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

Inspired by the Supreme Leader’s initiative, a number of other “purging committees” sprang up during the summer of 1980 to eliminate supporters of the Shah and Westernized elements from the government and workplace.288 It has been estimated by the historian Said Amir Arjomand that by the beginning of July 1980, after less than ten days of purges, over 1,000 functionaries had been discharged and that 150 “purging committees” were operating across the country.289 Certain government ministries had individual “purging committees” which reviewed employee files and removed those deemed unsuitable.290 While some of these committees may have formed spontaneously, it appears that the government in other instances set up these committees.291 Inevitably, Bahá’ís were among those targeted in these “purging” campaigns.

Loss of Livelihood

Soon after the establishment of the Islamic Republic, circulars from the central government were disseminated throughout Iran, instructing that Bahá’ís were to be removed from civil service positions. In a typical example, the Governor of the Province of Fars, Ni'matollah Taqa, circulated a letter marked “confidential” warning that individuals who did not return to Islam would henceforth be expelled from government employment for the crime of immorality and would have no rights, as provided by Article 14, Part 3 of the National Employment Laws.292 The letter emphasized that:

If you express regret and remorse about your affiliation with the wayward sect [of Bahá’ís]… and seek refuge in the rejuvenating bosom of Islam… your penitence will be accepted and you will be hired to work and your withheld wages will be paid.293

On June 30, 1980, Jomhouri Eslami published an article entitled “Payment to Bahá’ís from National Treasury has been declared haram [prohibited].” The article stated that 44 people had been dismissed from their positions under Article 440 of the Civil Service code, “on charges of belief in the Bahá’í creed.”294 When the Ministry of Education assured retired Bahá’ís that they would continue to receive their pensions, Ayatollahs Mahallati, Shirazi, and Dastgheib issued an order stating that giving money from the treasury to Bahá’ís was forbidden, and that anyone who violated this instruction would be considered khati [a transgressor].295 The Organization for Expansion and Renovation of Industries of Iran citing the Ayatollahs’ edict on July 3, 1980, issued a similar circular.296 The circular also indicated that companies operating under the auspices of the organization were responsible, upon the identification of a Bahá'í employee, for suspending that individual and reporting the case to the organization’s “Purge Committee” in Tehran.

Similarly, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs issued a letter to the Labor Department informing it of new regulations regarding the purging of Bahá’í employees. The document specified that:

In accordance with Paragraph 8 of Article 29 of the Reconstruction of Human Resources Policy for Ministries, Governmental Organizations and other Government–affiliated Offices which was approved on 5/7/136 [Oct. 27, 1981] by the Consultative Islamic Majlis, the punishment for membership in misguided sects recognized by all Muslims to be outside of Islam [having left Islam] or membership in organizations whose doctrine and constitution are founded on the basis of rejecting the divine religions, is permanent dismissal from governmental employment.297

[288]SHARGH, supra note 284. In an interview, an SCCR member denied that “cleansing” was a goal of the council—he conceded that “some people might have gone overboard”, but stated these were not the result of a unified program on the part of the committee, but rather arbitrary interactions and personal actions not intended by Khomeini or the SCCR. Id.
[289]THE TURBAN FOR THE CROWN, supra note 71, at 144. There is debate over whether these other groups are actually suborganizations or independent of the SCCR
[290]See, e.g., BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, The Purges in Iran (July 1, 1980) (discussing purge committee for the Oil Ministry and quoting a Ministry spokesman as stating that those expelled include 500 persons associated with the dissolved SAVAK security apparatus, all Freemasons, members of the dissolved parliament and persons associated with the previous regime.)
[291]See, e.g., Assef Bayat, Workers’ Control after the Revolution, MERIP REPORTS (March-April 1983) at 20, with regard to factory purging committees: “About a year and a half after the revolution, in August 1980, the government itself moved to set up special committees in [factory] production units dedicated to ‘the purification… from the conspiracies of the agents of the West, the East, and the overthrown Pahlavi regime.’ … These purging bodies (hay'at-i paksazi) consisted of a representative each of the provincial governor, the Revolutionary Prosecutor, the factory management, the Ministry of Labor, and one elected employee.”
[292]See Namiyyih Ni'matollah Taqa bih Karmand-i Bahá’í [Letter of expulsion from Ni'matollah Taqa, Governor of Fars Province] (date not legible) (on file with IHRDC).
[293]Id.
[294]Az suyih Ayatollah Rabbani Shirazi, Ayatollah Dastgheib va Ayatollah Mahallati Pardakht-i Pul-i Beitu'l-mal bih Bahá’íyan Haram I'lam Shud [From Ayatollah Rabbani-Shirazi, Ayatollah Dastgheib and Ayatollah Mahallati- Payment of money from public funds to Bahá’ís is declared prohibited], JOMHOURI ESLAMI, 9/4/1359 (June 30, 1980).
[295]Id.
[296]Namiyyih Hassan Sadr, Mu'avin-i Vazir-i Sana'yih va Ra'is-i Hay'at-i Amil bih Sazman-i gustarish va Nawsaziyyih Sanayi'-i Iran [Letter to Organization for Expansion and Renovation of Industries of Iran from the Deputy Minister of Industries and the Head of the Board of Directors, Hasan Sadr] 12/4/1359 (July 3, 1980) (on file with IHRDC) [attached as Appendix 5]. The circular cited a June 30, 1980 issue of JOMHOURI ESLAMI and was based on article 440 of the Employment Law of the State. A handwritten note at the bottom of the copy of the order on file with IHRDC requests that the human resources department review all employee files to identify such people.
[297]Namiyyih Hasan Mu'tamid Rizá'í az Idariyyih Kar va Umur-i Ijtima'i Darbariyyih Bahá’íyan [Letter of dismissal from Hasan Mu’tamid Rizá'í, Deputy Supervisor of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs], dated 16/9/1360 (December 7, 1981) (on file with IHRDC).

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