Last updated: 28 October 2010
Note: This report is provided as a service to news media and others desiring current information about the Baha'is in Iran. All details have been verified by the Baha'i International Community.
Words in italics have been altered or added since the previous update on 16 September.
The Baha'i community of Iran, numbering about 300,000 people, is the largest non-Muslim religious minority in the country.
Summary of latest news
Governments, organizations and influential individuals around the world are continuing to condemn the harsh prison sentences given to the seven Iranian Baha'i leaders.
The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon expressed strong concern over Iran's ongoing human rights violations, including its persecution of Iranian Baha'is. In a report issued on 14 October, Mr. Ban highlighted his continuing concerns over Iran's use of torture and the death penalty, its poor treatment of women, and repeated violations of due process of law and of freedom of assembly, speech and religion. The report also took note of the trial and reported sentencing of the seven Baha'i leaders, observing that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed "deep concern" over the absence of international observers and the lack of due process in that trial, which concluded in June. "The High Commissioner voiced grave concern that the criminal charges brought against the above-mentioned individuals appeared to constitute a violation of the Islamic Republic of Iran's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in particular those of freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression and association," said the report.
Britain's most prominent heads of religion have also called for the release of the seven Baha'i leaders. A statement by the United Kingdom's religious leaders – describing the sentencing of the seven as a "gross violation of the fundamental human right to freedom of religion" – was signed by, among others, the Archbishop of Canterbury – who is the head of the worldwide Anglican communion; the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster; the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth; and the Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Great Britain.
Three of the United Kingdom's most distinguished lawyers also expressed their serious concern about the lack of due process accorded to Iran's seven Baha'i leaders during their trial. Dame Rosalyn Higgins QC, former President of the International Court of Justice, joined Linda Lee, President of the Law Society, and Mark Muller QC, Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee, in signing a letter published in The Guardian newspaper. "The charges and the sentences appear to be motivated solely by the fact that [the seven] are members of the Bahá'í faith. We urge the authorities to respect Iran's obligations under international law…" the lawyers wrote in the letter.
In Spain, the City Councils of Bailén and Guarromán – in the Spanish province of Jaén –unanimously approved separate institutional declarations stating concern over the deprivation of rights and systematic persecution faced by the members of the Baha'i community in Iran. They called upon the Spanish Government and the institutions of the European Union to urge Iran to ensure that due legal process is applied to the imprisoned seven Bahai leaders jailed solely for their religious beliefs.
Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs said on 17 September, "I note with regret reports that Iranian authorities have decided to continue the imprisonment of seven Baha'i community leaders, while reducing their sentences from 20 to 10 years. Canada maintains that these individuals appear to have been imprisoned because of their religious beliefs and that therefore they should be released unconditionally and reunited with their families as soon as possible."
The governments of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom and United States of America, as well as the European Union and the President of the European Parliament, earlier condemned the harsh sentences received by the seven. Groups focused specifically on human rights have also launched letter-writing campaigns encouraging supporters to call for justice.
No formal announcement on reduction of prison sentence
Lawyers representing the imprisoned seven Baha'i leaders were informed orally on 15 September that the 20-year jail terms they had each received had subsequently been reduced to ten years on appeal. Iranian authorities have so far made no formal announcement on either the initial or reduced sentences.
20 year jail terms were initially handed down to the seven after they faced charges of propaganda activities against the Islamic order and the establishment of an illegal administration, among other allegations, all of which were categorically denied.
The seven prisoners were moved from Evin Prison after receiving their sentence. They are now held in Gohardasht prison in Karaj. The move has imposed an added burden on their families, who now have to travel outside Tehran to visit the prisoners.
The trial of the seven began on 12 January after they had been incarcerated without charge in Tehran's Evin prison for 20 months. At the first hearing, they denied all charges against them.
A second appearance on 7 February was concerned mainly with procedural issues. The third session on 12 April, which was a closed hearing, was adjourned after the seven – with the agreement of their attorneys – refused to be party to the proceedings because of the presence of nonjudicial personnel. Three final morning sessions took place from 12 – 14 June.
The names of the seven are Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mrs. Mahvash Sabet, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm. Mrs. Sabet was arrested on 5 March 2008 and the others on 14 May 2008.
Until their imprisonment, the seven Baha'is were part of an ad hoc group called the Friends in Iran that, in the absence of formal Baha'i leadership, helped attend to the needs of the 300,000 Baha'is in that country. The Friends group has now been disbanded, as have smaller groups that assisted Baha'is at the local level.
Arrests and convictions
From August 2004 to 24 October 2010, some 329 Baha'is have been arrested in Iran. There are about 43 Iranian Baha'is currently in prison because of their religion.
To date, the cases of some 271 Baha'is were still active with authorities. These include individuals in prison, those who have been released pending trial, those who have appealed their verdicts, those awaiting notification to begin serving prison sentences, and a few who are serving periods of internal exile. Thousands more have been deprived of education, questioned, threatened, denied their pensions, or debarred from earning a livelihood.
Altogether, so far in 2010, detentions have occurred in Babolsar, Isfahan, Karaj, Kermanshah, Marvdasht, Mashhad, Nazarabad, Parsabad, Sari, Semnan, Shahrekord, Shiraz, Tehran, and Yazd. Other cities where Baha'is were arrested last year included Babol, Bushehr, Delijan, Ghaemshahr, Hamadan, Kashan, Kerman, Khorramabad, Khouzestan, Mahforouzak, Miandoab, Najafabad, Qazvin, Tonekabon, and Yasouj.
Most of the detentions followed the familiar pattern of agents of the Ministry of Intelligence showing up at the homes of Baha'is, searching the premises and confiscating items such as computers and books, then arresting the residents.
One family has been particularly affected in the past year or two. Seven relatives of Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani – one of the seven imprisoned Baha'i leaders– have been detained in three different cities. Those arrested include a son, nephew, grandnephew, grandson, granddaughter, the granddaughter's husband, and a niece's husband. Most of them have gained temporary release by putting up exorbitant amounts of collateral, mainly property deeds, for bail.
Trumped-up charges against Baha'is are used to justify arrests. A Baha'i woman in Semnan was sentenced to 3½ years in prison for, among other things, "membership in anti-regime groups associated with Baha'is."
The number of Baha'is in detention varies as new people are arrested but others released after posting cash, property deeds, or business licenses as collateral.
Distribution of anti-Baha'i propaganda
In recent years, there has been an increase in false portrayals of the Baha'is in the press, on radio, television and even in scholarly publications. Since 2005, for example, the semi-official Kayhan newspaper has run more than 200 false, misleading or incendiary articles about Baha'i teachings, history and activities – an effort that has been echoed on television and radio. The Kayhan articles engage in a deliberate distortion of history, make use of fake historical documents, and falsely describe Baha'i moral principles in a manner that would be offensive to Muslims.
Recently an anti-Baha'i tract, titled "Supporters of Satan", has been widely distributed in the city of Kerman. The tract purveys the usual misrepresentations of Baha'i history and the Faith's principles, falsely asserting that it was a creation of the British and is intimately linked with Zionism.
Homes demolished in campaign to drive Baha'is out of Iranian village
Homes belonging to some 50 Baha'i families in a remote village in northern Iran were demolished as part of a long-running campaign to expel them from the region. The action occurred in Ivel, Mazandaran, when inhabitants – incited by elements inimical to the Baha'i community – blocked normal access to the village, while allowing trucks and at least four front-end loaders to begin leveling the houses. Amateur video, shot on mobile telephones and posted by Iranian human rights activists on the Internet, showed what appeared to be several buildings reduced to rubble as well as fiercely burning fires. The demolitions are the latest development in an ongoing, officially-sanctioned program in the area which has targeted every activity of the Baha'is.
Most of the Baha'i homes in Ivel have been unoccupied since their residents fled after previous incidents of violence or as a result of official displacement.
Economic pressure is acute, with both jobs and business licenses being denied to Baha'is. Numerous cases have been reported of long-time shop owners being forced to surrender business licenses under threat of arrest.
Optical shops owned by Baha'is have been particularly targeted. Two such shops in Tehran recently received warning letters from the Opticians' Trade Union to close down. Earlier, optical shops in Khomein and Rafsanjan were forced to close. In Nazarabad, the operator of one of five optical stores owned by Baha'is– shops that were closed by authorities well over a year ago – managed to get a court verdict allowing her to reopen, but the Ministry of Intelligence prevented her from doing so.
Government jobs are denied to Baha'is, and Muslims often are pressured to fire Baha'is in their employ.
Authorities also use the tactic of arresting Baha'is and demanding huge sums of money, or the equivalent in property deeds for bail, as a method of impoverishing the Baha'is.
The vandalization of Baha'i cemeteries has become commonplace in 2010. Recently, it was reported that, on more than one occasion, truckloads of construction refuse and soil were dumped on graves in the Baha'i cemetery of Boroujerd.
The Baha'i cemetery in Mashhad was vandalized on the night of 29 May by unknown intruders who used a front-end loader and other heavy machinery. The cemetery's walls, the mortuary, and the place where the prayers were recited were severely damaged.
Harassment over Baha'i burials and the desecration of cemeteries are clear indications that the persecution is based solely on religion and not the result of any threat posed by Baha'is, as officials sometimes claim. In the past year or so, Baha'i cemeteries in Tehran, Ghaemshahr, Marvdasht, Semnan, Sari, and Isfahan have been defaced, bulldozed, or in some way blocked to the Baha'i community. In late April, a small Baha'i cemetery in Gilavand with only four graves was desecrated by intruders using a tractor; all four tombs were destroyed. Earlier, in March, a Baha'i family in Najafabad was prevented from burying a loved one in the Baha'i cemetery there, despite their having secured a permit to do so.
Persecution by educational institutions
Bahai school children at all school levels continue to be monitored and slandered by officials in schools. Secondary school students often face pressure and harassment, and some have been threatened with expulsion. Religious studies teachers are known to insult and ridicule Baha'i beliefs. In a few reported cases, when Baha'i students attempt to clarify matters at the request of their peers, they are summoned to the school authorities and threatened with expulsion if they continue to "teach" their Faith.
Recently in Karaj, the parents of a first-year high school student were told that she would be expelled unless they signed an agreement that would force her to take part in the school's political and religious events.
A Ministry of Education policy now requires declaration of religion on the registration form for the entrance exam for schools for gifted students. In the past, Baha'i pupils were allowed to take the entrance exam but any known Baha'i accepted to one of these schools was later denied admission. The new form only allows students to select between Muslim, Christian, Jew and Zoroastrian.
Universities and other institutions of higher education to a large extent remain closed to Baha'i students. In recent years, those who do manage to get admitted generally have been expelled during the course of their first year.
At Tarbiyyat Moallem University in Tehran, two Baha'is were able to get to their eighth semester but in February were finally expelled; one of them was told openly that by law, Baha'is have no right to post-secondary education.
Other recent expulsions have occurred in Semnan, Zanjan, Yazd, Gonbad, Khoramshahr, and Chabahar. There are continuing reports of youth being denied enrollment in high schools and even primary schools, and of students being harassed by teachers and other officials.
Summary of types of persecution
Harassment of Baha'is is pervasive and includes many incidents of all of the following:
- Arrests and detention, with imprisonment lasting for days, months, or years. In cases where the Baha'i is released, substantial bail is often required.
- Direct intimidation and questioning by authorities, sometimes with the use of high-intensity lights and physical mistreatment.
- Searches of homes and business, usually with Baha'i books and other items confiscated.
- School expulsions and harassment of schoolchildren.
- Prohibition on Baha'is attending universities.
- Court proceedings where Baha'is are accused of promoting propaganda against the government "for the benefit of the Bahaist sect."
- Monitoring of the bank accounts, movement, and activities of Baha'is, including official questioning of Baha'is requiring them to give information about their lives, actions, neighbors, etc.
- Denial or confiscation of business licenses.
- Denial of work opportunities in general.
- Denial of rightful inheritances to Baha'is.
- Physical assaults, and efforts to drive Baha'is out of towns and villages.
- Desecration and destruction of Baha'i cemeteries, and harassment over burial rights.
- Dissemination, including in official news media, of misinformation about Baha'is, and incitement of hatred against Baha'is.
- Evictions from places of business, including Baha'i doctors from their offices and clinics.
- Intimidation of Muslims who associate with Baha'is.
- Attempts by authorities to get Baha'is to spy on other Baha'is.
- Threatening phone calls and letters to Baha'is.
- Denial of pension benefits.
- Denial of access to publishing or copying facilities for Baha'i literature.
- Confiscation of property.