Saturday, 20 September 2008

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News

Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), which often echoes the archconservative sentiments of Iran’s Islamic regime, reported on Friday, 19 September 2008, (http://www.isna.ir/ISNA/NewsView.aspx?ID=News-1201091&Lang=P) that a petition was signed earlier in the day at the Friday prayer meeting in Tehran demanding dissolution of the Baha’i administration in Iran.

The report includes a portion of the petition which has been cited previously on this site (http://iranpresswatch.wordpress.com/2008/09/18/petition/), and mentions that a similar petition is now being circulated in other provinces of Iran. After the required signatures have been gathered, the petition will be presented to the country’s Attorney General.

The Fars News Agency provided a similar report on Friday, 19 September, (http://www.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=8706290408), but added that the petition will be available to the general public in a number of locations throughout Tehran so that further signatures could be added. The report named a number of spots, including Tehran University, where the petition would be available for a period of time. The political correspondent for Fars News reports that based on interviews with some worshipers at the Friday prayer meeting it was learned that they consider the Baha’i Faith “a manufactured sect and [that they] request severe confrontation with its administration” by the country’s judiciary.

Analysis

What is peculiar about this latest episode and the bizarre demand for the dissolution of the Baha’i administration in Iran is that there is no Baha’i administration in Iran!

With the coming to power of the Islamic regime in 1979, a systematic campaign was launched to arrest and kill prominent Baha’is, particularly elected or appointed members of the Baha’i administration in the country. In the process, the membership of two consecutive National Spiritual Assemblies – the body elected to administer the affairs of the Baha’i community in each country – were seized and executed. On 29 August 1983, the government announced a legal ban on all administrative and community activities of the Baha’i community, which required the dissolution of the third National Spiritual Assembly and about 400 Local Spiritual Assemblies throughout Iran. The Baha’i community complied with the ban, but the former members of the Local Assemblies were routinely harassed, and seven members of the third National Assembly were eventually arrested and also executed.

The text of this petition refers to Baha’i administration (in Persian, tashkilat), which is a nonexistent entity. It appears the purpose of the unknown forces behind this petition is to create an idea in the mind of the gullible population that the Baha’i Faith is well-organized in Iran and receives instructions from its international headquarters in Israel. Once the two words “Baha’i” and “Israel” are put in the same sentence, and the phrase “Palestinian plight” is added, that will evoke strong emotions in the ill-informed masses of that country.

But there might be more. The word tashkilat has traditionally been used to refer to the widespread and well-organized communist party in Iran, known as the Tudeh Party. The tashkilat in that context soon became synonymous with a spy network in service to foreign interests. It appears that by using the same phrase, the organizers of this petition are planting the idea in the people’s minds that the Baha’i Faith has a complex and active spy network, which of course is a complete falsehood, since no Baha’i is allowed to work for any governmental agency, military, or to be in a position of authority within the private sector, or even to attend college or university. Under these circumstances, what would the Baha’is be spying on – the price of sugar at the local grocery?!

Of course the organizers of this latest episode know all of this too well. Therefore, it appears this entire situation is a set-up to further incite the population against the Faith and impose greater sanctions and hardship on the defenseless Baha’i community of that country.

And yet there might be another reason too dreadful to contemplate – and that is, it may well be that much of what is going on at the present is the preliminary means to portray the 7 Baha’i leaders in prison since March and May as leaders of a “spy ring”, thereby preparing public opinion to accept their possible trial and execution.

The past 30 years has witnessed great many incidents that prominent individuals were first discredited in the court of public opinion on trumped-up charges, and even compelled to “confess” to their crimes and sins before a nationwide television audience, so that their execution appears to be just and well-deserved by the credulous masses.

More News

Also on Friday, 19 September, Fars News Agency published a long piece (http://www.farsnews.net/newstext.php?nn=8706260237) on the petition to dismantle the Baha’i administration. This report was written by Mehdi Na’ini and refers to the Baha’i tashkilat (administration) in the following terms:

Through a worldwide net of activities, the colonialist Baha’i administration is advancing its efforts against Iran, Islam and the Shiite creed with such intensity that in effect is has become one of the most dynamic arms of the regimes dominating the globe, especially in the Middle East.

Simultaneous with the spread of the activities of this wayward sect across the globe, considerable news of its teaching work in Iran is also heard, which suggests that the Baha’i organization has been renewing itself within the country, and that it is aligned and united with its administration outside the country.

This reporter’s tirade and undocumented accusations include the following points:

  • The Baha’i international headquarters has instructed the Baha’is of Iran to ensure that 10% of Iran is Baha’i by 2021, the 100th anniversary of the passing of Abdu’l-Baha
  • Global colonial forces, particularly the United States, in an effort to defend human rights, freedom of speech and belief, have arisen to support the Baha’i administration in Iran.
  • The Baha’i community has set aside the ban imposed on it in 1983 and has begun to organize itself to bring about mass teaching of large segments of the population of Iran.

This reporter offers no evidence whatsoever for any of these outrageous allegations, but it appears his purpose is to provide a theoretical justification for painting the Baha’i community as agents of imperialistic interests.

New Iranian Law Prescribes Death Penalty for Apostasy

The following report by Michelle A. Vu, a reporter for Christian Post, was filed on Thursday, 11 September 2008, (http://www.christianpost.com/article/20080911/iran-parliament-approves-death-penalty-for-apostasy-bill.htm) and is noteworthy:

The Iranian Parliament voted in favor of a bill Tuesday that would punish apostasy with the death penalty, a human rights group reported.

Lawmakers approved the bill with 196 votes in favor, seven against, and two abstentions, according to U.K.-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide. The draft bill seeks to add several crimes to the list of acts that would result in execution, including “establishing weblogs and sites promoting corruption, prostitution, and apostasy.”

CSW advocacy director Alexa Papadouris commented, “It is deeply worrying to hear that just days after Matin-Azad and Basirat have been charged with apostasy at a court in Shiraz, the Iranian Parliament is debating a bill that could codify the death penalty for someone choosing their own religion.”

Mahmoud Mohammad Matin-Azad, 53, and Arash Ahmad-Ali Basirat, 40, are Christian converts from Islam who were charged with apostasy last week at the Public and Revolutionary Court in Shiraz, Iran. They have been detained since May 15, and are currently awaiting the court’s verdict.

In August, there were five known arrests of Iranian Christians in three cities by the authorities, according to the persecution watchdog agency Compass Direct News. Among those arrested was Ramtin Soodmand, who is the son of the last Christian convert to be executed for converting from Islam, on Aug. 21.

Soodmand’s father, Hossein Soodmand, was an Assemblies of God pastor who was executed by the state in 1990 under the false charge of working as an American spy. Since Soodmand’s death, six other Protestant pastors have been assassinated by unknown assailants.

The younger Soodmand has been held in Tehran since he voluntarily turned himself in after repeated calls from the Ministry of Information. According to Compass sources, he was only allowed one phone call to his blind mother on Aug. 23, and allowed a “visit” by his wife and two young children where authorities only permitted them to have a two-minute conversation by phone. They never saw each other and his condition remains unknown.

Iran is ranked third in Open Doors’ World Watch List for countries with the worst persecution of Christians. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also lists Iran as a “Country of Particular Concern,” a label given to countries with the worst religious freedom abuses.

Reportedly, Iran had removed news of the bill’s approval from its Parliament website within hours of publishing it on Tuesday, according to CSW. But reports of the bill’s process in parliament were published by other official Iranian news agencies, including IRINN (Islamic Republic of Iran News Network) and morning papers inside Iran, such as Resalat.

“We call upon the British Government and the European Union to officially respond to this new development, and urge the Iranian Government to reject the bill and guarantee the immediate release of all who are detained on the basis of their religious beliefs alone,” Papadouris of Christian Solidarity pleaded.

The approved bill will be sent back to the Legislative Commission to debate proposed amendments before it is brought back to Parliament for another vote.

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