UN Religious Freedom Official expresses fears for Baha'is in Iran

20 March 2006

— Representatives of the Baha'i International Community reacted with alarm today to a United Nations official's statement about actions of the Iranian government against the Baha'is in Iran.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Asma Jahangir, stated that she was highly concerned and expressed her apprehensions in a press release posted today about "a confidential letter sent on 29 October 2005 by the Chairman of the Command Headquarters of the Armed Forces in Iran to a number of governmental agencies."

"The letter," she said, "which is addressed to the Ministry of Information, the Revolutionary Guard and the Police Force, states that the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, had instructed the Command Headquarters to identify persons who adhere to the Baha'i faith and monitor their activities. The letter goes on to request the recipients to, in a highly confidential manner, collect any and all information about members of the Baha'i faith."

"We are grateful that Ms. Jahangir has brought this activity to light," said Bani Dugal, the Baha'i International Community's principal representative to the UN. "We share her concern for the welfare of the Baha'is and shudder to think what this might mean. Because of the unprecedented character of the government's action, we are addressing a request to the Ambassador of Iran for an explanation."

Ms. Jahangir also "considers that such monitoring constitutes an impermissible and unacceptable interference with the rights of members of religious minorities."

"The Special Rapporteur's concern that such information could be 'used as a basis for the increased persecution of, and discrimination against, members of the Baha'i faith' is clearly well-founded," said Ms. Dugal.

Such actions come in the wake of mounting media attacks on the Baha'is, the nature of which in the past have preceded government-led assaults on the Baha'is in Iran. "Kayhan," the official Tehran daily newspaper has carried more than 30 articles about the Baha'is and their religion in recent weeks, all defamatory in ways that are meant to create provocation. Radio and television programs have joined in as well with broadcasts condemning the Baha'is and their beliefs. In addition, the rise in influence in Iranian governmental circles of the Anti-Baha'i Society, Hojjatieh, an organization committed to the destruction of the Baha'i Faith, can only heighten the fears for that beleaguered community.

"We well know what hateful propaganda can lead to; recent history offers too many examples of its horrific consequences. We make an urgent appeal to all nations and peoples on behalf of our Iranian coreligionists that they not allow a peace-loving, law-abiding people to face the extremes to which blind hate can lead," said Ms. Dugal. "The ghastly deeds that grew out of similar circumstances in the past should not now be allowed to happen. Not again."

Statement by Bani Dugal, Principal Representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations, in the wake of the announcement of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief concerning treatment of followers of the Baha'i Faith in Iran

20 March 2006
New York City

The statement of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief about recent actions taken by the Government of Iran concerning the Baha'is arouses grave apprehension in the Baha'i International Community about their fate. The Baha'is have been the victims of an unrelenting persecution ever since the revolution of 1979, and one hesitates to think of what horrors could be implied by the combined effort of intelligence, military and police agencies to identify Baha'is and monitor their activities, as has been ordered by the Chairman of the Command Headquarters of the Armed Forces at the direction of the Head of State. We are dreadfully afraid for the lives of our fellow Baha'is in Iran.

Because of the unprecedented character of the Government's action, we are addressing a request to the Ambassador of Iran for an explanation.

Such actions come in the midst of mounting media attacks on the Baha'is, the nature of which in the past have preceded government-led assaults on them. "Kayhan," the official Tehran daily newspaper, has carried more than 30 articles about the Baha'is and their religion in recent weeks, all defamatory in ways that are meant to create provocation. Radio and television programs have joined in as well with broadcasts condemning the Baha'is and their beliefs.

We know what hateful propaganda can lead to; recent history offers too many examples of its horrific consequences. We make an urgent plea to all nations and peoples on behalf of our Iranian coreligionists that they not allow a peace-loving, law-abiding people to face the extremes to which blind hate can lead. The ghastly deeds that grew out of similar circumstances in the past should not now be allowed to happen. Not again.

Background

Recent media attacks on the Baha'is in Iran

In recent months, Iranian newspapers and radio stations have been conducting an intensive anti-Baha'i campaign. From September through November 2005 alone, the influential, state-run "Kayhan" newspaper ran nearly three dozen articles defaming the Baha'i Faith with the clear intention of arousing in readers feelings of suspicion, distrust and hatred for the Iranian Baha'i community. The 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.

Before the onset of previous government campaigns of persecution against Baha'is, such as in 1955 and 1979, similarly defamatory articles and radio programs were run against the Baha'is, stirring up animosity and prejudice, apparently to prepare the public for what was to come.

For more information, including copies of the "Kayhan" articles in Persian and summaries in English, please click here.

The Anti-Baha'i Hojjatieh Society

Founded in 1953 as a specifically anti-Baha'i organization by a charismatic Shiite Muslim cleric, the Hojjatieh Society has today reemerged in Iran as an influential if secretive faction that has been linked in news articles and Web blogs with the current Iranian administration.

During the 1979 Iranian revolution, the Society played an important role in stirring animosity against Baha'is. However, in part because of differences in theology -- among other things the Hojjatieh believe a truly Islamic state cannot be established until the return of the 12th Imam -- the Society fell into disfavor and was banned by the regime in 1984.

Outside observers have connected the Society's reemergence with the return of hardliners to positions of power in the government, including the president who has frequently stated his expectation that the 12th Imam will return soon.

For more information on the Hojjatieh, please click here.

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