Iranian intelligence agents have stepped up their harassment of the Baha’i religious minority with a slew of arrests over the last few months, according to an October 16 report from Human Rights Watch (HRW).
In August and September alone, more than 20 Baha’i were arrested across the country, according to HRW
The Baha’i faith is not recognized as an official religion in the Islamic Republic, and security agents routinely detain Baha’is, often without charges. Baha’is are prohibited from attending university or holding public office, they cannot worship openly, and their cemeteries and other cultural landmarks are demolished when discovered.
More than 90 percent of Iranians associate themselves with Shi’a Islam, the official state religion, according to the CIA World Fact Book. Around five to ten percent identify with the Sunni and Sufi branches of Islam, and a very small sliver of the population identify with non-Islamic religious minorities, among them Bahá'ís, Mandeans, Yarsanis, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians. The latter three minority religions are officially recognized in Iran, but other beliefs, including Baha'ism, with an estimated 300-350 thousand followers inside Iran, are derided by the regime as a “deviant sect,” and are accused of heresy, apostasy, and conspiracy against the Islamic establishment.
Citing its own anonymous sources, HRW reports that out of the twenty detainees, twelve are residents of the city of Shiraz, in southern Iran, and four of them are being held in detention centers administered by the Intelligence Ministry.
According to the New York based Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), 11 of the detainees were arrested in Alborz and Isfahan provinces and are being held in the city of Shiraz.
It is not clear what charges the detainees face.
Authorities also detained Mehdi Hajati, a Shi’ite member of the Shiraz City Council, for tweeting about the arrest of his Baha’i friends.
“Over the past ten days I have tried my best to secure the release of two Baha’i friends, but have failed,” Hajati tweeted September 25. “While standing against the foreign enemy, our generation has a duty to do its best to reform the judicial processes and other issues that threaten social justice.”
On September 27, one of Hajati's fellow councilors confirmed that he was arrested for supporting Baha’is, HRW reported.
“The more than twenty arrests in a month without providing any justification shows how intolerant the Islamic Republic is towards Iran’s Baha’i community,” said Deputy Middle East Director at HRW Michael Page. “And authorities are taking their campaign of intimidation, harassment, and persecution even further by detaining elected officials who dare to show solidarity with their fellow citizens who are Baha’i.”
Several members of Iran’s parliament have raised concerns about Hajati’s arrest, arguing he was defending his friends’ rights, but the association of MPs from Fars province published an open letter October 3 asking authorities not to allow the “deviant cult” of Baha’is to conspire against the state.
Hajati was ultimately released October 7 without charges.
“For four decades Iran’s judiciary and security agencies have violated the most fundamental rights of the Baha’i community in Iran,” said Page. “President Rouhani and his cabinet need to stop pretending that they aren’t responsible for persecuting the Baha’i and end these violations.”