Iranian authorities have launched a new wave of arrests targeting members of the Bahai faith, the country’s largest non-Muslim religious minority, representatives of the community said on Tuesday.
Activists say Bahais, whose faith is not recognised by the Islamic republic, have faced persecution since the 1979 revolution with a fresh intensification of repression over the last year.
At least 19 Bahais were detained in raids on their homes by armed security forces last week in the cities of Hamedan west of Tehran and Karaj outside the capital, the Bahai International Community (BIC), which represents Bahais at the UN, said in a statement.
Ten other Bahais were arrested last month in the central city of Isfahan, all of them women, it added, with a total of 32 Bahais detained nationwide since last month.
The homes targeted in the raids in Hamedan included those of five women aged between 70 and 90, one of whom suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, it added.
Two of the women targeted are widows of husbands who were executed by the Islamic republic in the immediate aftermath of the revolution.
“The latest arrests and home searches… confirm rising fears that Iran’s government has redoubled its crackdown on the persecuted Bahai community in Iran,” the BIC said.
The Bahais of the United States group added in a statement to AFP that all of those arrested remain in prison, with the exception of two women detained in Isfahan who were released on bail.
“The rest remain in custody and have not been permitted to receive visits from their families and many have been sent to the hospital for treatment during detention,” it said, adding that the reasons for the hospitalisations was as yet unclear.
The arrests have already triggered international concern.
The US ambassador at large for international religious freedom, Rashad Hussain, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that “persecution of Bahais in Iran must end” and added that “the trend of authorities targeting Bahai women is deeply disturbing”.
Canada’s Office of Human Rights said it was concerned by “the reports of arrests and violent treatment” of Bahais in Iran while Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said he was “very concerned” by the arrests.
Senior community figures Mahvash Sabet, an acclaimed poet, and Fariba Kamalabadi, who were both arrested in July 2022, remain in prison and are serving 10-year jail sentences.
The Bahai faith is a relatively modern monotheistic religion with spiritual roots dating back to the early 19th century in Iran.
Bahais in Iran complain of discrimination in their daily lives, making it a struggle to open businesses and even bury their dead.
They also complain that they are systematically denied access to higher education in Iran.