Iran Wants to Eradicate Baha’is. We Should Demand Their Religious Freedom

Members of the Baha'i faith hold flowers as they demonstrate outside a state security court during a hearing in the case of a fellow Baha'i man charged with seeking to establish a base for the community in Yemen, in the country's capital Sanaa April 3, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-GEORGE-OPED, originally transmitted on May 13, 2016.

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

religious community.

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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