The Situation of the Bahá'ís in Iran
Throughout the past century, the Bahá'ís of Iran have been persecuted. With the triumph of the Islamic revolution in 1979, this persecution has been systematized. More than 200 Bahá'ís have been executed or killed, hundreds more have been imprisoned, and tens of thousands have been deprived of jobs, pensions, businesses, and educational opportunities. All national and local Bahá'í administrative institutions have been banned by the Government, and Bahá'í holy places, cemeteries and community properties have been confiscated, vandalized, or destroyed.
The 300,000-member Bahá'í community is the largest religious minority in that country, and Bahá'ís have been oppressed solely because of religious intolerance. Islamic leaders in Iran and elsewhere have long viewed the Bahá'í Faith as a threat to Islam and have branded the Bahá'ís as heretics. The progressive stands of the Faith on women's rights, independent investigation of truth, and education have particularly rankled Muslim clerics.
In June 1983, for example, the Iranian authorities arrested ten Bahá'í women and girls. The charge against them: teaching children's classes on the Bahá'í Faith -- the equivalent of Sunday school in the West.
The women were subjected to intense physical and mental abuse in an effort to coerce them to recant their Faith -- an option that is always pressed on Bahá'í prisoners. Yet, like most Bahá'ís who have been arrested in Iran, they refused to deny their beliefs. As a result, they were executed.
Similar attempts to force Iranian Bahá'ís to deny their beliefs have continued, although the Government has recently refrained from the worst human rights violations – killings and imprisonments – in the face of international pressure.
As recently as August 2004, Iranian authorities sought to force Iranian Bahá'í youth to identify themselves as Muslims by pre-printing “Islam” on college examination forms after holding out the prospect that Bahá'ís would be allowed to return to university after two decades of exclusion. Because Bahá'ís do not as a matter of religious principle misrepresent their faith, the move effectively extends the ban on Bahá'í students at national universities – a ban that has sought to deprive an entire generation of higher education.
This illustration, depicting the death of an early Bahá'í, appeared in the Persian magazine, Ima'mat, circa 1911.
In early 2004, as well, the Government allowed the destruction of two important Bahá'í holy places. In April, the gravesite of Quddus, a prominent figure in early Baha’i history, was razed to the ground, despite protests from Baha’is at the local, national, and international levels. In June 2004, the Government destroyed another holy site, the house of Mirza Abbas Nuri, the father of Baha’u’llah.
The destruction of that building was made all the more terrible because Mirza Abbas Nuri was widely known as a great nineteenth century statesman, calligrapher and literary figure. His house was considered a precious example of Islamic-Iranian architecture, “a matchless model of art, spirituality, and architecture,” as one Iranian commentator said.
These recent episodes reflect the continuation of a policy established by the Government of Iran that systematically seeks to destroy Iran’s Bahá'í community as a viable entity. That policy came to light in 1993 with the discovery of a secret memorandum aimed at establishing a coordinated policy regarding "the Bahá'í question." Drafted by the Supreme Revolutionary Cultural Council and signed by Ali Khamenei, the Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the document states unequivocally that the "progress and development" of the Bahá'í community "shall be blocked."
Such a statement flatly contravenes the Government's oft-repeated contention that it has no campaign of persecution directed against the Bahá'ís. To this day, the Government has not retracted this document or offered any indication that it has changed its mind about its long-held and deep-seated determination to eradicate the Bahá'í community of Iran.
Destruction at a Bahá'í cemetery in Shiraz, 1979.
Bahá'ís in many different localities in Iran are still subjected to arbitrary arrest, short-term detention, and persistent harassment, intimidation and discrimination. All attempts to obtain redress are systematically denied as officials continue to confiscate Bahá'í homes, deny them their rightfully earned pensions and inheritance, block their access to employment or impede their private business activities. The authorities also interfere with classes given to Bahá'í youth in private houses and persist in banning the sacred institutions that perform, in the Bahá'í Faith, important functions reserved to clergy in other religions.
International pressure has greatly helped to protect Iran’s Bahá'í community from wholesale eradication. Since 1979, thousands of newspaper articles about the situation of the Bahá'ís in Iran have appeared around the world. Prominent international organizations, including the European Parliament and several national legislatures, have passed resolutions condemning or expressing concern about the Bahá'ís of Iran. Most important, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the General Assembly have pressed the Iranian regime to observe international human rights covenants with resolutions -- resolutions that have paid specific attention to the Bahá'í situation.
In the face of such pressure, the Iranian Government in the late 1980s reduced the rate of executions and the number of Bahá'ís held in prison.
Mr. Rúhullah Rawhani, 52, was summarily executed by Iranian authorities on July 21, 1998. He was killed solely because of his religious beliefs.
The most recent documented killing of a Bahá'í in Iran was carried out on 21 July 1998, when Mr. Rúhullah Rawhani, a Bahá'í businessman and father of four in Mashhad, was executed. Mr. Rawhani was not accorded any legal process or access to a lawyer and no sentence had been announced.
Yet, even though the killing of Bahá'ís in Iran has subsided, there is no evidence that conditions for the Bahá'í community in Iran have changed. The Bahá'ís of Iran continue to be denied fundamental human rights, including the right to practice their religion freely. The full emancipation of this peaceful, law-abiding community therefore remains a central concern of Bahá'ís around the world.