ABN NEWS– The eighth anniversary this Saturday (May 14) of Iran’s imprisonment of seven Baha’i
leaders is an opportune time to refocus attention on the plight of their people.
Dominated by an extremist interpretation of Shiite Islam, Iran’s government has a long-term goal
to eradicate the more than 300,000-member Baha’i community, the country’s largest non-Muslim
religious minority. While pursuit of that goal 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
Since Iran’s Khomeini revolution of 1979, authorities have killed more than 200 Baha’i leaders,
and more than 10,000 have been dismissed from government and university jobs.
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 not recognized.
Over the past 10 years, about 850 Baha’is arbitrarily have been arrested. As of February 2016,
more than 80 remain imprisoned, including the Baha’i Seven — Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi,
Saeid Rezaie, Behrouz Tavakkoli, Vahid Tizfahm, Fariba Kamalabadi and Mahvash Sabet.
According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, on which we serve, there
were ominous signs of a renewed government crackdown over the past year. In Tehran and other
municipalities, Baha’i homes have been ransacked, Baha’i-owned shops closed, Baha’i religious
materials confiscated and Baha’i members arrested. In January 2016 alone, 24 Baha’is in the
Golestan province were sentenced to prison terms of up to 11 years simply for engaging in the
religious activities of their faith.
Iran’s government also continues to issue a steady drumbeat of propaganda that demonizes and
dehumanizes its Baha’i population. In 2014 alone, pro-government media and print outlets
published nearly 4,000 anti-Baha’i articles in which Baha’is typically are portrayed as immoral
traitors, agents of foreign powers, and strangers and aliens who don’t belong in the country.
The government’s demonization of Baha’is predictably creates a climate conducive to acts of
violence against them that often are not prosecuted.
This is not to say that the Iranian government only targets Baha’is. Christians and members of
other religious minorities also face persecution, including jail time. Since 2010, authorities
arbitrarily have arrested and detained more than 550 Christians throughout the country. Over the
past year, there were numerous reports of authorities raiding church services, threatening church
members, and arresting and incarcerating worshippers and church leaders, particularly
evangelical Christian converts.
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