Mistreatment of Iran’s largest religious minority escalates

An increasing number of attacks on Iranian Bahá’í schoolchildren has been reported recently, along with news of the expulsion of 94 Bahá’ís from Iranian universities. The pattern of harassment points to organized efforts to escalate the persecution of Iran’s largest religious minority.

In January and February of this year, some 150 incidents of attacks on schoolchildren were reported from ten Iranian cities. The children and youth were insulted by teachers in front of their classmates, degraded, threatened with expulsion, sometimes summarily dismissed from school, pressured to convert to Islam, slandered by their teachers, and taught “Iranian history” that denigrated and falsified their religious heritage. At the same time, the number of Bahá’ís expelled from university rose recently to 94, following the very limited acceptance of qualified Bahá’í students to some universities this year.

The escalation in personal attacks on Bahá’ís follows the release last year by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion of Iranian government documents that demonstrate that efforts to suppress and attack the Bahá’í religion derive from the express instructions of Iran’s highest government officials, including the Supreme Leader. Government authorities were asked last year to draw up membership lists of the Bahá’í community with a view to monitoring their activities. The authorities continued through last year to engage in a process of short-term arrests and harassment of members of the community. Those measures coincided with an orchestrated series of articles in government newspapers attacking Bahá’ís, publishing false information that generally aimed to stir up popular hatred of Iran’s 300,000-member Bahá’í community.

In December 2006 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution that condemned Iranian human rights abuses, specifically mentioning the systematic persecution of Bahá’ís. The resolution was initiated once again by the Canadian government, which has worked tirelessly to bring the plight of the Bahá’ís of Iran to the attention of the international community.

The persecution of Bahá’ís, a phenomenon that dates from the beginning of the religion in the middle of the 19th century in Iran, intensified after the 1979 revolution that brought the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran to power. More than 200 leaders of the Iranian Bahá’í community disappeared and were executed by the regime. As a consequence of international attention, among other factors, the persecution moderated somewhat. However, the past two years have seen a marked increase in signs that the Iranian government has reasserted its intention, as originally documented in UN published reports in the early 1990s, to target, suppress, and persecute the Bahá’í community.

For its part, the Bahá’í community continues to respond in a law-abiding manner and does not participate in partisan politics or attacks on the government. At the same time, Bahá’ís refuse to set aside their personal religious convictions, which include such principles as the equality of women and men and the divinity of all of the founders of the world’s great religions, including the divinity of the nineteenth-century figure Bahá’u’lláh, whose life and teachings lie at the centre of Bahá’í beliefs.

For more information, please visit the Bahá’í World News Service.