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

4.2. A Revolution Underway

In 1978, as pro-Khomeini marches spread across the country, physical attacks against the Bahá’ís increased. In February 1979 Hojjatiyeh gunmen invaded the Bahá'í national headquarters in Tehran and other provincial capitals, taking over the buildings, expelling the staff, and seizing confidential documents including personnel files and membership lists.112 These stolen files were later used to more effectively direct the Hojjatiyeh’s anti-Bahá’í activities. In more than fifty cities and towns across the country, Bahá’ís reported incidents of persecution including arson, looting, mob attacks, forced recantations, and suspicious deaths and murders.113 In addition, one clinic, one agricultural institute, twenty two Bahá’í Centers and cemeteries, as well as hundreds of Bahá’í homes, gardens, businesses, and shops were damaged or destroyed.114

In Sa'adi (Sa'adiyeh), part of Sarvestan, over the course of a few days in December 1978, there were wide-scale mob attacks on Bahá’ís and their property. It was estimated that several hundred Bahá’í houses in the area were set on fire and looted or vandalized and more than 1,000 Bahá’ís were made homeless.115 According to eyewitness accounts,116 the incident began when a group went to the house of Sifatu’llah Fahandizh, a Bahá’í man, and threatened to kidnap his daughter. In an attempt to ward off attackers who were climbing the walls of their house, Fahandizh and some male family members went to the rooftop and began firing shots at the crowd, injuring some people. Early the next morning, a mob set fire to Fahandizh’s house as well as the houses of other Bahá’ís in the area. The mob went door-to-door, looting property (including sheep, clothing, carpets, and electronic equipment) before setting fire to the houses.117 A number of people (both Bahá’í and non-Bahá’í) were reportedly killed or injured in the violence that ensued.118

Contemporary reports suggested that these mob attacks did not occur spontaneously, but were in fact instigated by the military government appointed by the Shah.119 Observers particularly highlighted the apparent reluctance of government forces to intervene to stop the violence. For example, one contemporary written account reported that:

Eye-witnesses stated that… while the shooting was still continuing, the Military Government did not do anything to stop the incident. One of the police, who was having tea in a teahouse, was heard to have said that “it [was] not time yet.”120

This statement further alleged that government forces provided both tacit and active support during the attacks; it stated that the army was slow to respond to arson attacks against Bahá’í houses, and alleged that a list of Bahá’ís was distributed by SAVAK, along with addresses, and that the crowd was encouraged to set those houses on fire. Observers alleged that when the army finally showed up, it did not take action to prevent the fires from spreading, and army trucks actually transported youths to the Pepsi- Cola building (said to be owned by a Bahá’í) and encouraged the group to set it on fire. It was also reported that another Bahá’í-owned building was targeted by an explosion in which one person died. The statement concludes, based on evidence and testimony gathered by the author(s), that “the [killings] in Sa’adi, fires, looting, and subsequent killings in Shiraz and other cities of Fars [province]” were “carried out by the direct provocation and encouragement of the Army.”121

[112]MARTIN, THE PERSECUTION OF THE BAHÁ’ÍS IN IRAN, supra note 1, at 37 (noting that “shortly after the membership lists were seized, Bahá’ís began receiving Hojjatiyeh flyers in the mail, warning them of the consequences of obstinately holding to Bahá’í beliefs.”); see also NAMES AND NUMBERS, supra note 57, at 209.
[113]See Bahá’í International Community, Chronological Summary of Individual Acts of Persecution Against Bahá’í s of Iran from August 1978 (November 1981) [hereinafter Chronological Summary of Acts of Persecution]. See also National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada, THE BAHÁ’Í WORLD (Vol. XVIII, 1979-1983) at 291 [hereinafter BAHÁ’Í WORLD XVIII]; NAMES AND NUMBERS, supra note 57, 198-206
[114]See id.
[115]OLYA ROOHIZADEGAN, OLYA’S STORY: A SURVIVOR’S DRAMATIC ACCOUNT OF THE PERSECUTION OF THE BAHA’IS IN REVOLUTIONARY IRAN 12 (1993); NAMES AND NUMBERS, supra note 57 at 202-203.
[116]See Saadi dar Atash va Khun; Guzarish-i Yik Shahid-i Iyni [Saadi in Flames and Blood (an eyewitness account)] (undated document) (on file with IHRDC) [hereinafter Saadi in Flames and Blood]. The author is described as “a real Shi’a, follower of Ali,” and states that “[t]he Muslim and clerical community of the world curses those who incited this incident. I do not understand how we, who consider ourselves followers of Ali, could become so cruel and vicious.”
[117]Id.
[118]Id. See also BAHÁ'Í INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY, THE BAHÁ’Í QUESTION: CULTURAL CLEANSING IN IRAN 79 (2005) [hereinafter THE BAHAI QUESTION: CULTURAL CLEANSING IN IRAN].
[119]See Some Facts About the Massacre of the Innocent People of Sa’adiyeh Village by the Agents of the Criminal Government (author unknown) (on file with IHRDC) [hereinafter Facts on Sa’adiyeh Massacre]. On November 6, 1978 the Shah appointed a military government headed by General Gholam Reza Azhari as Prime Minister. He resigned December 31, 1978 and on January 6, 1979, new Prime Minister Bakhtiar presented a cabinet. See DAVID MENASHRI, IRAN: A DECADE OF WAR AND REVOLUTION 58- 62 (1990) [hereinafter MENASHRI].
[120]Facts on Sa’adiyeh Massacre, supra note 119.
[121]Id.

 

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