Iranian government campaign against Baha'is shows new facets
NEW YORK — The bulldozing of a Baha'i cemetery in Iran last week is the latest in a series of incidents in a government-led campaign of hatred against Baha'is.
The destruction of the cemetery by individuals using heavy equipment occurred between 9 September and 10 September near Najafabad, on the outskirts of Isfahan. What happened there is nearly identical to what happened in July in Yazd, where another Baha'i cemetery was extensively damaged by earth-moving equipment.
The list of anti-Baha'i incidents is growing, as are human rights violations against other groups in Iran.
In Najafabad, a few days before the destruction of more than 100 Baha'i graves, threatening letters were delivered to some 30 Baha'i families. In May, in Mazandaran province, the unoccupied homes of six Iranian Baha'is were set on fire. In June, in Abadeh, vandals wrote hateful graffiti on Baha'i houses and shops.
Since May, Baha'is in at least 17 towns have been detained for interrogation. Six new arrests have been reported. In Kermanshah, a 70-year-old man was sentenced to 70 lashes and a year in prison for "propagating and spreading Bahaism and the defamation of the pure Imams." In Mazandaran, a court has once again ruled against three women and a man who are charged with "propagation on behalf of an organization which is anti-Islamic."
All these events are results of the Iranian government's long campaign to incite hatred against Baha'is, a spokeswoman for the Baha'i International Community said today.
"This should be a cause for concern among human rights activists everywhere," said Diane Ala'i, the representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.
She appealed to the world to hold the Iranian government accountable for its actions and to help prevent the situation from deteriorating into further violence. Baha'is in Iran number about 300,000 and represent the largest religious minority in the country.
"Put in a historical context, these kinds of attacks too often have been a prelude to campaigns of oppression and violence that are far worse.
"While some of these incidents may seem to be minor, the fact that such events are increasingly commonplace and reported as occurring in virtually every region of Iran shows that the persecution of Baha'is remains official government policy, and therefore is something for which Iran must be held accountable," she said.
"The graffiti in Abadeh included slogans such as 'Death to Baha'is, the mercenaries of America and England,' 'Hezbollah despises the Baha'is,' 'Baha'is - mercenaries of Israel' and 'Baha'is are unclean' - phrases that relate directly to government propaganda that has been disseminated in Iranian news media in recent years," Ms. Ala'i said.
She noted that other groups in Iran are also suffering human-rights violations.
"In recent months, the Iranian authorities have been carrying out a widespread crackdown on civil society, targeting academics, women's rights activists, students, and journalists," said Ms. Ala'i.
Among the anti-Baha'i incidents reported in recent months are the following:
-- On 19 June 2007, a report was received that a 70-year-old man of limited means had been arrested in April 2007 in Kermanshah. Authorities charged him with the possession of three Baha'i CDs. He was tried on 23 April 2007 and charged with "propagating and spreading Bahaism and the defamation of the pure Imams." His lawyer was given only 10 minutes to prepare a defense. Although the verdict has not been published, the judge orally sentenced him to one year in prison, which he is currently serving, and 70 lashes. The latter part of the sentence has not yet been carried out.
-- On 18 June 2007, a 34-year-old man was arrested at a hardware store in Tabriz where he worked and taken to an unknown location. Two days later, he succeeded in phoning his family to let them know he was alive. A police security agent contacted Baha'is in Tabriz and said some of the man's neighbors who are members of the Basiji morality squads had alleged that he had insulted Islam. His family managed to visit him and reported that he had been subjected to a two-day interrogation. He remains in custody.
-- On 28 May 2007, a husband and wife in Abadeh, near Shiraz, were arrested in their home by agents of the Information Ministry. The agents seized books, family videos, photographs, CDs, telephone directories, documents, a cellular phone, a computer, and minutes of the meetings of the small group of Baha'is that coordinates the affairs of the local community on an ad hoc basis. The couple were interrogated about the activities of the Baha'is. The wife was released after eight hours; the husband was transferred to Shiraz, where he was held in prison until 29 June 2007 and released on bail. He is charged with teaching the Baha'i Faith.
-- On 8 May 2007, the provincial court of appeal of Mazandaran denied the appeal of three women and one man who were arrested in 2005 in Ghaem Shahr and charged with "propagation on behalf of an organization which is anti-Islamic." The case has been referred to the Supreme Court. All are out on bail. (Original court document in Persian; English translation.)
-- On 25 April 2007, the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Sari sentenced a Baha'i to a year in prison and four years of exile to the town of Bijar. The individual was charged with "teaching activities against the system of the Islamic Republic of Iran for the benefit of groups and various organizations opposing the system."
-- During April and May 2007, a number of Baha'is were summoned for interrogation or were questioned by telephone by officials of the Ministry of Information or the police in various localities, including in Babolsar, Bandar Abbas, Bandar Torkman, Bojourd, Gilavand, Damavand, Hamedan, Karaj, Lahijan, Shahinshar, Tehran, and Yaftabad. The questioning focused on seeking information about Baha'i activities and about the Baha'is themselves. A report has been received that a bank in central Jiruft in the province of Fars had been ordered to produce a printout of all accounts held by Baha'is.
-- The Baha'i International Community received a copy of a letter from the government agency responsible for providing veteran's benefits stating that an individual Baha'i, who suffered extensive disability following his incarceration as a prisoner of war in the Iran-Iraq conflict, was not eligible to pension benefits because he belongs "to the Bahaist sect." (Original government letter in Persian; English translation.)
-- Attacks on the Baha'i Faith continue in the mass media, including on the Internet. Newspapers in Khorasan and Mazandaran have recently published items maligning Baha'is, while anti-Baha'i pamphlets and tracts have been distributed in Shiraz and in the schools in Shahinshar, Ahvazk, and Babol Sar.
-- Reports have been received of banks refusing to grant loans and officials refusing to issue or renew business licenses solely on the grounds that the applicants were Baha'is. In Sanandaj, a bank official stated that the bank had received 14 loan applications from Baha'is, all of which will be rejected. Bank staff in Sari informed Baha'is who had applied for a loan, "It has been asked of us not to provide loans and other services to Baha'is."
-- In Hamadan, the owner of a grocery store that had been operated by his family for 48 years tried to have the business license transferred to his name after the death of his father. He was told by a government official that business licenses for grocery stores would not be issued to Baha'is. He was told: "Wherever you go, even to the United Nations, you will end up here, where you will get the same clear answer."