Editor’s Note: Mrs. Kit Bigelow is the Director of External Affairs of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States. She was interviewed by Radio Farda’s reporter, Newsha Boghrati, and Iran Press Watch is pleased to publish a translation of this interview.
According to the announcements of human rights organizations, attacks against the Baha’is in Iran by security forces have greatly accelerated in the last few months.
While no accurate statistics are available in regard to the number of Baha’is incarcerated in different parts of Iran, news concerning the arrests of Baha’is is periodically received from inside the country: at times from Shiraz, or from Sari, or at times from Tehran; and by the same token from other cities in Iran.
Regarding the latest attack on the Baha’is: on Tuesday, Ali-Reza Jamshidi, the spokesperson of Iran’s judiciary, stated that six Baha’is are currently imprisoned. Mr. Jamshidi remarked that these Baha’is are accused of “propaganda against the regime” and their arrest has nothing to do with their religious beliefs – a matter viewed with great skepticism by human rights activists.
Mrs. Kit Bigelow, the representative of the American Baha’i community, which has more than 160,000 members in the United States, closely follows and monitors the situation faced by the Iranian Baha’i community. In an interview with Radio Farda, she stated that the situation of Baha’is in Iran has been deteriorating in an unprecedented way.
Radio Farda: Mrs. Bigelow, what is your analysis of the recent attacks against Baha’is in Iran?
Mrs. Bigelow: We are deeply concerned about the current situation of the Bahá’ís in Iran. Currently, the Bahá’ís in Iran are under the worst circumstances since the earliest years of the establishment of the Islamic Republic [in 1979]. The seven Baha’is who were in some ways coordinating the activities of Baha’is in Iran have been in prison for months now. During recent years, a large number of the Baha’is have been detained, harassed, or expelled from universities; their children beleaguered at schools and their cemeteries demolished.
Radio Farda: You mentioned that the situation of Baha’is in Iran has worsened. From your point of view, does this problem have its roots in a newly established confrontation policy with the Baha’is, or is it a temporary measure?
Mrs. Bigelow: What is certain is that since the election of Mahmud Ahmadinejad to Iran’s presidency, the Baha’i situation has greatly deteriorated and become worrisome. I think that the recent attempts are the beginning of a new policy against the Baha’is. In accordance with the published documents which have reached us, Iran’s military has been ordered to collect and record the names and specifications of all 300,000 Iranian Baha’is. They have been instructed to closely monitor all Baha’i activities through a variety of security forces, the police, and Basij army, and the guards. In this way, the control of Baha’is has entered a new phase, which makes it far easier to inconvenience and hurt them. The Baha’is have been even the target of Molotov cocktails.
Radio Farda: Have there been such cases? Cases involving Molotov cocktails?
Mrs. Bigelow: Yes, cases such as throwing Molotov cocktails at Baha’i houses, cars, and even on some occasions destroying houses with bulldozers.
Radio Farda: Mrs. Bigelow, have these actions been carried out by the police or security forces? How could one be confident of the nature of these occurrences?
Mrs. Bigelow: It could not be proven that these incidents were directly perpetrated by security agents. However, when the victims complained or followed up with their cases, the police stated that they could not be of any help to them.
Radio Farda: Are there any special cases that currently may be of greater concern to you?
Mrs. Bigelow: Our main concern is the imprisoned Baha’is. For example, I have referred to the seven leaders of the Baha’is in Iran. There are many other cases. For instance, the three youth in Shiraz who performed humanitarian services and helped the poor are still in the prison.
Radio Farda: Do you have any statistics about the number of imprisoned Baha’is in Iran?
Mrs. Bigelow: We have some figures. However, it could not be accurately stated how many Baha’is are imprisoned [for their faith]. Some are imprisoned for only a few days, some for weeks, and some remain prisoners for a great while. The policy of Iran’s Intelligence and Security agencies is to keep the Baha’i community decentralized and disorganized. One of the ways they achieve this is through frequent detentions of both short-term and long-term imprisonment for various excuses.
Radio Farda: How do you get your information from Iran? What are your sources for the information?
Mrs. Bigelow: The sources are the Baha’is themselves.
Radio Farda: How do you validate these data? How could you be certain that the information is valid?
Mrs. Bigelow: This could be a difficult task. In some instances, it takes several weeks to confirm the information. Of course, the internet and SMS [Short Message Service] have altered everything in the world. We could receive news within a few seconds or minutes; nevertheless it might take a long time to confirm the information that has been received. Therefore, prior to sharing the news, for example, with you (the media), we need to wait for confirmation from our reliable resources.
Radio Farda: Mrs. Bigelow, how do you view the role and significance of human rights organizations in regard to attacks on Baha’is?
Mrs. Bigelow: In my view, the role of these organizations has been vital. The impact of these reports, for example, could be easily observed in the disposition of the members of the General Assembly of the United Nations. It is very important for global organizations and various governments not to remain silent, but instead to convey their opposition to Iran. Of course, we all know that violations of human rights take place in many countries of the world. Citizens are not free to choose their own religion or beliefs. It is particularly important that these citizens hear the news media, human rights organizations, and other global institutions disapproving of Iran’s infringements.
[The above interview was posted on 27 January 2009 at http://www.radiofarda.com/content/f35_Kit_Bigelow_Iran_Bahais/1375348.html in Persian. Translation by Iran Press Watch.]