Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Persecution of the Baha'is in Iran.

The seven Baha'i community leaders now on trial for their lives in Iran

Iranian Baha'i women hanged in 1983 for teaching Baha'i classes to Baha'i schoolchildren

Among the other disturbing issues going on in Iran-with their nuclear development and crackdown on protesters, one other issue has been largely lost to public attention; that is the severe persecution of the Baha'i religious minority in Iran. What kind of persecution are we talking about? We are talking about arbitrary arrests, imprisonment, rape, murder, torture, a denial of education-just about anything you can imagine.

The Baha'i faith was born some 150 years ago in Iran (then Persia)under its founder and Messenger Baha'ullah. It is a peaceful religion, which recognizes one God and places great emphasis on the brotherhood of all human beings. Baha'is are not troublemakers in Iran; on the contrary, they are model citizens, who adhere to obeying established authority. Their religion, which counts some 3 million world-wide, has spread to other parts of the world as well, including the US, which has about 100,000 adherents. Since its inception, however, the followers of the faith, some 300,000 in Iran, have been subjected to some form of persecution at various levels-not only in Iran, but also in other Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt.

In 1896, subsequent to the assassination of then-Shah, the Baha'i community in Yazd was attacked by mobs, and several people were killed. In 1933, the Government of Iran banned Baha'i literature, refused to recognize Baha'i marriages, and the Baha'i national center in Tehran was demolished. Under the Islamic Republic, which began with the revolution of 1979, this persecution has worsened dramatically as a part of official government policy.

The present-day Iranian constitution recognizes only Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism (an ancient Persian religion) as legitimate religions. Such recognition is denied to Baha'ism, which the mullahs consider an apostasy of Islam. Thus, under the present Islamic regime, persecution has been the order of the day for the Baha'is, many of whom have left Iran.

In 1983, four years after Khomeini seized power in Iran, ten female Baha'i schoolteachers were arrested, tortured, prosecuted and executed by authorities for teaching religious classes to Baha'i children. The women, aged 17-57, refused to recant their faith in exchange for being spared. They walked bravely to the gallows and died for their religious belief.

In August 1983, the prosecutor-general of Iran, Hojatoleslam Hossein Musavi Tabrizi, ordered that all Baha'i organizations in the country be shut down, to which the Baha'is obeyed. It did not stop the attacks. According to a Time Magazine article dated February 20, 1984, in the ensuing months, a Baha'i farmer was lynched and a Baha'i woman was killed by a mob just after having given birth. A spokesman for the Baha'i HQS in Wilmette, Illinois told Time that "unless things change, Baha'is in Iran are going to be annihilated." Indeed, thousands lost their homes and possessions, while Baha'i facilities and cemeteries were sacked and desecrated including their holiest shrine, The House of the Bab in Shiraz.

Baha'i temple in Wilmette, Illinois

And it continues. Presently, the Iranian government continues to persecute this minority in a systematic manner. Since 1979, it is estimated that over 200 Baha'is have been killed or executed, hundreds imprisoned, and tens of thousands have lost jobs, pensions and educational opportunities. (Baha'is are precluded from attending universities). In addition, Baha'i holy places, cemeteries and shrines have been seized or desecrated by authorities. Also largely lost among the recent mass arrests of young dissidents in Iran's streets is the fact that seven leading Baha'is (two women and five men)have been imprisoned since last year and were scheduled to go on trial for their lives this month, a trial that was just postponed a couple of weeks ago.

The seven Baha'i leaders – Behrouz Tavakkoli, Saeid Rezaie, Fariba Kamalabadi, Vahid Tizfahm, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Affif Naeimi and Mahvash Sabet – have been charged with a variety of crimes, according to official Iranian news reports. They include "propaganda against the system," "insulting religious sanctifies," and "being corrupt on earth," a charge that is punishable by death. The seven prisoners have not been allowed to see a lawyer. (The nature of the charges gives you an idea of the mentality of the Iranian authorities.)

The plight of these Baha'is has been protested by various human-rights organizations and governments including Australia and Canada. The UN has passed resolutions on Iranian human rights issues specifically mentioning the Baha'is. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also taken up the issue of Baha'i persecution in Iran.

All, unfortunately, to no avail.

Why, you might ask, are the Baha'is so threatened in Iran? It is simple; since their inception, they have been considered a threat to the dominant religion-Islam. Under the Islamic Republic, this has especially been the case. The mullahs who run Iran simply will not tolerate what they consider an apostate religion that threatens Islam. Therefore, Baha'ism and its adherents must be persecuted, imprisoned, killed, raped and their assets seized or destroyed.

Part of the "Axis of Evil"? You bet.

So how will the fate of the 300,000 Baha'is in Iran play out? Despite international protests, the Iranian government seems determined to continue its mistreatment of this religious minority until they have disappeared-one way or the other. Maybe they feel they can terrorize this "apostate" group into renouncing their faith in favor of Islam. If the 1983 example of the ten courageous schoolteachers is an example, it will not work. Will the government allow these 300,000 people to emigrate? While I have recently been critical of the US resettling certain refugee groups into the US, this seems like a group worthy of refugee status, a group that would make a positive contribution to wherever they go.

Ultimately, it may take the downfall of this evil regime to save its Baha'i community. In the meantime, public exposure is necessary, which is why I am making this small contribution.


Findalis said...

I first met the Baha'i when living in Haifa (they have one of the most gorgeous temples there), and learned of their faith. It is based on love, peace and the fellowship of man.

Since their founding in Iran, they have been persecuted. Yet they seem to thrive. When people of Iran understand their faith, they are drawn to it. That makes it and them dangerous to the Mullahs. I pray that these gentle, good people have the strength to endure. And pray for a time in which they can openly worship their faith in its land of birth: Iran.

Gary Fouse said...

Well said, Finadalis.

One of my co-workers is an Iranian Baha'i who helped bring this issue to my attention.

Ingrid said...

When I lived in Iran I heard from the most gentle Iranians that they didn't like the Baha'i. Asking why, they explained that "they don't have a book". That was the only reason. Moslems in Iran also didn't comprehend atheism or communism. Religious people are mostly unable to understand nonbelievers. With the right indoctrination they can turn against anyone who thinks different. After Khomeini came, some Iranians went to the Bahai' cemetery and pulled out the bodies from the graves. I will never understand why the Iranians chose their current government. I am sure that you know why.