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Baha’i say Iran stepping up persecution of minority faith members

A day after several Baha’is were arrested on charges of spying for Israel, representative says Tehran carrying out fresh house demolitions, raids and arrests

The newly renovated Bahai Shrine of the Bab is seen in Haifa, Israel, April 12, 2011. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
The newly renovated Bahai Shrine of the Bab is seen in Haifa, Israel, April 12, 2011. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Iran has stepped up persecution of members of its Baha’i minority in recent weeks, raiding a predominantly Baha’i village, demolishing several homes and arresting dozens, representatives of the faith said Tuesday.

The accusations come a day after Iran said it arrested several members of the Baha’i faith on charges of spying for Israel. It was the latest sign of a tightening crackdown across the Islamic Republic as it faces international pressure over its tattered nuclear deal.

Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said in a statement that the suspects were linked to the Baha’i center in Israel and had collected and transferred information there.

The Baha’i demanded their release and called their arrests part of a long pattern of persecution by Iran’s Shiite theocracy.

On Tuesday, a statement from the Baha’i International Community said up to 200 Iranian officials sealed off the village of Roushankouh in Mazandaran province, which has a large Baha’i population.

They sealed off several homes and demolished others. People who tried to film had their phones confiscated and their neighbors were told to remain in their homes and to refrain from taking pictures or videos, the release said.

The statement said that Baha’is in Roushankouh have previously faced home demolitions, but persecution has heightened in recent weeks —  with over 100 Baha’is arrested or having had their homes raided.

“Every day there has been fresh news of persecution of the Baha’is in Iran, demonstrating unmistakably that the Iranian authorities have a step-by-step plan that they are implementing,” Diane Ala’i, a Baha’i International Community’s Representative to the United Nations, said, citing recent arrests and demolitions. “What will be next? The international community must act before it is too late.”

The statement came a day after the espionage arrests.

Iran offered no evidence to support the allegations of the Baha’is doing anything illegal. State TV footage showed one of the suspects saying he was being monitored by agents of the ministry, though he did not acknowledge in the footage doing anything wrong.

The Baha’i through an international advocacy group identified several of those arrested as leaders in their religion who previously served 10-year prison sentences.

They are “domestic symbols of resilience and internationally renowned former prisoners of conscience,” the Baha’i said. “Arresting them reveals the Iranian government’s escalating persecution of Iran’s Baha’i community.”

Baha’i leaders arrested by Iranian authorities on May 14, 2008: seated from left, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Saeid Rezaie, and standing, Fariba Kamalabadi, Vahid Tizfahm, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, and Mahvash Sabet. (Courtesy Baha’i World News Service)

The Baha’i’s international governing body, the Universal House of Justice, has long been based in Haifa, Israel. The Baha’i have had a presence there since before the founding of the State of Israel, which the Islamic Republic views as its chief enemy in the region.

Iran already bans the Baha’i, a religion founded in the 1860s by a Persian nobleman considered a prophet by his followers. Muslims consider the Prophet Muhammad the highest prophet.

The Baha’i say they’ve been persecuted by Shiite clerics in Iran since their religion’s founding — something that’s grown more intense since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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.

Recent persecution of Baha’is in Iran come as tensions escalate between Iran’s hardline government and the West. Security forces have detained film directors, several foreigners and a prominent reformist politician as talks to revive Tehran’s nuclear accord with world powers hit a deadlock and fears grow over the country’s economic crisis.

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