In Iran, Baha’is have been challenged and blocked since the founding of their faith

Throughout the history of the Bahá’í Faith, the Bahá’ís of Iran have been persecuted. In the mid-1800s, some 20,000 followers were killed by the authorities or by mobs who viewed the infant movement as heretical to Islam.

Haleh Rouhi, Sasan Taqva, and Raha Sabet were taken into custody by the Iranian government in November 2007. They are serving a four-year sentence on charges connected entirely with their practice of the Baha'i Faith.
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In the twentieth century, periodic outbreaks of violence were directed against Bahá’ís in Iran, and the government often used Bahá’ís as a scapegoat. The persecution came in waves; in 1933, for example, Bahá’í literature was banned, Bahá’í marriages were not recognized, and Bahá’ís in public service were demoted or fired. In 1955, the government oversaw the demolition of the Bahá’í national center in Tehran with pickaxes.

Bahá’ís understand this pattern of persecution as a manifestation of the misunderstanding and fear that occur when a new religion emerges from the matrix of a well-established orthodoxy. The pattern has been repeated through the ages; indeed, virtually all of the world’s great religions have faced intense persecution in their early history.

In 1979, with the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the persecutions took a new direction, becoming an official government policy and being pursued in a systematic way. Since then, 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. Formal Bahá’í administration had to be suspended, and holy places, shrines, and cemeteries have been confiscated, vandalized, or destroyed.

Bahá’ís continue to be subject to revolving-door arrests and detentions calculated to sow fear in the Iranian Bahá’í community. Sometimes prisoners are held incommunicado, in unknown locations, while their families desperately search for them. It is not uncommon for government agents to search Baha’i homes, confiscating documents, books, computers, copiers, and other belongings.

The government has put in place systematic measures to suffocate the Bahá’í community both economically and socially. A secret government memorandum came to light in 1993 that indicated 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 that the “progress and development” of the Bahá’í community “shall be blocked.”

One example of this campaign is the banning of Bahá’ís from attending colleges and universities. The ban started in 1979 and although the government has in recent years pretended to open university doors to Bahá’í students, in truth almost all are blocked and the few that manage to enroll are expelled as soon as their religion becomes known. Harassment extends even to Bahá’í schoolchildren, who are vilified by teachers and clerics and at times pressured to change their religion.

The 300,000-member Bahá’í community of Iran comprises the largest religious minority in that country. Bahá’ís are oppressed solely because of religious hatred. Islamic fundamentalists in Iran and elsewhere have long viewed the Bahá’í Faith as a threat to Islam, branding Bahá’ís as heretics and apostates. The progressive position of the Bahá’í Faith on women’s rights, independent investigation of truth, and education has particularly rankled Muslim clerics.

The House of the Báb in Shiraz, one of the most holy sites in the Bahá’í world, was destroyed by Revolutionary Guardsmen in 1979 and the site later bulldozed by the government.
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International protest against the persecution of the Bahá’ís of Iran has been widespread. Thousands of newspaper articles and television and radio segments have appeared around the world, and governments and prominent international organizations have condemned the persecution or expressed concern about the Bahá’ís of Iran. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the UN General Assembly have passed numerous resolutions addressing Iran’s human rights record, with virtually all the resolutions specifically mentioning the Bahá’ís.

Still, the pressure on the Iranian Bahá’ís increases. In 2008, all seven members of a national ad hoc committee that saw to the needs of the Iranian Baha’i community were rounded up and jailed in Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison. In the first quarter of 2009, arrests and interrogations were on the rise, economic strangulation continued to tighten, and acts of persecution, including against schoolchildren, continued unabated in cities and towns across the country.


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