[Newspaper:] Sunday Independent

[Date:] Sunday, 27 September 1981


Baha'is in the same peril as the Jews in Nazi Germany

Iran planning to exterminate 300,000 Baha'is if they refuse to be converted

Exclusive report by Rosemary Righter of the London Sunday Times

Iran's schools will be open this week for the new term and more than 70,000 pupils are expected to be missing.

They are Baha'is, members of Iran's largest religious minority which is outlawed by the Islamic Government as a heretical sect. When they registered for school earlier this month, they were required to state their religion.

Then came an ultimatum; convert to Islam or stay at home.

But the threat facing the entire Baha'i community of 300,000 is far more desperate than that: Conversion or death. The Iranian Government is gradually unveiling a plan to eliminate the Baha'is.

Over the next few months Ayatollah Khomeini's regime will enforce new decrees that will make every aspect of their existence illegal. Baha'is who refuse to renounce their faith will be progressively isolated – and then, they fear, killed.

Reports from Tehran and elsewhere in Iran indicate that their peril is as great as was that of the Jews in Germany after Hitler's anti-semitic Nuremberg Laws were introduced in 1935.

The new laws will be based on Iran's Islamic constitution, which recognises three smaller minority religions – Christianity, Judaism and the pre-Islamic Iranian faith, Zoroastrianism – but not the Baha'i faith.

Membership of one of the official religions will now be comprehensively enforced.

Baha'is will thus be barred from holding jobs, owning property, having bank accounts, running businesses, getting medical treatment or travelling.

Baha'i weddings are already not recognised as lawful. New legislation will make all Baha'i marriages, even those of 50 years' duration, null and void.

Married couples will be considered as "involved in prostitution", a crime punishable by death. Baha'i children will become illegitimate and their parents will be deprived of all rights over them.

The climax will come on March 20, when all Iranians are to register for new identity cards. Baha'is will not be eligible. They will thus be clearly singled out for "naboudi" (elimination) – a process of exposure that is necessary to the regime's plan because the Baha'is are ethnic Iranians, well integrated into local life, and do not all publicise their faith.

The Baha'is have good reason to be discreet about their belief. Baha'ism, now a worldwide religion with several million adherents has always been treated with hostility in Iran, its birthplace.

Within 10 years of its founding in 1844 by a young merchant of Shiraz known as the Bab, 20,000 had been cruelly put to death. Under the late Shah, and his father before him, the Baha'is were periodically persecuted. But now they are marked out for a “final solution.”

In the fundamentalist fury now gripping Iran they are obvious targets, because Baha'ism cuts at the heart of Islam – the central belief that Mohammed is the last of God's prophets.

The Baha'is preach the essential oneness of all the great world religions, and honour the Koran and Mohammed accordingly, but they follow the teachings of the Bab and his successor, Baha'u'llah ("Glory of God"), both of whom declared themselves to be prophets sent by Allah.

Their teachings lay them open to attacks from all sides. The mullahs have always detested the Baha'is because they have no priests or fixed rituals.

They offend deep-rooted prejudices by advocating full equality for the sexes; their women go unveiled, are not segregated, and are eligible for all positions in the Baha'i leadership.

Passionate believers in universal education, the Baha'is tend to be more literate and thus better off than other Iranians, although many are farmers.

And they arouse nationalist suspicions because they consider world government to be the ideal and are forbidden to take part in national politics, simply pledging civil loyalty to whatever government happens to be in power.

The new leaders reproach them for having remained aloof from opposition to the Shah, and for keeping aloof from the Islamic Revolution. They are also accused of being "agents of Zionism" – a charge that arises from an accident of history; Baha'u'llah was exiled from Iran, then imprisoned in Palestine, where he died, and the world centre of the Baha'is is on Mount Carmel in Israel.

As the Baha'is are herded down the path that could lead to extermination, they are even more alone in Iran than the Jews were in Nazi Germany. Mullahs and politicians unite in boasting of the actions taken against them.

Iran's other religious minorities have said nothing, probably out of prudence. Not one of Khomeini's exiled opponents has spoken up for the Baha'is.

Their cemeteries and holy places have been confiscated and desecrated or destroyed. Many of their businesses have been seized and their collective assets turned over to the "Foundation for the Dispossessed".

Thousands have been purged from the civil service, the armed forces and the educational system, and deprived of all pension rights.

A year ago the entire national leadership was taken at gunpoint from a Tehran house and “disappeared".

An estimated 166 Baha'is have been executed or lynched by mobs. Scores more have disappeared. Farmers' fields have been burnt. Families have been forced to leave their villages. Across Iran, Baha'is are being dragged to the mosques for enforced mass conversions to Islam. Those who refuse are driven from their homes, some have been covered with petrol and burnt to death. Baha'is no longer dare to maintain contact with each other.

The new, more systematic phase was heralded last April, when an influential right wing ayatollah, Mahmoud Sadduqi, announced that Khomeini had classed the Baha'is as "mahdour ad-damm” – those whose blood must be shed.

Baha'is, said Sadduqi, must recant or face the consequences.

Through the summer the mullahs have been whipping up popular hatred of the Baha'is, from the pulpit and at political rallies, denouncing them as heretics, unclean, immoral, agents of foreign powers and enemies of the True Faith.

The civil authorities have abandoned any pretence that Baha'is are entitled to the protection of the law. Iran's new prosecutor-general, Ayatollah Mousavi Tabrizi, has declared: "The Koran recognises all the People of the Book as religious communities. Others are pagans. Pagans must be eliminated."

Popular figures in local communities are being murdered with impunity. One of them was Dr Soleiman Berjis of Kashan, a town to the south of Tehran. His death was described in a pro-Khomeini newspaper, just before the ban on reporting such “incidents" came into force. He was, the newspaper said, "a much-respected man, a friend of the poor and needy".

Berjis was lured out one night with a call to attend a dying man. When he arrived eight men surrounded him. He asked where the patient was. They replied: "The patient is you. You are the sick man. Your disease is your religion.”

One of them seized him. He tore loose and jumped from a balcony, breaking his legs. The eight followed and killed him with 81 stabs; 10 for each man and one extra for their leader.

The assassins then toured the town, singing and dancing and proclaiming the "joyful event". If people asked, "Why him?" they were told the doctor was a Baha'i. Then their response, the newspaper reported, was: “Oh, that's all right, then." The assassins, whose names were known, were not even called in for questioning.



Last week, large scale attacks were launched on villages around Isfahan.

Unconfirmed recent reports from several provinces speak of the bodies of Baha'is being hacked to pieces and thrown to desert jackals. In Semnan, three nurses were killed with hatchets – and people came to touch the hands of the assassins to be blessed.

In sharp contrast, Bahas who are terrorised into adopting Islam receive gifts and are given parties at which a mullah pronounces them "clean". But those who are suspected of returning to their old faith are killed.

International concern is growing. [illegible] in Geneva…sub-commission of the United Nations Human Rights Commission that deals with persecuted minorities passed a resolution condemning the “systematic persecution” of the Baha'is, “motivated by religious intolerance and a desire to eliminate the Baha'i faith in the land of its birth”.

The resolution, cosponsored by Britain, found three Islamic countries – Sudan, Morocco and Egypt – among its 19 supporters. None voted against, but two other Islamic countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh, were among five abstainers. Several Islamic governments are deeply disturbed by policies they see as a contradiction of the Koran and also damaging to the image of Islam.


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