Persecution of Baha'is in Iran extends across all stages of life

March 18, 2013
Heiner Bielefeldt – the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief – described the situation of the Baha'is in Iran as "one of the most obvious cases of state persecution." UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

GENEVA, Switzerland — The attacks against Baha'is in Iran represent one of the clearest cases of state-sponsored religious persecution in the world, said Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

Speaking 6 March 2013 in Geneva at a side event during the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council, Dr. Bielefeldt discussed the release of a new report by the Baha'i International Community, which documents rising violence against Iranian Baha'is and the utter impunity enjoyed by attackers.

"It's really one of the most obvious cases of state persecution," he said, noting that the repression faced by Baha'is spans "all areas of state activity, from family law provisions to schooling, education, and security."

He asked participants at the side event – which drew some 50 representatives from governments, the UN, and non-governmental organizations – to visualize the impact such wide-ranging persecution has on an individual as he or she moves through the stages of life.

"Imagine what that means for a child, in school, maybe even kindergarten, sometimes even in the preschool phase, of young life. To be exposed to the stigma, to be told there is something wrong with your family, that you have to change, you have to adapt," said Dr. Bielefeldt.

"Then, as the child gets to the age of higher education, now the problem is how to get access," he continued. "We have lots of cases of Baha'is who have been expelled from universities and other sectors of higher education."

"Imagine what it means if a person wants to gather position in life, to get a job. There is not the slightest possibility for a Baha'i to take a position in any public sector (job). But even in the private sector, there is mobbing and stigmatization."

"How can a person start a family life, if in family law there is no official space for Baha'is to conclude valid marriages?" he asked, noting that this deficiency affects concerns ranging from inheritance to rights of custody.

Attacks do not even end with death, he added. "There is the experience of desecration of cemeteries... (of) cemeteries being also bulldozed down by someone."

Pointing to the report, titled "Violence with Impunity: Acts of aggression against Iran's Baha'i community," Dr. Bielefelt said that the increasing violence against Iranian Baha'is – and the degree to which attackers escape prosecution for their crimes – is clear.

"Not only do Baha'is have to expect a lack of protection – government agencies are very often inimical, hostile forces."