USCIRF probes persecution of Iranian Baha’i community in 2011 religious freedom report

, , 1 Comment On April 28, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 2011 Annual Report.The report describes – beginning on page 78 – the “severe” persecution of the Baha’i community in Iran from April 2010 to March 2011.

Iran is one of 14 countries USCIRF recommends that the Secretary of State name “countries of particular concern” or CPCs.

USCIRF on the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran:

The Baha’i community has long been subject to particularly severe religious freedom violations in Iran. Baha’is, who number at least 300,000, are viewed as ―heretic by Iranian authorities and may facerepression on the grounds of apostasy. Since 1979, Iranian government authorities have killed more than 200 Baha’i leaders in Iran, and more than 10,000 have been dismissed from government and universityjobs. Baha‘is may not establish places of worship, schools, or any independent religious associations in Iran. In addition, Baha‘is are barred from the military and denied government jobs and pensions as wellas the right to inherit property. Their marriages and divorces also are not recognized, and they havedifficulty obtaining death certificates. Baha‘i cemeteries, holy places, and community properties are oftenseized or desecrated, and many important religious sites have been destroyed. In recent years, Baha‘is in Iran have faced increasingly harsh treatment, including increasing numbers of arrests and detentions andviolent attacks on private homes and personal property.

USCIRF-Annual-Report-2011-cover-791x1024 Nearly 400 Baha‘is have been arbitrarily arrested since 2005 and, at end of the reporting period, at least 75 Baha‘is remain in prison on account of their religious beliefs. Dozens of Baha‘is are awaiting trialwhile others were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 90 days to several years. All of those convictedare reportedly in the process of appealing the verdicts. According to human rights groups, more than 300 Baha‘is have cases that are still active with authorities, despite having been released from detention. Alsoin recent years, Baha‘i cemeteries in various parts of the country, including Tehran, Ghaemshahr, Marvdasht, Semnan, Sari, Yazd, Najafabad, and Isfahan, have been desecrated, defaced, or in some wayblocked to the Baha‘i community. Over the past several years, several articles in the government-controllednewspaper Kayhan, whose managing editor is appointed by Supreme Leader AyatollahKhamenei, have vilified and demonized the Baha‘i faith and its community in Iran. Iranian authoritiesalso have gone to great lengths in recent years to collect information on all members of the Baha’i community in Iran and to monitor their activities.

In March and May 2008, seven Baha‘i leaders – Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naemi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm – were arrested and taken to the notorious Evin prison in Tehran. After numerous postponements, the trial for the five men and twowomen started in January 2010 and concluded in June. They were formally charged with espionage,propaganda activities against the Islamic order, the establishment of an illegal administration, cooperationwith Israel, acting against the security of the country, and corruption on earth. In August 2010, the seven Baha’is were sentenced to 20 years in prison and moved to Gohardasht prison in Karaj, a facility known for violence between inmates and unsanitary conditions. In September, authorities informed the seven Baha’is orally that the 20-year sentences were reduced to 10; however, prison authorities told the seven inMarch 2011 that the original 20-year sentences had been reinstated. Attorneys for the seven Baha’is, including Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, have had extremely limited access to their clients and courtproceedings and have said categorically that the charges against them are baseless. USCIRF met withfamily members of the imprisoned Baha‘i leaders when they visited Washington in February 2011.

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During the reporting period, dozens of Baha’is have been arrested in several different cities throughoutthe country, including Tehran, Babolsar, Karaj, Nazarabad, Shahrekord, Semnan, Mashhad, Bandar, Abbas, and Ghaemshahr. In most of these cases, Ministry of Intelligence officials appeared at the homes, of Baha’is, searched the premises and confiscated computers, books and other materials, and then madearrests. No formal charges have been filed.

In March 2011, six Baha’is were arrested in Kerman, four for allegedly providing education for young children and the other two for unknown reasons. All six remain in detention. Three Baha‘is from Isfahan, including two teenagers, were arrested in early 2011 for teaching children classes. They were subsequently released. In January 2011, Navid Khanjani, a twenty-four year old Baha‘i who beganadvocating for human rights after he was denied access to higher education, was sentenced to 12 years inprison after being convicted of “engaging in human rights activities,” “illegal assembly,” and “disturbance of the general public‘s opinion.” His lawyers are preparing an appeal. In March 2010, at least 50 young Baha’is were banned from travel outside the country, and some received prison sentencesranging from one to four years for teaching underprivileged children in southeastern Iran. During the past year, emboldened by Iranian law and policy, militant societal actors have physicallyattacked Baha‘is and committed violent acts, including arson on Baha‘i homes and businesses, withimpunity. A recent wave of arson attacks on Baha’i-owned businesses in Rafsanjan appears to be part ofa campaign to fracture relationships between Baha‘is and Muslims in the city. Since October 2010, at least a dozen shops have been attacked and at least 20 Baha‘i homes and businesses have received letterswarning that Baha‘is will suffer severe consequences for forming friendships with Muslims.

In June 2010, in the village of Ivel in Mazandran province, Iranian authorities demolished approximately50 Baha‘i homes as part of a long-running, officially-sanctioned campaign to expel the Baha‘is from the region. The vast majority of homes were unoccupied since the Baha‘i residents had fled after previousincidents of violence or as a result of official displacement.

In the past, Baha‘is have not been allowed to attend university in Iran. Although the Iranian governmentmaintains publicly that Baha‘is are free to attend university, reports over the past year indicate that the de facto policy of preventing Baha‘is from obtaining higher education remains in effect. Of the very few Baha‘is who were enrolled in universities in recent years, most were expelled once their religious beliefsbecame known. Furthermore, during the past few years, young Baha‘i schoolchildren in primary and highschools increasingly have been vilified, pressured to convert to Islam, and in some cases expelled on account of their religion.




One Response

  1. Tom D Stevens

    May 19, 2011 12:56 am

    When those Baha’is are sent to prison, they are put in the worst prison with killers, where the filth is not cleaned off the floors, there is one toilet per 25 prisoners, there is no health aid, meals are slop with bugs which comes intermittently, and sleep is in unheated open areas on a concrete floor & is interrupted by air horns whistles & amplified drums. This is unmitigated torture for people who are in jail for obeying the government, teaching children & practising peaceful acts of service. All those in the justice system of Iran must be charged by the international court with crimes against humanity.


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