#ItsTheirLand: Unprecedented reaction makes voice of persecuted Bahá’ís in an Iranian village global
BIC GENEVA — A global campaign in support of the persecuted Bahá’ís in Iran has generated an unprecedented outpouring of solidarity from officials at the United Nations and the European Union, statesmen, government officials, religious figures including Muslim leaders, lawyers, prominent human rights advocates, farmers’ associations, actors, and other prominent figures.
Campaign supporters called for an end to the persecution of the Bahá’ís in Iran and particularly for the return of ancestral lands belonging to the Bahá’ís in Ivel, a village in northern Iran, which were illegally confiscated by the Iranian government solely because of the landowners’ religious beliefs.
The wave of concern—outstanding in its diversity and geographic spread—reflects an ongoing outcry from the international community over the human rights abuses Iranian Bahá’ís have suffered for decades.
“In the past week, the voices of the Bahá’ís in a small village in Iran became global, thanks to the extraordinary support offered by governments, organizations, prominent figures, groups, and thousands of sincere individuals around the world,” said Diane Ala’i, Representative of the Bahá’í International Community to the United Nations in Geneva. “This exceptional support not only condemns Iran’s actions but shows the long-suffering Bahá’ís in Iran that the international community stands with them.”
The campaign comes after Iranian courts ruled to confiscate Bahá’í-owned properties in Ivel, leaving dozens of families internally displaced and economically impoverished. The Bahá’ís are Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority and have been the target of 42 years of state-sanctioned systematic persecution—documented extensively by the United Nations.
Ahmed Shaheed, the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief, said he stood in solidarity with the Bahá’ís in Iran “who are facing systemic persecution [and] egregious rights violations.”
A webinar was held at the European Parliament on the situation in Ivel with participation from European Union officials and a former UN Special Rapporteur, Miloon Kothari. Additionally, the Chair of the European Parliament delegation for relations with Iran, Cornelia Ernst, called the Bahá’ís a “particularly vulnerable community” and condemned the Iranian government’s “disastrous policies towards the Bahá’ís.”
Brian Mulroney, a former Canadian prime minister, signed a high-profile open letter by more than 50 judges, lawyers, and former attorneys-general, addressed to Iran’s chief justice, Ebrahim Raisi. The letter stated that the court ruling departs “not only from international human rights standards but also from the text and intent of the Iranian constitution itself.” The open letter was widely publicized, including by The Globe and Mail newspaper and the CBC.
Global food systems and agricultural experts, including officials at the UN Development Programme, the World Bank, the Rockefeller Foundation, business figures, and academics at universities around the world, signed an open letter describing the Bahá’ís in Ivel as “hard-working, low-income agricultural workers with no other assets and means of earning a livelihood aside from their homes and farmlands” and expressing “alarm” at the confiscation of their properties. The call was underpinned by a moving video message of solidarity on behalf of the farming community in Australia which called on the Iranian government and judiciary to “return the land and properties to their rightful owners: Bahá’í farmers in Ivel.”
Canadian Members of Parliament also added their voices to the campaign in a video in which they called on Iran to “return the properties of Bahá’ís and respect their human rights as citizens of Iran.”
The foreign ministers of Canada and Sweden, Marc Garneau and Ann Linde, each made statements on the situation in Ivel, expressing alarm at the ongoing discrimination and seizure of properties owned by Bahá’ís. Other government officials and parliamentarians from Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States also denounced the Ivel confiscations, urging Iran to stop persecuting the Bahá’ís.
Officials of two governments called for the recognition of the Bahá’í community in Iran. “Stop confiscating Bahá’í properties in the village of Ivel,” stated Jos Douma, the Netherlands’ Special Envoy for Religion or Belief. “And—at last—recognize Bahá’í[s] as a religious community.” The German Federal Government Commissioner for Global Freedom of Religion, Markus Grübel, also called for Iran to recognize the Bahá’ís and to end the “discrimination and persecution of Bahá’í communities.”
The US statement, issued by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, condemned the “alarming escalation” of the Iranian government’s “measures targeting Bahá’ís in Iran on the basis of their faith.”
Muslim leaders around the world also joined the campaign, calling on Iran “to address this injustice,” adding, “Islam does not permit a government to confiscate land from citizens just because they follow a different religion.”
The statements, coming from Muslim leaders in India (the All India Tanzeem Falahul Muslimeen and the All India Safi Association), the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, sent a powerful signal to Iran’s government that, contrary to its claims, their co-religionists do not see their actions as consistent with Islamic law.
In addition to this, fourteen prominent Iranian religious scholars issued a collective statement to “urgently request” that Iran’s government “end the brutal confiscation of Bahá’í property throughout the country” and to address the “persecution, animosity, and insults” suffered by the Bahá’ís. A prominent op-ed article was also published in The Wall Street Journal by Reza Afshari, an expert on human rights in Iran.
Civil society organizations in the United States, including the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, the Anti-Defamation League Task Force on Middle East Minorities, United for Iran, the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran, Freedom House, the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute, and others, signed yet another open letter addressed to the two judges who made the ruling, Mr. Hasan Babaie and Mr. Sadegh Savadkouhi.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the Raoul Wallenberg Center, Brazil’s National Council of Churches, South Africa’s Legal Resources Centre, and Germany’s International Society for Human Rights were also among the many faith and civil society groups that stood in solidarity with the Bahá’ís in Ivel.
Thousands of members of parliaments, human rights activists, actors, and ordinary citizens also joined a Twitter storm sharing articles and messages of solidarity about the land seizures in Ivel with the hashtag #ItsTheirLand. The social media push saw 35,000 tweets reaching some 52 million people around the world, at one point trending in Australia. The equivalent hashtag also trended in Persian-language Twitter.
Prominent Iranian academics, authors, activists, actors, and artists outside Iran, including Masih Alinejad, Max Amini, Nazanin Boniadi, Nina Ansary, Abbas Milani, Sina Valiollah, Omid Djalili, Maziar Bahari, Ladan Boroumand, and others, also joined the Twitter storm, as did the American actors Rainn Wilson, Justin Baldoni and Eva LaRue and the British novelist and comedian, David Baddiel.
“The show of support for the Bahá’ís in Ivel demonstrates that the Iranian government's religious motivation for the persecution of the Bahá’ís has been exposed to the world. Iran’s treatment of its Bahá’í community is, more than ever, condemned by a growing chorus of governments, civil society groups, and individuals, not only in the international community but by Iranians themselves,” stated Ms. Ala’i.
“The freedom to believe is a fundamental right that cannot be taken away from any individual by a government. The world is watching Iran and demands that the government bring to an end the utterly baseless persecution of innocent Bahá’ís for their beliefs.”