Hateful propaganda sparks concern for Baha’is of Rafsanjan

16 December 2014

— Against the backdrop of increasing economic pressures, a recent anti-Baha'i demonstration and a hateful speech delivered by a cleric have raised concerns for the safety of the Baha'is of Rafsanjan, a city in Iran.

Hojatoleslam Abbas Ramezani-Pour, the Friday prayer Imam of Rafsanjan, declared in a speech at the end of November that, according to religious fatwas, Baha'is are "unclean" and that it is "forbidden" to conduct business and trade with them.

"The rightful wishes of the people, which are that they [the Baha'is] should not be in this city, must be realized," Mr. Ramezani-Pour stated.

"This Imam has, in fact, called for the Baha'is to be expelled from Rafsanjan," said Ms. Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations. "Such negative remarks by a known cleric in the city are extremely worrisome and show a deep level of discrimination."

"The closure of businesses in that city and the economic harassment of Baha'is are already causing immense hardship for Baha'is there," said Ms. Dugal.

Several days before the speech of Mr. Ramezani-Pour, an anti-Baha'i demonstration was held in front of the governor's office in Rafsanjan.

Reports from pro-Iranian government media allege that these demonstrations were spontaneous and initiated by the local population. However, photos show instead a clearly planned event, using pre-printed placards obviously prepared in advance. Some placards read "The Baha'is are inherently unclean", and others "no room for faithless sneaks in Muslim bazaars".

"Hateful remarks and the dissemination of falsehoods against the Baha'is in Iran are not new", said Ms. Dugal. "But these incidents are ominous because of past occasions where statements by religious leaders and efforts to incite hatred against a certain group led to serious consequences."

For example, on 24 August 2013, Mr. Ataollah Rezvani, a well-known Baha'i in the city of Bandar Abbas was shot and killed in his car. It is of note that a few years before his murder, the Friday prayer Imam had incited the local population against the Baha'is, referring to them as "un-Islamic." He further called on the people of the city to "rise up" against the Baha'i community.

Of course, Baha'is are not the only group to be identified from the pulpit. More recently, the Friday prayer Imam of Isfahan gave a provocative speech in which he stated that warnings were no longer enough in the fight to ensure the proper use of the Hijab – or the head scarf – by all women; force and violence were now necessary. Shortly after his address, several women had acid thrown at their faces for not wearing what the authorities regard as appropriate attire whilst out in public in the city.

"The statements of clerics in Iran have an influence on the thoughts of those who follow them", said Ms. Dugal. "Where is the government? Can the complicity of the government be seriously denied?"

In October of this year, 50 Baha'i shops were closed in the city of Kerman, 23 in Rafsanjan and six in Jiroft – all in the same province. In recent months, an increase in the number of closures of Baha'i businesses and shops shows a coordinated plan for inflicting further pressures on the Baha'is of Iran.

● A business closure in July resulted in 20 locals in Ghaemshahr being left jobless.

● In September 2014, a Baha'i in Yazd whose business license had been refused despite her repeated representations to the Public Places Supervision Office (PPSO), was told by a director of the PPSO in Yazd Province that he had received a circular from the higher authorities instructing his office not to issue a business permit to any Baha'i applicant and that this would be undertaken gradually, presumably in an effort to prevent adverse publicity in the international media. It should further be noted that, at one point in her efforts to retain the business, she was advised by the local trade union to have it registered under the name of a Muslim. When she did so, the individual concerned was threatened by PPSO officials, who pressured him, albeit unsuccessfully, to sign an undertaking pledging that neither the Baha'i nor any of her Baha'i colleagues would ever show their faces inside the store.

● In August 2014 it was reported that three veterans, who had been prisoners of war and who were receiving the pension to which they were entitled had been summoned to the Veterans' Affairs Foundation and told that if they did not write their religion as Muslim, their pensions would be stopped. They refused to recant their faith and are now receiving no pension.

● In October 2014, it was reported that business licenses of four Baha'is in the city of Yazd were not renewed.

● In November 2014, in Isfahan, the residences of a number of Baha'is who were working from home were entered by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence and the work areas 'sealed' to indicate no further work could be done.

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