At the UN, Religious Minorities Describe Day-To-Day Persecution in Iran

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UNITED NATIONS—4 November 2015—Growing up in Iran,  Naeim Tavakkoli recalls being forced to sit on the floor in school to dry out on rainy days so that the “unclean” water he shed as a Baha’i would not be passed on to Muslim students.

Unfortunately, such discrimination and persecution continues today in Iran, said Mr. Tavakkoli during testimony at the United Nations on Wednesday 4 November 2015.

Mr. Tavakkoli – along with two other Iranian Baha’is and three Iranian Christians – spoke at a side event sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Canada, the Baha’i International Community, and the European Centre for Law and Justice. The event focused on what day-to-day life is for religious minorities in Iran, and can be viewed on the web here(link is external).

For example, Mr. Tavakkoli said his father is currently serving a 20-year sentence for activities stemming solely from his religious belief, as are six other members of an ad hoc Baha’i leadership group who were arrested in 2008. Moreover, Baha’is are deprived of access to higher education, face the continual threat of arrest, and experience economic persecution, said Mr. Tavakkoli, an engineer who currently lives in Canada.

Niknaz Aftahi, a young Iranian Baha’i, spoke about the impact of Iran’s ban on higher education for Baha’is: “For a young person, you plan your entire future based on higher education and when the government takes it away from you, they are taking away your entire future.”

Like thousands of other young Baha’is, Ms. Aftahi made do by enrolling in the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), an informal, community-based initiative that seeks to provide a college-level education to those who are otherwise denied one. She is now living in the United States.

“As much as I am happy and grateful to live and work in the US, I would love to go back to Iran and contribute to the welfare, economy and future of Iran,” said Ms. Aftahi. “This is my highest desire.”

Kambiz Saghaey, a Muslim who converted to Christianity, said he was imprisoned for operating a “house church,” describing how more than 20 government agents raided a 2009 Christmas prayer meeting, arresting him and another pastor.

“They searched my home and took everything I had on paper, from mail, my marriage certificate, and books,” said Mr. Sahgaey. “At midnight, they put me in a cell in Rajai Shahr Prison and for 21 days, my family didn’t know where I was, whether I was alive or not.”

The event was moderated by Iranian-American journalist Lisa Daftari, who has reported on the plight of religious minorities in Iran. She noted that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani promised to pursue a human rights agenda during his election campaign in 2013, saying “All religions, all minorities, even religious minorities, must feel justice.”

“The reality on the ground tells a different story,” said Ms. Daftari.

Siovash Khanjani, an Iranian Baha’i now living in Canada, told of government efforts to suppress the economic livelihood of his extended family by closing the shops, factories and farms they owned and operated. The Khanjani family farm once produced more than 300 tons of apples and almonds until it was demolished by the government this year.

“One wonders what national interest is served in the destruction of so vast a farmland, and the destruction of 300 tons of fruit when Iran imports food from other countries,” said Mr. Khanjani.

He said it is explicit national policy to persecute Baha’is, outlined, for example, in a once-secret 1991 memorandum that was signed by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. He read from the memorandum, reproduced in a new report from the Baha’i International Community, which was also presented at the side event.

Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of jailed Iranian Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, shared via video how her husband was arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison for converting from Islam to Christianity.

“He was held in solitary confinement in Evin prison and beaten and told to deny his Christian faith,” said Mrs. Abedini. “My husband just chose to believe differently than what the Iranian government believes.

“I ask you to help our family and the many families that are suffering in Iran and to fight for religious freedom,” said Mrs. Abedini, addressing the international community.


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