[PROVISIONAL TRANSLATION FROM PERSIAN]

 

[Translator’s notes appear in square brackets.]

[Personal information has been redacted.]

[The excerpt below is from the section of the article that pertains to the Baha’i Faith]

 

[Adapted from website:] Khodnevis

[Date:] 22 Azar 1392 [13 December 2013]

 

Will Yazd Become an Anti-Baha’i Base in Iran?

[By:] Aria Haghgoo

On the one hand, the historical background and manifestations of pre-Islamic civilization in this region cause the public to be interested in preserving the historical and cultural diversity of the region and create an atmosphere of peaceful coexistence between followers of different religions; on the other hand, the existence of strong influence by the clerics who consider the non-Muslims to be unclean, teaches people to hate non-Muslims and stay away from them.

Yazd is a beautiful and historic city on the edge of the desert; populated by hardworking, kind and, of course, traditional and religious people. Due to its historical background and the colorful presence of buildings and even traditions left from before the arrival of Islam in Iran, this city contributes to a significant religious and cultural diversity among Iranian cities. This city is not only the main home of the Zoroastrians of Iran, but also has long housed the Jewish settlement areas.

The existence of Zoroastrian holy places such as the fire temple, the catacombs, the Banu Pars shrine, Pir-e Herisht, and, most importantly, the famous shrine “Chak Chak” [meaning drip-drip], and the holding of religious ceremonies at different times of the year in these places has made Yazd Province a showcase of Iran’s cultural diversity.

But this is not all you need to know about Yazd. Yazd has long been one of the most important breeding grounds for influential Shiite clerics. The people of Yazd and the surrounding cities have a special interest in the clergy, and the respect for this class of society among the inhabitants of this part of Iran has been very significant.

Of course, gradually, with the increase in the level of literacy and education of the people, as well as the expansion of communication, the influence of extremist clerics among the people of this region has significantly decreased. Especially in the post-revolutionary years, clerics close to the government have lost their place among the general public. The behaviour of these clerics, which includes gaining wealth and paying attention to personal interests, has been among the most important reasons for people to turn away from them.

The former Yazd Friday prayer leader (who passed away last year) became known as “Mohammad Two Dungi[1]” among the people of Yazd. At the beginning of the revolution, this influential cleric, who was the son of the Friday prayer leader of Yazd, was given this title by the people, because it was common that anyone who wanted to start a lucrative business had to first allocate and transfer two [dung] portions [out of six portions] of that business to the institute that was managed by him in order to get a work permit. However, there are many such clerics in this region, and, of course, they still have a lot of influence among government agencies. The judiciary of Yazd and the security authorities of this province are generally considered as the breeding ground of the influential clerics of this region. In addition to holding the top judicial positions in the province, these clerics also play a direct role in appointing and dismissing judges, and promoting them, and the security circles, including the intelligence services and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps [IRGC], are run under their direct influence.

On various religious occasions—from weekly meetings to Muharram and Ramadan— these clerics also have the opportunity to express their views to the general public and can bring some of the audience to their pulpits with their beliefs.

Such an atmosphere has created a paradox of tolerance of and pressure on non-Muslims in the region. On the one hand, the historical background and manifestations of pre-Islamic civilization in this region cause the public to be interested in preserving the historical and cultural diversity of the region and creating an atmosphere of peaceful coexistence between followers of different religions; on the other hand, there is the strong influence of the clergy, who consider non-Muslims unclean and teach the people to hate non-Muslims and to stay away from them!

No doubt, in such an atmosphere, there are no more defenceless people than Baha’is to be transgressed by the security and judicial forces. On the one hand, the Baha’is are an emerging minority in the region, whose presence [is new and] does not date back to before the people of the region converted to Islam. For this reason, there is no bigotry or attachment towards the Zoroastrians that exists in relation to the Baha’is. On the other hand, accusing the Baha’is of trying to convert the people of the region from Islam to the Baha’i Faith―and, in fact, weakening the beliefs of the people―raises serious concerns in the traditional and religious atmosphere of the people of this region. In other words, the Baha’is of Yazd are deprived of the historical protective cover from those hostile to the Baha’is and the feelings of the traditional and religious people of Yazd against them can easily be provoked. As a result, the province’s security forces, under the influence of government clerics, can more easily put pressure on Baha’is in the area and violate their fundamental rights [as citizens].

Of course, the good behaviour of the Baha’is towards their fellow citizens, and their honesty and trustworthiness, have led some people who have associated with Baha’is to be skeptical of the accusations leveled against them. However, the general public in the region, who have no real knowledge of the Baha’is, are indifferent to the violation of Baha’i rights. In such an environment, actions such as the demolition of Baha’i cemeteries, the mass arrests of Baha’is, repeated raids and unusual searches on their homes, have become commonplace in this region. The province’s judiciary also issues harsh sentences against Baha’i detainees, which is contrary to the usual practice of the judiciary of the Islamic Republic. An example of these sentences is the sentencing of Shamim Ettehadi to seven years in prison for making a four-minute video of the demolition of the Baha’i cemetery in Yazd.

The other arrested Baha’is have also faced heavy sentences to long prison terms due to the special atmosphere in the province’s judiciary.

Given the numerous arrests of Baha’is in Yazd and the numerous attacks on places such as their cemeteries, as well as the unusual severity of the increasing raids  on Baha’i homes and the harsh sentences handed down by Yazd courts to Baha’i defendants, the question arises as to whether Yazd is becoming a base for anti-Baha’ism in Iran.

It is hoped, that the answer to this question will be “NO”, with awareness of the people of this region of the facts and by the efforts of human rights activists to raise awareness about the violation of the fundamental rights of the Baha’is in this region.

 

 

[1] [Shish Dung: The entire six parts into which a piece of real estate is divided]