[Newspaper:] The Sun

[Date:] Sunday, 20 September 1981


Iran is bent on exterminating its Baha'i minority, official of faith says

By Douglas Watson

Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun


Haifa, Israel – Persecution by Iran's Islamic regime of the 300,000 members of the Baha'i faith is said to be worsening and part of a systematic plan to exterminate that nonviolent religious minority.

That allegation was made by Donald M. Barrett, secretary general of the Baha'i International Community, a 137-year-old international religion whose headquarters are here.

Mr. Barrett said that since the Islamic regime took power in Iran in 1979, 81 Baha'i members have been executed and many more have been imprisoned or are missing and feared dead.

In most instances the only charge – one often not even made in a court but by mobs that have burned, stoned and tortured people to death – is that the Iranian Baha'is are members of a banned religion whose members do not even have the minimal rights granted other minorities in Iran, such as Jews, Zoroastrians and Christians.

Iranians also say that because the faith's headquarters are in Israel, the Baha'is are Israeli agents.

As a result of their officially promoted persecution, about 10,000 of the Iranian Baha'is are homeless, having seen their dwellings razed, and many more are unable to earn a living because no one will hire them, said Mr. Barrett, a former Californian and former Gulf Oil Corporation executive.

"Convinced that the treatment of the Baha'is is motivated by religious intolerance and a desire to eliminate the Baha'i faith from the land of its birth," the United Nations Economic and Social Council on September 2 passed without opposition a resolution calling on the government of Iran "to prevent further attacks on the Baha'i community and to grant them religious freedom."

Three Muslim countries, Egypt, the Sudan and Morocco, joined in that plea.

Nevertheless, Mr. Barrett, interviewed on the beautifully landscaped grounds of the Baha'i World Center, where one of its two most holy shrines is situated, predicted that circumstances for the Iranian members of his independent world religion would get worse before they improve.

"We have learned that there is an organized, systematic plan and campaign to eradicate the Baha'i religion in Iran," he charged.

Mr. Barrett said most of those who have been executed in Iran have been Baha'i leaders, though all are laymen or women, since the faith has no priest or clergy.

On August 21, 1980, all nine members of the Iranian Baha'is National Spiritual Assembly, the faith's highest body in Iran, were arrested while meeting in a private home. Iranian authorities have never acknowledged the arrests, and the fate of the Baha'i leaders is unknown.

Typical of the acts committed against Iranian Baha'is was the murder January 12 of Dr. Manuchihr Hakim, a prominent physician who was shot to death without warning is his Tehran clinic. About 4,000 Baha'i mourners marched at his funeral despite the great personal risk in doing so.

The situation in Iran has gotten so bad for the Baha'is that they fear to meet in their local spiritual assemblies, which are headed by nine, annually elected members. Both men and women are eligible for election.

The Baha'i faith's headquarters in Haifa long remained quiet about much that was happening in Iran, feeling that to protest, especially from the Jewish state, would only jeopardize Iranian Baha'is.  Now, however, the Baha'i World Center is trying to do whatever it can to call on people and governments everywhere to plead for a halt to the persecution.

In the eyes of extremist Shia Muslims, what is most reprehensible about the Baha'is is the religious minority's belief that while there have been many great prophets – including Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed – there will be other prophets, religious revelation being continuous as mankind progresses.

The Baha'is believe in "the oneness of mankind" and that all of the great religions of the world are divine in origin. They read from the holy books of other religions as well as their own.

In Iran, where they were also persecuted by the regime of the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Baha'is are being accused of being supporters of the former dictator. In fact, the Baha'i faith bars its members from any political partisanship.

The Baha'is are accused of being enemies of Islam. In fact, the Baha'i faith is the only religion besides Islam that recognizes Mohammed as a prophet of God.

The Baha'is are accused of prostitution, immorality and adultery because they treat women equally. Since Baha'i marriages are not recognized in Iran, Baha'i couples are considered to be living in sin.

The Baha'i faith began in 1844 in Iran when Siyyid Ali Muhammad, known by the title Bab, meaning "gate," proclaimed that a new era of peace and brotherhood had begun. As a result, he was executed six years later and more than 20,000 of his followers were murdered.

One of the landmarks of Haifa is the Shine of the Bab, whose gold dome glistens above the cedar trees amid acres of parks maintained by the religion but open to anyone.

About 200,000 people, including Baha'is from 132 countries, visited here last year. The largest number of Baha'is are in India, followed by Iran and Bolivia. About 100,000 of the religion's 2 million members live in the United States.

The Baha'is are building a handsome Universal House of Justice here overlooking the inviting Baha'i park where Israeli brides often come to have themselves photographed, but in Iran the Bab's birthplace has been razed and is being turned into a parking lot.




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