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

The Ministry of Education formalized the prohibition against Bahá’ís in the university system by issuing a decree in September of 1981, which identified membership in the “misled and heretical sect” of the Bahá’í faith as a “crime,” and prohibited Bahá’í professors and students alike from working for or attending colleges.317 In a 1982 letter to CJ, the University Purge Committee of her university in Mashhad made it clear that her expulsion was a result of her Bahá’í faith, explaining that “all sects of Islam including the Shi’a consider the Bahá’í faith as a misguided sect for many reasons such as the system of belief in the Prophet, the imamate and their particular adherence to religious laws and regulations which are not derive from the Koran and tradition.”318

Bahá’í students studying abroad also had their educational opportunities curtailed. In 1981 Kayhan newspaper reported a new law that defined thirty categories of students who were ineligible to receive a subsidized exchange rate for Iranian students studying abroad; category seven were those “students who are not followers of one of the official religions of the state.”319

The IHRDC concludes that the totality of cultural, social and economic pressures placed on Bahá'ís individually and collectively were deliberately calculated to make normal life for the Bahá'í community of Iran unsustainable.

6. Present Conditions

6.1. International Intervention

By 1983, Iran was beginning to face international pressure to end its persecution of the Bahá’ís. UN resolutions initially failed to impact the actions of the Islamic Republic320 and on March 14, 1984, the Commission on Human Rights passed resolution 1984/54, which mandated the appointment of a Special Representative to monitor the human rights situation in Iran.321

The Special Representative’s reports typically provoked an aggressive response from the Iranian delegation to the UN,322 especially when it came to the Bahá’í issue. The Islamic Republic's refusal to accept the Bahá'í community as a religious minority became the subject of an ongoing battle between UN Special Representative Reynaldo Galindo Pohl and the Iranian regime, as this passage from one of Pohl’s reports reflects:

He [the IRI delegate, Kamal Kharrazi] said that those resolutions [concerning the Bahá’ís] contained subjective criteria and lacked objectivity and good will. He said, in particular, that, as on previous occasions, such resolutions attempted to confer on groups a status that they did not really have. That indirect language referred to the attribution of the status of religious minority to the Bahá'ís. Those problems had prevented the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran from cooperating fully with the Special Representative… .323

Iran continued to contend that the Bahá'í faith did not constitute a religious community but was a political organization that fronted as a religion to gain sympathy from the international community.324 Iranian representatives to the UN and other countries justified mistreatment of the Bahá’ís by claiming, inter alia, that: (a) the Bahá’í faith was created by the British in order to create division amongst Muslims325; (b) Bahá'ís were Zionist spies gathering information to be taken back to Israel326; and (c) Bahá'ís had conspired with the Pahlavi regime and the SAVAK secret police.327 The Bahá’í International Community invited delegates from the UN Commission on Human Rights to investigate the Bahá'í headquarters in Haifa, Israel, and determine for themselves the accuracy of the Iranian government’s accusations.328

[318]Namih bih Khanum CJ az Danishgah [Letter of expulsion to CJ from University Crusade organization of a University in Mashhad], 27/12/1360 (March 18, 1982) (on file with IHRDC).
[319]Mugharrarat-i Jadid-i Irsal-i Arz-i Danishjoo-yee Eela'am Shod [New laws for wiring foreign currency to students outside of Iran was announced], KAYHAN, 13/5/1360 (August 4, 1981).
[320]For an index listing resolutions passed on Iran, see NAZILA GHANEA, HUMAN RIGHTS, THE UN, AND THE BAHA’IS IN IRAN 436- 437 (2002) [hereinafter GHANEA].
[321]Id. at 114-121. Andre Aguilar of Venezuela was the first to be appointed to this position; however, he was repeatedly denied permission to visit Iran, which hindered his ability to fulfill his mandate and eventually prompted his resignation. As the Commission considered new appointments for the position, Iran requested an "objective, impartial and knowledgeable individual" from the Muslim world or third world, with an understanding of Islamic law, evidently intending to suggest that the previous reports on the Bahá'í s had been biased. On July 20, 1986, Reynaldo Galindo Pohl of El Salvador was appointed as the new Special Representative. See id. (noting at 121 that "Norway expressed concern about Iran's right, as a country under special consideration by the Commission, to stipulate the qualifications of the next Special Representative.")
[322]See, e.g., AFSHARI, supra note 145 at 147 (citing, e.g., Report of the UN Economic and Social Council on the Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, UN Doc. A/42/648 (October 12, 1987) at p. 16, ¶ 47; and Report of the UN Economic and Social Council on the Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, UN Doc. A/44/620 (November 2, 1989), at p. 7, ¶ 4).
[323]Report of the UN Economic and Social Council on the Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, UN Doc. A/44/620 (November 2, 1989), at 26, ¶ 94.
[324]See Transcript of Statements by Head of Delegation from the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mr. Khosroshahi, before the United Nations Human Rights Committee (July 19, 1982) at 6 (stating that “Bahá’í leaders claim hypocritically and shamelessly that they do not interfere in political affairs”) [hereinafter Khosroshahi Transcript] (on file with IHRDC).
[325]See Letter from Press and Information Section of Iranian Embassy in the U.K. (August 18, 1983) (on file with the IHRDC) [hereinafter Letter from Iranian Embassy in U.K.] (asserting that “[t]he essence of Bahá’ísm is rather a successful experience by imperialism and the enemies of Islam… particularly Britain and the Czarist Russia… the fabricated mock Bahá’ísm has always been an instrumental in showing discord and disunion among the Muslim people.”); SANASARIAN, supra note 16 at 115, notes that “[m]any believed that Bahá’ísm was a fake movement founded in Iran by the British colonialists as an instrument of indirect rule in order to destroy Shi'ism and progressive movements.”
[326]See Letter from Iranian Embassy in U.K., supra note 325, at 3 (stating that “[j]ust as the Islamic Revolution was capable of
removing all espionage bases in the country of the Imperialists, it can and is determined to crush the Zionist espionage dens
acting under cover of Bahá’ísm.”); see also Khoshroshahi Transcript, supra note 324, at 7 (stating that “during the long black
night of Pahlavi regime in Iran [Bahá’ís] worked hand-in-hand with Zionism.”)

[327]See Khosroshahi Transcript, supra note 324, at 7 (stating that “the Bahá’í hypocritical, criminal leaders were they key figures and most important policymakers of the God-forsaken regime of the Shah.”)
[328]See, e.g., Bahá’í International Community Statement to the thirty-ninth session of the Commission on Human Rights regarding Agenda item 12: Question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms, March 2, 1983, at 3.

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