Increasing violence against Iranian Bahá’ís documented in new report

GENEVA — In a report released last week, the Baha’i International Community documents hundreds of incidents of torture, physical assault, arson, vandalism, cemetery desecration and the abuse of schoolchildren directed against the Iranian Baha’i community since 2005 – all carried out with utter impunity.

“The entire situation puts the Baha’is in an impossible position because they must ask for justice and protection from the same authorities who are systematically inciting hatred against them and from a judicial system that treats virtually every Baha’i who is arrested as an enemy of the state,” said Diane Ala’i, the Baha’i International Community’s representative to the United Nations in Geneva.”This report shows that attacks on Baha’is are engineered by government agents and actively encouraged by the authorities and the Muslim clergy in Iran – and that attackers are well aware that they will go unpunished,” added Ms. Ala’i.

Titled “Violence with Impunity: Acts of aggression against Iran’s Baha’i community,” the 45-page report provides case studies and statistics that document a rising tide of violence against Baha’is – and the complete absence of prosecution for attackers.

Focusing on the seven year period from 2005-2012, the report says there have been at least 52 cases where Baha’is have been tortured or held in solitary confinement while in detention. It likewise documents another 52 incidents where Baha’is have been physically assaulted – sometimes at the hands of officials and sometimes at the hands of plainclothes or unidentified attackers.

The report also describes some 49 acts of arson against Baha’i homes and shops, and at least 42 incidents of cemetery desecration. There have also been at least 30 cases of vandalism directed against Baha’i properties, more than 200 instances of threats made against Baha’is, and some 300 incidents of abuse directed against Baha’i schoolchildren.

“Many of the attacks documented in the report – such as the cases of torture or assault during arrests and imprisonment – are undertaken directly by government agents,” said Ms. Ala’i. “Other attacks, such as arson, cemetery desecration, and vandalism, often come in the middle of the night, by unidentified individuals.

“But in all cases, these violators need to be brought to justice, as is required by the international laws to which Iran is a party. The government’s unwillingness to prosecute for these crimes, then, is yet another element in their overall campaign of religious persecution against the Baha’i minority,” said Ms. Ala’i.

Download the full report from the Bahá’í International Community.

Parliamentary Seminar on access to education for Bahá’ís in Iran

A panel of human rights experts addressed a seminar held on 18 December at the House of Commons, exploring the issue of access to education in Iran.

The Iranian government’s policy of excluding those it deems “ideologically unsound” from higher education is eroding progress made in women’s access to secondary education, creating significant obstacles for minorities, and undermining academic freedom.

Those were among the concerns expressed at a seminar, held at the UK parliament, by Ahmed Shaheed – the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran.

Dr Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran speaking in Parliament

Dr Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran speaking in Parliament

Stressing the importance of global scrutiny of Iran on its human rights record, Dr. Shaheed noted that the “international community has an indispensable role to play in continuing to support the voices of Iranian citizens that continue to demand that the right to education become a reality for all.”

The seminar, held on 18 December, was organised by the UK parliament’s All Party Parliamentary Friends of the Baha’is Group and chaired by Nic Dakin, member of parliament for Scunthorpe.

Seminar on access to education in Iran at the House of Commons

Seminar on access to education in Iran at the House of Commons

Among other contributors to the discussion was Scott Sheeran, Director of the Human Rights in Iran unit at the University of Essex Human Rights Center. He explored the complex connections that link the right to education to other rights, such as the rights of minorities, non-discrimination and equality before the law, and freedoms of expression, religion and belief.

Daniel Wheatley of the UK Baha’i community shared details of the lengths to which Iran’s government has gone to exclude Baha’is from access to higher education, while Tahirih Danesh – an independent researcher on women’s rights – paid tribute to imprisoned human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh.

 

Parliament debates “appalling” treatment of Iranian Baha’is

LONDON – Members of Parliament debate the “shocking” treatment of the Baha’i community in Iran.

Naomi Long MP, a Member of Parliament from Belfast, spoke of a recent intensification of the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran, with a strong emphasis on the Baha’is in Semnan.

In Semnan, a town to the east of Tehran, Baha’is have been subjected to arson attacks on homes and businesses, Baha’i students are expelled from secondary schools, Baha’i owned businesses are closed down resulting in the losses of jobs for both Baha’i and non-Baha’i employees, and schoolchildren have been incited to commit acts of violence against their Baha’i classmates.

“The situation is clearly grave,” said Ms Long, “and the treatment of the Baha’i community is an indicator of the lengths to which the Iranian authorities are willing to go in the persecution of religious and cultural minorities.”

Ms Long referred to the recent reports of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Special Rapporteur on Iran Ahmed Shaheed. In his report released last month, Mr Ban described the persecution of the Baha’is as “systematic” and included “severe socio-economic pressure and arrests and detention.” Mr Shaheed in his report also describes a “deeply troubling picture of the overall human rights situation in Iran, including many concerns which are systemic in nature.”

UK Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt responded to Ms Long on behalf of the UK government, describing Iran’s treatment of the Baha’i community as “appalling.”

Mr Burt made it clear that the Iranian government does not speak for the Iranian people on its human rights record.  Ordinary Iranians are “disturbed that, as a good Muslim nation, they are put in the dock for offences committed by their own government,” said Mr Burt.

“That any state can treat its religious minorities in this way is shocking, and all the more so given the religious underpinning of the current regime and its oft-stated claim to respect human rights,” he added.

Kishan Manocha, Director at the Office of Public Affairs of the Baha’i community of the UK said the debate offers a non-partisan, informed and principled scrutiny of the Iranian government’s persecution of the peaceful Baha’i minority. “The timing of this debate is strategically significant,” said Dr Manocha. “It coincides with two experts presenting their reports on Iran and also freedom of religion or belief to the UN General Assembly in New York.”

This week, the UN General Assembly’s third committee, the committee responsible for human rights, heard submissions from Ahmed Shaheed, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, and Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

The debate was attended by members from across the political spectrum. Members of the Alliance, Conservative, Democratic Unionist, Labour, and SDLP parties expressed their support and concern over the treatment of the Iranian Baha’is and others in Iran.

In his concluding remarks, Mr Burt called on the Iranian government to embrace values such as mutual respect and tolerance with regard to its treatment of ordinary Iranian citizens.

“Iran has a shameful record of detentions of human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers, and seems callously ready to use tools such as the death penalty in order to intimidate. The quiet determination of the Baha’is to co-exist peacefully with fellow Iranians as part of a diverse and tolerant Iranian society should be embraced by Iran’s government.”

You can stream the entire debate online from the UK Parliament website (footage starts at 16:30), or read the transcript of the debate here.

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