Baha'i International Community deplores destruction of Khavaran cemetery

30 January 2009

— The destruction earlier this month of a cemetery in Iran used for the mass burial of hundreds killed in the aftermath of the Islamic revolution in 1979 is an outrageous violation of human dignity, the Baha'i International Community said today. More than 50 Baha'is were among those buried at the site.

"The destruction of the Khavaran cemetery by government agents goes against all concepts of respect for the dead in any culture, including values preached in Islam," said Diane Ala'i, the representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.

"We join with other human rights groups inside and outside of Iran in condemning this shameful deed, which is yet another sign of the intolerance of the current Iranian regime," said Ms. Ala'i.

Located southeast of Tehran, the Khavaran cemetery was used as the burial site for hundreds who were killed in the early years of the Iranian revolution.

Earlier this month, a group of unidentified individuals using bulldozers demolished an area of the cemetery known as the "graveyard of the infidels," the area where many of the people executed in the early years of the revolution were buried.

Reports indicate the group clearly represented a branch of the government. It was also reported that the officials told the cemetery custodian that the parcel was being demolished to develop a green space or park.

Human rights groups inside and outside of Iran have since registered protests.

On 20 January 2009, Amnesty International called on Iranian authorities to "immediately stop the destruction of hundreds of individual and mass, unmarked graves in Khavaran, south Tehran, to ensure that the site is preserved and to initiate a forensic investigation at the site as part of a long-overdue thorough, independent and impartial investigation into mass executions which began in 1988. ..."

Iranian human rights advocates, including Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, have also condemned the cemetery's destruction.

"We have recently learned that Khavaran cemetery, where the victims of the illegal massacre of political prisoners in the 1980s and especially 1988 are buried, has been destroyed by some officials," the Human Rights Defenders' Centre said in a statement issued on 25 January, according to Agence France-Presse. "The Human Rights Defenders Centre condemns this ugly and appalling act and notes that everyone including the authorities is required to maintain the dignity of the dead."

At least 15 Baha'is were buried in the same section of the cemetery, all victims in the early 1980s of the government's campaign to systematically persecute Iranian Baha'is for their religious beliefs.

Specifically, it is known that eight members of the national Baha'i governing body killed on 27 December 1981 are buried there, along with six members of the Baha'i Spiritual Assembly of Tehran, killed on 4 January 1982. It is likely that other Baha'is were buried there, too.

According to a Baha'i whose husband is buried at the site, most of the graves in that section of the cemetery were unmarked, designated only by numerical row markers.

"They called it the place for 'infidels,'" said the widow, who currently resides outside of Iran. "They just gave us row numbers, and that is how I knew where my husband was. But there were no markers and we were not allowed to identify which grave was which."

(Editor's note: On 9 February 2009, after additional verification had been received concerning the identities of Baha'is who were buried in the Khavaran Cemetery, the number given in the first paragraph was raised accordingly.)

 
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