Iran’s persecution of Baha’i followers is a ‘crime against humanity’

The mistreatment of the Baha'i community in Iran has 'impacted virtually every aspect' of their lives, said Human Rights Watch
The mistreatment of the Baha'i community in Iran has 'impacted virtually every aspect' of their lives, said Human Rights Watch - OLI SCARFF/AFP

The Iranian authorities’ persecution of the Baha’i minority since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 constitutes a crime against humanity, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday.

The New York-based group said that the Baha’is, Iran’s largest non-Muslim minority, faced repression including arbitrary arrest, property confiscation, restrictions on school and job opportunities, and even the right to a dignified burial.

“The cumulative impact of authorities’ decades-long systematic repression is an intentional and severe deprivation of Baha’is’ fundamental rights and amounts to the crime against humanity of persecution,” HRW said.

It argued that this fell within the scope of the International Criminal Court, whose statute defines persecution as the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law on national, religious or ethnic grounds.

Repression is government policy

HRW said that while the intensity of violations against Baha’is “has varied over time”, the persecution of the community has remained constant, “impacting virtually every aspect of Baha’is’ private and public lives”.

It said the Islamic republic holds “extreme animus against adherents of the Baha’i faith” and repression of the minority was enshrined in Iranian law and is official government policy.

“Iranian authorities deprive Baha’is of their fundamental rights in every aspect of their lives, not due to their actions, but simply for belonging to a faith group,” said Michael Page, the deputy Middle East director of HRW.

“It is critically important to increase international pressure on Iran to end this crime against humanity.”

This is believed to be the first time a leading international organisation has labelled Iran’s treatment of the Baha’is as a crime against humanity.

Faith not recognised by constitution

Unlike other minorities, Baha’is do not have their faith recognised by Iran’s constitution and have no reserved seats in parliament.

The number of members of the community who remain in Iran is not known, but activists believe there could still be several hundred thousand.

The Baha’i faith is a relatively young monotheistic religion with spiritual roots dating back to the early 19th century in Iran.

HRW said that as a religious minority unrecognised in Iran’s constitution, Baha’is are prohibited from freely holding prayers, even in private.

They have been the target of “periodic state-backed incitement-to-hatred campaigns” while intelligence and judicial authorities regularly raid Baha’is’ homes, confiscate their belongings and arrest or summon them for questioning.

Banned from most public-sector jobs

Senior community figures Mahvash Sabet, a 71-year-old poet, and Fariba Kamalabadi, 61, were both arrested in July 2022 and are serving 10-year jail sentences.

Both had previously been jailed by the authorities over the past two decades.

Iranian authorities continue to “systematically prevent students who identify as Baha’i from registering at universities”, HRW said, while Baha’is are effectively banned from most public-sector jobs.

Even in death, “local authorities interfere with burial processes and refuse to allow Baha’is to bury their loved ones in historically Baha’i cemeteries”, it added.

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