Iran arrests dozens of Baha’is, including 90-year-old, in fresh crackdown

Advocacy group says recent weeks have seen 180 incidents of persecution against members of faith, which is shunned in Islamic Republic

Illustrative: The Baha'i Gardens, in Haifa, March 30, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Illustrative: The Baha'i Gardens, in Haifa, March 30, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

PARIS, France — A 90-year-old man is among dozens arrested in past weeks in a new crackdown by Iranian authorities against Baha’is, Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority, a group said Wednesday.

The Baha’is, whose faith is not recognized in the Islamic Republic, say they have been the victims of a new wave of repression over the past year.

In the latest crackdown, almost 60 Baha’is were reported to have been arrested in Iran in the last weeks, said the Baha’i International Community (BIC), which defends the interests of members of the faith.

Another 180 incidents of persecution, such as interrogations or raids against businesses, have been recorded in recent weeks, BIC said in a statement.

Those arrested include Jamaloddin Khanjani, a 90-year-old who had already served 10 years in prison.

Khanjani, a former member of a now disbanded informal leadership group for the Baha’is in Iran, was detained with his daughter Maria Khanjani on Sunday, it said.

File: 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)

Two other former members of the group, Mahvash Sabet and Fariba Kamalabadi, who were arrested in July 2022, received confirmation of their 10-year prison terms which were upheld this week on appeal, it said.

Acclaimed writer and poet Sabet, 70, suffers from significant health issues and has been transferred to hospital from prison numerous times in the past year, it added.

Like Khanjani, Sabet and Kamalabadi had completed previous 10-year sentences and were released in 2018.

“The cruelty meted out to the Baha’is in Iran has no limits,” said Simin Fahandej, the BIC’s representative to the United Nations in Geneva.

“Arresting a 90-year-old and others with health issues who already spent 10 years in prison for their faith shows the government’s desperate attempt to continue its fruitless efforts to destroy the Baha’i community in Iran,” she added.

Nine other Baha’is were arrested on the same day as Khanjani, including the owners and employees of a number of pharmacies that were shut down by the authorities, it added.

Illustrative: Members of the Baha’i faith protest outside a state security court during a hearing in the case of a fellow Baha’i man suspected of contacts with Israel and charged with seeking to establish a base for the community in Yemen, in Sanaa, Yemen, Sunday, April 3, 2016. (AP/Hani Mohammed)

Iranian authorities earlier this month said nine followers of the Baha’i faith had been arrested on corruption charges, linking the arrests to the alleged hoarding of pharmaceutical goods.

The Baha’i faith is a relatively modern monotheistic religion with spiritual roots dating back to the early 19th century in Iran.

Iran brands Baha’is “heretics” and often accuses them of being agents of arch-foe Israel, as the spiritual hub of the faith is headquartered in the port city of Haifa.

But the community dismisses such suggestions, saying Haifa emerged as a center of the faith well before the State of Israel was established in 1948.

Baha’is in Iran complain of discrimination in their daily lives, making it a struggle to open businesses and even bury their dead. They also complain that they are systematically denied access to higher education in Iran.

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