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

2.2. Spiritual Assemblies

After the death of Bahá’u’lláh in 1892, his son Abdu’l-Baha strengthened the growing international Bahá’í movement by creating opportunities for Western Bahá’ís to travel and help build the community in Iran, while sending Iranian Bahá’ís to promote the movement in the West.19 Under his leadership, the Bahá’ís created formal educational institutions in rural areas of Iran and promoted equal rights and education for women. In accordance with Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings, Abdu’l-Baha established democratically elected councils – known as Spiritual Assemblies – as a focus for the Bahá’í community.20 Spiritual Assemblies have now been established around the globe; they are constituted by election wherever nine or more Bahá’ís reside, in order to provide religious, social and community services.21

Internal administrative structures, including Local Spiritual Assemblies, Bahá’í centers, and the Nineteen- Day Feasts22, were established for the exclusive use of the Bahá’í community. Other institutions, including schools, medical facilities, and homes for the aged and the orphaned, were established as development programs for the broader community, including non-Bahá'ís.23 Overseeing these Local Spiritual Assemblies are National Spiritual Assemblies, which are elected annually by local delegates to help the various localities communicate and further the development of Bahá’í principles.24 Some of the most intense persecution in Iran has been directed at members of these National Spiritual Assemblies (see Section 5.1. below).25

The Bahá’í faith rejects the concept of an institutionalized priesthood and so the administrative duties traditionally performed by the clerical leadership in other religions fall to the Spiritual Assemblies. The Spiritual Assemblies oversee the internal affairs of the Bahá’ís, manage their funds and act as channels of communication among the local, national and international bodies. The Local Spiritual Assemblies also empower individuals, committees, and taskforces to conduct community services such as the education, publishing, promotion of Bahá’í teachings, marriage counseling, and fundraising. In essence, these Assemblies are seen as the leadership of the community.26

[19] See GEOFFREY NASH, IRAN’S SECRET POGROM: THE CONSPIRACY TO WIPE OUT THE BAHÁ’ÍS 65 (1982) [hereinafter IRAN’S SECRET POGROM]; Office of Public Information of the Bahá’í International Community, THE BAHÁ’ÍS: A PROFILE OF THE BAHÁ’Í FAITH AND ITS WORLDWIDE COMMUNITY 54-62 (1994).
[20]See Office of Public Information of the Bahá’í International Community, THE BAHÁ’ÍS: A PROFILE OF THE BAHÁ’Í FAITH AND ITS WORLDWIDE COMMUNITY 54-62 (1994).
[21]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) (describing Bahá’í administrative structures).
[22] The basis for the functioning of each local Bahá'í community is the Nineteen-Day Feast. This event is held every nineteen days on the first day of each Bahá'í month, and all the Bahá'ís in that area are expected to attend it. The meeting is divided into three parts: (1) a devotional portion where prayers are shared; (2) an administrative portion where the affairs of the community are discussed; and (3) a social portion at which refreshments are served.
[23] See, e.g., AMIR BANANI, THE MODERNIZATION OF IRAN 1921-1941 96 (1961) [hereinafter BANANI] (stating that a large number of children of influential families of Tehran were enrolled in Tehran’s Bahá’í schools, including Reza Shah’s eldest daughters and eldest son.)
[24] 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).
[25] The Islamic Republic considers these assemblies to be part of an espionage network. See, e.g., Musahibiyyih Matbu'atiyyih Hakim-i Shar' va Dadsitan-i Inqilab-i Islamiyyih Tehran [The Press Conference of the Religious Magistrate and the Islamic Revolutionary Prosecutor of Tehran], KAYHAN, 30/10/1360 (January 20, 1982) (on file with the IHRDC) (quoting Ayatollah Mohammadi Gilani, the Head of the Central Revolutionary Courts, describing Bahá’ís as “spies—of imperialism, generally, and of Zionism, specifically” and stating that “it is incumbent upon the courts and religious magistrates to see to it that these people meet with their just punishment... In the case of those who were executed, their spying for Israel and its agents has been established and they met with their just punishment according to the orders of the Holy Koran… .” He added that there was a group among the Bahá’í community, however, “that has weaknesses of intellect and the courts do them a favor and rehabilitate them… because they are ignorant and do not understand [the gravity of] the issue of spying.”)
[26]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). Members of these committees, viewed as roles of leadership by the IRI, often became a target of arrest and execution. Being a member of these committees became a crime (see Section 5.1 below).

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