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Community Under Siege: The Ordeal of the Baha’is of Shiraz

1. Preface

The Bahá’í community in Iran has long faced repeated cycles of persecution. The Shi’a clerical establishment in Iran has condemned the Bahá’í Faith as a heretical deviation from Islam; as the hometown of the Báb and one of the early centers of the Bahá’í Faith, the city of Shiraz in Fars Province has been a frequent flashpoint for these tensions.

The arrests that took place in Shiraz in 1982, and the subsequent announcement of the execution of twenty-two Bahá’í faithful the following year, are emblematic of the Bahá’í experience in the Islamic Republic. The oldest victim, Mr. Abdu’l-Husayn Azadi, was sixty-six years old and the youngest, Ms. Mona Mahmudnizhad, only seventeen years old. They found themselves pitted against the full weight of the Iranian state simply because of their religious beliefs.

The IHRDC report A Faith Denied: The Persecution of the Bahá’ís of Iran exposed the effective criminalization of the Bahá’í religion by the Islamic Republic; events in Shiraz provide a graphic illustration of how this narrative worked in practice. The head of the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz, Hojjatolislam Qaza’i, denounced the Shiraz twenty-two prior to their execution as “puppets of Satan and the superpowers and their agents such as the Universal House of Justice of Israel.” Their interrogators repeatedly accused the prisoners of nebulous acts of espionage for which they offered no proof. Ultimately, the Iranian regime would fall back on charges of espionage to justify the executions.

Religious persecution was the primary motive for the Shiraz arrests and murders. In custody the Bahá’í detainees were classified as ‘unclean’ by the prison authorities and forbidden physical contact with the general prison population, a prohibition which extended to their personal belongings. They were forbidden to worship openly or talk about their faith. Community leaders were singled out for torture. All the prisoners were placed under great pressure to recant their faith.

It would be tempting to dismiss events in Shiraz as a local aberration if it were not for the personal intervention of Ayatollah Khomeini in the case. As an international chorus of protest grew in volume, Ayatollah Khomeini dismissed pleas for clemency in a widely published speech casting the Bahá’ís as a political party rather than as a religion and the prisoners in Shiraz as nothing more than spies. The majority of the Shiraz victims were executed less than a month later.

The story of the Shiraz executions is one of religious devotion in the face of extraordinary pressure to convert. To this day, the government of Iran continues to refuse to recognize the Bahá’í Faith as a genuine religion and to extend Bahá’ís the same rights accorded to Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians in the Iranian constitution. It is our profound hope that this report will bring attention to the historic and ongoing oppression of a minority religious group in Iran and give the current regime in Tehran cause for reflection.

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Tagged as:

Baha'i, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Conscience