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

Complementing these bodies is a second branch of administration, composed of appointed individuals. Bahá’í institutions appoint Bahá’ís of merit and distinction who advance the goals of the community and act as advisors in the community. They are referred to as Continental Boards of Counselors, Auxiliary Board Members and their assistants. While the Counselors work at the continental and country-wide level, Auxiliary Board Members and their assistants remain at the regional and local levels.27

Both branches of Bahá’í administration operate under an international governing body known as the Universal House of Justice. The members of the Universal House of Justice are elected to office every five years, and its headquarters is located in Haifa, Israel, near the city to which Bahá’u’lláh was once exiled and where his remains are buried.28 Because of its connection to Bahá’u’lláh, Israel is a place of pilgrimage for Bahá’ís.

3. The Roots of Modern Anti-Bahá’ísm

3.1. 20th Century Political Change

The Iranian constitution of 1906 set the groundwork for the institutionalized persecution of the Bahá’í faith and this hostility was further consolidated with the rise to power of the Pahlavi dynasty.29 Although the most important model for the 1906 Iranian constitution and 1907 supplementary legislation was Belgium’s 1831 constitution, its provisions guaranteeing freedom of worship were conspicuously omitted.30 While subsequent legislation gave some recognition to Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians as equal citizens before state law, it also “gave unprecedented institutional powers to the clerical establishment,” and did not guarantee freedom of religion.31

In the nineteenth century, repression had impacted individual adherents of the Bahá’í faith, but in the first decades of the twentieth century these attacks were accompanied by centrally-directed campaigns that targeted the Bahá’í community in general terms and its institutions in particular. Prohibitions against the Bahá’ís ranged from the censorship of Bahá’í literature to the closure of Bahá’í schools in the 1930s and 1940s.32

The most intense wave of repression took place in the 1950s, during the reign of the second Pahlavi monarch, Muhammad Reza Shah. Politically weak and faced with growing nationalism and acute economic difficulties33, the Shah conceded control over certain religious affairs to the clergy.34 This power-sharing resulted, inter alia, in a campaign of persecution against the Bahá’ís which, some scholars believe was most likely intended by the government to distract the citizenry from the country’s other problems.35 Approved by the highest civil, military and religious leadership in the country,36 the campaign began in 1955 with national and army radio stations, official newspapers and other publications spreading anti-Bahá’í propaganda intended to incite public passions against the Bahá’ís.37

[27]See generally Universal House of Justice, Elucidation of the Nature of the Continental Boards of Counselors (April 24, 1972).
[28]See website of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States at http://www.bahai.us/bahai-administration (accessed October 7, 2006).
[29]The constitutional laws contained provisions that were later used to restrict the activities of the Bahá’í community. See, e.g. circular by the Minister of Interior dated 1957, Iqdam Kunid ta az Majami-i Bahá’í Khuddari Shavad [Please Stop the Bahá’ís from Congregating] (asserting that Bahá’ís meetings had been taking place in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution, which prohibited gatherings of all organizations which generated threats to religion or state and disturbed order) (on file with IHRDC); see E.G. BROWNE, THE PERSIAN REVOLUTION OF 1905-1909 (Abbas Amanat, ed., Mage Publishers, 1995) at 375 for full text of provision. SUMMARY OF PERSECUTION DURING THE PAHLAVI REGIME, supra note 4, describes a range of personal status restrictions, affecting marriage, inheritance rights, the ability to obtain identity cards, and the ability to carry out Bahá’í burials, among other rights. Similarly, one of the justifications given for closing the Baha’i Tarbiyat schools in Tehran was that “the Iranian Government has not recognized the Baha’i religion as it has other minority religions.” See National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada, THE BAHÁ’Í WORLD (Vol. VI, 1934-1936) at 26.
[30] Civil Liberties and the Making of Iran’s Constitution, supra note 8, at 41, 46-48, 57.
[31] Id. at 41, 57.
[32]See SANASARIAN, supra note 16 at 52 (noting that similar measures were directed against the Armenian, Jewish and Zoroastrian minorities, but that the practice of non-recognition of Baha’i marriages was specifically targeted at that community); BANANI, supra note 23, at 97; BAHÁ’Í INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY, THE BAHÁ’ÍS IN IRAN: THE PERSECUTION OF A RELIGIOUS MINORITY 24 (1981). See also Namiyyih Kafil-i Vizarat-i Ma'arif bih Mudir-i Dabiristan-i Tarbiyat [Letter Ordering Closure of Tarbiyat Boys’ School] dated 1934 (on file with IHRDC). Two of the two largest schools closed were the Tarbiyat boys’ and girls’ schools in Tehran, with an estimated 1500 pupils combined; see National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada, THE BAHÁ’Í WORLD (Vol. VI, 1934-1936) at 27, 96 (listing Bahá’í schools closed throughout the country.)
[33] See AKHAVI, supra note 17, at 77.
[34] MARTIN, THE PERSECUTION OF THE BAHÁ’ÍS IN IRAN, supra note 1, at 21 (citing discussion in AKHAVI, supra note 17, at 76-90).
[35]AKHAVI, supra note 17, at 77.
[36] For discussion of the complex political dynamics underlying the government’s response to these developments, see id. at 76- 78.
[37] Collection of newspaper articles from 1955, on file with IHRDC. See, e.g., Tiligirafhay-i Vasilih Darbariyyih Ibraz-i Tanaffur az Bahá’íha [Readers’ Letters Expressing Hatred of Bahá’ís], DAD, Issue No. 3221, 22/2/1334 (May 13, 1955); Takhrib-i Hazíratu'l-Quds Kafi Nist, Kanunhayih Fisad-i Idarat Ra Viran Sazid [Destruction of the Bahá’í Center was Not Enough; Destroy the Centers of Corruption in the Government Offices], SITARIH-YIH ISLAM, 13/3/1334 (June 4, 1955); Dar Mah Hayih Muharram va Safar Bahá’íyan Ghasd-i Ikhlal Darand [In the Month of Moharram and Safar, Bahá’ís are Planning to Cause Trouble], SITARIH-YIH ISLAM, Issue No. 180, 21/5/1334 (August 13, 1955). There are also many newspaper publications that propagated anti-Bahá’í sentiments on a regular basis, including: IQDAM, ASHUFTIH, KAYHAN, KHANDANIHA, LUTI, SITARIH-YIH ISLAM, DAD, AND TEHRAN-I MUSAVVAR. With regard to Sheikh Falsafi’s radio broadcasts (see below), see IRAN’S SECRET POGROM, supra note 19, at 41 and MARTIN, THE PERSECUTION OF THE BAHÁ’ÍS IN IRAN, supra note 1, at 22 (stating that “[t]he government signaled its approval by putting both the national and army radio stations at [Falsafi’s] service, thus disseminating his attacks throughout Iran.”)

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