A Faith Denied: The Persecution of the Baha'is of Iran
Since the foundation of the faith, the Bahá’í community in Iran has suffered waves of persecution. Animosity towards the Bahá’ís has deep roots in the Iranian Shi'a population. The Shi’a clergy and political elites have exploited this hostility on numerous occasions - most notably in the mid-1950s and then again during the Revolution and in the post-revolutionary period.
The clerical establishment in Iran views the Bahá’í religion as being heretical and has been consistent in its efforts to marginalize and otherwise undermine the faith. Since the introduction of the 1979 Islamic Constitution, Bahá’í religious practice has effectively been criminalized inside Iran. The members of three successive Bahá’í national assemblies have been eliminated on the flimsiest of pretexts, as have numerous local community leaders. Sites of immense religious and cultural significance to the Bahá’ís have been destroyed with the connivance of the state authorities. Ordinary Bahá’ís have been subjected to an extraordinary degree of social exclusion.
Although the level of active repression has fluctuated since the initial years of the Islamic revolution because of both domestic political shifts and external pressures, the clerical establishment’s ideological hostility towards the Bahá’í faith has remained constant. The current Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, has been closely associated with anti-Bahá’í campaigns. The 1991 Golpaygani memo provides a graphic insight into Khamenei’s thinking on “The Bahá’í Question.” This document makes clear Khamenei’s intention to exclude Bahá’ís from mainstream Iranian life, block the development of their faith, and perhaps most sinister of all, “destroy” their cultural roots outside the country.
Growing tensions between the Islamic Republic and the international community over Iran’s nuclear program and the return of populist conservative politicians, like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to power have strengthened Ayatollah Khamenei’s position to act against the Bahá’ís once more.
It is against this backdrop that the IHRDC views recent instructions from the Supreme Leader to the Iranian security forces to gather identifying particulars on surviving members of the Bahá’í community with alarm. Given the Islamic Republic’s history of implacable hostility towards the Bahá’ís, and the IRI leadership’s personal animus towards the faith, the IHRDC is greatly concerned that the Bahá’í community in Iran may soon face another cycle of repression and violence.