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

The House of the Báb

The culmination of the attacks on Bahá’í religious monuments was the confiscation and destruction of the House of the Báb in Shiraz, considered a place of pilgrimage to Bahá’ís all over the world. On April 26, 1979, the Bahá’í community in Shiraz was given a notice that the Revolutionary guards were confiscating the property. Local Bahá'ís were informed by the office of the Sepah-eh Pasdaran [Revolutionary guards] that “in order to protect and prevent possible damage, [to the House of the Báb] is [being] placed under the supervision of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards of Shiraz.”241

Although the property was confiscated in April, the government’s ultimate intentions did not become apparent until September. On September 1, 1979, several laborers under the instruction of Mr. Shumali, the head mason responsible for carrying out the destruction of the House of the Báb, began the demolition of other buildings surrounding the House in the building complex.242 Bahá’í communities around the world, attempting to save the monument, mobilized an international letter-writing campaign to pressure the Islamic Republic to relent.243 Kúrush Talá'í,244 a member of the Bahá’í community in Tehran sent to bear witness, concluded that the final decision to destroy the house was probably made on September 7, during a meeting held at the house of Mr. Mo'takif, the mayor of Shiraz, and attended by Ayatollah Mahallati.245 A decree confirming the decision to proceed with the demolition was issued by the Attorney General of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. On September 8, Kúrush Talá'í arrived at the site to find the road blocked, and saw that municipal vans filled with pickaxes and spades were being taken to the building across from the site.246 Later that day, events began to escalate. Talá'í recounted:

At 11 o’clock in the morning, a group of people arrived in the street. In front of them was an old man called Haji Sharif, who is an official in the Endowment Department247 in Shiraz. Next to him was a mullah called Tuba’i, who was marshalling a number of armed men. Behind them were about 150 people. The armed men from the Mihdiyyih Komiteh248 numbered about 30, and about 10 to 12 ordinary people carried arms, as well. They came near Hosseiniyyih and suddenly they broke the lock of the house no. 5, which was not under Bahá’í occupation and had already been confiscated by the Revolutionary forces, and then they entered the house no. 2 before entering the House of the Báb next door. When they arrived, they didn’t waste a minute and started demolishing it. Haji Sharif and a few others whom I had met before in the house of Mahallati were giving orders. One of the first to enter the House of the Báb was the attendant of the [Mihdiyyih Komiteh]. The Mullah who was in front of the procession was giving orders also. On the upper rooms of the House of the Báb they started destroying the plaster and opening the walls to the house no. 3.249

'Abdu'l-Husayn Taslímí, with a few others, approached Ayatollah Baha'eddin Mahallati to appeal to him, as a senior cleric in Shiraz, to prevent further destruction of the building. Mr. Taslímí gave an account of what then took place:

[Mahallati] knew all the details and said, “yes, that is the House of Heresy. It has been so for 130 years and now it should be demolished.” I replied, “the brick and wood of a house cannot be heresy. Besides, what is the fault of innocent people living on this street or the houses in the vicinity that they should be constantly threatened with the demolition of their houses?” His reply was, “these people either should become Muslims, or anything may befall them.” I replied, “Mr. Mahallati, sir, is this the meaning of Islamic justice? What about the humanitarian principles of Islam?” His answer was, “those are for Jews and Christians. But these people (Bahá’ís) either should become Muslim, or it will not be a problem if their homes are demolished. That House of Heresy (House of the Báb) should also be destroyed.” When the conversation reached this point we thought there would be no use to continue… We departed with the understanding that Ayatollah Mahallati was one of the main architects of the demolition of the House.250

In 1981, the site was transformed into a road and public square.251 The area was eventually completely razed to prepare for the construction of the Mosque of Mahdi, which was built over the site.252

Destruction of Bahá’í Centers and Desecration of Bahá’í Cemeteries

The Islamic Republic also seized and destroyed Bahá’í community centers around the country. On March 6, 1979, Ayatollah Qomi told the newspaper Ettela'at that the Bahá’ís were spies for Britain, Russia, the USA, and Israel; which justified the confiscation and destruction of all Bahá’í centers, and the confiscation of all Bahá’í documents.253 In Tehran, the publishing offices of the Bahá’í National Center and the local Bahá’í center were closed and sealed, and the books and documents within were removed.254 The Bahá’í center in Marvdasht was razed to the ground.255

[241]Namiyyih Sepah-i Pasdaran-i Inqilab-i Islamiyyih Fars Darbariyyih Khaniyyih Seyyed Báb [Notice of Confiscation of the House of the Báb by the Sepah-eh Pasdaran in Shiraz], 6/2/1358 (April 26, 1979) (on file with IHRDC) [attached as Appendix 3].
[242]Statement by Kúrush Tala’i forwarded by Hushmand Fatheazam regarding the House of the Báb in Shiraz (October 2, 1979) at 1 [hereinafter Statement by Kúrush Tala’i regarding the House of the Báb] (on file with IHRDC).
[243]See, e.g., Telegraph from Bahá’í community of Taichung, Taiwan to Ayatollah Khomeini, dated June 23, 1979 (appealing, in the name of the standards of “justice and tolerance promoted by Islam”, for the expropriation of Bahá’í holy sites to be stopped) (on file with IHRDC).
[244]Mr. Tala’i was subsequently executed in January 1982 as a newly elected member of the Local Spiritual Assembly in Tehran. See THE BAHÁ’Í QUESTION: CULTURAL CLEANSING IN IRAN, supra note 118, at 81
[245]Statement by Kúrush Tala’i regarding the House of the Báb, supra note 241, at 2.
[246]Id. at 4.
[247]The Endowment and Charity Organization (Sazmanih Owqaf va Umurih Khairiyyih) is a sub-organization of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance but manages to maintain its independence by having a director appointed by the Supreme Leader. The scope of this organization's work includes looking after mosques, endowments (typically land and buildings) and holy places, publishing Islamic educational material, and engaging in charitable activities; see http://english.awqaf.ir/ (accessed November 22, 2006).
[248]This was one of the local Komitehs; its name is a reference to the awaited Twelfth Imam (or Mahdi).
[249]Statement by Kúrush Tala’i regarding the House of the Bab, supra note 242, at 4.
[250]Id. at 10.
[251]THE BAHÁ’Í WORLD XVIII, supra note 113, at 253.
[252]THE BAHÁ’Í QUESTION: CULTURAL CLEANSING IN IRAN, supra note 118, at 68-69. This was a symbolic move on the part of the IRI, due to the fact the Báb had declared himself as the return of the Twelfth Imam (Mahdi).
[253]Bahá’í International Community, News Release (March 12, 1979) (on file with IHRDC). Cities where Bahá’í centers were confiscated include: Tabriz, Reza'iyeh, Shahabad of Arak, Arak, Kermanshah, Isfahan, Tehran, Amirabad, Zargandeh, Tajrish, Bagh-i Tejeh, Khaniabad, Ferdows, Shiraz, Marvdasht, Arab-Khayl, Mashhad, Baghistan in Mashhad, Yazd, Mahdiabad in Yazd, Maryamabad in Yazd, Taft, Rafsanjan, Kerman, and Neyriz. Centers that were destroyed or set on fire include: Darghuk in Abadeh, Koshkak in Abadeh, Chinabar in Abadeh, Hemmatabad in Abadeh, Sangsar, Babolsar, Ardekan, Vadighan, Fathabad in Kashan, and Mashhad. Bahá’í centers confiscated, National Spiritual Assembly of the UK April-May 1979 (on file with the IHRDC). Bahá’í Properties Attacked, National Spiritual Assembly of the UK, March-June 1979 (on file with IHRDC).
[254]Bahá’í International Community, News Release (March 12, 1979) (on file with IHRDC). See also flyer cited in MARTIN, THE PERSECUTION OF THE BAHÁ’ÍS OF IRAN, supra note 1 at 45 (inviting people to a celebration at the former national Bahá’í center in Tehran, where Ayatollah Nuri would give a speech about “messianism and waging a holy war on Imperialism, Zionism and Kabbalism.”)
[255]Bahá’í International Community, Recent attacks on the lives and properties of Bahá’ís in Iran, 25 September-3 November 1978 (1978) at 9 [hereinafter Recent Attacks (1978)].

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