Persecution of Iran’s Baha’is ramped up: threats to “uproot”, prison sentences and psychological pressures

Geneva, June 10, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- In the face of an escalating health pandemic, the Iranian authorities have ramped up their persecution of the Baha’is, targeting at least 71 individuals across the country in recent weeks. Reports of new threats to “uproot” the community in Shiraz, along with an unprecedented number of new prison sentences, reincarcerations and a media campaign of hatred, are raising concerns for the long-persecuted religious minority in the country.

In a court hearing held for a group of Baha’is in Shiraz, a court official threatened to “uproot” the Baha’is in the city. The court sentenced the Baha’is to one to 13 years in prison. In recent weeks, 40 Baha’is in Shiraz whose cases were pending for months have been summoned to court, representing an unprecedented number of court summons against Baha’is in a single city in recent years.

“Such an outrageous statement by an official is an obvious demonstration of the religious bigotry and prejudice that the Bahá’ís in Iran face. It is also clear evidence of the injustice against the Baha’is within the judicial system and the authorities’ true motivation,” said Bani Dugal, Principal Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in New York. “Not only does it show the absence of the rule of law and the severe discrimination with which the Baha’i’s are treated in Iran’s justice system, its purpose is to intimidate the Baha’is, placing heavy psychological pressures on those directly targeted, as well as their families and all Baha’is in Iran.” 

In addition to Shiraz, Baha’is in Birjand, Yazd, Karaj, Ghaemshahr, Kermanshah and Isfahan have been arrested, summoned to court, tried, sentenced to jail or imprisoned solely for their beliefs in recent weeks. The number totals at least 71 Baha’is.

After being arrested and released on high bails, these individuals have faced months, and sometimes years, of waiting between their arrest, trial, appeal court, and the beginning of a jail term, adding an additional psychological burden. Such cruel tactics have been employed repeatedly by the authorities in recent years, systematically exerting pressure on the entire Baha’i community.

Among the Baha’is sentenced in Birjand is an elderly man whose age puts his health at great risk if he is imprisoned. Some individuals, who were taking care of family members when summoned to court, were forced to travel on public transportation during the widespread lockdowns. Another couple who have been sentenced to prison have a daughter who has cancer, leading to deep concern for her care should they be imprisoned.

“The recent incidents have placed great pressures on hundreds of families,” said Ms. Dugal. “Subjecting them to the constant threat of imprisonment under these circumstances and emotional anguish associated with it is yet another attempt to place greater strain on the community. And to do all this during a health crisis, at an alarmingly escalated rate without any justification whatsoever, is extremely cruel and outrageous.”

The Baha’is, Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority, have been persecuted in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. A secret memorandum approved by Iran’s Supreme Leader in 1991 calls for the “progress and development” of the Baha’i community to be blocked by barring them from university and disrupting their ability to earn livelihoods.

The recent pressures come as Iran’s state-affiliated media have also stepped up the public defamation of the Baha’is through an increasingly coordinated spread of disinformation. Television channels, newspapers, radio stations and social media have been saturated with articles and videos denigrating Baha’i beliefs, all while Baha’is are denied the right of reply. More than 3,000 articles of anti-Baha’i propaganda were recorded by the Baha’i International Community so far this year, the figures doubling from January to April.

“Threatening to ‘uproot a community’, trying its members en masse, reincarcerating them during a pandemic, and spreading hateful propaganda against them is a shocking and profoundly troubling development,” said Ms. Dugal.  “How can Iran’s government honour its sacred duty to the wellbeing of its people if it aims to uproot a community of law-abiding citizens? The Baha’is targeted in these incidents, and indeed all Baha’is facing discrimination, are innocent and must be free of religious persecution.”



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