[Adapted from website:] Weblog - Ruth Gledhill - Times Online

[Date:] Monday, 27 March 2006


Baha'is face yet more persecution in Iran

On the site of Holocaust survivor Alexander Kimel is a fairly comprehensive overview of the factors of anti-Semitism and demonisation of the Jewish people that culminated in the murder of six million Jews, along with many thousands of people from Romany, gay, disabled and other minority communities. Kimel concludes that for many reasons, a Holocaust could not happen again today. One reason that he doubts this is because it would necessitate the recurrence of a particular set of conditions, including the 'silence and indifference of the whole world toward the fate of the Jews.' It is for that reason among other obvious ones that I am highlighting here the current fate of the Baha'i community in Iran. (See this photo of Baha'i temple in Delhi and others on this site.)

I do not want to be part of another 'conspiracy of silence'. And some Baha'is  believe that aspects of what they are experiencing in Iran -- the officially sanctioned recording of their existence and religious affiliation -- bear terrifying comparisons with what happened to Jewish people in Germany in the run-up to their slaughter at Auschwitz and elsewhere.

The Baha'i faith is one of the fastest-expanding in the world, with more than five million followers. There are between 300,000 and 350,000 in Iran, where its founder Baha'u'llah was born in the 19th century. It is a fundamentally peace-loving religion with slightly utopian ideals of universal harmony. It is also the largest religious minority in Iran. You can read a summary of its history and beliefs here. In Iran, the community has been particularly under siege since the 1979 Islamic revolution but there is a long history of persecution before this.

The latest alarm has been provoked by a report by United Nations raporteur Asma Jahangir into the plight of Baha'is in Iran. It is discussed on an excellent Baha'i blog here. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has instructed a number of government agencies, including the revolutionary guard and the police force, to 'collect any and all information about members of the Baha'i faith.' Ms Jahangir, whose brief at the UN is freedom of religion and belief, concludes that this monitoring 'constitutes an impermissible and unacceptable interference with the rights of the members of religious communities.' She is also concerned that the information gained as a result of this monitoring will be used to support 'the increased persecution of, and discrimination against, members of the Baha'i faith, in violation of international standards.'

Members of the Baha'i community are not recognized as a religious minority in Iran and do not have the right to practise their religion. M Jahangir has long been concerned by the 'systematic discrimination' against members of the Baha'i community in Iran and has already intervened with the government several times. But now she fears that the situation in Iran for all religious minorities is deteriorating.

Here is one example of what the Baha'is in Iran have suffered, reported on the faith's own site: 'In June 1983, for example, the Iranian authorities arrested ten Baha'i women and girls. The charge against them: teaching children’s classes on the Baha'i Faith — the equivalent of Sunday school in the West. The women were subjected to intense physical and mental abuse in an effort to coerce them to recant their Faith — an option that is always pressed on Baha'i prisoners. Yet, like most Baha'is who were arrested in Iran, they refused to deny their beliefs. As a result, they were executed.'  Pictured here is 17-year-old Mona Mahmudnizhad, one of the women executed. There are many other stories of arbitrary arrests, imprisonments and property confiscation and members of the faith are not allowed access to public universities in Iran. After many UN and other international protests, Iran reduced the execution rate but what is concerning about the latest development is that it indicates that the ultimate goal of the persecution, the eradication of the faith in Iran, has not changed. 

Says Barney Leith, of the UK Baha'is: 'We share Ms Jahangir's concern for the welfare of the Baha'is in Iran and are gravely concerned for their safety.' As much pressure as possible needs to be exerted on Iran to prevent the ultimate elimination of a community that is dedicated to what we all want, peace.






















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