U.S. agency sounds alarm over Iran’s treatment of Baha’is
Robert George, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and Katrina
Lantos Swett, a USCIRF commissioner, co-wrote a column for the Religion News Service on Friday
about the persecution of the group — a community numbering more than 300,000 members in
Iran, that country’s largest non-Muslim religious minority.
Iran’s government is intent on eradicating the group, they say. The group they represent, USCIRF,
describes itself as an “independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission.”
“While pursuit of that goal (eradication) remains, its intensity ebbs and flows in response to the
level of world attention and outrage. Unfortunately, there are signs from this past year that
persecution is on the upswing, calling for greater world outrage at Iran’s abuses of this peaceful
George and Swett said that since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, more than 200 Baha’i leaders
have been killed and more than 10,000 have been let go from government and university
positions. There have been arbitrary arrests over the years.
“Baha’is effectively are prohibited from attending colleges, chartering their own worship centers
or schools, serving in the military, and obtaining various kinds of jobs. Even Baha’i marriages are
There are “ominous signs of a renewed government crackdown” in the past year, George and
Swett wrote. The Iranian government cranks out propaganda dehumanizing the group and creates
a climate of violence, they say.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a religious edict, or fatwa, in 2013 calling
for Iranians to avoid “dealings” with Baha’is and labeled the group “deviant and misleading,” news
The writers note that other minorities — Christians, Sunnis, Jews and Zoroastrians — also face
discrimination in Shiite-dominated Iran.
“But what distinguishes mistreatment of the Baha’is is the stark evidence that eradication is the
goal. From laws that push Baha’is to the margins of society to government-sponsored propaganda
that degrades and dehumanizes, from mass detention and imprisonment to the closing of
businesses, from allowing societal violence against Baha’is to failure to prosecute perpetrators,
all signs suggest that Iran’s government seeks religious cleansing of this community,” they wrote.
George and Swett noted that Christian pastor Saeed Abedini was released from captivity in
January by Iran and it is time that Iran “do likewise to all religious prisoners, including the Baha’i
Seven and the imprisoned Baha’i educators, and other prisoners of conscience.”
The Baha’i religion, founded during the 19th century in Iran and now with millions of adherents
worldwide, is a monotheistic faith that focuses on the spiritual unity of humanity.
The clerics who hold sway in Iran regard the Baha’i faith as blasphemous because its founder,
Bahá’u’lláh, declared himself to be a prophet of God. Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed
was the last prophet of God.
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