Freedom languishes for Baha’is in Iran

Nagan is a professor of law and the founding director of the Institute for Human Rights and Peace Development at … Continued

Nagan is a professor of law and the founding director of the Institute for Human Rights and Peace Development at the University of Florida Levin College of Law and a former chairman of the board of directors of Amnesty International USA (1989-91).

Imagine living in Semnan, Iran, a town about 120 miles east of Tehran, where religious minorities have been particularly harassed by the government. There, more than a dozen businesses owned by members of your faith community have been shut down in the last three years. Arrests, summons for interrogation, and short to lengthy detentions are the norm. As a member of the Baha’i faith, the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Iran, you are used to insecurity. However, now you are a mother with an infant at home and have become acutely concerned because your worst nightmare has become a reality.

But this isn’t your imagination. This is the reality for Baha’is in Iran. Freedom House, a religious freedom watchdog organization, notes that three first-time mothers, Mrs. Zohreh Nikayin, Mrs. Taraneh Torabi, and Mrs. Neda Majidi have been imprisoned in that country for being Baha’is. Each is accompanied in prison by her infant of less than a year. I have also seen reports indicating that since September 2012, Mrs. Nikayin’s son, Resam, contracted an intestinal infection and developed an ear condition, was prescribed medicine and returned to prison, while Mrs. Torabi’s son, Barman, contracted a lung disease and was hospitalized. Mrs. Majidi has been in prison with her infant since December 2012. In the last few months we have learned of outbreaks of arrests of Baha’is and business closures have occurred in several other cities in Iran, most recently in Gorgan and Hamadan.

What could motivate the state to so blatantly violate international norms by sanctioning the imprisonment of infants? Has religious prejudice gone so far as to extinguish any feeling of empathy or, for that matter, shame?

Historically, human rights abuses in Iran have been monitored closely by the U.S. government as well as the international community, and this year is no different. The extraordinary New Year’s Day congressional session brought some emotional relief to American families with relatives in Iran and others worried about religious persecution there, when the House of Representatives passed House Resolution 134. It spotlighted and condemned the human rights abuses committed by the government of Iran, particularly against its Baha’i community.

In her supporting statement on New Year’s eve on the floor of the House, the outgoing Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, added that the resolution “urges the President and Secretary of State to use measures already enacted into law under the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 to sanction Iranian officials responsible for human rights violations against Baha’is and others.” She stated, “I was a co-author of that legislation, and those measures are not there for show. They are there to punish those responsible for these egregious crimes, and deter future human rights violations.”

At a time when extreme partisanship in the House has been perceived as the norm, it was noteworthy that this resolution, introduced by Congressman Robert Dold (R-Ill.), garnered 78 Republicans and 68 Democrats as cosponsors before it reached the floor of the House.

Only twelve days before the passage of H. Res. 134, on December 20, 2012, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution enumerating a number of human rights concerns regarding Iran, including, among others, “increased persecution and human rights violations against persons belonging to unrecognized religious minorities, particularly members of the Baha’i faith and their defenders, including escalating attacks, an increase in the number of arrests and detentions, and the restriction of access to higher education on the basis of religion.”

It further adds the need to “eliminate the criminalization of efforts to provide higher education to Baha’i youth denied access to Iranian universities” and “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.”

Naming, shaming and sanctioning individual perpetrators of egregious human rights violations has become, in the last several years, a popular means for curbing impunity. Whether this year will bring greater use of this tool to mitigate the plight of Iran’s Baha’is, Christians, Sufi and Sunni Muslims, and so many others suffering abuse is a question that the U.S. government and the international community will need to consider. In the meantime, House Res.134 and the recent U.N. resolution shine a bright light on the Iranian government’s human rights violations and provide hope for Mrs. Nikayin, Mrs. Torabi, and Mrs. Majidi for themselves and for their infants.

Winston Nagan
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  • It wasn’t me

    “Freedom languishes for Baha’is in Iran
    By Winston Nagan”

    This article is sponsored by all 52 Zionist organizations in America

  • wpc09

    Clearly, this comment represents the Islamic Republic’s coordinated anti-Baha’i campaign on the internet. Your statement is clearly in accord with the secret Iranian government 1993 memorandum about the “Baha’i Question” in which the policy to deprive Baha’is of education, business licenses, government jobs and pensions is made explicit, and your plans to “block” the Baha’i Faith’s “progress” outside Iran.

    Yet every word of the above article about the persecution of Baha’is is true. You know that Iran’s government seeks to choke the Baha’i community by denying education and any opportunity to flourish economically solely on the basis of adherence to the Baha’i Faith.

    You also know that the Baha’i Faith is not Zionism, has nothing to do with Zionism, and has never had anything to do with Zionism. Baha’u’llah, the Founder of the Baha’i Faith, was exiled by the clergy and governments of Persia and the Ottoman Empire, because of Baha’u’llah’s claim to be a new Manifestation of God, the fulfiller of the promises of the Bible and the Holy Qur’an. That exile, imposed by Iran’s and Turkey’s leaders, sent Baha’u’llah to Akko in what was then the Ottoman province of Syria and what is now Israel. There are holy places of the Baha’i Faith in Iran, expropriated and many destroyed by the Iranian authorities. There are Baha’i holy places in what is now Israel, just as there are Muslim holy sites in what is now administered by Israel. Baha’is can no more move their holy sites than Muslims can theirs.

  • JaciLHB

    Thank you for the good information..

  • hearsee

    Thank you Mr. Nagan, I appreciate this updated information. Important to remember is that Baha’is are to be obedient to their government, stopping at the point of denial of faith. Baha’u’llah, Founder of the Faith, said, “In every country where any of this people reside, they must behave towards the government of that country with loyalty, honesty and truthfulness.” (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p.22)
    And “…perchance the fire of animosity which blazeth in the hearts of some of the peoples of the earth may, through the living waters of divine wisdom and by virtue of heavenly counsels and exhortations, be quenched, and the light of unity and concord may shine forth and shed its radiance upon the world.” (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p.23)

  • Joe Walshe

    Informative article.
    There are Baha’i communities throughout the US and indeed the World.

  • WendyS9

    It’s a pathetic situation when proponents of Shi’ih Islam apparently don’t realize that their persecution of the Baha’i Faith in their country reflects far more poorly on them than it does on the Baha’is, who continue to inspire the world with their sacrifice and courage. I’m always amazed when any religion’s members are so convinced of the correctness of their beliefs that they think it’s perfectly fine to destroy the lives of those who disagree with them. It seems to me that if Shi’ih Islam were as wonderful and as exclusively true as their adherents claim it is, they wouldn’t have to persecute anyone since the rightness of their position would be obvious. It also seems to me that if one is religious, loves God, and cares about the reputation of their religion, they’re not going to cause harm to people who potentially could adopt that religion. Yet here are these people in Iran trying to use intimidation to force people to recant their own faith and presumably adopt the dominant religion, but would that be a true conversion? Is that what the clerics of Shi’ih Islam want, a bunch of people forced to join but don’t really believe in it? And wouldn’t this kind of behavior turn more people away from Shi’ih Islam that it would urge them towards it? This is all a mystery to me. Religion, including the adoption, the abandonment, and the changing of which, should be a choice an individual should be able to make without pressure from anyone. Freedom of religion is a human right that people everywhere agree on and Iran as a country signed off on years ago. Is breaking a pledge something Prophet Muhammad would have approved of for His followers?

  • tianxiang69

    Yes, it is likely that Islam’s prophet would have approved of the breaking of a pledge if it would be seen as benefiting Islam. Freedom of religion is not a right agreed on everywhere and the concept is very different in countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as Egypt, where even if the “freedom to believe” exists in theory, non-Muslims are treated as second-class citizens at best.

  • tianxiang69

    “What could motivate the state to so blatantly violate international norms by sanctioning the imprisonment of infants?”
    Islam, by their own admission. Islam is the basis of the laws in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

    “Has religious prejudice gone so far as to extinguish any feeling of empathy or, for that matter, shame?”
    Yes, as it always has.

  • Nonagon1947

    From the Baha’i perspective:
    “According to His teachings if religious belief proves to be the cause of discord and dissension, its absence would be preferable; for religion was intended to be the divine remedy and panacea for the ailments of humanity, the healing balm for the wounds of mankind. If its misapprehension and defilement have brought about warfare and bloodshed instead of remedy and cure, the world would be better under irreligious conditions.”
    (`Abdu’l-Baha: Promulgation of Universal Peace*, Page: 354)

    ‘Nuff said? Thanks also to Wendy.

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