The Baha’i religious minority in Iran is facing its worst crackdown in decades after Tehran carried out a flurry of home demolitions and arrested key leaders.
Several hundred Iranian agents descended this week on the vulnerable Roushankouh in Mazandaran province, where they confiscated 20 hectares of land and bulldozed at least six homes.
Iran also arrested several Baha’i community leaders which it claims are spying for Israel, a charge the regime has frequently laid against the minority group without evidence.
Meanwhile community leaders say that Iran has closed down dozens of Baha’i businesses across the country in recent days, while Iran has provided no evidence that any of those caught up in the crackdown have broken any laws.
The Baha’i religion, founded in 19th century Iran, is no stranger to persecution and has frequently been used as a scapegoat when the country is facing internal turmoil or international pressure.
Though they are the biggest religious minority in Iran, the regime considers their beliefs heretical. The religion’s headquarters are in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, a fact that the regime uses to denounce the faith.
The latest round of arrests on spying charges could be linked to embarrassment in Tehran over a series of high-profile Israeli operations this year which exposed key aspects of the regime’s nuclear programme and led to the dismissal of its intelligence chief.
Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, the Baha’i International Commmunity’s [BIC] principal representative to the United Nations said there were concerns that Iran could be embarking on its biggest round of persecutions since the Islamic Revolution.
“Baha’ are pretty familiar with persecution and attacks by the [Iranian] government, however the vociferous nature of the current onslaught of attacks is nearly unprecedented,” said Bani Dugal.
“It harkens back to the early years of the Islamic Republic in the 1980s and a little bit later when they were viciously attacking the community… it’s hard to tell why there has been this uptick [in persecution] but it is taking on very alarming proportions.”
During the persecutions of the 1980s, members of the Baha’i faith were attacked by mobs, tortured and executed, while survivors were left homeless by arson attacks on their communities.
Ms Dugal said the BIC will soon be writing to Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, urging him to raise the issue with international leaders.
“Every day there has been fresh news of the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran, demonstrating that the Iranian authorities have a step-by-step plan that they are implementing to uproot the peaceful Bahá’í community from Iran,” added Padideh Sabeti, a London-based spokeswoman for the BIC.
“First flagrant lies and hate speech, then raids and arrests, and today land grabs, occupations, and the destruction of homes. We appeal to human rights defenders to support the Bahá’ís and call on the Iranian government to stop these cruel and unjust attacks,” she added.
The exact cause of the latest spate of arrests and demolitions is unclear, but it could be linked to a wider crackdown launched after the appointment of Iran’s replacement intelligence chief which has seen film directors, several foreigners and prominent reformist politicians arrested.
Founded in the mid-1800s, the Baha’i movement is one of the world’s younger religions and has a religious headquarters in the northern Israeli city of Haifa.
Its followers believe that the founders of the great world religions are all manifestations of the same God which point to the same fundamental truth.
There are around five to eight million Baha’i worshippers worldwide, with its largest communities based in India, the United States and Kenya, as well as Iran, which hosts around 300,000 members.
The Telegraph approached Iranian authorities in London for comment but did not receive an immediate response.