The Persecution of Baha’is in Iran

Iran Bahais persecuted shamelessly

By Vida Ellins and Marcia Veach

Published: Monday, May 15, 2006

When the big news is nuclear, the day-to-day oppression of human beings may easily be obscured. So members of the Bahai faith worldwide welcomed the exposure provided by a recent statement of United Nations Human Rights Special Rapporteur Asma Jahangir, saying she was "highly concerned by information she has received concerning the treatment of members of the Bahai community in Iran ."

Sadly, this is not the first time that oppressed community has been the object of concern.

Since the inception of the Bahai faith in Iran in 1844, its members, who are committed to nonviolence and loyalty to government, have suffered various degrees of persecution because of their religious beliefs. Persecution increased following Iran 's Islamic revolution in 1979, and included a wave of imprisonments and executions. International pressure stopped the more obvious abuses but did not prevent more insidious attacks against these hapless and innocent people.

Attacks have been increasing in both depth and breadth since the early 1990s, commencing with a secret Iranian government document unearthed by the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The document, written by Iran 's Supreme Revolutionary Cultural Council, detailed guidelines for dealing with Bahais so that "their progress and development are blocked."

This policy of slow strangulation was furthered when the government, which had systematically deprived Bahais of higher education, also blocked Bahai efforts to establish their own institutions of higher learning. Bahais would be allowed to attend colleges and universities only if they recant their faith and declare themselves as Muslims, which the Bahais refuse to do on principle.

With each new election, Iran 's Bahais hope for a reprieve, but the oppression seems only to shift and deepen. By 2004, the campaign had extended to destroying the ancestral home of Bah<135>'u'll<135>h, prophet-founder of the Bahai faith, even though the building itself was a fine example of Persian architecture and thus a cultural treasure for all Iranians.

Then came the disturbing developments spoken of by Jahangir, who raised the alarm because of a "confidential letter sent on 29 October 2005 by the chairman of the command headquarters of the armed forces in Iran to a number of governmental agencies" instructing them to "identify persons who adhere to the Bahai faith and monitor their activities" and "in a highly confidential manner, collect any and all information about members of the Bahai faith." The Anti-Defamation League has said this directive "sets a dangerous precedent" and is "reminiscent of the laws imposed on European Jews in the 1930s."

One disquieting example of this monitoring, detailed on the Bahai World News Service Web site, was the discovery in early February that the Association of Iranian Chambers of Commerce has begun compiling lists of Bahais. The implication is that Bahais may be targeted in their places of employment, cutting them off from their source of livelihood.

While Bahais constitute Iran 's largest religious minority, one might wonder why the Iranian government is so bent on eliminating them. One reason is that Bah<135>'u'll<135>h, believed by adherents to be the most recent in the line of messengers of God, was born after Muhammad, whom Muslims consider the final prophet.

The key principles of Bah<135>'u'll<135>h's teachings are the oneness and wholeness of the human race, that there is only one God, and that all the world religions are expressions of a single, unfolding divine plan. The faith, the youngest of the world's independent monotheistic religions, has adherents in virtually every country.

Members of the Bahai faith still have no rights under the Iranian constitution, and they are still classified as "unprotected infidels." A U.S. congressional resolution calling for the emancipation of the Iranian Bahais or a firm stand by the U.N. to halt these persecutions certainly could help.

Meanwhile, we must at least bring these unjust actions into the light of day, because the longer they remain in darkness, the greater the jeopardy for members of this oppressed com- munity.

Vida Ellins was born and raised in Iran . She is active in the Bahai faith and has been a U.S. citizen for more than 30 years. Marcia Veach, a native Oregonian and longtime member of the Bahai faith, serves as public information representative for the Bahai communities of the Eugene-Springfield area.


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