At the heart of the campaign in Semnan has been an effort to rouse hatred towards Baha’is among the local population. As the rise in attacks on Baha’is and Baha’i properties over the last few years indicates, this campaign has apparently proved effective. Anti-Baha’i seminars, the distribution of anti-Baha’i pamphlets, and the broadcasting of anti-Baha’i rhetoric at Friday sermons in Semnan mosques these have all been done with the intention of creating such an atmosphere of suspicion and animosity that the authorities are then free to act against the Baha’is with impunity, or so that local citizens are willing to take matters into their own hands.
The campaign in Semnan can be said to have begun with a series of anti-Baha’i seminars and rallies that occurred in late 2008. Many of these were reported by Iranian news media, which provide the main account of these activities.
On 25 November 2008, for example, the Rasa News Agency published an article stating that Mahnaz Raoufi, author of an anti-Baha’i book called The Grim Shadow, had given an address in Semnan. Held at the Semnan Red Crescent society theater, the lecture set out to analyze the link between the Baha’i Faith and Zionism. According to the report, the program began with two short videos purporting to demonstrate the activities and intentions of “the perverse Bahaist sect.”
Ms. Raoufi claims to be a former Baha’i who converted to Islam. In recent years, she has travelled to various cities in Iran, presenting anti-Baha’i speeches to groups including schools, youth organizations, and general public. Her tour follows publication of a series of articles in Kayhan the semi-official newspaper of Iran’s Supreme Leader that purport to be her “memoirs.” Ms. Raoufi has also published several books, given a series of radio interviews, and launched several websites focusing on her books and her interviews.
Another news account indicates Ms. Raoufi spoke again in Semnan in early December 2009, on similar topics. This was followed soon after by a series of raids on 20 Baha’i homes on 15 December 2009 by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence.
In February 2009, there were more anti-Baha’i speeches and seminars in the city. Ms. Raoufi again addressed a large gathering, saying that the “Bahaist sect” detests Islam and its holy days, ridicules them and uses them as propaganda against humanity. The article reports that Ms. Raoufi said this “misguided sect” is financially supported by western countries, including the United States, and with the cunning disguise of being a compassionate religion, hides its hatred of Islam.
On 20 February 2009, Fars News ran an article titled “Bahaism is a Brainchild of Zionism,” which reported that that the Friday prayer leader in Semnan had said “Bahaism” is a product of Zionism and that it had been created to combat Islam.
The article asserted that Hojjatol-Islam Seyyed Mohammad Shah-Cheraghi said “no one should have any kind of interaction, especially business transactions, with this sect because they are against Islam.” He reportedly also said if the Iranian nation so decides, it can eliminate “Bahaism” in Iran as it did with the Pahlavi regime.
This type of demonization of Baha’is has a long history in Iran. For more than 150 years, Baha’is have been portrayed falsely from the pulpit, in the press, and more recently on radio, television, and even in scholarly publications. But this campaign has been stepped up in recent years, apparently as part of an overall effort to whip up public animosity against Baha’is.
Since 2005, for example, the semi-official Kayhan newspaper has run more than 200 false, misleading or incendiary articles about Baha’i teachings, history and activities an effort that has been echoed on television and radio. The Kayhan articles engage in a deliberate distortion of history, make use of fake historical documents, and falsely describe Baha’i moral principles in a manner that would be offensive to Muslims.
A 27 October 2005 article titled “Understanding the Roots of Bahaism,” for example, attempts to incite public sentiment by raising time-worn, utterly false allegations that the Babi and Baha’i Faiths were the creation of colonial powers. “Babism and Bahaism are [merely] notions and are among the religious sects that were created by colonialists to corrupt the noble and pure Islamic ideas…,” the article said.
The media campaign against Baha’is extends to the Internet. On 26 May 2008, for example, Kayhan reported that a new Internet site dedicated to the “fight against Bahaism” will soon be launched by an “organization of the people.” The article quotes the late Ayatollah Khomeini as saying that it was his duty to warn Iran and all the Muslims in the world to free the country from the control of Zionism, which has appeared in Iran as the “Bahaist sect.”
In December 2008, a new weekly half-hour radio program, titled Mirage, began broadcasting on the national radio network, Maref. The program takes the form of round table discussions that are aimed at informing the public, with special focus on the youth, about the “real” Baha’i Faith. The use of the Internet to disseminate attacks against the Faith increases day by day.
There have been numerous more recent articles, pamphlets, posters, and exhibitions that vilify the Baha’i Faith and its history.
In October 2011 the Baha’i International Community issued a report on this campaign, titled Inciting Hatred: Iran’s Media Campaign to demonize Baha’is. That report offered a snapshot of the official and semi-official anti-Baha’i propaganda issued during a 16-month period from late 2009 through early May 2011, documenting more than 400 articles, broadcasts or Web pages that falsely portrayed Baha’is as the source of every conceivable evil. As the report noted: They are accused of being agents for various imperialist or colonialist factions; they face continuous but utterly unfounded allegations of immorality; they are branded as social pariahs to be shunned. The propaganda is shocking in its volume and vehemence, its scope and sophistication, cynically calculated to stir up antagonism against a peaceful religious community whose members are striving to contribute to the well-being of their society.
A number of the articles or broadcasts cataloged in the 2010-2011 survey emerged from or referenced Semnan. These include:
A 29 April 2010, report carried by the Fars News Agency, a government-affiliated service, that quoted an education and research expert at the Islamic Propaganda Office of the Semnan Province, a Mr. Abdollahyan, as saying: “Having researched and studied Iran’s cultural transformation during the last three centuries, we conclude that the formation of sects like Wahhabism and Baha'ism has been a product of British and Russian colonialism.” The report said Mr. Abdollahyan also spoke about the importance raising the awareness of the people, particularly the youth, strengthening the relationship between the people and the clergy, and the Islamicizing of school and university education as among the ways to confront the enemy’s efforts to divide and exploit the Iranian nation.
A report, carried by Fars News on 18 May 2010, said that Hojjatoleslam Valiollah Mesbahi, the head of the Islamic Development Organization in the nearby city of Garmsar, also in Semnan Province, had warned Muslim youth not to become affiliated with Baha’is or other “religious sects,” such as Wahabbism. These two sects are developed and supported financially by the “international arrogance of the Zionist regime,” he said, along with the United States and the United Kingdom. Mr. Mesbahi continued by saying that in the contemporary history of Iran, Baha’ism has played a very negative and destructive role. This political group, pretending to be a religious sect, absolutely served the interests of the enemies, he said.
On 13 February 2011, the Pupils Association News Agency, a government affiliated Web site for students, carried an interview with the Representative of Iran’s Supreme Leader in Semnan Province. In that interview, he emphasized that the students must avoid becoming involved in recently emerging sects and the Baha’i Faith. He further said that in the soft war the enemy is aiming to create a divide between students and the clergy. “The enemies’ intention is to separate students from their education, families, and the Supreme Leader and they should be prevented from successfully carrying out their sinister schemes. The enemies of Islam are targeting the educational system and in particular the students,” said the Supreme Leader’s representative.