This research article is the final of a 5 part series 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 and 4 can be read here, here, and here respectively.
The scope of anti-Baha’i propaganda material created by the Iranian government and the agencies of the clerics is so vast that it would be beyond anyone’s imagination to fathom. Anti-Baha’i propaganda materials appear in many different forms, including articles, broadcasts, web pages, blogs, seminars, exhibitions, TV series and hosted TV programs, school curricula and lectures, and of course regular Friday prayer congregations in which clerics do their best to paint Baha’is as unclean, as a misguided sect, anti-government, agents of Zionism, deviant, etc. A special report compiled by the Baha’i International Community on the situation of Baha’is in Iran reveals that from January 2014 to August 2015 there were more than 7,000. Anti-Baha’i articles published in Iranian media. In another earlier report dated to May 2011 the following anti-Baha’i propaganda was identified:
- 367 articles in a wide range of print and online media
- 58 seminars, conferences and symposia
- Four documentary TV series and three additional TV programs
- Five official exhibitions, and three radio series
- At least two websites entirely dedicated to combating the Baha’i Faith
- Many software data bases available online and/or as CDs
- Thousands of anti-Baha’i posters displayed in public places such as trains and metros.
Although the Baha’i Faith is the largest non-Muslim independent religious minority in Iran, and they have demonstrated their loyalty to their country, and have contributed to the development of the country by their dedication in numerous fields, Iranian authorities at international forums nevertheless mysteriously deny the existence of the Baha’i community. On the other hand they spend and invest a large amount of capital and human resources on the propagation of slander and calumny against Baha’is. It also raises the serious question of why the authorities and the clerics spend so much resources and time to defame a law-abiding segment of their own citizenry.
Fortunately, because of the Internet the majority of Iranians, like many other people from around the world, are now better informed about the oppression inflicted upon their fellow citizens, and despite efforts by the Iranian regime to paint Baha’is as “others” and unclean, the people of Iran are increasingly voicing support for their Baha’i fellow-citizens. As highlighted, examples include a large number of Iranian university students standing up for Baha’i students banned from university studies, and business owners in Noshahr and other cities in Mazanderan writing letters to officials, objecting to the closing of Baha’i-owned businesses across the country.
How the Iranian Judiciary system Works in Relation to Baha’is
Irrespective of the political and governing establishments in different countries around the world, the judiciary system is where people hope to find justice and fairness, and seek shelter against injustice. Unfortunately for Baha’is in Iran, that is far from the reality. To be persecuted and discriminated against by the government and clerics is hard enough, but to be treated unjustly by the judiciary system that should supposedly be an independent body for reinforcing the rule of law is even more heart-breaking and disappointing.
This is how the justice system works for Baha’is: In a systematic and orchestrated pattern, agents of the Ministry of Intelligence target individual Baha’is or a group of them ‒ say a business group, educators or young students ‒ and obtain a warrant under false accusations. Commonly, Baha’is are accused of endangering national security, spying for foreign countries, acting against the government or against Islam, etc. They will then make a sweeping arrest along with confiscating their computers, books and other personal items such as photo albums ‒ in most cases to identify other people for further arrest. Initially, the accused individuals are kept in detention centers, at least for a few days, without any proper legal procedures being followed, and family members are not informed as to their whereabouts.
Such an arrest has already created turmoil for family members, who are unaware of the whereabouts of their loved ones or the reason for their arrest. The system is designed to create frustration and a worrying environment for Baha’is. The next stage is the questioning, interrogation and filtering of the arrested people, in which some are released after payment of a heavy bail, which is another burden on a family’s financial situation: and some will be incarcerated.
When it comes to dealing with Baha’is in the legal system, there are many violations of legal procedures. Iranian law requires that detainees be quickly and formally charged with a crime. For Baha’is there is evidence that it can take weeks or months for this procedure to be followed. In the case of the seven Baha’i leaders who are currently serving 10-year prison sentences – recently the seven Baha’i leaders were released after serving their 10 year unjust prison terms – one of them, Mr Afif Naeimi’s 10 Year prison term is short of two months, and due to his serious illness his family providing medical treatment outside the prison, but he has to go back to prison for another two months when doctors permit him – it took nine months before any word of charges against them was made. Denial of legal counsel is another violation of legal procedure. Under the Iranian legal system, the accused have the right for a lawyer to be present during the investigation. This right is denied to Baha’is. The legal statues governing the operation of Iranian prisons restrict the holding of inmates in solitary confinement to not more than 20 days after their arrest. In the case of the seven Baha’i leaders, one was held for 175 days in solitary confinement, and the other six for 105 days.
The trials of Baha’is take place behind closed doors in the Revolutionary Court. Many of the legal teams who have taken it upon themselves to defend Baha’is in the Iranian court system in the past have been accused of orchestrating activities against national security, and had to flee the country or face prison sentences themselves. Therefore, it is extremely difficult for Baha’is to find a legal team to defend their legal rights. A typical closed-door trial and court procedures for accused Baha’is involves the presence of a judge, a court clerk, a representative of the Public Prosecutor, the accused person and ‒ if it is permitted ‒ a lawyer. The whole show is influenced and controlled by intelligence agents. The impartiality of the judge is questionable, as he will interfere with the public prosecutor’s role, and will threaten the defense lawyer and the accused. The charges are fabricated, so the Baha’is will deny all the accusations and try to provide a reasonable response in defending themselves. If the lawyer who is seated next to the accused tries to highlight actual legalities according to Iranian law in defending the case, they will face harsh and threatening words from the judge. The bravery of the accused Baha’i in defending themselves and rejecting the false charges will frustrate the judge: finally ‒ in a disrespectful manner ‒ the judge will question the accused. Are you a Baha’i? If the answer is yes, the judge with anger and hatred will say “That makes you guilty of all the charges!” In most of the cases prison terms are pre-determined and dictated by Intelligence agents as between one, five or ten years. The whole trial procedure normally takes between 10 and 20 minutes.
Arrest, detention and imprisonment of Baha’is in Iran are part of an overall state-sponsored persecution in which the government and clerics desire to maintain an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty among the Baha’is. They keep changing their tactics and accusations when they fail to see negative impacts on the strength of the Baha’is of Iran. On October 13, 2013, following raids on 14 Baha’i homes in the city of Abadan, during questioning of the detainees, the Baha’is were told that local residents “don’t like you” and that “when you are on the streets, they might attack you and your children with knives” but in reality this was another tactic, and in fact the residents have very good relations with Baha’is.
There is convincing evidence that for the past 38 years of Islamic government in Iran there have been a number of Baha’is locked up in prison at any given time. The number of Baha’i prisoners can vary, but the authorities are determined to keep the pressure on Baha’is, and so they continually come up with different tactics and strategies. The evidence is also clear that Baha’is have not committed any actual crimes, such as fraud, theft, murder, or other criminal activities that we know of. There are numerous stories narrated by inmates after their release from prison in Iran that the Baha’i prisoners were able to gain the trust and friendship of other prisoners, and how helpful they were in assisting and comforting their fellow inmates. Stories of friendly meetings between a Baha’i prisoner, Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, and Mrs. Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of former Iranian president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, created significant media coverage in May of 2016.
Summary and Conclusion
The Iranian Islamic regime and the ruling clerics continue to identify and jail Baha’is for various contrived reasons and baseless accusations, to arrest individual Baha’is and demand heavy bail, to ban young Baha’is from entering university and higher education, to impose economic repression on Baha’i business owners and to cancel their business licenses, to spread, through state controlled media, false and vicious propaganda and defamatory films designed to inflame the public mind, to paint Baha’is in the public eye as “others”, to issue fatwas demanding that the public cut off any ties with the Baha’is, to project Baha’is as a foreign element, anti-Islamic and morally corrupt, to confiscate Baha’i properties without any legitimate legal ground, to dismiss Baha’is from government positions, universities and other public sectors, to destroy Baha’i cemeteries and make insurmountable barriers against Baha’i burials, and not to give any chance to Baha’is to defend themselves via public media or otherwise. However, despite all this persecution, Baha’is have no animosity or hatred towards their oppressors.
Loyalty to the government and obedience to the law of the land wherever Baha’is live, within the frame-work of human rights and universally accepted conventions, are part of the Baha’i teachings. Baha’is in Iran never take part in any plots against the government. Baha’is have a much higher aim and aspiration: and that is to create love and fellowship, without force or violence, among the whole of humanity, with a world embracing vision of the “Oneness of Mankind”. Baha’is have freely chosen this path of service and have grown beyond having a “victim mentality”. They have demonstrated an exemplary constructive resilience in Iran under all kinds of cruelty and persecution which they have endured for the last 175 years. It is quite obvious that Baha’is in Iran do not voluntarily seek persecution in order to gain sympathy, though the Iranian government and clerics viciously and continually air this nonsensical accusation against them.
The Iranian government and clerics; with all the power and glory of the state sponsored propaganda machine; are nevertheless failing to convince the wider Iranian society or the international community to agree with their discriminatory and barbaric actions against the Baha’is. “The Iranian 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.”
A simple observation about what is happening around the world clearly shows that bloodshed, ongoing pockets of war, violation of human rights, and hunger for power are familiar and daily occurrences. Thankfully the majority of mainstream community members are increasingly reflecting on the current situation of the world, and want to find a solution that creates peace. Baha’is in Iran have demonstrated a unique way of Constructive Resilience for society building that needs to be carefully studied and examined. Baha’is throughout the world are always seeking to work and cooperate with like-minded people for community building projects. 2017 was the bicentenary celebration of the birth of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, around the world, and it has created an ideal opportunity to find out who the Baha’is are and what they have to offer. You may visit any reputable Baha’i sites, such as www.bahai.org, www.bahaisofiran.org (Persian site), call your Baha’i friends or a Baha’i community near you to find out more.