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A Faith Denied: The Persecution of the Baha'is of Iran

Safa’i’s bill failed to garner sufficient support to pass into law, due in part to the government’s anxieties over the potential international repercussions and concern about the legality of such measures.

On May 17 Minister of Interior Alam presented the Majlis with a draft decree the government proposed to circulate to provincial and city governors in accordance with the government’s decision to put down all anti-religious manifestations and demonstrations. Some deputies complained that the decree did not explicitly identify the Bahá’ís as agitators, making it difficult for the local authorities to know exactly where their duty lay, and they pressed Alam to implement the policies suggested in Safa’i’s bill. Alam responded that the government was prepared to act but only within the constraints of the law.64

Majlis Deputy Dr. Shahkar proposed a compromise that he felt would obviate the government’s concern for legal proprieties.65 Dr. Shahkar suggested that Alam’s decree be amended to include the following formulation:

The formation of sects which, under the guise of religion, spread disorder, and which have adopted the name of Bahá’ísm in order to implement political objectives is proscribed, inasmuch as their existence is illegal and the cause of the dissolution of order and security; and since they contradict the true religion of Islam.66

Although this language was not retained in the final version of the decree, which simply restated the position of Ja’fari Shi’ism as the official state religion, this formula for dismissing Bahá’ísm as a political movement rather than a faith was one to which the IRI authorities would later return.

The decree ultimately issued by Minister of Interior Alam empowered local authorities to “take measures to dissolve those social centers which are causing religious and secular sedition and are the source of the attack against security and order.” 67 However, in a firm rebuff to the clergy and their supporters in the Majlis, Alam’s decree also underlined that taking such measures was the sole responsibility of government officials and instructed local governors “to take measures” against anyone provoking unrest “under the guise… of struggling against deceiving sects.”68

Throughout the 1950s the clergy consistently spearheaded the repression of the Bahá'í community. Their efforts, however, were ultimately checked by government ministers, who, although sympathetic to the popular anti-Bahá'í sentiment, feared that anti-Bahá'í violence would spin out of control and attract international criticism.69 Once clerical rule was established through the Islamic Revolution, the clergy was free to revisit the objectives it had failed to attain in the 1950s without interference. As will be seen below, most of Safa’i’s proposals were ultimately implemented by the new Islamic Republic, although they were now couched in the language suggested by Dr. Shahkar.

As Hojjatolislam Falsafi observed in his memoirs:

Although the sermons of Ramadan 1334 [1955] dealt a blow against the Bahá'ís, what really destroyed Bahá'ísm was the Islamic Revolution… .70

[64] AKHAVI, supra note 17, at 80.
[65] Id.
[66] Id. at 80-81 (emphasis added by Akhavi).span>
[67] Id. at 81.
[68]Id. at 82. The final draft read: “[I]n keeping with Articles 20 and 21 of the Constitution, anti-religious publications and the formation of societies and associations provoking religious and secular sedition and disorder are prohibited throughout the country. Therefore, in implementing the principles of the Constitution you shall take measures to dissolve those social centers which are causing religious and secular sedition and are the source of attack against security and order. Henceforth, you will take steps in all seriousness to implement this important duty with which you are entrusted in conformity with the Constitution and stop any kind of demonstrations or acts on the part of this type of groups, and which acts are prohibited by law. At the same time, since taking steps in these matters and implementing these laws is the task of government officials, and since the intervention of individuals or groups having no responsibility will cause disorder and insecurity, therefore, it is to be remembered that you are fully empowered to take measures against any person who provokes the people to act against the security of the country, under the guise and in the capacity of struggling against deceiving sects, or [any person] who himself commits acts which produce the smallest tremor against public order and security, according to those provisions of the criminal code which anticipate such crimes. ” Ibid.
[69] See AKHAVI, supra note 17, at 79 (noting that “[t]he regime faced the dilemma of requiring clergy support for its internal and foreign policies but not wishing to lose control over events and be castigated by international opinion for its complicity in the anti-Bahá’í campaign.”) According to Akhavi, a distinctive feature of the anti-Bahá’í actions in the 1950s was that “[t]he clergy was consistently leading the way [in anti-Bahá’í actions], and the government was holding back.” However, he notes, while “[t]he ulama manifestly created the issue”, “[t]he regime, presented with it, tried to take advantage of it for its own purposes,” although it made efforts to minimize its participation. Id. He adds that “[e]ven if they had not won all the points in 1955, the religious leaders obviously had managed to rivet the government’s attention to their demands in general and gain its respect in the public policy arena.” Id. at 79-80.
[70] FALSAFI MEMOIRS, supra note 38, at 209-210.

 

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Baha'i, Personal Liberty, Arbitrary Detention, Illegal Search and Seizure, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Conscience