This research article – which is the 4th of 5 separate parts to be published – is intended to explore the living story of a community and its members (the Baha’is in Iran) who have been able to demonstrate an incredible constructive resilience in the past 174 years under continued and severe persecution and discrimination, as well as violation of their fundamental human rights. To read part 1, click here. Parts 2 and 3 can be read here and here, respectively.
Imagine you live in a country where for your whole life you have experienced ongoing discrimination and persecution. You are also in a situation in which you are not allowed to defend yourself against this unjust treatment through a fair judiciary system. On the other hand, you are so inspired by the teachings of your Faith that you want to do your best for the betterment of the society and the people, even extending warm fellowship to those who subject you to all manner of hardship and discrimination. This is the description of the daily life of Baha’is in Iran.
The economic repression of Baha’is in Iran has been a major theme of the Iranian government’s policy since 1991, when the Baha’i Question memorandum was implemented. In recent years the shift of tactic has been intensified, and is now full-blown economic apartheid and suppression. The Ministry of Intelligence, in conjunction with many other government agencies, has increased its efforts to close businesses run by Baha’is, with the aim of doing whatever they can to block the prosperity of Baha’is and forcing them to leave their own country or live in destitution.
“In direct contradiction of government claims that it does not actively target Baha’is, Iran’s largest religious minority, IranWire has seen an updated list of banned Baha’i businesses. In an attempt to thwart Baha’i businesses, the Ministry of Intelligence has recently updated the blacklist, which was first initiated in 1991, and distributed it to the security departments of companies and contractors to prevent them from conducting business transactions with Baha’is. Reformist website Saham News published a recent blacklist in June 2015, after obtaining access to the classified documents.
“When international sanctions were lifted, countries around the world looked to Iran for investment opportunities. Now the Iranian government is aggressively trying to exclude Baha’i businesses from the potential economic benefits of the nuclear deal and last year’s agreement with the United States and five other world powers.
“In Iran, companies’ security activities come under the supervision of the Ministry of Intelligence. In 1991, the Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution ordered the ministry to draw up a list of Baha’i-run businesses in an effort to ‘block their path to growth and development’.
“The Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution approved the original list on February 5 and February 9, 1991, sending them off for final approval by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s chief of staff, Mohammad Golpayegani. The files set out a clear strategy for blocking Baha’is from making economic advances. Crucially, they also set out Khamenei’s plan to ban Baha’is from pursuing further education, a ban that is very much in place today.”
This systematic campaign of economic repression against Baha’is by government authorities and its numerous agencies is only one part of this vicious campaign. The more provokingly dangerous part involves the anti-Baha’i fatwas (religious decrees) issued by high ranking clerics, giving directions to the general public with regard to their business dealings and other common social interactions with Baha’i citizens. These religious decrees attempt to paint Baha’is as “others” to create an environment in which Baha’is are isolated and hated by the rest of the community. “It is prohibited to make a deal or have association with Baha’is…,” reads part of a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Makarem- Shirazi. “All members of the perverse Bahaist sect are condemned as blasphemous and ritually unclean.” pronounced Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, in one of his fatwas. These are just two examples extracted from religious/legal rulings of high ranking clerics. In all these so called “religious” decrees, clerics have tried to describe Baha’is using very outrageous and shocking titles such as: Satanists, misguided, anti-Islam, Zionist, morally corrupt, unclean, perverse sect, infidels and much more.
Many hardline clerics in different parts of the country are not satisfied with the intensified and systematic crackdown on businesses run by Baha’is. They openly use Friday prayer congregations as another platform for the incitement of hatred. The hateful messages of the clerics serve as fuel for the murder of Baha’is by people who have been influenced by the clergy. In the past 38 years of the Islamic government in Iran, there have been dozens of religiously motivated murder cases in which innocent Baha’is were killed, but no justice prevailed and legal procedures were violated. Two recent murder cases serve to highlight the point.
Source: Baha’i World News Service Aug. 27, 2013. On August 24, 2013, Mr. Ataollah Rezvani was shot in the back of his head; his body was found in his car near the railway station on the outskirts of Bandar Abbas, the city in which he resided with his family. It appears that his assailants had forced him to drive to that location. His body was discovered following a search, after he failed to return home. Mr. Rezvani was well-known as a Baha’i, and was loved and respected by the people of Bandar Abbas for his honesty and helpfulness. As a young man, he had been expelled from his engineering studies at university because he was a Baha’i. He nonetheless came to be regarded as an expert in water purification, and his work took him to other cities. Recently, owing to pressure and threats from agents of the Ministry of Intelligence, he was dismissed from his work, and had to resort to selling water purification equipment. Since his murder in 2013, Mr Rezvani’s family members have tried every possible avenue to seek justice, but nothing has been achieved; instead they have been threatened by officials for pursuing the murder case.
Source: Baha’i International Community news service. Geneva June 13, 2017 – Mr. Farhang Amiri, 63, was murdered outside his home on September 26, 2016, in the city of Yazd, in which his family had long resided. The two murderers, who are brothers, were apprehended by local shopkeepers as they tried to run away and were delivered to the police. During their subsequent interrogations and court hearings, they admitted to having killed Mr. Amiri because he was a Baha’i.
They disclosed that they had been prompted to carry out this act by their religious beliefs and statements made by clerics that Baha’is are against Islam. On June 13, 2017 the two murderers were released on bail after having confessed to killing Mr Amiri because of his faith. A court in Yazd has recently ( last year ) sentenced a man convicted of the public murder of a Baha’i to just 11 years in prison and two years away from home. The court justified the sentence by stating that according to the Islamic penal code, the accused and the victim are not equal for the general purpose of retributive justice. This astonishing provision clearly and deliberately deprives non-Muslims of the legal right to seek justice on equal-footing with the country’s Muslim majority. The younger man was sentenced to half of his brother’s sentence for aiding in the murder. The two men confessed to stabbing Farhang Amiri to death with the explicitly stated intention of killing a Baha’i.
“Such a verdict undermines the Iranian authorities’ claims to equality for all their citizens before the law. Clearly, the legal system encourages violence against Baha’is, the largest religious minority,” said Bani Dugal, Principal Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations. “We call on Iranians to consider how their society can possibly advance when the legal system, which should dispense justice, manifests such breath-taking inequity.”
Reports compiled by the Baha’i International Community reveal the systematic, vicious and appalling nature of economic pressure mounting against Baha’i business owners and operators across the country. Hundreds of Baha’i-owned businesses in Kerman, Rafsanjan, Jiroft, Karaj, Sari, Urumiyeh, Noshahr, Semnan, Yazd, Tonekabon, Tabriz, Shiraz and many other large and small places have been blacklisted and targeted for closure by placing official seals of closure on their doors and displaying a banner saying the shops had been closed because of “violation of trading rules”. These recent attempts by the Iranian government to target Baha’i businesses reflect the latest element of the Islamic Regime’s long-running campaign to suppress the economic livelihood of its Baha’i citizens.
Violation of so called “trading rules” by Baha’i business owners is a totally baseless accusation. The country’s union and business organisation’s rules allow business owners to close their businesses for any emergency or personal reasons up to 15 days in a year without obtaining any official permission. Also, there are restrictions for Baha’is operating any important business. “On April 9, 2007, the Office of Public Places issued a letter to police commanders nationwide, saying Baha’is may not be issued work permits in a wide range of industries, including hospitality and tourism, the food industry, jewelry, publishing, and businesses related to computers and the Internet. It appears that optometry has recently been added to this list”
The economic repression of Baha’is has a negative impact on the livelihood of many other Iranians who have long-standing associations, family ties and business dealings with them, resulting in the denial of livelihood for hundreds of other people and putting downward pressure on the country’s economy. The Baha’i International Community has compiled many disturbing reports about irresponsible actions of the Iranian government. In late 2012 a large Baha’i owned business distributing hygiene products in Tehran was closed by the authorities; as a result 70 employees lost their jobs. The owners were told they would never be allowed to re-open their business. In May 2012, Intelligence agents raided and closed two factories in Semnan with full or partial Baha’i ownership. One manufactured vertical blinds and employed 51 staff ‒ 36 of them were not Baha’is. The other place, a lens grinding factory, had two Baha’i and six non-Baha’i employees. There are hundreds of stories related to the economic repression of Baha’is in Iran that will touch your heart and puzzle your mind.
Article 55(c) of the United Nations Charter is to commit the UN to the promotion of “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” The appalling treatment of Baha’is in their own country by the Iranian government is a gross violation of human rights; it is against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and even the country’s own constitution. Internationally, as human rights becomes more and more an issue, human rights activists are increasingly suggesting that human rights be enforced through trade agreements. There is also strong evidence that in many Western countries, the general public is in favor of including social law provisions, such as human rights clauses, in Preferential Trade Agreements (PTAs), with international trade partners. In the past couple of years, with the relaxation of economic sanctions, the Iranian government is desperately seeking to partner with some Western countries to stimulate the growth of the country’s ailing economy through foreign investment. In years to come, if the Iranian government is serious about attracting and maintaining foreign investment and relationships, the authorities need to have a hard look at their appalling human rights record of discrimination against Baha’is.
Other trade law scholars have sought to expand the potential connection between international trade and human rights, by, for example, promoting the world trading system’s cornerstone principle of economic efficiency as a means to stimulate economic growth and increase resources for the pursuit of human rights. Some human rights scholars have sought to utilise the sophisticated dispute settlement mechanisms of international trade law in the service of ensuring greater respect for human rights.
In a recent statement in relation to the ninth anniversary of the imprisonment of the former seven Baha’i leaders known as the Yaran (“Friends”), the Baha’i International Community Office highlights an important point. “The representatives of the country on the international stage are no longer able to deny that these acts of discrimination are in response to matters of belief and conscience. Officials, lacking any convincing explanation for their irrational conduct and unconcerned at the damage done by their narrow policies to the name and credibility of the country, find themselves unable even to give a plausible answer to why they are so apprehensive about the existence of a dynamic Baha’i community in that land”.
It is encouraging to see that attempts to link human rights with trade and ethics are increasing. “Is it Ethical to Trade with Totalitarian Iran?” This question was raised in Newsweek in its April 15, 2016 edition.
Doing business in Iran raises the question of ethics. Businesses like to demonstrate that they are not only profitable but also beneficial to the community. Many feel compelled to show that they are green, gender equitable, ethnically diverse, philanthropic—and ethical. So crucial are these questions to perception and brand imaging that business ethics and corporate social responsibility (CSR) are burgeoning disciplines worth billions of dollars a year to global companies.
They ask difficult questions: “Does your business harm the environment?” “Do its leaders act with integrity—always?” “Are they honest? Fair? Just?” “Do they care about the people who work for them, or who buy their products and services—all the stakeholders?”
Now they will have to add to the list, “Do your business links with Iran encourage the regime in its abuse of human rights or are they likely to empower its populace?”
Many accuse Iran of human rights abuses, even “crimes against humanity”, also identifying it as one of the world’s most corrupt societies. They accuse it of genocide, ethnic and cultural cleansing, of torture and of human rights abuses against journalists, lawyers, women and ethnic and religious minorities.