The Iranian government considers the Baha’i faith a “deviant sect of Islam” and has targeted the community for decades. Earlier this year, Iran’s courts sentenced Baha’is on spurious national security charges, forcing eight Baha’is to attend “counseling sessions” in prison to pressure them to convert. The Ministry of Intelligence has accused Baha’is of “infiltrating educational environments,” and Iran’s government engages in systematic misinformation campaigns against the Baha’i community.
The Baha’i Faith, an independent world religion, was founded in Iran in 1844. The Baha’is are Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority. Since its inception waves of persecution have been experienced in its birthplace at the hands of Iranian authorities. The 1979 Islamic Revolution marked the beginning of a systematic campaign which aims to eliminate the Baha’i community as a viable entity in that country. Since the Islamic Revolution, more than 200 Baha’is have been executed.
A secret memorandum approved by Iran’s Supreme Leader in 1991 calls for the “progress and development” of the Baha’i community to be blocked by barring them from university, disrupting their ability to earn livelihoods, amongst other discriminatory means. Baha’is are routinely arrested, detained, and imprisoned. They are barred from holding government jobs, and their shops and other enterprises are routinely closed or discriminated against by officials at all levels. Young Baha’is are prevented from attending university, and volunteer Baha’i educators who have sought to fill that gap have been arrested and imprisoned.
The ongoing and systematic persecution experienced since the 1979 Iranian Revolution has been further inflamed by a campaign to incite hatred against Baha’is in the official news media. Although most Iranians are not deceived by this campaign, it has been associated with a series of violent attacks on Baha’is and their properties—including an extensive campaign to vandalize or destroy Baha’i cemeteries.
Although the Iranian government’s systematic campaign to strangulate the Baha’is has been ongoing for over 40 years, recent actions taken up by Iranian authorities over successive months are creating an escalating crisis for the Baha’is in Iran. In recent weeks, scores of Baha’is have been subjected to incidents including arbitrary arrests and imprisonment and raids to their homes or businesses. Properties owned by Baha’is have been demolished and over 20 hectares of land has been confiscated. Former members of the community’s leadership group, who already spent a decade in prison, have been re-arrested and detained.
26 Baha’is handed a combined total sentence of 85 years in prison
In June alone, 44 Baha’is were arrested, arraigned or imprisoned. 26 Baha’is were handed a combined total of 85 years in prison on charges of assembly and collusion “for the purpose of causing intellectual and ideological insecurity in Muslim society.” The Baha’is had, in fact, been gathering across Shiraz as part of their efforts to address local community needs and to assess the severity of the region’s water crisis. A number of young children will be separated from their parents as a result of these sentences. Many of the Iranian government’s recent attacks have focused with persistent severity on Baha’is living in Shiraz – including several from the past month. As the Baha’i Faith began in Shiraz, persecuting Baha’is from this city strikes at the very heart of Baha’i history and identity. One of the first acts of the Islamic Republic in 1979 was to destroy the historic home of the Bab in Shiraz.
Hate propaganda, further arrests and raids on homes and businesses
In July, Baha’is in Shiraz, Tehran, Yazd and Bojnourd, were arrested, jailed or subjected to home searches and business closures.
On 1 August 2022, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence issued an appalling statement of oppressive hate propaganda against the persecuted Baha’i religious minority, in an attempt to justify the raids on the homes and businesses of 52 Baha’is across Iran and the arrest or imprisonment of 13 individuals.
The Ministry of Intelligence issued a formal statement about the moves—which came after weeks of escalating pressure on the Baha’is—and claimed the arrests were against members of the “Baha’i espionage [political] party” and that those arrested were “propagating the teachings of the fabricated Baha’i colonialism and infiltrating educational environments” including kindergartens. The mention of kindergartens is an apparent pretext for the targeting of a number of Baha’is who are preschool teachers.
Former prisoners of conscience and symbols of resilience re-arrested and detained
Amongst those arrested in July and currently detained are Mahvash Sabet, Fariba Kamalabadi and Afif Naemi, former members of the community’s leadership group and prisoners of conscience who each spent a decade in jail.
Mahvash Sabet, who wrote poetry during her decade in Tehran’s Evin Prison, which were shared during her incarceration and later published in English under the title “Prison Poems,” was recognized in 2017 as an English PEN International Writer of Courage.
Fariba Kamalabadi, a developmental psychologist, was arrested in 2008 and also spent a decade behind bars. In 2017 the United States Commission on Religious Freedom recognized and championed her as a religious prisoner of conscience.
200 Iranian government agents destroy Baha’i homes and confiscate 20 hectares of land
At the start of August, up to 200 Iranian government and local agents sealed off the village of Roshankouh, in Mazandaran province, where a large number of Baha’is live, and used heavy earthmoving equipment to demolish their homes. Six homes were destroyed and over 20 hectares of land were confiscated, with one of the homes fully demolished. Video footage of the destruction can be watched here. Additionally:
- Pepper spray was used to disperse people and gunshots were heard during the operation.
- Roads into and out of the village were blocked.
- Anyone who tried to challenge the agents was arrested and handcuffed.
- Agents confiscated the mobile devices of those present and prohibited filming.
- Neighbours were warned to stay in their homes and barred from filming or photographing.
- The authorities installed metal fences to restrict access of the Baha’is to their own homes.
Disinformation and hate speech, raids and arrests, land grabs, occupation and the destruction of homes demonstrate the cruelty of Iran’s authorities towards the Baha’is and indicate unmistakably that they are implementing a step-by-step plan to eliminate the Baha’is in Iran.
A comprehensive overview of the Situation of the Baha’is in Iran