just converge on the issue of minority and especially Baha’is which reference to that mostly about colleagues from the European countries. Baha’is are minority in Iran, as has been asked they are dealt under so called the citizenship contract, so under this citizen contract they enjoy all the privilege of a citizen in Iran. They are very much affluent people, they have plenty of factories and economically they are very active, they have professors at university, they have students at university, so they enjoy all the possibilities and privileges.”
Regardless of their belief, Bahá’ís are people of Iran, and Iran’s prosperity is the dearest wish of each and every one of them. Kindness and sincerity are at the heart of the teachings they follow, and they are called upon to treat those of every nation and race with these qualities in order that a civilization based on peace and tranquillity can be established throughout the world, and all humanity can enjoy material and spiritual wellbeing.
Violence, persecution and injustice against Bahá’ís will end when the noble people of Iran support, more than ever before, the rights of Bahá’ís and other minorities as they pursue a path towards democracy.
Every Iranian must ask themselves: Why have my fellow countrymen, people from my town, my neighbours, and my friends been persecuted for years because of their beliefs? Why are their children deprived of higher education in universities? How is it that they are deprived of their right to work in many professions while being asked to carry out the compulsory military service and pay taxes? How is it that the families of Bahá’ís who sacrificed their lives for their country, veterans and captives during the war with Iraq, now deprived of the privileges that others in that same position enjoy? And why has the shop of a Bahá’í been closed, who suffered chemical exposure while fighting for his country in the war?
These questions can inspire a passion and fervour for seeking justice in the heart of every responsible individual, whether an ordinary citizen from the general public, or a high-ranking statesman. Only by eliminating prejudices will we be able to focus on the development and progress of our precious country, to work together towards a free Iran, and bring to life the wilted tree of our homeland.