Source: ARUNACHAL OBSERVER
NEW DELHI, Jun 09 : Iranian authorities have intensified persecution of the Baha’is, targeting at least 71 individuals across the country in recent weeks in the face of escalating health pandemic.
Reports of new threats to “uproot” the community in Shiraz, along with an unprecedented number of new prison sentences, reincarcerations and a media campaign of hatred, are raising concerns for the long-persecuted religious minority in Iran.
In a court hearing held for a group of Baha’is in Shiraz, a court official threatened to “uproot” the Baha’is in the city. The court sentenced the Baha’is to one to 13 years in prison. In recent weeks, 40 Baha’is in Shiraz whose cases were pending for months have been summoned to court, representing an unprecedented number of court summons against Baha’is in a single city in recent years.
“Such an outrageous statement by an official is an obvious demonstration of religious bigotry and prejudice Bahá’ís in Iran have been facing. It is also clear evidence of the injustice against the Baha’is within the judicial system and the authorities’ true motivation,” said Bani Dugal, Baha’i International Community principal representative to United Nations in New York.
“Not only does it show the absence of rule of law and discrimination with which the Baha’i’s are treated in Iran’s justice system, its purpose is to intimidate the Baha’is, placing heavy psychological pressures on those directly targeted, as well as their families and all Baha’is.” In addition to Shiraz, Baha’is in Birjand, Yazd, Karaj, Ghaemshahr, Kermanshah and Isfahan have been arrested, summoned to court, tried, at least 71 sentenced to jail or imprisoned solely for their beliefs in recent weeks.
After being arrested and released on high bails, these individuals have faced months, and sometimes years, of waiting between their arrest, trial, appeal court, and the beginning of a jail term, adding an additional psychological burden. Such cruel tactics have been employed repeatedly by the authorities in recent years, systematically exerting pressure on the entire Baha’i community.
Those sentenced included an elderly man whose age puts his health at great risk if he is imprisoned. Some individuals, who were taking care of family members when summoned to court, forced to travel on public transport during widespread lockdowns. Another couple sentenced to prison has a daughter who has cancer, leading to deep concern for her life.
“These recent incidents have placed great pressures on hundreds of families. Subjecting them to the constant threat of imprisonment and emotional anguish that too during a health crisis, at an alarmingly escalated rate without any justification whatsoever, is extremely cruel and outrageous,” Dugal said.
The Baha’is, Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority, have been persecuted since 1979 Islamic Revolution. A secret memorandum approved by Iran’s Supreme Leader in 1991 calls for “progress and development” of the Baha’i community to be blocked by barring them from university and disrupting their ability to earn livelihoods. The recent pressures come as Iran’s state-affiliated media have also stepped up public defamation of Baha’is through an increasingly coordinated spread of disinformation. Television channels, newspapers, radio stations and social media have been saturated with articles and videos denigrating Baha’i beliefs, while Baha’is are denied right of reply. More than 3,000 articles of anti-Baha’i propaganda were recorded by Baha’i International Community so far this year, the figures doubling from January to April.”
“How can Iran’s Govt honour its sacred duty to the wellbeing of its people if it aims to uproot a community of law-abiding citizens? The Baha’is targeted in these incidents, and indeed all Baha’is facing discrimination, are innocent and must be free of religious persecution,” said a release issued by National Spiritual Assembly public affairs office spokesperson Nilakshi Rajkhowa.