Efforts to destroy the economic life of the Baha’i community has, in fact, been a facet of the government’s persecution since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when the government began dismissing Baha’i civil servants wholesale – and then moved to systematically revoke the business licenses of Baha’is in the private sector. In this manner, thousands of Baha’is have lost jobs or sources of livelihood over the last 30 years.
Then, during the 1990s, there was a period of relative security, when government pressure eased.
More recently, however, economic oppression has again risen – and the situation in Semnan offers a case study of how authorities are attempting to literally starve Baha’is out of existence.
The most recent case shows the extremes to which authorities are willing to go to eliminate means of livelihood for Baha’is in Semnan. On 28 May 2012, Intelligence Ministry agents raided and sealed two factories, with full or partial Baha'i ownership. One of the factories – which manufactured drapery – employed 51 staff, 36 of whom were not Baha'is. The other, a lens grinding factory, had two Baha'I employees and six others. Such closures demonstrate that, in the ongoing effort to strangle the Baha'is economically, the authorities are willing to cause other workers – including Shia Muslims – to face economic hardship as well.
The assault on the livelihood of the Baha’i community of Semnan began in early 2009 when the Chamber of Commerce of Semnan, along with 39 member trade unions, decided to stop issuing business licenses and managerial permits to the Baha’is – and to stop renewing current licenses.
This led to the revocation and confiscation of existing business licenses and permits for Baha’is throughout the city. As well, authorities frequently put seals on the doors of Baha’i-owned shops in the city, indicating they have been officially closed.
As of this writing, at least 27 Baha’i-run business enterprises, including factories, shops, workshops, and offices have been closed by the authorities, leaving more than 110 Baha’i families without a source of income.
Among those whose shops were closed this way is Shamil Pirasteh. Her business license was revoked without explanation on 10 March 2009. When officials were asked about the revocation, they said the order came from “higher authorities.”
In another example, the flower shop of Peiman Rahmani was closed after his business license was revoked in 2009. His father had owned and successfully operated the shop for some 20 years.
Reports indicate that these steps came as a result of pressure that the head of the Basij trade union had placed on these organizations.
Banks have also begun to refuse to extend loans to Baha’is who are otherwise well qualified to receive such financial support. Mr. Behfar Khanjani – husband of Shamil Pirasteh - was repeatedly refused loans that would keep him and his wife solvent. At least five other Baha’is in Semnan have been refused loans. Mr. Khanjani’s apparel store was closed and he was imprisoned in June 2011 for four years.
Recently, some of the Baha’is of Semnan were barred from bringing merchandize from elsewhere to the province for trade and sale, gravely limiting or cutting off their ability to generate any income. Those who are still able to operate their businesses report that they are under surveillance and receive phone calls to report to the authorities from time to time. When they do so, they are told the call they received did not come from that office. In other cases they are accused of undermining the government by closing their stories on Baha’i holy days. They are told that by doing so they are creating public disturbance for which the authorities threaten to shut down their businesses.
Authorities have also harassed Baha’i farmers in the region. For instance, orders were issued to destroy the acreage which the farmers had attained, with legal permission, for their own use. In one case, orders were given to destroy the animal stock on these farmlands, which had been purchased by the Baha’i farmer 17 years previously. On other occasions, authorities have closed and sealed water wells on Baha’i farms, even though permits for those wells had been legally issued.
There have also been general efforts in Semnan to suppress Baha’i businesses by encouraging people not to patronize them. Other merchants, such as architects, have been warned against dealing with Baha’is in construction, including accepting bids or contracts from them.
All of these measures are in line with the policy outlined in the Baha’i Question memorandum – and they have also been implemented in other towns and cities throughout Iran.
That this effort at economic strangulation is official government policy was proved by the emergence of a secret letter, dated 9 April 2007, from the Public Places Supervision Office of the Public Intelligence and Security Force in the province of Tehran. Addressed to regional commanders of police and the heads of public intelligence and security forces, that letter instructs them to prevent members of the “perverse Bahaist sect” – along with members of other “anti-revolutionary political organizations” – from engaging in a wide range of businesses. These include “high-earning businesses,” “sensitive-business” categories, such as the press, engraving, the tourist industry, car rentals, publishing, hostel and hotel management, photography and film, computer sales and Internet cafés, and food businesses which might offend Shi’a concepts of “cleanliness.”Return to top