Wednesday * October 22nd 2014

Three Baha’is stabbed in Iran, apparently a religious hate crime

BAHA’I WORLD NEWS SERVICE 

GENEVA — In an apparent hate crime, three Baha’is were stabbed in their home in Birjand, Iran, by an unidentified intruder on Monday 3 February, the Baha’i International Community has learned.

The three – a husband and wife and their daughter – survived but are currently in intensive care at a nearby hospital.

According to reports from Iran, the attacker – who was masked – entered the home of Ghodratollah Mavadi and his wife, Touba Sabzehjou, at about 8 p.m.

He immediately assaulted Mr. Mavadi, Mrs. Sabzehjou, and their daughter, Azam Mavadi, with a knife or sharp instrument, seriously injuring all three of them.

Mr. Mavadi was injured in his abdomen and side; Mrs. Sabzehjou was wounded in the neck. Both lost consciousness from the loss of blood.

Ms. Mavadi, although also seriously hurt, was able to call the police and all three were taken to the hospital, where they are being closely monitored.

Diane Ala’i, the Baha’i International Community’s representative to the United Nations in Geneva, said the attacker’s only goal appears to have been to kill three innocent Baha’is in their home.

“As such, there can be no doubt that this crime was religiously motivated. Mr. Mavadi was well-known as a leader in the Baha’i community in Birjand.

“Our immediate concern is for the recovery of the Mavadi family. But we are also concerned that authorities in Iran begin immediately to investigate this crime and bring the perpetrator to justice.

“The sad fact is that there have been more than 50 physical assaults on Iranian Baha’is since 2005 – and none of the attackers has been prosecuted or otherwise brought to justice. And at least nine Baha’is have been murdered under suspicious circumstances in the same period, and the murderers have likewise enjoyed impunity.

“Most recently, for example, a Baha’i in Bandar Abbas was killed – and police have yet to charge anyone with the crime. Mr. Ataollah Rezvani, who was also a leader in the Baha’i community in his locality, was murdered in his own car by a gunshot to the head on 24 August 2013.

“If the new government of President Hassan Rouhani is sincere about his assertion that, under his presidency, all Iranian citizens will enjoy equal rights, then this new case should be taken extremely seriously, starting with an immediate search for the man who attacked the Mavadi family.

“What is heartening is that once again non-Bahá’í Iranians are registering their deep concern and support for the Baha’is of Iran, as evidenced by several online reports asking that Bahá’ís be treated with justice,” said Ms. Ala’i.

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U.S. Senate Passes Resolution 75 Condemning the Persecution of Baha’is in Iran

WASHINGTON — Today, the U.S. Senate passed Senate Resolution 75 “condemning the Government of Iran’s state-sponsored persecution of its Bahá’í minority and its continued violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights.” S.Res.75 was introduced by Senators Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin of Illinois.

By passing the resolution, the Senate has made it clear that it sees human rights, including those of the Baha’is, Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority, as an important element of the U.S.’s renewed engagement with Iran. The Senate’s actions, coupled with the December 18 passage of a U.N. General Assembly resolution on human rights violations in Iran, make it clear that the U.S. and numerous countries continue to hold grave concerns about the ongoing abuses against the Baha’is and others out of favor with the Iranian regime.

“This resolution is particularly timely. With the November 26 release of President Rouhani’s long-awaited draft Charter of Citizens’ Rights, which, by its current terms, fails to protect religious minorities, who are not already recognized under the Iranian constitution, such as the Baha’is, it is important that the plight of the Baha’is is highlighted so as to press Mr. Rouhani and senior Iranian officials to produce a more inclusive charter,” said Mr. Kenneth E. Bowers, Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States. “Otherwise, the foundation is being laid for a continuation of the last 34 years of persecution of the Baha’i community.”

The number of Baha’is in prison currently stands at 116. It has more than doubled since the beginning of 2011 when the number was 57. Baha’is also face intense economic and social pressure, including denial of jobs and higher education, harassment of school children, and desecration of cemeteries. Baha’is in Iran are persecuted from cradle to grave.

The resolution also calls on the Iranian Government to immediately release all religious prisoners, including the seven Baha’i leaders who have been sentenced to 20 years in prison – Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mrs. Mahvash Sabet, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm.

Further, the resolution urges the President and Secretary of State, together with responsible nations, to condemn the ongoing persecution of the Baha’is in Iran, and to utilize measures “to impose sanctions on officials of the Government of Iran and other individuals directly responsible for serious human rights abuses, including abuses against the Baha’i community of Iran.”

“Resolutions like these are so important because they let my brother-in-law and the other Baha’i prisoners in Iran know that they are not forgotten. The Senate has shined a light on a dire situation and has made a strong statement about the importance of human rights and religious freedom in Iran,” said Azadeh Perry, sister-in-law of Mr. Saied Rezaie, a member of the former ad hoc Baha’i leadership group.

Mr. Anthony Vance, Director of Public Affairs for the Baha’is of the United States, stated that “We are not only concerned about the comprehensive and systematic nature of the persecution conducted against the Baha’is, as outlined in the resolution, but also about increasing indications that the government is actively encouraging violence with impunity. It has failed to investigate the shooting death of a prominent Baha’i in Bandar Abbas in August, after a city cleric’s incitement in a sermon and threats from officials of the Ministry of Intelligence and anonymous callers. This marked the tenth instance of an unsolved killing or a mysterious death of a Baha’i in Iran since 2005. This resolution lets the Iranian government know that the eyes of a watching world are upon it. ”

S.Res.75 gained strong bi-partisan support with 35 senators cosponsoring the resolution – 22 Democrats, 12 Republicans, and one Independent.

“We must never turn a blind eye to the Iranian regime’s true nature as typified by its ongoing persecution of members of the Baha’i Faith,” stated Senator Mark Kirk (R-Illinois), who introduced the resolution. “With the passage of S.Res.75, the United States Senate holds the Government of Iran accountable for its egregious violations of basic human rights and reaffirms its solidarity with Iranian Baha’is in their struggle for religious freedom.”

Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), the original cosponsor of the resolution, added, “I am glad to see the passage of this important resolution. The Baha’i community in Iran has already endured too much. This resolution takes important steps in condemning the Iranian regime’s violations on human rights and pushes the Administration to do more to aid the situation. The Baha’is in Iran deserve the same religious freedoms enjoyed by the Baha’is in Illinois. I hope this resolution will serve as a reminder to the worldwide community that many religious minorities still fight for security and fairness today.”

For additional information, please contact the U.S. Baha’i Office of Public Affairs at (202) 833-8990, or visit http://news.bahai.org/human-rights/iran/iran-update/.

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UN General Assembly again expresses “deep concern” over continuing human rights violations in Iran

BAHA’I WORLD NEWS SERVICE

UNITED NATIONS, New York  – The UN General Assembly today expressed “deep concern at serious ongoing and recurring human rights violations” in Iran, showing that the international community will not be swayed by mere promises of improvement.

By a vote of 86 to 36 with 61 abstentions, the Assembly approved a powerfully worded resolution that, while welcoming recent promises by Iran’s new president to improve human rights, nevertheless cited alarm over unjustified executions, the use of torture, limits on freedom of assembly and expression, and ongoing discrimination against women, ethnic minorities, and religious minorities, including members of the Baha’i Faith.

“We welcome the fact that the international community clearly prefers action instead of words, and the world has thus made it clear by this vote today that it expects Iran to live up to the new promises it has made, as well as its commitments under international law,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

“Iran has not changed its ways yet. This is certainly true for Iranian Baha’is, who see no let-up in the ongoing, systematic persecution that has been directed by the government since 1979.

“As the catalog of violations in this resolution makes clear, neither has Iran relented in its oppression of millions of other Iranian citizens who only desire to share in the fundamental freedoms that are enjoyed by the citizens of most other countries,” she said.

Among other things, the resolution expresses “deep concern” over Iran’s continued use of torture and its high rate of executions, noting the “high frequency of the carrying out of the death penalty in the absence of internationally recognized safeguards.”

The resolution also noted “widespread and serious restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of association and of opinion and expression,” the “systematic targeting and harassment of human rights defenders,” and “pervasive gender inequality and violence against women.”

On the question of discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, the Assembly expressed concern about discrimination against “Arabs, Azeris, Balochis and Kurds and their defenders,” along with ongoing “severe limitations and restrictions on the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief” affecting “Christians, Jews, Sufi Muslims, Sunni Muslims and Zoroastrians and their defenders.”

The resolution devoted more than one paragraph to the situation facing Iranian Baha’is, noting their “continued persecution” including “targeted attacks and murders, without proper investigation to hold those responsible accountable, arbitrary arrests and detention, the restriction of access to higher education on the basis of religion, the continued imprisonment of the leadership of the Iranian Baha’i community, the closure of Baha’i-owned businesses and the de facto criminalization of membership in the Baha’i faith.”

Ms. Dugal noted that more than 100 Baha’is are currently in prison, held solely for their religious beliefs.

The resolution was put forward by 47 countries. It also calls on Iran to better cooperate with UN human rights monitors, such as by allowing them to make visits to Iran, and asks the UN secretary general to report back next year on Iran’s progress at fulfilling its human rights obligations.

Today’s resolution was the 26th such resolution by the General Assembly since 1985.

For more information, go to http://www.bic.org

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Baha’i cemetery in Sanandaj, Iran, attacked and partly destroyed

BAHA’I WORLD NEWS SERVICE

GENEVA — Among the many acts of persecution to which the Baha’is in Iran are being subjected, one of the most heartless is the wanton desecration of their cemeteries. Most recently, attackers have destroyed portions of the Baha’i cemetery in Sanandaj, Iran, which has in recent years Sanandajbeen threatened by local authorities who have sought to raze the site and repossess its land. The attack follows recent efforts by local officials to reclaim the site, which had been officially allocated to Baha’is some 20 years ago.

Reports from Iran say the morgue, where bodies are washed, along with the prayer room, a water tank, and the walls of the cemetery were destroyed sometime in the morning on 12 December 2013.

“We don’t have all the details about this attack yet, but it appears to have been the result of a government effort to confiscate the cemetery land and destroy its buildings and graves,” said Diane Ala’i, the representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.

“Baha’is hold the legal deed to the land, and have even won support from many of their Muslim neighbors for their efforts to beautify the property and its surroundings. At one point, they planted more than 250 trees there.

“But elements of the government have more recently sought to reclaim the property, even seeking a court order to raze the buildings and graves. The Baha’is of Sanandaj fought back in the courts but their protests have now apparently failed to protect their rights,” she said.

Ms. Ala’i said there was little doubt the incident was stirred by religious hatred.

“Since 2005, there have been at least 42 similar such attacks on Baha’i cemeteries around the country, and the long battle in Sanandaj over this property has been tinged with anti-Baha’i overtones.

“Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, has promised to uphold civil rights for all Iranian citizens – and so we hope that he will now call for an immediate and official investigation into this, and to take action to restore the rights of the Sanandaj Baha’i community,” said Ms. Ala’i.

Sanandaj is a medium-sized city of roughly 300,000 people in western Iran. The Baha’i community there has faced a number of attacks in recent years. In December 2011, government agents raided 12 Baha’i homes in Sanandaj, confiscating Baha’i books, computers, mobile telephones, and even children’s diaries.

In 2007, the cemetery was vandalized and hate graffiti with messages like “Death to the Baha’is” and “Baha’is are unclean” was written on its walls.

Yet it is also true that Baha’is have also won considerable support from many in the community for their efforts to beautify the cemetery.

At one point, the Office of Natural Resources suggested that the Baha’is consider planting trees on public land adjacent to the cemetery, thereby expanding the green zone. As a result, the largely Sunni Muslim residents of Sanandaj came to respect the place as a symbol of the Baha’i community’s peaceful presence in their city.

Only after this process of beautification did local authorities begin to reassert their claim to the land.

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English translation of a letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani from the imprisoned Yaran

BAHA’I WORLD NEWS SERVICE

The below is an English translation of a letter addressed to Iranian President, Dr. Hassan Rouhani, from the imprisoned Yaran-i-Iran, or Friends of Iran, the former seven member ad hoc leadership group of the Baha’is in Iran. A copy of the letter in Persian can be found online on the Jaras website, at http://www.rahesabz.net/story/78757/.  This letter was sent in response to the invitation that President Rouhani extended to the citizens of Iran, to comment on the draft Charter of Citizens’ Rights, the text of which is provided, in Persian only, on the president’s website, at president.ir/fa/72975.

 

Your Excellency, Dr. Hassan Rouhani,

In the life of every nation there are moments of profound significance, when seemingly simple actions can turn the tide of history, when age-old misunderstandings can begin to be resolved, and when a new chapter in the destiny of its people can begin.  Your Excellency’s recent public call for participation in a common discourse about the rights and responsibilities of citizens has kindled in hearts the light of hope that such a moment may have arrived for the people of Iran and for the destiny of this sacred land.  Appreciating this invitation, we are impelled by a moral duty towards our homeland, and especially by a deep concern for the youth of our country, to add our voice to this significant discourse.

We take this action from within our prison cell, notwithstanding the considerable obstacles in our path, as a band of law-abiding citizens who more than five years ago were arrested and have since suffered imprisonment simply for our efforts to manage the internal affairs of the Bahá’í community of Iran.  We write this letter at this critical and decisive juncture lest history should judge us harshly as having failed in our duty.

Dr. Rouhani, Your Excellency,

Although the sole fact of demonstrating an interest in reviewing and upholding the rights of the individual is in itself highly significant, we find it necessary here to state emphatically that, in our view, the oneness of all peoples and their fundamental liberty are not merely civil and legal constructs—they are spiritual principles whose source is the one Divine Creator, who made all humankind from the same stock.  The people of Iran, justifiably, wish to prosper and flourish in their individual and collective lives.  They wish to see their children advance, their youth tread the path of progress, and their nation enjoy a state of peace and tranquillity.  Yet, surely, none of these aspirations can be accomplished unless social and legal conditions make it possible for all the constituent elements of society to be treated equally and well, for all individuals to be accorded their basic human rights, and for no one to be subjugated and oppressed by reason of their ethnicity, gender, religious belief, or any other distinction.

The present discourse on the rights of citizens centres on a charter currently being drafted, yet we believe that, beyond seeking comment about the contents of that document, your invitation is an opportunity for us all to reflect on the state of our country and consider the character of the society in which we wish to live.  For such a reflection to be effective, it seems essential that we should first ask ourselves searching questions about the state of our society and the environment in which we wish to raise future generations.  We must look deep into our hearts.  Given that our land has suffered every kind of prejudice, discrimination, aggression, and social ill—a suffering whose consequences are apparent in all departments of our nation’s collective life—we must ask ourselves:  what are truly the most vital principles that would fulfil our highest aspirations for our nation, and what are the means to establish these principles?  How do we respect the nobility of every individual?  How will a constructive environment be fostered in which all the different constituent parts of society can thrive?  What are the necessary conditions that would enable women to contribute their full share?  How do we wish children to be treated?  How do we enable minorities—ethnic, religious, or other—to make their contribution to the betterment of society shoulder to shoulder with others?  What is to be done so that differences of views and beliefs are properly respected?  How do we eradicate violence from our society?  How do we guarantee the right to education for all?  These are among the thoughts that should inform us as we search for the principles that must guide our society and shape the formulation of the rights of its citizenry.

Your Excellency,

Seeking the views of the various elements of society about the future can, of course, represent a first step towards building a progressive country, but what is of foundational importance is that the nation’s school curriculums be reviewed to ensure that the soil is prepared in which a progressive culture may take root, a culture established upon fundamental principles such as the nobility of humankind and the equality of all before the law.

To document the citizens’ rights and enshrine them in a charter may well be an important initiative in the course of a country’s development, but if such a charter is not carefully drafted or, worse still, if it is deliberately crafted as a means to exclude, it could be used as a tool for justifying discrimination and perpetuating oppression.  Therefore, beyond the benefits that accrue from a free and open discourse and appropriate educational programmes, it is imperative for the protection of the people’s rights, first, to enact laws that explicitly protect these rights, and, second, to fashion the necessary structures that prevent an arbitrary interpretation of the law.  The dismissal of thousands of Bahá’í citizens from government posts, the execution of more than two hundred innocent Bahá’ís, the expulsion of thousands of students from universities, the sentences handed down during the past eight years to hundreds of Bahá’ís—indeed, what has happened in our own case, and the judicial process that led to a twenty-year jail sentence for each one of us—are all salutary lessons that illustrate our point and amply demonstrate the need for safeguards in how the law is applied.  In all the years that we had the honour to serve the Bahá’í community of Iran, the authorities had full knowledge of our involvement in this work.  Then, one day, as a result of warped thinking and on the whim of certain individuals in authority, it was decided that our service should be deemed illegal, and consequently, we have spent nearly six years behind bars.

Your Excellency,

If no effective solutions are devised, under conditions where individual rights can be trampled upon so arbitrarily, who can be certain that the fate that has befallen us today will not befall him tomorrow.

In closing, we wish Your Excellency every success in your sincere service to the great nation of Iran in the path of justice, freedom, and equality.

Respectfully,

Vahid Tizfahm, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Shahriari, Behrouz Azizi-Tavakkoli, Fariba Kamalabadi, Afif Naimi

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UN calls on Iran to live up to its human rights promises

BAHA’I WORLD NEWS SERVICE

UNITED NATIONS — Today’s vote expressing concern over Iran’s continued human rights violations demonstrates that the international community will not be swayed by mere promises of improvement, said the Baha’i International Community.

“By its resolution today, the UN General Assembly says clearly that it expects deeds instead of just words from Iran on human rights,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

“During his election campaign, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani promised a ‘civil rights charter’ that would provide equality for all citizens without discrimination based on race, gender or religion,” observed Ms. Dugal. “It is now time for President Rouhani to take action on this promise.”

“The strength and depth of the resolution, moreover, indicate just how little has changed in Iran in recent months,” said Ms. Dugal. “Mr. Rouhani also promised the widespread release of prisoners of conscience, but so far only a few prisoners have been released. And none of them have been Baha’is.”

By a margin of 83 to 36 with 62 abstentions, the Assembly’s Third Committee approved a powerfully worded resolution that said Iran “continues to catalog a wide range of systematic human rights violations.”

Among other things, the resolution expresses “deep concern” over Iran’s continued use of torture, high rate of executions, lack of legal due process, and ongoing discrimination against women and minorities, including religious minorities, such as members of the Baha’i Faith, among other groups.

While the resolution welcomed recent promises by President Rouhani to improve human rights, “particularly on eliminating discrimination against women and members of ethnic minorities and promoting freedom of expression and opinion,” the six-page document nevertheless listed many ongoing violations of international human rights law. It also included recommendations for corrective action.

The resolution, for example, devoted several paragraphs to the ongoing persecution of Iranian Baha’is, expressing concern over “targeted attacks and murders,” “arbitrary arrests and detention,” and “restriction of access to higher education on the basis of religion.”

And it called on Iran to “emancipate the Baha’i community, to release the seven Baha’i leaders held since 2008 and to accord all Baha’is, including those imprisoned because of their beliefs, the due process of law and the rights that they are constitutionally guaranteed.”

“Today’s resolution is actually a blueprint for what Iran must do to live up to its obligations under the international human rights agreements to which it is a party,” said Ms. Dugal.

She noted that more than 100 Baha’is are currently in prison, held solely for their religious beliefs.

“The resolution calls for Iran to ‘immediately and unconditionally release all those who have been arbitrarily arrested and detained for exercising their rights to freedom of religion or belief,’ among other things. Baha’is certainly fall into this category,” observed Ms. Dugal.

Ms. Dugal also said that educational and economic oppression continues against Iranian Baha’is. “Earlier this month, for example, the Reuters news service produced a long investigative report that, among other things, showed how the government has over the years confiscated many Baha’i-owned properties – and then used profits from them to finance policies that, basically, contribute to the persecution of Baha’is.”

The resolution was put forward by Canada and co-sponsored by 46 other countries. It also calls on Iran to better cooperate with UN human rights monitors, such as by allowing them to make visits to Iran, and asks the UN secretary general to report back next year on Iran’s progress at fulfilling its human rights obligations.

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Baha’is in Iran told to leave town or face knife attacks after raids on 14 homes

BAHA’I WORLD NEWS SERVICE

GENEVA — Following raids on 14 Baha’i homes in the Iranian city of Abadeh last month, government agents summoned the occupants for questioning and urged them to leave town or face possible deadly attacks from city residents.

“The clear aim of the raids and questioning was to create 973_03_raidabadehan atmosphere of intimidation and fear, so that the Baha’is of Abadeh would be encouraged to leave the city,” said Diane Ala’i, a representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

According to Ms. Ala’i, agents from the Shiraz office of the Ministry of Intelligence, with agents from Abadeh, launched the raids at about 8 am on 13 October 2013. The homes were searched, and Baha’i books, CDs, computers, and other items, including photographs, were confiscated.

During questioning, several Baha’is were told that local residents “don’t like you” and that “when you are on the street, they might attack you and your children with knives.”

Ms. Ala’i said, however, that not only is there no evidence that the people of Abadeh themselves are against the Baha’is but that the experience of the Baha’is says the opposite is true.

“The real story is that the government is the culprit behind such threats and attacks,” said Ms. Ala’i. “The people of Abadeh have nothing against Baha’is and many love to associate with them freely.

“In at least 52 cases since 2005 around the country, Iranian Baha’is have been physically assaulted – and these have almost always come after the clear instigation of plainclothes agents, the clergy, or the government-controlled media, which has waged a campaign to incite hatred against Baha’is,” said Ms. Ala’i.

In the recent raids on Abadeh, she said, at least one resident from each home was summoned to the local office of the Ministry of Intelligence for questioning. Among those summoned were several young people, including two who were visiting relatives.

The agents urged the Baha’is to leave the city. “If you get attacked by people on the street, we cannot guarantee your safety,” one Baha’i was told.

“Of special concern is that some of those who were summoned for interrogation were youth, who were asked about their activities, said Ms. Ala’i. “Others were asked to sign ‘contracts’ promising not to communicate with other Baha’is or to hold meetings other than a customary, monthly meeting for worship.”

973_02_raidabadehAgents also closed down a shop that had been owned by a Baha’i, sealing its doors with official notice that said: “This shop has been shut down by warrant of the general and revolutionary prosecutor of the city.”

“Regrettably,” said Ms. Ala’i, “the situation in Abadeh marks yet another incident showing that despite promises by Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, the situation for Baha’is has not improved. If anything, it has worsened.”

Ms. Ala’i noted, for example, that the government has taken no action to bring to justice the killers of Ataollah Rezvani, a Baha’i whose killing in August was religiously motivated. Nor, she said, have any of the more than 100 Baha’i prisoners been released, despite their complete innocence.

Abadeh is a small city of about 60,000 people midway between Shiraz and Isfahan in central Iran. It has a sizable Baha’i population, and has been the site of other anti-Baha’i activities in recent years.

In the past, for example, a number of Baha’is found anti-Baha’i graffiti written on the walls and doors of their houses and shops. Among other things, the graffiti said: “Death to Baha’is-spies of America and Israel” and “Baha’is are unclean.”

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New video documents Iranian government’s sponsored violence against its own Baha’is citizens

BAHA’I WORLD NEWS SERVICE

GENEVA — Parva Rahmanian and her family used to run a 972_Parvaflower shop in Iran – until the government revoked their business license.

The reason given was simple: as Baha’is, they were “unclean” – and so were their floral designs. The uncleanliness of the Baha’is was, to the world’s great shock and outrage, the subject of a recent fatwa by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

“We received a letter from the Justice Bureau saying that as a florist one’s hands get wet while decorating flowers, and given that Baha’is are considered unclean by the high-ranking clerics…, the work permit was revoked,” says Ms. Rahmanian in a new video released today by the Baha’i International Community.

Ms. Rahmanian’s story is one of many personal accounts of persecution faced by Iranian Baha’is featured in the 17-minute video, which is titled “Violence with Impunity” and is available on the BIC’s YouTube channel.

The new production, which is available in English and Persian, is based in part on a recent report of the BIC with the same title, which was released in March. However, the video also features numerous new interviews done over the last six months in the United States and Europe.

“This new video takes the dramatic statistics documented in our earlier report and illustrates them with personal accounts of what it means to live in a country where the very authorities that are supposed to protect your rights are the ones behind your oppression,” said Diane Ala’i, a representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.

972_NaimNaim Sobhani, for example, describes what it was like as a child growing up in Iran and having to face vilification from teachers.

” ‘These Bahai’s are dirty, they are unethical, they are unclean non-believers, do not dine with them, do not socialize with them, do not befriend them,’” he recounts his teachers as saying. “As a child in the elementary school, hearing the teacher saying this sort of things in a classroom to your classmates in the class,” said Mr. Sobhani, who now lives in the United States.

Also featured are several human rights activists.

Mahnaz Parakand, an attorney who defended Baha’is before having to flee Iran herself, talks about how the government uses false charges of espionage to prosecute and imprison Baha’is.

“The only reason they cite for espionage on the part of the Baha’is is that the shrines of the great figures of the Baha’i Faith are located in Israel, which are considered sites of pilgrimage for the Baha’is,” said Ms. Parakand.

“As a Muslim, when I go to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage, does the mere fact that the House of God, the Kaaba, is located in Saudi Arabia mean all Muslims in the world could be spying for Saudi Arabia in their native countries?” she said.

Karim Lahidji, president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), says Iran’s policy has been “to increase the pressure on the Bahai community so that in the best case scenario they would relinquish their beliefs.”

The original report documents a rising tide of violence directed against the Iranian Baha’i community – and the degree to which attackers enjoy complete impunity from prosecution or punishment.

From 2005 through 2012, for example, there were 52 cases where Baha’is have been held in solitary confinement, and another 52 incidents where Baha’is have been physically assaulted. Some 49 incidents of arson against Baha’i homes and shops, more than 30 cases of vandalism, and at least 42 incidents of cemetery desecration were also documented.

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Despite promises, Iran continues to violate human rights, says UN report

BAHA’I WORLD NEWS SERVICE 

UNITED NATIONS — Despite recent signals by Iran that it intends to improve897_00_smaller on its human rights record, there has been little evidence of change, according to a report issued yesterday by the UN’s expert on human rights in that country.

“The human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to warrant serious concern, with no sign of improvement,” said Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran.

Among other things, Dr. Shaheed expressed concern over Iran’s high level of executions, continuing discrimination against women and ethnic minorities, poor prison conditions, and limits on freedom of expression and association.

He also said that religious minorities in Iran, including Baha’is, Christians, Sunni Muslims, and others, “are increasingly subjected to various forms of legal discrimination, including in employment and education, and often face arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment.”

His report, which will formally be presented today to the UN General Assembly, devoted several paragraphs to the persecution faced by Iran’s Baha’i community.

“The Special Rapporteur continues to observe what appears to be an escalating pattern of systematic human rights violations targeting members of the Baha’i community, who face arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment, national security charges for active involvement in religious affairs, restrictions on religious practice, denial of higher education, obstacles to State employment and abuses within schools,” he wrote.

Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the UN, welcomed the report, saying that it provided a clear picture of what has been happening in Iran—and continues to happen even since the election of President Hassan Rouhani, who has made public promises for improvement.

“Recent reports from Iran give disturbing details indicating there has been no improvement whatsoever,” said Ms. Dugal. “Indeed reports to our office actually indicate a worsening of the situation facing Baha’is in Iran. And we note that although much has been made in the news media of recent releases of a few prisoners of conscience, no member of the Baha’i Faith has yet been included among them.”

Ms. Dugal stated: “What we see is the continuation of the usual tactics, attempting to delude the international community and to appease the family of nations, even as repression continues at home with full force. The Baha’i community in Iran, like many other minorities in that country, remains deprived of its most basic rights, including ultimately the right to exist as a viable community. Iran’s government must be held accountable for this hypocrisy and double standards.”

She continued: “In Iran’s official reply to Dr. Shaheed’s report, the government claims that ‘the citizenship rights of followers of other faiths including Baha’is are entirely observed.’

• If this is so, how is it that the barrage of hate-filled incitement against the Baha’is continues unabated in the state-controlled media, and has indeed intensified in recent weeks?

• If this is so, how is that ordinary Baha’is face constant cruel harassment in earning a basic livelihood and official government documents explicitly prohibit Baha’is from engaging in dozens of professions while in practice they are debarred from many more.

• If this is so, how is it that all the properties of the Baha’i community remain confiscated and even Baha’i cemeteries are not immune from destruction?

• If this is so, what is the explanation for an official edict to 81 universities not to accept Baha’i students and why is the government decree expelling any student who is discovered to be a Baha’i still in full force?

• If this is so, how is it that even the courageous lawyers who defend the Baha’is against injustice are themselves thrown into prison?

• And if this is so, why would the country’s Supreme Leader issue a fatwa declaring Baha’is as “unclean” and call for them to be systematically identified and socially ostracized?

These and countless other actions, all of which are evidence of obvious religious discrimination, establish beyond the shadow of doubt the presence of a chilling, state-organized, insidious campaign aimed at the eradication of a religious community in the land of its birth.”

“How long” asked Ms. Dugal “will the Iranian government persist in its duplicity?”

For more information, go to: http://www.bic.org/media/media-information

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VOA “Ofogh” Live Interview

Yesterday, the Voice of America Persian TV program “Ofogh” broadcast a live interview about the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran, emphasizing the recent fatwa against Baha’is issued by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the recent murder of Mr. Ataollah Rezvani, a Baha’i in Bandar Abbas. Interviewees included Mona Rezvani, the niece of Ataollah Rezvani, Dr. Mina Yazdani, an assistant professor of history at Eastern Kentucky University, who was excluded from university in Iran after the Islamic Revolution in 1979 because she was a Baha’i, and Dr. Farhad Sabetan, the Persian language spokesperson for the Baha’i community of the United States.  The program was aired in Iran via satellite TV.

Click here to watch the full program. (Please note this program is in Persian.)

 

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Murder of Mr. Ataollah Rezvani was religiously motivated

BAHA’I WORLD NEWS SERVICE

From the available information it is now clear thatA Rezvani the murder in Iran of Mr. Ataollah Rezvani was religiously motivated.

It is understood that Mr. Rezvani was shot in the back of his head and that his body was found in his car near the railway station on the outskirts of Bandar Abbas, the city where he resided with his family. Information received thus far points to the possibility that his assailants had forced him to drive to that location. His body was discovered following a search when 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 was 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. These agents had also been bringing pressure to bear on him to leave the city. More recently, he had begun receiving menacing telephone calls from unknown persons. It should also be noted that on several occasions in the past few years senior local clerics have attempted to incite the population through incendiary sermons against the Baha’is of the city.

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ILO expresses concern over economic repression of Iranian Baha’is

BAHA’I WORLD NEWS SERVICE

GENEVA — The International Labor Organization (ILO) has expressed “deep concern” over continuing economic and educational discrimination against Baha’is in Iran.

In particular, an ILO committee charged with monitoring global compliance with the right to non-discrimination in employment and occupation said the case of Iranian Baha’is remains “particularly serious” because of “systematic discrimination” by the government.

“The ILO is a tripartite body representing governments, workers, and employers from around the world. The committee’s report, released in late June, is therefore especially significant because it represents the opinion not just of governments but also of workers and employers,” said Diane Ala’i, representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.

“The fact that it has joined the outcry of international concern over Iran’s continued discrimination against Baha’is in the workplace and education is an important yardstick of global opinion.”

“Indeed, not only has Iran failed to make progress at eliminating discrimination, the situation has grown worse,” said Ms. Ala’i. “Since January of this year, there has been a sharp increase in the number of Baha’i shops that have been closed or had their business licenses revoked.”

Ms. Ala’i said, for example, that some 32 Baha’i-owned shops were closed in Hamadan late last year, and, with two exceptions, all other Baha’i shopkeepers in that city were summoned by the authorities for questioning in late February. Many of those shopkeepers later had their shops closed.

“One Baha’i shop in Hamadan was closed down because the shopkeeper refused to open the shop on Baha’i holy days,” said Ms. Ala’i. “When he began to sell goods out of his truck, his vehicle was confiscated. His residence was also raided and his bank account closed. Such forms of discrimination against Baha’is are occurring throughout Iran.”

Discrimination in higher education against Iranian Baha’is has also continued, said Ms. Ala’i, noting that this discrimination also extends to vocational schools, which fall under the ILO’s area of concern.

“A number of vocational schools were among the 81 Iranian universities that were specifically instructed to expel any students who were discovered to be Baha’is in 2006,” said Ms. Ala’i, referring to a confidential memorandum issued by the government.

The ILO committee’s report, in its conclusions, “urged the Government [of Iran] to take decisive action to combat discrimination against ethnic minorities and unrecognized religious minorities, in particular, the Baha’is.”

The report also quoted worker, employer, and government representatives about the situation in Iran. Such comments are kept anonymous to ensure the committee’s independence from pressure by governments.

“The Worker members stated that in spite of numerous examinations of this case, no real progress had been made to comply with the Convention,” said the report. “The lack of ability of the Government to repeal even the most patently discriminatory legislation and regulations was deeply regrettable.”

The worker members also proposed that a high-level mission be sent to visit the country as soon as possible, with the goal of fact-finding and setting a time-bound action plan aimed at ensuring compliance with the Convention, said the report.

Employer members, likewise, “urged the Government to take concrete steps to ensure comprehensive protection against direct and indirect discrimination on all the grounds enumerated in the Convention.”

Several governments, including the European Union and Canada, were also quoted in the report.

The government representative from Canada, for example, said religious minorities faced persistent and pervasive discrimination.

“Members of the Baha’i Faith were discriminated against in access to education, universities and occupations in the public sector; they had been deprived of property, employment and education. The Government’s continued failure to respect its obligations under the Convention in the face of repeated calls for change by the Committee demonstrated a lack of seriousness and good faith,” said the government member from Canada, according to the report.

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Representatives Grimm, Schakowsky, Moran, and Jenkins invite colleagues to join in cosponsoring H.Res.109

On July 17, 2013, U.S. Representatives Michael Grimm (R-NY-11), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-9), James Moran (D-VA-8), and Lynn Jenkins, (R-KS-2) sent a letter to their colleagues in the House of Representatives inviting them to join in cosponsoring House Resolution 109. The letter explains that, “Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, numerous governmental sources and international organizations have reported instances of brutal treatment of the Baha’is, including the summary execution and extrajudicial killing of over 200 Baha’is since the Islamic Revolution, continued unlawful arrests and detention, systematic denial of education and employment, discrimination and harassment, raids and attacks on Baha’i homes and business, and the defacement and destruction of Baha’i cemeteries and sacred sites.” Additionally, it notes that  H.Res.109 “…[condemns] Iran for its intolerable state-sponsored persecution of its Baha’i minority and its continued violation of the International covenants on Human Rights.” The letter urges House members to speak out against religious persecution by cosponsoring the resolution.

Since H. Res. 109 was introduced on March 12, 2013, 47 Representatives have signed on as cosponsors. Click here to learn more and follow the progress of this resolution.

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“Five Years Too Many” campaign leads to global outpouring of support

BAHA’I WORLD NEWS SERVICE

A global outpouring of support and concern for the plight of the seven Iranian Baha’i leaders – and for the situation of other prisoners of conscience in Iran – marked worldwide commemorations of the fifth anniversary of the arrest of these Baha’is.

Statements calling for the immediate release of the seven came from every continent, issued by government officials, religious leaders, human rights activists, and ordinary citizens during 10 days in May as part of the “Five Years Too Many” campaign. Local and national media reports also carried news of the campaign around the world.

“Our hope is that the government of Iran will understand clearly that the seven Baha’i prisoners, who have been unjustly and wrongfully held for five long years simply for their religious beliefs, have not been forgotten,” said Diane Ala’i, the Baha’i International Community’s representative to the United Nations in Geneva.

“Our ultimate hope, of course, is that Iran will immediately release the seven – and all other prisoners of conscience in Iran,” said Ms. Ala’i.

As the campaign came to a conclusion, one theme that emerged was the degree to which religious leaders around the world find Iran’s persecution of Baha’is unconscionable.

In South Africa, Shaykh Achmat Sedick, vice president of the national Muslim Judicial Council, used a Five Years Too Many campaign event on 15 May to talk about freedom of religion from an Islamic perspective. He described how the teachings of the Qur’an support religious freedom – and added that Iran’s persecution of the Baha’i community is entirely unjust.

On 14 May, some 50 religious leaders representing virtually every religious community in the United Kingdom sent a letter to UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, calling on him to demand that Iran immediately release the seven.

Signatories to the letter included Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury; Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth; and Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, an Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain.

“Iran has abandoned every legal, moral, spiritual and humanitarian standard, routinely violating the human rights of its citizens,” they wrote. “The government’s shocking treatment of its religious minorities is of particular concern to us as people of faith.”

And in Uganda, the Inter-Religious Council issued a joint statement with the Baha’i community there calling on Iran to respect the fundamental human rights of Iranian Baha’is.

“These sheer violations of basic human rights of Iran’s religious minorities by the regime of that country gave rise to international outrage from governments and civil society organizations and all freedom-loving people worldwide,” said Joshua Kitakule, Secretary General of the Council, on 15 May in Kampala.

Other significant responses during the final days of the campaign included:

● A letter calling for the “immediate release of the seven” by prominent people in India, signed by L. K. Advani, chairman of Bharatiya Janata Party; Soli Sorabjee, former Attorney General of India; Imam Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, Chief Imam of the All India Organization of Imams of Mosques; and Miloon Kothari, former UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, among others.

● A series of statements issued by prominent Austrians in support of the seven, including one by Efgani Donmez, the first Muslim elected to the Austrian Parliament, who said “The Baha’is in Iran are part of the society, part of the Iranian culture. They should also have the rights as all the other citizens in Iran.”

● A speech in Ireland by campaigner and Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental, who said the discrimination faced by Iranian Baha’is sadly reminded him of what happened to the Jews in Nazi Germany. “I can very well identify with the struggle that the Baha’i religion suffers in Iran,” said Mr. Reichental on 15 May in Dublin.

● A video message by Nico Schrijver, a member of the Senate of the Netherlands and vice-chairperson of the Geneva-based UN Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, who said: “The leaders of the Baha’i community have been detained for the sole reason that they are Baha’is. This is of course a complete violation of human rights law.”

The campaign, which ran 5-15 May, quickly found support from others, including Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr, and Lloyd Axworthy, former Minister of Foreign Affairs in Canada, as previously reported.

Among the most notable expressions of concern was a joint press release. by four UN human rights experts, issued on 13 May, which stated that the seven are held solely because of their religious beliefs, that their continued imprisonment is unjust and wrongful, and that Iran’s treatment of religious minorities violates international law.

Six of the seven Baha’i leaders were arrested on 14 May 2008 in a series of early morning raids in Tehran. The seventh had been detained two months earlier on 5 March 2008.

Since their arrests, the seven leaders – whose names are Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm – have been subject to an entirely flawed judicial process, and were ultimately sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, the longest of any current prisoners of conscience in Iran.

Further details can be found at the campaign website, located at: http://www.bic.org/fiveyears.

 

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“The Gardener” by Mohsen Makhmalbaf premieres in the United States

The Gardener, a film by renowned Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, will premiere in the United States on June 11 and 12, 2013 in the Washington DC area. The film follows Makhmalbaf as he travels to Israel with his son, Maysam, to explore the question, “what is the role of religion in society today?” and to investigate the teachings of the Baha’i Faith. They visit the Baha’i World Center, the spiritual and administrative center of the Baha’i community, and its gardens in Haifa, Israel. While there, they meet a Baha’i gardener, Eona, a native of Papua New Guinea, who conveys his feelings of deep inner devotion as he talks about the Baha’i Faith’s tenets while tending the flower beds.

Watch the film trailer here. Purchase tickets to the Bethesda, Maryland premiere here.

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VOA Broadcasts Editorial on Five Year Anniversary of the Yaran

On May 24, Voice of America’s View from Washington broadcast an editorial highlighting the five year imprisonment of the seven Baha’i leaders in Iran. The editorial featured excerpts from remarks made by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Thomas Melia at the “Five Years Too Many” event on May 6 in Washington, D.C. During his speech, DAS Melia stated that the “plight of the seven Baha’i leaders is emblematic of the persecution suffered by the entire Baha’i community there and also of other religious minorities in Iran.” The government of Iran “must be made to know that the world is watching and judging its actions,” said Melia.

To watch the editorial, click here.

 

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Congressmen Moran and Engel Submit Statements to Congressional Record

On May 22 and 23, 2013, Congressmen James Moran of Virginia and Eliot Engel of New York entered statements into the Congressional Record marking the May 14 fifth anniversary of the imprisonment of the seven Baha’i leaders in Iran. Both statements list the members of the seven-person group, known as the Yaran-i-Iran, or Friends of Iran, by name and explain the charges against them, which include espionage, propaganda against the Islamic republic, the establishment of an illegal administration, and corruption on earth, among others.

In his statement, Engel reiterated his “support for the Baha’i community in calling for the immediate release of the Yaran-i-Iran members, as well as the release of all Iranian prisoners of conscience.” He stated, “I will continue to monitor this situation and hold Iran accountable for its abuse of its citizens.” Moran’s statement noted that he “support[s] House Resolution 109 condemning the Iranian government for its persecution of its Baha’i minority.” Further, Moran stated, “I call on my colleagues in the House of Representatives to join in co-sponsoring this resolution and my Senate colleagues in co-sponsoring Senate Resolution 75.”

To read Moran’s full statement, click here . To read Engel’s full statement, click here .

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Iranian Baha’is face “widespread and entrenched” discrimination says UN Committee

BAHA’I WORLD NEWS SERVICE

GENEVA — On May 22, 2013, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights issued a series of pointed recommendations to the Iranian government – recommendations that included a plea for Iran to ensure that all citizens, regardless of religious belief, enjoy full rights without any discrimination.

The Committee specifically referred to the Baha’i community, expressing its concern that Iranian Baha’is face “widespread and entrenched discrimination, including denial of access to employment in the public sector, institutions of higher education, as well as to benefits of the pension system.” It recommended that Iran “take steps to ensure that members of the Baha’i community are protected against discrimination and exclusion in every field.”

Diane Alai, the representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva, welcomed the Committee’s findings, known as “concluding observations.” She said: “The Committee’s report highlights the extent of the persecution of Baha’is in Iran, which includes employment, education, and cultural issues.”

She noted that Committee members questioned Iranian officials during a day-long session earlier in the month, asking, among other things, why the government feels it has to recognize a particular religion at all in order to grant individuals certain rights, and why discrimination against Baha’is appears to be so pervasive.

“People are the holders of their freedom of religion, and that is not the public power of states,” said Nicolaas Schrijver, a Committee member from The Netherlands, during the 1 May session with Iranian officials.

In its report, the Committee also recommended that Iran take steps to guarantee “the unhindered access of Baha’i students to universities and vocational training institutions.”

The report also covered a wide range of other human rights violations in Iran, from concern over discrimination against women and ethnic minorities in education and employment to the lack of protection for independent trade unions.

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Sentinel Project launches visualization of persecution of Baha’is in Iran

The Sentinel Project, an independent Toronto-based NGO that focuses on genocide prevention, has recently launched a visualization of the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran. The Sentinel Project is not affiliated with the Bahá’í community, but has, using its own sources and methodology, deemed the situation of the Iranian Baha’is to be a “Situation of Concern” and has previously expressed the need to continue to watch the situation in Iran closely. The Sentinel Project uses ThreatWiki, a genocide risk tracking platform, to help monitor the situation in Iran as well as to create this visualization.

For the full article click here.

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State Department Officials Highlight Plight of Baha’is in Iran

Earlier today, the U.S. Department of State released the 2012 International Religious Freedom Report, its annual report on the status of religious freedom around the world.

In his remarks at the public release of the report, Secretary of State John Kerry stated that freedom of religion is “a core American value” and “a universal value,” noting that “the promotion of international religious freedom is a priority” for the U.S. government. The Secretary stated that the report documents a number of troubling trends in religious freedom, identifying “global problems of discrimination and violence against religious groups, including Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs.”

Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook also delivered remarks on the report, noting that “Thousands of people around the world are jailed because of what they believe, or don’t believe. In Iran, more than 116 Bahai’s are in prison for teaching and expressing their faith.” The Ambassador also discussed the plight of several other religious groups around the world that are persecuted because of their faith. She stated that, “Religious freedom is essential for a stable, peaceful, and thriving society,” and noted that, “[a]s this report makes clear, much work remains to be done.” She closed by expressing the U.S. government’s commitment to the issue, stating, “The challenges are daunting, but we remain committed to working tirelessly to ensure religious freedom for all.”

For a video of the report launch, transcripts of the remarks, and other resources, click here.

 

 

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