British-Iranian actor and comedian Omid Djalili, whose background is in the Baha’i religion, has been stirring a Twitter storm against what he called “state-sponsored incitement to hatred” towards Baha’i in Iran.
The Twitter storm, scheduled for 5-7pm July 15 used the English hashtag #StopHatePropaganda. Many non-Baha’i Iranians joined by posting with the Persian hashtag Iran-Without-Hatred.
“The significant growth of state-sponsored incitement to hatred against the Baha’is in Iran is deeply concerning as history shows that persecution can escalate to the most egregious crimes in a climate of propaganda, disinformation and hatred,” Djalili said in a video attached to his tweet supporting the campaign(link is external).
In the short video, Djalili recounted how as a young man he was ostracized by Muslim Iranian friends in a British university. He said this was due to propaganda against Baha’is and provided instances of hate speech against Baha’is on Iranian state television (IRIB).
“The body of a Baha’i is polluted even if you throw in the sea and take it out,” a cleric is seen as saying on an IRIB channel, explaining why bodies of Baha’is should not be washed at public cemeteries in preparation for burial.
Baha’is are not allowed to bury their dead in public cemeteries, and private cemeteries, paid for by believers and often in remote areas, are regularly desecrated. Another cleric in Djalili’s video says that anyone who walks around saying he is a Baha’i should be killed.
“Crimes against humanity often start with hate speech,” Djalili wrote in his tweet. “It’s happening in Iran towards Baha’is and the campaign is intensifying. Let’s not allow history to repeat itself.”
Persecution of the Baha’is goes back to the 19th century when the sect’s founder Bahaullah claimed to be a prophet sent from God, thereby contradicting the Muslim belief that Mohammad had been the last prophet. Both clerics and the state encouraged deadly pogroms, with Baha’i schools closed in the 1930s and 40s. Of around 5 million Baha’is worldwide, the largest number, around 1.8 million, are in India.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has on various occasions called the Baha’i faith heretical and a religious fatwa published on his website forbids contact and business dealings with Baha’is. The Iranian constitution recognizes Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Judaism as legitimate but converting from Islam to any other religion, including Christianity and Baha’ism, or encouraging others to convert, can be charged as apostasy with a possible death sentence.
“In recent months, the Iranian government’s decades-long campaign of hate speech and propaganda against the Baha’is in Iran has reached new levels, increasing in both sophistication and scale,” the website of the International Baha’i Community, an international representative body, said on July 13, adding that anti-Baha’i misinformation is spread through a coordinated network of websites, Instagram accounts, Telegram channels, and Clubhouse rooms.
Simin Fahandaj, spokesperson for the International Baha’i Community, told Iran International TV Friday that the Twitter campaign had boosted the hashtags in several countries including Canada, Australia and India. The aim of the Twitter storm Friday was “to urge the international community to hold Iran accountable for spreading hate against Baha’is through state media,” Fahandaj said.
Baha’i, who claim to be the largest religious minority in Iran, are not allowed to run their own educational institutions, to enter higher education in Iranian universities, or to hold government employment. The Iranian Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reported in its 2020 annual report, released December 29, that in 2020 at least 77 people from religious minorities were arrested for “religious reasons,” including 45 Baha’is.