Minority report: Why Baha’is face persecution in Iran
The Islamic Republic’s 34-year rule has hurt many religious and political groups in Iran, but one community has borne an especially heavy burden: the Baha’is, a religious minority viewed as heretics by some Muslims.
Dozens of Baha’is were killed or jailed in the years immediately following the Islamic revolution in 1979. Billions of dollars worth of land, houses, shops and other Baha’i belongings were seized in subsequent years by various Iranian organizations, including Setad, the organization overseen by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The United Nations office of the Baha’i International Community, a non-governmental organization, estimates that more than 2,000 homes, shops, orchards and other properties were seized from its members in Iran up to 2003, the most recent figure available. The property was then worth about $10 billion.
“It’s really one of the most obvious cases of state persecution,” Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said about the treatment of Baha’is in Iran at a United Nations conference in Geneva this year. “It’s basically state persecution, systematic and covering all areas of state activities, the various systems from family law provisions to schooling, education, security.”
One reason clerics in Iran have targeted the group with such zeal is the fact devout Muslims see the Baha’i faith as heresy and an insult to the teachings of Islam. The religion started in 1844 in the southern city of Shiraz when a man named Bab announced the coming of a messenger of God. In 1863, one of Bab’s followers named Baha’ullah declared himself to be the messenger and began preaching a message of unity among faiths. His followers were attacked and he spent years in exile, dying in the city of Acre, in what was then Palestine, in 1892.
During most of the 20th century, the monarchs ruling Iran tolerated Baha’is, though there were periodic arrests and attacks against members of the community, according to historians.
After the Islamic revolution, the group was targeted again. While Jews and Christians were recognized as religious minorities in the new constitution, Baha’is were not. Hundreds of Baha’is were expelled from universities or had their businesses attacked or their properties confiscated, members of the community say.
The Iranian government did not respond to a request for comment.
The Baha’i International Community estimates there are 300,000 Baha’is left in Iran. In late July, Khamenei issued an edict stating that Iranians should avoid all dealings with Baha’is, according to Iran’s Tasnim news agency.
An Iranian lawyer who represented more than half a dozen Baha’i clients in recent cases involving confiscated property says he was called in for questioning by intelligence agents last year and threatened. The lawyer, who is Muslim and spoke on condition he not be named, told Reuters he had to stop accepting Baha’i clients.
“The government has set up a system where Baha’is are not allowed to build up financial strength,” said the lawyer.
via Reuters Investigates – Assets of the Ayatollah, by Babak Dehghanpisheh.