Shop Closures Only One Element of Economic Persecution of Iranian Baha’is

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NEW YORK—1 July 2015—The recent punitive closure of Baha’i-owned shops (link is external) in four Iranian cities by the authorities, after the proprietors shut their businesses to observe Baha’i holy days, is merely the latest in a series of efforts by the government of Iran to destroy the economic livelihoods of its Baha’i citizens.

A Baha’i-owned shop in Rafsanjan that was one of a dozen hit by arsonists there in late 2010.

The economic persecution against the Baha’i community of Iran includes a ban on all forms of government employment, including education and other public service jobs, severe restrictions on the types of businesses Baha’is may engage in, frequent raids on and the closing of Baha’i-owned shops and businesses, and efforts to persuade Muslim-owned companies to dismiss Baha’i employees.

Since 2005, for example, at least 650 incidents of economic persecution against Iranian Baha’is have been documented by the Baha’i International Community. These incidents have occurred in virtually every province. The real figure is undoubtedly higher, given the difficulty of getting accurate information about human rights violations from Iran.

“The high number of incidents, and their wide geographic range and type, prove that there is an official, high-level government-directed campaign to deprive Iranian Baha’is of their livelihood,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

“The scope of this campaign includes not only shop closures and restrictions on types of employment, but day-to-day harassment, the imposition of fines, the denial of access to education, and the general incitement to hatred against Baha’is that discourages customers from patronizing Baha’i businesses. This anti-Baha’i propaganda has also prompted arson attacks against Baha’i shops and businesses that have gone unpunished.

“The overall aim of this effort appears to be to remove every avenue for Baha’is to make a decent living, but without drawing too much international attention,” said Ms. Dugal. “What Iran is doing is clearly illegal under international law, which mandates non-discrimination in employment and related economic rights.”

When questioned in international forums, government representatives deny Baha’is are targets of official discrimination. But government memorandums and policy documents prove otherwise.

The most significant is a 1991 memorandum(link is external) signed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that outlines a series of repressive measures to be taken against Baha’is to “block” their development, including restrictions on education and economic activity, such as: “Deny them employment if they identify themselves as Baha’is.”

More recently, on 9 April 2007, the Public Places Supervision Office issued a letter to police commanders nationwide saying Baha’is may not be issued work permits in a wide range of industries, including hospitality and tourism, the food industry, jewelry, publishing, and businesses related to computers and the Internet. It appears optometry has been lately added to this list.

Recent incidents show that these policies remain in effect:

  • In 2014, the authorities in Isfahan reportedly visited more than ten Baha’i-owned shops and threatened to close them if the owners observed important Baha’i holy days in April that year.
  • In 2014, agents of the Revolutionary Guards prevented Baha’i farmers from harvesting their crops in a rural area near Semnan. In the previous year, this action resulted in the loss of a large harvest. In response to a protest from one of the owners who wanted to enter his fields, one of the agents said that they would only leave once the crop had rotted.
  • In late 2013, at least 16 shops in Tonekabon were closed. They included a wide range of small businesses, such as clothing sales, dressmaking, refrigerator and alarm system parts stores, and a television repair shop.
  • In late 2012, a large Baha’i-owned distributor of hygiene products in Tehran was shut down by authorities, resulting in the dismissal of 70 employees, many of whom were not Baha’is.
  • In May 2012, intelligence agents raided and closed two factories(link is external) in Semnan with full or partial Baha’i ownership. One manufactured vertical blinds and employed 51 staff, 36 of whom were not Baha’is. The other, a lens grinding factory, had two Baha’i and six other employees.
  • In early 2009, the Semnan Chamber of Commerce, along with 39 member trade unions, stopped issuing business licenses to Baha’is. In following months, through mid-2012, more than 27 Baha’i-run businesses were closed, leaving more than 110 families without incomes.

Such official closings or seizures have been accompanied around the country by anonymous attacks on Baha’i businesses and properties, which discourage further economic activity.

In 2010, for example, at least a dozen Baha’i-owned shops in Rafsanjan were targeted by arsonists. The attacks were preceded by a threatening letter, with copies being sent to 20 Baha’i homes and businesses, warning Baha’is against “friendships with Muslims” or “hiring or using Muslim trainees.”

In 2009, at least three Baha’i-owned shops in Semnan were firebombed, some multiple times. Other Baha’i-owned shops around the country have been defaced with anti-Baha’i graffiti or been otherwise vandalized in recent years.

These and other such anonymous attacks on Baha’i businesses have come amid a government-sponsored campaign to incite hatred against Baha’is, marked by numerous anti-Baha’i articles or broadcasts in state-run or state-affiliated media. In the period from January 2014 to May 2015, more than 6,000 individual anti-Baha’i articles, videos or webpages were disseminated in official or semi-official media in Iran.

The government’s long-running effort(link is external) to prevent Baha’is from obtaining higher education, which has prevented thousands of young Baha’is from attending university or college, has also had a major economic impact, sidelining Baha’i youth to low-paying jobs or unemployment.

History of economic pressure against Iranian Baha’is

The effort to deny Baha’is a decent livelihood for themselves and their families began soon after the 1979 Islamic Revolution when the government seized numerous properties and institutions owned by the Iranian Baha’i community. These included buildings used for meetings and worship, cemeteries, holy places associated with the Founders of the Faith, and a large hospital in Tehran,

The government also confiscated or froze the assets of several funds held by Baha’i communities and savings institutions in 1979. An estimated 15,000 individual Baha’is lost their savings in these seizures.

In 1980, the government began to dismiss Baha’is from public sector employment. Thousands of Baha’is in public education, government offices, hospitals and other government institutions were fired. Prior to being fired, many were asked to convert to Islam and were subsequently dismissed for “having beliefs contrary to Islam” after they refused to recant their beliefs. A ban on Baha’is in the public sector became official in 1981. Many Baha’is also had their government pensions revoked or halted.

Throughout the 1980s, a number of large Baha’i-owned businesses or factories were confiscated or closed. One among many examples was the confiscation in 1981/82 of a large, automated brick factory owned and operated by Jamaloddin Khanjani, one of the seven Baha’i leaders(link is external) who are currently serving a 20-year prison sentence for their religious beliefs. Mr. Khanjani’s factory employed several hundred people, and all its Baha’i employees were fired after the government seized it.

Numerous individual Baha’is have also had their homes or properties seized. A 2006 report from Miloon Kothari(link is external), then the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, said at least 640 Baha’i properties had been seized by the government in Iran since 1980.

“With discrimination and persecution affecting Baha’is in all sectors of the economy, there can be little doubt that Iran’s campaign to deprive Baha’is of their livelihood is systematic in nature, and directed from the highest levels of government,” said Ms. Dugal.


One Response

  1. Tony Bristow-Stagg

    July 2, 2015 9:38 am

    God bless all the oppressed, we thank you all for your courage and strength of Faith. We laugh at the futile attempts of these wayward souls to quench the Faith of Baha’u’llah. They but fan the flame and intensify the fire.

    It will not be long and it will be their fingers burnt and your Love and Faith will be Blessed.


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