With the sudden increase in persecution earlier this month by the Iranian regime against members of the Baha’i faith living in Iran, Iranian American activists and U.S. Jewish community leaders have been raising greater public attention to the plight of the Baha’is suffering in Iran.

According to a recent report from the Baha’i International Community (BIC) organization based in Geneva, nearly 200 Iranian regime security personnel destroyed six homes on Aug. 3 and confiscated nearly 50 acres of land belonging to Iranians of the Baha’i faith living in a village inside the Mazandaran province of Iran.

Video footage of the destroyed Baha’i village of Roshankouh posted on social-media platforms shows men, women, children and elderly Baha’is weeping after their homes and farms were demolished by the Islamic Republic’s heavy equipment.

“The actions by the Islamic regime’s security forces against innocent members of the Baha’i faith living in Roshankouh by claiming these people are endangering Iran’s national security is outrageous,” said Farhad Sabetan, an Iranian American spokesperson for BIC in the United States.

At the same time, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry released a statement on July 31  indicating that they had arrested dozens of Iranian Baha’i throughout Iran, including Baha’i leaders who they claimed had collected and transferred information to the Baha’i center in Israel.

Sabetan told JNS that at least three of those arrested are well-known leaders of the Baha’i community in Iran who had recently been released from prison after serving 10-year sentences on trumped-up charges of acting against Iran’s national security.

“In the last 43 years since this regime has come to power in Iran, I have not seen a single piece of solid evidence connecting any Baha’i member living in Iran to spying for any country,” stated Sabetan, who is based in Northern California. “The persecution of those of the Baha’i in Iran [is] solely based on the regime’s pure hatred of those who follow their faith instead of the regime’s radical form of Islam.”

Mitra Jashni, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Farashgard Foundation. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Moreover, Iranian human-rights lawyer Saeid Dehghan, based in Tehran, reported on Twitter on Aug. 18 that a revolutionary court in the Iranian province of Semnan recently ordered the confiscation of a number of Baha’i properties located in the province.

BIC leaders said they formally submitted a letter signed by 25 major organizations and human-rights activists to U.S. President Joe Biden, calling on him not only to condemn the recent increase in Baha’i persecution in Iran but to place great pressure on the regime for its organized campaign against Iranian Baha’is.

Likewise, Sabetan noted that the Iranian regime frequently uses the excuse of the Baha’i international governing body, the “Universal House of Justice,” which is based in the Israeli city of Haifa, as an excuse to persecute those of the Baha’i faith in Iran.

“Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of our religion was banished from Iran in 1852 and forced to live in the Ottoman-controlled Holy Land. He died there and was buried in Haifa more than 50 years before the establishment of Israel,” said Sabetan. “Other than his burial site in Haifa, which is holy to us Baha’is, there is no other connection between our religion and Israel.”

The terrace garden at the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, Israel. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

‘Push back against oppression’

The Baha’i religion began in 1844 in the southwestern Iranian city of Shiraz by Siyyid ‘Alí-Muhammad, who proclaimed that he was sent by God to prepare humanity for a new age of peace and the imminent appearance of another messenger greater than himself. Alí-Muhammad took on the title of “Báb” and gradually gained 20,000 followers to what was called Bábism. Fearing his new religion’s popularity, Iran’s Shi’ite clergy and monarchy at that time persecuted him, as well as his followers, who they considered heretics. He was later publicly executed in 1850.

Subsequently, one of the Báb’s leading disciples, Mírzá Husayn ‘Alíalso known as Bahá’u’lláhfounded the Baha’i religion itself and began spreading it to various regions throughout Iran. Again, feeling threatened by this new religion, Islamic clerics and Iran’s monarch at the time arrested, imprisoned and ultimately banished Bahá’u’lláh from Iran, where he and many of his followers were forced to live in the Ottoman-controlled lands.

Nevertheless, many Iranians continued practicing the Baha’i faith in Iran, and by 1979, their numbers had swelled to half a million in the country. Today, the Baha’i faith has an estimated 5 million followers worldwide.

“Crushing the human-rights and dignity of a religious minority because their beliefs are different, imprisonment and torture accused of being spies because they have a revered site in Haifathat’s Ayatollah [Ali] Khamenei.”

Sabetan said while there has not been a proper census of the current population of Iran’s Baha’i community, there are estimates that they number roughly 350,000 in Iran and continue to live in Iran despite facing unspeakable persecution and constant discrimination because of their faith.

“Baha’is have fled Iran over the years since the Islamic revolution more than 40 years ago, but the many who have remained there have told me they truly love Iran as their homeland,” said Sabetan. “They feel compelled to non-violently defy and push back against the oppression of the regime by just having a presence in the country.”

Nader Saiedi, an Iranian American professor of Baha’i history and religion in Iran at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), said while religious minorities such as Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians living in Iran have some minimal rights under the Iranian regime’s Islamic constitution, Iranian Baha’is have no legal rights or protections under the laws of the regime.

“For the last 42 years, the Islamic regime in Iran has undertaken a systematic campaign of persecution of Iranians who are Baha’i,” said Saiedi. “Baha’is in Iran are banned from obtaining higher university-level education, banned from entering certain professions, face greater societal pressures, are discriminated against when it comes to employment opportunities, and the regime tells the population to altogether avoid any physical contact with Baha’is because they claim Baha’i are najes, or ‘ritually impure.’ ”

Nader Saiedi, an Iranian American professor of Baha’i history and religion in Iran at the University of California, Los Angeles. Credit: UCLA.

Saiedi said since the 1979 establishment of the Islamic regime in Iran, hundreds of Baha’is have been arrested, jailed and tortured by the regime. He said more than 200 Baha’is had also been executed by the regime during the first two decades after the revolution.

While the regime in the 1980s and 1990s indirectly encouraged local level individuals to harass Iranian Baha’is, today the attacks on Baha’is are more deliberate by the regime’s security apparatus, said Saiedi.

“Before, the regime in Iran was afraid of potential blowback from the international community for their persecution of Baha’is, so they would always claim it was some sort of an accidental incident or due to criminal activity; yet in recent years, they’ve become bolder by directly openly and methodically carrying out attacks with their own forces on Baha’is there,” he explained.

Sabetan said he also attributed the increase in the regime’s persecution of Baha’is to the regime’s attempt at discouraging the large numbers of Iranian Muslims who have recently been voluntarily converting to other religions in the country.

“The persecution of those of the Baha’i in Iran solely based on the regime’s pure hatred of those who follow their faith instead of the regime’s radical form of Islam.”

“The regime is aware and upset that large segments of the society in Iran are leaving their radical form of Islam and are upset with the regime’s failed theocratic rule,” said Sabetan. “These Iranians are not only embracing the Baha’i faith but also converting to Christianity and Zoroastrianism in Iran.”

Reza Parchizadeh, an Iranian American theorist based in Maryland, said Iran’s ruling clerical Islamic regime has always been at odds with members of the Baha’i faith because the religion does not recognize any formal hierarchy of clergy in society.

“The Islamic Republic persecutes the Baha’is with the utmost intensity because of the Baha’i liberal interpretation of religion, in general, and Islam, in particular, which endangers the privileged position of the clerical class that rules Iran,” said Parchizadeh. “Therefore, the Islamist regime’s treatment of the Baha’is is more political than religious in nature, and is almost similar to the Vatican’s persecution of the Protestants during the age of religious reform in Europe.”

‘A serious societal problem’

Many American Jewish leaders have also condemned the attacks that the Iranian regime has carried out against Iranian Baha’is.

“Crushing the human-rights and dignity of a religious minority because their beliefs are different, imprisonment and torture accused of being spies because they have a revered site in Haifathat’s Ayatollah [Ali] Khamenei,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of global social action for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, based in Los Angeles.

Ari Babaknia, an Iranian Jewish activist and Holocaust expert based in Southern California, called on the larger American Jewish community to support Iranian Baha’is who have been harshly targeted by Tehran for decades.

“As Jews whose ancestry has experienced some of the worst persecution for centuries around the world, we have a special responsibility to being sensitive to any group that is being targeted because of their religion, race or ethnicity, especially those suffering in Iran at the hands of this current regime,” he said.

Ari Babaknia, an Iranian Jewish activist and Holocaust expert based in Southern California. Source: Screenshot.

A number of Iranian American organizations, whose leadership hail from various religions, have also condemned Iran’s recent increase in persecution of its Baha’i community and called on Western news media outlets to give more coverage to the regime’s ongoing human-rights abuses.

“If the media of the world would support the opponents of the regime and show the true face of this criminal cult, they [Iranian repressive leaders] will be forced to retreat,” said Mitra Jashni, who is a Baha’i and the executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Farashgard Foundation, an Iranian American nonprofit group that promotes a secular democratic government for Iran.

Other Iranian American activists said they were disappointed that the Iranian regime’s egregious human-rights abuses have not been more vocally condemned by the Biden administration during negotiations this past year to re-enter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

“Sadly, the persecution and discrimination of Baha’is in Iran are facing is a serious societal problem that has been ongoing for many years. But why isn’t the Biden government placing any public pressure on the Islamic regime in Iran for their human-rights abuses?” pointed out Ali Ebrahimzadeh, an Iranian American activist who heads the L.A.-based Normal Life nonprofit organization. “If the people of Iran knew that U.S. and European powers were supporting them and their quest for real freedom from this evil regime, then they would be emboldened to rise up and take down this regime quickly themselves.”

 
JNS

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