Sunday, July 04, 2010

Iran's persecution of their Bahai community

From BBC, Friday, 2 July 2010, by Kasra Naji:
First there are the images of wooden beams on fire. Then buildings come into view, some without windows and doors, others reduced to rubble.

The shaky mobile phone footage posted on YouTube by Iranian human rights activists shows scenes of destruction filmed secretly from inside a car.

The activists say the footage shows the results of an attack on the properties of Bahai residents in Ivel, a village in northern Iran.

They also say that non-Bahai residents supported the demolitions.

Bahai groups outside Iran have also received eyewitness reports from Ivel.

The witnesses said that several days before the bulldozers moved in, some people in the village signed a petition demanding the expulsion of their Bahai neighbours.

Many Bahais had left already: a number of families had fled previous attacks on Bahai property in Ivel. In 2007, for example, six houses were torched.

However, this time the Bahais left in the village complained to the police in the nearest town, Kiasar.

The police denied that there was a petition against them and refused to provide any protection.

The reports from Ivel residents say that by June 22, almost 50 houses belonging to Bahais had been flattened.

Not recognised
Bahais have lived in the area in Iran's Mazadaran province for more than 100 years, says Diane Alai, the representative of the Bahai community at the UN in Geneva.

Bahai groups warn that life is becoming harder and harder for the 300,000 followers of the religion in Iran.

They say they have noticed an increase in the persecution of Bahais since the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner
It has not been this difficult for Bahais since the early years of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Bahai representatives say.

The Bahai faith emerged after a split in Shia Islam in the 19th Century. It was founded in Iran - but it has long been banned in its country of origin.

The Bahais consider Bahaullah, born in 1817, to be the latest prophet sent by God.

Followers of the faith have faced discrimination in Iran both before and after the 1979 revolution.

The religion was not recognised by the post-revolutionary constitution, and its followers have limited rights under Iranian laws.

For example, Bahais are banned from working in government offices, and they are not allowed to study at university.

Iranian inheritance laws do not apply to Bahais, and Bahai businessmen are often denied a licence to set up shop.

Bahai cemeteries have also been desecrated.

Jailed leaders
The leadership of Iran's Bahai community - five men and two women - have been in jail for more than two years.

They have have been accused of spying for Israel - a common charge against Bahais, whose international headquarters is in the Israeli port of Haifa.

Ms Ebadi fled Iran after her own life was threatened.

Now human rights activists fear that the discrimination against Bahais is intensifying and that history is repeating itself.

Nearly 300 members of the faith have been executed so far - mostly in the first few years of the revolution.

Some Bahai leaders were executed shortly after the revolution. Others were arrested and have not been heard of until today.

"We call them the years of horror," one Bahai woman told the BBC. She did not want to be identified.

Bahai organisations say that their religion has six million followers across the world.

Their teachings have not gone down well with many mainstream Muslims, who see the Bahai faith as an affront to Islam. Some even call the Bahai blasphemous...
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