- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Iran’s decadeslong persecution of members of the Baha’i faith is a “crime against humanity,” Human Rights Watch said in a report released Tuesday.

The Islamic republic’s agencies arrest and imprison Baha’i followers “arbitrarily, confiscate their property, restrict their education and employment opportunities, and even deny them [a] dignified burial,” the rights group said in a statement.

Human Rights Watch chronicles the regime’s systematic violation of the Baha’i basic human rights in a 49-page report, titled “’The Boot on My Neck’: Iranian Authorities’ Crime of Persecution Against Baha’is in Iran.” The group said government policies, court documents and communications were reviewed and the documents were compiled by itself and Iranian human rights groups.

“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, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “It is critically important to increase international pressure on Iran to end this crime against humanity.”

The Baha’i faith originated in Iran, where about 300,000 followers reside — making them the Islamic republic’s largest religious minority, according to the movement’s news service.

Iran has persecuted the Baha’i since the religion was established in the 19th century, but authorities have intensified the oppression since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Human Rights Watch said. Iranian judicial authorities use “vague national security laws” to brand the Baha’i an “outlawed religious minority” whose existence threatens national security.

Court documents examined by Human Rights Watch show authorities labeling the Baha’i religion a “deviant cult,” saying its followers belong to an “illegal group.” The organization said Iranian policies “explicitly” bar the Baha’i from work and educational opportunities, and are used to deny pensions and seize property.

“The Iranian government’s systematic oppression of Baha’is casts a shadow over every aspect of their lives and is a distressing testament to its discriminatory treatment of religious and ethnic minorities, leaving no aspect of their lives untouched by injustice,” Mr. Page said.

The rights organization said the continuing attacks on the Baha’i constitute “the crime against humanity of persecution” under The Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court.

“The report brings together years of research and documentation regarding the systematic persecution of the Baha’is in Iran and draws clear attention to Iran’s flagrant disregard for its human rights obligations under international law and treaties,” Simin Fahandej, Baha’i international community representative to the United Nations in Geneva said in a statement.

“Our sincere hope is that the world will hold the Iranian government accountable for the longstanding injustices perpetrated against the Baha’i community,” Ms. Fahandej said.

Ruhi Jahanpour, a Baha’i who was imprisoned in the Iranian city of Shiraz in 1982 and now lives in the United States, told The Washington Times in January that Iran persecutes followers because the religion teaches the unity of humankind and has men and women worshipping together.

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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