Persecution of Baha’is in Iran
Brief History

The Bahá’í Faith was born in 19th century Persia with the appearance of two prophetic figures—the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh.  The Báb’s mission was to prepare the way for the coming of a Promised One foretold in all the world’s religions.  Bahá’u’lláh claimed to be that Promised One with a divine mission to usher in a new stage of humanity’s unity as a single entity living in a common homeland.  His teachings outlined a framework for the emergence of a global civilization that would advance both the spiritual and material dimensions of life.  Among those teachings are the oneness of the entire human race; the independent search after truth; the abolition of all forms of prejudice; the harmony which must exist between religion and science; and the equality of men and women.  For more information about the Bahá’í Faith visit the official website.  

The Early Period

The teachings of the Báb — and their popular appeal — were seen by Iran’s religious establishment and the Qajar Kings as a threat to their power and authority. Thousands of early followers of the Báb were killed at the urging of religious leaders, and the Báb was executed by the government in 1850.

The Iranian religious orthodoxy subsequently responded to the message of Bahá’u’lláh, as it spread within and outside of Iran, with a renewed determination to extinguish the new religion and force its followers back to Islam. Bahá’u’lláh was exiled, sent to the prison city of Akka in what was then Ottoman Palestine, while His followers in Iran continued to face successive outbreaks of persecution. In 1903, for example, 101 Bahá’ís were killed in the city of Yazd after the populace was incited by hostile mullahs.

Pahlavi Period

During the early years of the Pahlavi dynasty (1925 to 1979), the government formalized a policy of discrimination against the Bahá’ís as a concession to the clergy. Beginning in 1933, Bahá’í literature was banned, Baháí marriages were not recognized, and Baháís in public service were demoted or fired. Bahá’í schools – of which there were some 50 in the country and which were open to all irrespective of background – were forced to close.

Another round of persecutions commenced in 1955, when the Pahlavi regime allowed the nationwide broadcast of a series of incendiary sermons against the Baháís by a leading Shiite preacher in Tehran — apparently hoping to make the Baháís a scapegoat to deflect attention from unpopular government policies. Both the national and army radio stations were put at the disposal of the responsible cleric, Sheikh Muhammad Taqi Falsafi, who joined the Shah’s Army Chief, General Batmangelich, in demolishing the dome of the Bahá’í national headquarters with pickaxes. A wave of anti-Bahá’í violence swept the country. Murders, rapes and robberies were reported in many areas, while the government assured the Iranian Parliament that it had ordered the suppression of all activities of “the Bahá’í sect.”

Islamic Republic of Iran

The persecution of the Baháís intensified significantly since the 1979 Islamic revolution, as a result of official government policy.  When the new Republic’s constitution was drawn up in April 1979, certain rights of the Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian minorities in Iran were specifically mentioned and protected.  However, no mention whatsoever was made of the rights of the Bahá’í community, Iran’s largest religious minority.

Under Iran’s Islamic government, this exclusion has come to mean that Bahá’ís enjoy no rights of any sort and that they can be attacked and persecuted with impunity.  Courts in the Republic have denied Bahá’ís the right of redress or protection against assault, killings or other forms of persecution — and have ruled that Iranian citizens who kill or injure Bahá’ís are not liable for damages because their victims are “unprotected infidels.”

During the first decade of the Islamic Republic of Iran, more than 200 Bahá'ís — mostly the community’s elected leaders — were killed, kidnapped or executed. Hundreds more were tortured or imprisoned. Formal Bahá’í institutions were banned. Tens of thousands of Bahá’ís lost jobs, access to education, and other rights — all solely because of their religious belief.

In the second decade, the government’s anti-Bahá’í strategy shifted its focus to social, economic, and educational discrimination, evidently in an effort to mollify international critics. The new emphasis was designed to “block the progress and development” of the Iranian Bahá’í community, according to a secret 1991 memorandum signed by Iran’s Supreme Leader that ominously set policy for dealing with “the Bahá’í Question.” It was quietly implemented, even as the government of President Mohammad Khatami projected an image of moderation around the world.

In the third decade, especially following the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, the government stepped up its harassment of Bahá’ís, by using revolving door arrests and increased imprisonment, the identification and monitoring of Bahá’ís, and more raids and harassment at the local level. The government also made clear it would not prosecute those who attacked Bahá’ís, which led to a measurable rise in violent attacks on Bahá’ís and their properties.

In its fourth decade, the persecution of Iranian Bahá’ís is marked by a sustained and concealed effort on all fronts — despite the promises of the new president, Hassan Rouhani, to end religious discrimination. Bahá’ís continue to be regularly arrested, detained, and imprisoned. Young Bahá’ís continue to be denied access to higher education through a variety of ploys. And economic policies target small shops and businesses — one of the few remaining sources of subsistence for Bahá’ís and their families.

Present Day Response

Despite all this, the Baháís of Iran have refused to succumb to the ideology of victimization. Instead, they have found reserves of surprising resilience.  Rather than yielding to oppression, Bahá’ís have bravely approached the very same officials who seek to persecute them, using legal reasoning based on Iranian law and the country’s constitution. 

Outside of Iran, the international community has continuously responded to the persecution of the Bahá’í community in Iran with overwhelming sympathy, expressing concern for the Baháís and condemnation of the Iranian government.  Such expressions of support have been issued by the United Nations General Assembly, United Nations Special Rapporteurs, international organizations such as Amnesty International, regional bodies such as the European Parliament, national legislatures such as in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Growing numbers of individuals within Iran, including intellectuals, journalists, activists, filmmakers, artists and a number of clerics, have also voiced their support for the rights of Baháís, recognizing that the situation of the Bahá’ís in Iran represents a litmus test of the condition of that society and its ability to safeguard the rights of every citizen.