Amnesty: Iran carrying out ‘despicable onslaught’ against Baha’i minority

Intelligence authorities regularly arrest adherents and confiscate property; Iran says some Baha’is engage in espionage on behalf of Israel

A home the Baha'i International Community says was destroyed by Iranian authorities seen in footage released on August 3, 2022. (Screenshot)
A home the Baha'i International Community says was destroyed by Iranian authorities seen in footage released on August 3, 2022. (Screenshot)

Iran’s “ruthless” persecution of its Baha’i religious minority has escalated, according to a report on Wednesday by human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

The report says there has been a surge in the intensity of the “decades-long persecution of this peaceful community… with a recent flurry of raids, arbitrary arrests, home demolitions and land grabs” carried out against the group.

Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said “Baha’is in Iran cannot feel safe in their homes or while exercising their faith because they are at risk of persecution.”

Amnesty reports that since July 31, 2022, Iranian authorities have “raided and confiscated dozens of Baha’i properties and arrested at least 30 members of the Baha’i community on account of their faith in various cities throughout Iran.”

Iran claimed that several of those arrested from the religious minority were supplying information to Israel, but Amnesty said the accusation was false. The Baha’i global center is located in the city of Haifa.

According to the Baha’i International Community, there are currently at least 68 Baha’is imprisoned in Iran, and the UN says more than 1,000 other Baha’i Iranians are at risk of imprisonment.

Iran’s Intelligence Ministry accused some of the detainees of propagating “Baha’i colonialism” and “infiltrating educational environments,” apparently a pretext for targeting Baha’i teachers.

Of the recent detainees, three — Mahvash Sabet, Fariba Kamalabadi and Afif Naemi — are community leaders who previously spent a decade in jail until they were released in 2018. Two are in solitary confinement and the whereabouts of another are unknown.

“The authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all the Baha’i individuals who were recently detained as well as anyone in prison from before solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of religion. All convictions and sentences imposed on this basis must be immediately quashed,” Morayef demanded.

Amnesty also reported that on August 2, 2022, “authorities bulldozed six Baha’i houses and confiscated more than 20 hectares of land” in northern Iran, with “senior judicial and executive officials” on the ground to oversee the operation.

The Baha’i religion was founded in Iran in the mid-1800s. Its prophet, Baháʼu’lláh, was exiled from Iran and went to Baghdad, then to Turkey. Ottoman authorities imprisoned him in Acre, in modern-day Israel, which was then under Ottoman control.

He was later released from prison, but remained confined to the area, and died there in 1892. His burial place in Acre is now a shrine for Baha’i members and the Baha’i’s international governing body, the Universal House of Justice, is based in nearby Haifa.

The community’s majestic gardens there, which also contain a shrine, are a centerpiece of the city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Baha’is around the world pray toward Israel.

Iran recognizes minority non-Muslim religions, but does not recognize Baha’ism. UN investigators have turned up documents indicating Iran persecutes the group as a matter of official policy. A 1991 document addressed to Iran’s Supreme Leader on the “Baha’i question” said the community should be denied education, employment and positions of influence.

In 2013, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, urged Iranians to avoid all dealings with the Baha’i. Khamenei’s fatwa, or religious order, supported similar fatwas in the past by other clerics.

The group is the largest non-Muslim minority in Iran, outnumbering Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews, although the minority Sunni Muslim community is larger. There are no accurate figures about the population because Iranian authorities do not allow the community to organize on a national level, but it is estimated there are 500,000 to 1 million Baha’is in Iran, spread out across the country.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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