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

1. Executive Summary

The Bahá’í community of Iran has faced repeated cycles of persecution since the founding of the faith in the mid-nineteenth century. Today the Bahá’ís are not free to practice their religion, they suffer from economic and social exclusion, and they have been subjected to executions, arbitrary arrests and the destruction of their property - all carried out with the support of national judicial, administrative and law enforcement structures. Since the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2005, there is evidence to suggest a new cycle of repression may be beginning.

The report’s key findings are as follows:

  • The Shi’a clerical establishment in Iran has long regarded the Bahá’í faith as a heretical deviation from Islam. The Bahá’í community has suffered most severely when the clerical influence in national affairs has been strongest. This report seeks to demonstrate that the clerical establishment has consistently worked to undermine and ultimately extinguish the Bahá’í faith, a project that has been wholeheartedly embraced by the government of the Islamic Republic.
  • The 1950s saw organized anti-Bahá’í campaigns resulting in mob violence, the destruction of religious sites and the formation of private anti-Bahá’í organizations, approved and assisted by senior civil, military and religious leadership figures. The propaganda used to cultivate and justify social persecution created negative stereotypes that continue to have repercussions today. Clerics who gained an influential public voice during these campaigns later gained powerful positions in the post-1979 leadership.
  • The consolidation of clerical rule after the 1979 revolution gave rise to a centralized and government-directed anti-Bahá’í campaign. The new Islamic constitution explicitly withheld recognition as a religious minority from the Bahá’ís. Instead the Bahá’í faith was categorized as a political threat – a characterization reinforced by frequent accusations of espionage or other anti-revolutionary criminal activity. This effectively criminalized the Bahá’í religion.
  • The first years of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) saw the full range of state coercive force deployed against Bahá’ís. The authorities particularly targeted Bahá’í leadership in an attempt to destroy the community. The members of three successive Bahá’í national councils were arrested and summarily executed. A similar fate befell numerous members of local governing assemblies.
  • Another recurring feature of anti-Bahá’í campaigns has been the confiscation and destruction of Bahá’í property, including holy sites, cemeteries, personal property and community institutions. The House of the Báb, one of the Bahá’í community’s most sacred religious sites, was demolished by the Islamic Republic in 1979.
  • Economic and social exclusion has been a consistent feature of the Islamic Republic’s treatment of the Bahá’í community. Bahá’ís have been purged from educational institutions and from both state and private businesses at the order of the central government.
  • The recent election of President Ahmadinejad and resurgence of conservative political figures appears to have emboldened Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. In November 2005, Ayatollah Khamenei instructed military and law enforcement agencies to identify and monitor all Bahá’ís living within their areas of responsibility. Given the historic hostility of the conservative clerical establishment to the Bahá’í community, there is good reason to fear that this measure is laying the foundation for a new cycle of anti-Bahá’í persecution.

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Tagged as:

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