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Background: Recent Attacks against Baha’is in Iran

June 2007

Reports and documents filtering out of Iran over the last six months indicate a widespread and calculated effort by the government to maintain and gradually intensify the persecution of Iranian Baha'is.

The evidence tells of continued efforts by the government to monitor and identify Baha'is; further incidents of abuse and discrimination directed at Baha'i students at all levels; stepped-up efforts to deprive Baha'is of their livelihood; and ongoing attacks on the Baha'i Faith in the official news media.

This summary focuses on the period from November 2006 to May 2007, citing a number of confirmed incidents that give ample evidence that the intentions underlying the 25 February 1991 secret memorandum from the Iranian Supreme Revolutionary Cultural Council, which outlines a plan for the quiet elimination of the Baha’i community in Iran, remain in force. 

Taken together, these incidents paint a picture of a government-led effort to make the Baha’is physically vulnerable, to instill in them social and occupational insecurity, and in general to create a climate of fear.

Moreover, this effort clearly seeks to disengage Baha'is from their friends and fellow citizens by generating suspicion and mistrust — even hatred — in the hearts of individuals in society at large, part of a larger effort to impede the social, economic, and cultural progress of the Baha'i community and to block its growth.

Amassing information on the Baha’is 

Among the most worrisome trends over the last several years has been the emergence of evidence that the Iranian government is secretly working to identify and monitor Baha'is, an effort that some observers have compared the German government's effort to collect information on Jews at the beginning of the Nazi era.

Recent incidents include:

  • Evidence that efforts are being made in the school system to identify Baha’i students of all ages and the members of their families throughout Iran.  As an example, the Security Office of the Education Department in Shiraz has circulated a form to be completed for all students “who belong to religious minorities and the perverse Baha’ist sect.” The form requires not only detailed information about the student and his or her parents, but also detailed information on all the student’s siblings. Under “Religion” are listed four options:  “Christian; Jew; Zoroastrian; the perverse sect of Baha’ism.”
    Read the form in English >
    Read the form in Persian >
  • Reports of attempts to obtain information through surreptitious means, such as people posing as journalists or questioning children playing in the street.
  • Baha’is who are known to the Ministry of Information are unrelentingly harassed to give personal information regarding other Baha’is.
  • Reports of stepped-up interrogations of Baha'is. In February 2007, for example, police in certain sectors of Tehran, and in Bandar Abbas, Muhammadiyyih, Shirvan, and Kirmanshah, began going to the homes and businesses of Baha’is and interrogating them at length regarding the members of their families, occupations, education, etc., sometimes in the guise of conducting a survey. Baha’is who were questioned in their places of business were also asked for their work permits, whether they owned the business, the number of employees and their relationships to each other. In two instances, Baha’is were summoned to the local police station for this questioning. In one case, when the Baha’is asked why they were being asked to participate in this “survey,” they were told: “We have our orders from the head office.” On another occasion the reason given was that the information would assist the authorities to solve any problem that would arise. 

These incidents come after international human rights groups have expressed concern about previous documents regarding Iran’s effort to amass as much information as possible on Baha'is and their activities.

The most significant document on this effort was the emergence of a secret letter dated 29 October 2005 and signed by the Chairman of Command Headquarters of the Iranian Armed Forces, instructing commanders of various state intelligence services, police units, and the Revolutionary Guard to "identify" Baha'is and “collect any and all information” about their activities.
Read the letter in English >
Read the letter in Persian >

Other documentation obtained by the Baha'i International Community on this effort to identify and monitor Baha'is includes:

  • A letter dated 19 August 2006 from the Ministry of Interior ordering officials throughout the country to step up the surveillance of Iranian Baha'is,  focusing in particular on their community activities.
  • A 2 May 2006 letter to the Iranian Union of Battery Manufacturers asking it to provide to the Trades, Production and Technical Services Society of Kermanshah a list of members of "the Baha'i sect."
    Read English translation >
    Read Original Document >

Attacks against Baha’i schoolchildren

Baha’i schoolchildren continue to be subjected to severe harassment, vilification, and other forms of intense psychological pressure, as was first reported in April  2007.

Moreover, a campaign appears to be under way to “educate” school teachers throughout the country about the Baha’i Faith by providing them with instruction and materials that perpetuate the gross falsifications of Baha’i history and teachings along the lines that have been traditionally been used in attacks on the Faith in Iran and that are currently being repeated in the propaganda disseminated through the mass media. 

Specifically, on 23 April 2007, a group of high school religion teachers from 14 provinces visited a center for religious studies in Qom as part of their in-service training organised by the Ministry of Education. During this visit, they attended a two-hour presentation that was critical of the Babi and Baha’i Faiths.

On 14 and 15 May 2007, Iranian online news agencies (Ayandeh Roushan and Rasa) published an article reporting on the publication in Tabriz of an 85-page booklet and accompanying CD that provide an “Introduction to Baha’ism” for high school religious teachers. That article hints at a number of inaccuracies about the Faith and its history, such as the oft-repeated falsehood regarding the British and Russian colonial role in the Faith’s development and its current relationship to Israel.
Read the article in English >

Denial of access to university education

After being admitted to universities in Iran last autumn for the first time in 25 years, Baha'i students have nevertheless been expelled in increasing numbers throughout the academic year as their religion has become known to school officials, evidence that the government’s policy of opening the doors to Baha'i students is nothing but a sham, designed to mislead international human rights monitors.

In February, the Baha'i International Community reported that of the 178 Baha'is admitted to universities this school year, at least 70 had been expelled.

As of 3 May 2007, that figure has risen to 104, meaning that more than 58 percent of Baha'i students admitted since the beginning of current academic year have now been expelled, solely on the grounds of their adherence to the Baha’i Faith.

Denial of means of livelihood

Over the past six months, efforts to deny Baha’is their means of livelihood have accelerated and have included the following tactics:

  • refusals to issue or renew business licenses;
  • closing Baha’i-owned businesses;
  • encouraging banks to close bank accounts of Baha’is and to refuse loan applications from Baha’is;
  • issuing instructions to chain stores and government offices to avoid purchasing from companies owned by Baha’is;
  • refusing to pay retirement benefits to Baha’is in private-sector employment in some regions of the country; and,
  • threatening private-sector employers against hiring Baha’is and harassing such employers to dismiss Baha’i employees.

For example, on 10 April 2007, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of a company was summoned to the office of the Information Ministry in Sanandaj and told that because the company had a Baha’i employee, it was going to be shut down unless it fired the Baha’i.

Dissemination of misinformation to incite the population against the Baha’is

Inflammatory material about the Faith and its adherents continues to be spread through the mass media.

Scurrilous attacks on the Faith are still appearing in “Kayhan,” one of the oldest and most influential newspapers in Iran. This daily newspaper is published by the Kayhan Institute and is currently managed by Hossein Shariatmadari, who is also the representative of the Supreme Leader at the Institute.  Most recently, the newspaper carried on Page 1 the opening lines of an article titled “An Interview with a Person Saved from Bahaism.” This was the first installment in a series of interviews with Bihzad Jahangiri (his new Muslim name is Husayn Fallah) a former Baha’i who, along with Mahnaz Raoufi, his former wife, converted to Islam about 10 years ago. During the past year, “Kayhan” also ran a series of articles based on the so-called “memoir” of Mahnaz Raoufi, with the same intent — to “expose” the inner workings of the Baha’i community.

This 15 May 2007 Kayhan article is typical of these recent attacks. The article falsely implies, for example, that Baha'is have their marriage partners chosen for them and that Baha'is live together before marriage. It also misrepresents the number of Baha'is inside and outside of Iran.

For background about the attacks on the Baha'i Faith in the Iranian media, go to: http://www.bahai.org/persecution/iran/mediaattacks

Desecration of Baha’i properties 

Some Baha’i cemeteries have been vandalized over the past six months.

Denial of freedom of movement

Although, in recent years, some Baha'is have managed to obtain passports and to travel in and out of Iran with relative freedom, lately some Baha’is have had their passports confiscated when endeavoring to travel outside Iran. As well, some Baha’is, such as those who are involved in coordinating community activities on an ad hoc basis, have also been placed on “no fly” lists.

For example, the passports of the members of a Baha’i family were confiscated when they were at the airport en route to Kuwait. The official with whom they met about this matter told them:  “You [i.e. the Baha’is] are all spies and we will not let you go abroad [to carry out] spying activities. We will take measures to stop you.”

Denial of access to legal process

Discrimination against Baha'is in the legal system continues to be a problem. In February 2007, for example, the Public Court of Justice in Falard decided not to hear a lawsuit “due to the plaintiffs’ belonging to the Baha’ist sect.”
Read the judgement in English >
View the judgement in Persian >

The harassment and intimidation of Baha’is and their non-Baha’i friends, including physical assaults.

Currently, there are four Baha'is in prison. As well, since March 2005, more than 120 Baha'is have been arrested or detained for short periods of time, ranging from several days to several months. All of these individuals are out on bail and awaiting trial on charges solely related to their religious activities.

Baha’is across Iran continue to experience an escalation in acts of personal harassment.

For example, a movement continues to target Baha’i households, which have been receiving intimidating and threatening notes, CDs and tracts aimed at refuting the claims of the Baha'i Faith. In some cases, these messages have been sent to all the members of a family, regardless of age.  Many Baha’is have also received provocative text (SMS) messages on their cell phones. At first, the messages most commonly received were:

  • Do you know that you are being used by America to clear its way?
  • Do you know that your approach to “wisdom” in teaching your Faith means misleading others?
  • Those who respond rudely, we will ignore, as such responses are indicative of the real Baha’i morals. Those who respond politely, we will soon meet in person.

The tone of the messages has become more blatantly threatening. For example, last year messages included such statements as:

  • Baha’i Teacher = Foreign Infantry.
  • Baha’is, do you know that your cooperation with America makes the Muslims hate you and that they will take their revenge on you?
  • Baha’is, do you know that your cooperation with America at this time and under such sensitive conditions will cause the hatred of the Muslims and will have consequences for you?

On several occasions Baha’is being interrogated by government officials have been asked why they do not simply leave the country.

Individuals who wish to join Baha’is in their activities have been interrogated, insulted, and threatened.

Baha’i military trainees are subject to harassment.

A final incident of concern

Of special concern during the recent period is the news that two elderly Baha'i women were murdered by unidentified assailants in two separate cities in late winter 2007.

On 16 February 2007, Saltanat Akhzari, an 85-year-old resident of Abbas Abad, a dependency of Abadeh in Shiraz, was slain in her home. The following day, Shah Beygom Dehghani, a 77-year-old Baha'i, was viciously assaulted by a masked intruder in her home in Mohammadiyyeh, in the province of Isfahan. Mrs. Dehghani died on 7 March 2007. The two women are unrelated.

Both victims are elderly women who were alone at the time of the attacks, which occurred in their homes in relatively small towns, and each was brutally assaulted. The body of Mrs. Akhzari was found in her house with her hands and feet bound and her mouth gagged while Mrs. Dehghani was lured out of her house in the middle of the night and then savagely attacked with a lawn rake.

While the motive for these attacks remains unknown at this time, the Baha’is in Iran have indicated that the similarity between the two murders is alarming.

For more background on the persecution of Iranian Baha’is, go to The Baha’i Question

To view this update in Persian click here