54 Baha'is arrested in Iran
NEW YORK — Iranian officials have arrested 54 Baha'is in the city of Shiraz, the Baha'i International Community has learned. They are mostly youth and were all engaged in humanitarian service when they were arrested. It is one of the largest number of Baha'is taken at once since the 1980s. The specific charges are not clear, though in the past, Baha'is have been arrested summarily on false charges.
The arrests occurred on Friday, 19 May, while the Baha'is, along with several other volunteers who were not Baha'is, were teaching classes to underprivileged children in a school as part of a community service activity conducted by a local nongovernmental organization. At the time of the arrests, they had in their possession a letter of permission from the Islamic Council of Shiraz. They also carried the letter of permission in each of their classes.
The nature of the charges against the Baha'is is unknown at this time. The day following the arrests, a judge told family members that the detainees would be freed soon. As of today, it appears that all of the non-Baha'is and one Baha'i junior youth have been released without having to post bail.
The arrests coincided with raids on six Baha'i homes during which notebooks, computers, books, and other documents were confiscated. In the last 14 months, 72 Baha'is across Iran have been arrested and held for up to several weeks.
"These new arrests in Shiraz, coming after more than a year of 'revolving door' detentions, bring the total number of Baha'is who have been arrested without cause to more than 125 since the beginning of 2005," said Bani Dugal, principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.
"Taken all together, this pattern of arbitrary arrests and detentions amount to the purest form of religious persecution and reflect nothing less than a calculated effort by the Iranian government to keep the Baha'i community utterly off balance and in a state of terror," Ms. Dugal said.
The arrests come against a backdrop of increasing concern by international human rights monitors that the Iranian Government is escalating its 25-year-long campaign of persecution against the 300,000-member Baha'i community of Iran, the largest religious minority in that country.
In March, the UN Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on freedom of religion or belief released news of a secret 29 October 2005 letter from the Iranian military high command ordering police and Revolutionary Guard units to "identify" and "monitor" members of the Baha'i community of Iran, saying the existence of such a letter made her "highly concerned."
Moreover, since late 2005, more than 30 mostly negative and often defamatory articles about the Baha'is and their religion have appeared in "Kayhan," the official Tehran daily newspaper. Radio and television broadcasts have likewise increasingly condemned the Baha'is and their beliefs.
Since January, in addition to the 54 arrested in Shiraz last Friday, seven Baha'is have been arrested and held for periods of up to one month in Kermanshah, Isfahan, and Tehran.
Among those arrested in January was Mrs. Roya Habibi of Kermanshah, who has reported that she was interrogated for eight hours, with questions focused on her role as coordinator of a program to provide religious instruction in the Baha'i Faith.
In the court document that sets out the charges against her, Mrs. Habibi, who is currently out on bail, "is charged with teaching the Bahaism sect and acting in an insulting manner towards all that is holy in Islam."
"While it is often difficult to get details on the charges against Baha'is, there is no doubt that most of them – like the case against Mrs. Habibi – are motivated purely by religious intolerance and prejudice," said Ms. Dugal.
Last year, some 65 Baha'is were arrested and held for periods of time ranging from a few days to more than a month.
While most were held less than a week, others were jailed for up to three months. Some of the prisoners last year were held incommunicado, in unknown locations, while their families desperately searched for them. Last year also, government agents conducted prolonged searches of many of their homes, confiscating documents, books, computers, copiers and other belongings.
In the 1980s, some 200 Baha'is were killed or executed. Thousands were arrested and hundreds were imprisoned, many for long periods. In recent years, in the face of international monitoring, the executions and long-term imprisonments have stopped.
(Correction: In this 24 May 2006 story on the arrests of Baha'is in Shiraz, we reported that they were teaching classes to underprivileged children in a school as part of a UNICEF community service activity conducted by a local nongovernmental organization when they were arrested. We have learned that the project was one of local initiative, in which participants modeled their efforts after a UNICEF project. It was not, however, directly associated with UNICEF. We apologize if this caused any misunderstanding.)