[Newspaper] The Sunday Times

[Date:] 21 March 1982


Of these Iran leaders, only one still lives

By Rosemary Righter

This is the last known group photograph of the elected leadership of the Bahai religion in Iran, whose 300,000 members have been undergoing cruel and sometimes murderous persecution since Ayatollah Khomeini came to power. All but one in the group are either known to have been executed or have vanished and are presumed dead.

The Bahai faith has never been respected in Iran; from its founding in the 19th century, it has been denounced as a heresy by the Muslim clergy. Under the new wave of persecution, the martyrdom of the Bahai leadership began in August 1980, when nine of the men in the picture – the entire membership of the faith's supreme body, the National Spiritual Assembly – were taken from a meeting at gunpoint. At first the authorities said they had been arrested; but now they deny all knowledge of their fate.

Nine others (of whom six are also in the group) were elected to replace them. Late last year eight of these were arrested and secretly executed. Their bodies were discovered by chance, five of them in a graveyard for "infidels." The ninth, a woman, escaped arrest and is in hiding: so, her figure is blacked out for her protection.

This month the UN Human Rights Commission called on the United Nations secretary-general to investigate the Iranian government's "systematic persecution" of the Bahais. The Iranian government claims that all executions have been for "crimes" such as spying for western imperialism: but almost all had been offered freedom if they renounced their faith, and no evidence against them has been produced.

Since 1979, the Bahais' holy places have been destroyed, their collective assets confiscated, and their cemeteries desecrated and taken from them. Many have been forced from farms and homes. Thousands have been dismissed from jobs, their pensions cancelled, purely on the ground of their faith.

New decrees threaten their lives. From today, the start of the Iranian new year, all citizens will have to apply for new identity cards. They will have to state their religion. Bahaism is not recognized by the constitution; so Bahais are unlikely to be issued with new papers. Without them, it is impossible to obtain food ration coupons, paraffin for cooking or other basic necessities. Bahais who do not recant their faith will be unable to obtain jobs or business licences, or open bank accounts. The Bahais have set up a committee to care for destitute members of the community. Last month Colonel Vahdat, its leader, was executed.

The Iranian government has rejected appeals by the Council of Europe, the United Nations, and national governments. The 10 members of the EEC, with five other governments, have approached the Iranian government on behalf of the Bahais. The Iranian response has been to cite such interventions as evidence of "conspiratorial links" between the Bahais and western imperialism. The Bahais are forbidden by their faith to take part in politics, and pledged to civil obedience.












































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