Human Rights

The United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) proclaimed that the "recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world". It has been said that at a time when international public support for human rights has never been so great their suppression has never, on a global scale, been so massive. These rights are called human rights because they are considered to belong to every human being for no other reason than they are human. Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status".

This is a central concept in human rights law. Virtually every government in the world now says that it is prepared to recognize the importance of "rights", although in practice many of them do not. The Iranian government is one of the countries among those that signed and ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Persecution of the Bahá'ís in Iran

The Bahá'í community of Iran has been persecuted from its inception to the present day. The persecution has been, in the worst periods, intense and unrelenting, and even in the best times, it has been an ever-present threat.

The early history of the Faith consisted of dramatic and violent episodes against the Bahá'ís. For a short time the persecution mainly took the form of mere pressure and harassment, punctuated by frequent outbursts of violence. The 1979 Revolution in Iran revived an atmosphere of hatred and terror like the early days of the Faith. At this time the persecution of the Bahá'ís became an official pogrom of the religious-run Iranian government. Membership in the Bahá'í Faith became an official violation of the Iranian laws, punishable with death. All individuals whose affiliation with the Bahá'í Faith became known were under a great deal of pressure. They and their families were subjected to persistent abuse, dismissal from employment, boycott, beatings, denial of education and confiscation and looting of their properties. The murderers and looters would plead to the authorities that as apostates from Islam, Bahá'ís could be killed at will by any good Muslim. There are no examples of anyone being punished by the authorities for any actions taken against the Bahá'ís, even where murder was involved. There are many examples of denial of basic civil rights of Bahá'ís. In one instance a Bahá'í was killed by a taxi while in a pedestrian crossing. In this case the court made a ruling that the driver was to pay the family of the victim a sum of money, but when the driver made it known that the victim was a Bahá'í, the victim's family was ordered to pay for the damage to the vehicle instead. In other cases, when the government executed Bahá'ís, it did not release the bodies to the family members until the family paid a large sum of money for each bullet that was used to kill the person.

History of Persecutions

1844-1921

1921-1979

Following the inauguration of Rezá Shah Pahlavi, there was great hope among the Bahá'ís that a new era of toleration of the Bahá'í Faith in Iran would arise from the anti-clerical and secularizing stance of the new regime. At first fulfillment of this hope seemed to be in prospect and there was a general improvement in the conditions for Bahá'ís. The new regime took measures that limited the influence of the clergy over such areas as education and law. Although the Bahá'í Faith was not officially recognized, the Bahá'ís were allowed to do a number of things that had not previously been possible. Large public meetings were held in the 1920s at which government officials were often present. The Bahá'ís expanded the number of new schools, modern public baths, libraries, and cemeteries owned and run by the community. Steps were taken to increase the role of women in the community and to find ways of developing the community socially and economically. National conventions with elected delegates were held from 1927 on, electing the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Iran. A national Bahá'í center, was begun in about 1930, and progress was made in identifying and purchasing Bahá'í holy places throughout Iran. The free publication or importation of Bahá'í material was, however, never permitted nor was Bahá'í marriage ever officially recognized.

Whatever benefits there may have been to the Bahá'ís from the new regime were abruptly reversed in 1934 when the government moved to close all of the Bahá'í schools throughout the country as well as forbidding Bahá'í meetings and dismissing Bahá'ís from government employment in several places. Bahá'ís were imprisoned for contracting Bahá'í marriages and on such charges as closing their shops and businesses on Bahá'í holy days. The tide of attacks swelled during the 1940s with increasing violence used against the Bahá'ís and decreasing efforts on the part of the authorities to subdue the trouble-makers. Events culminated in the murder of three Bahá'ís by a mob in 1944. This was followed by a period of several months during which Bahá'ís in almost every part of Iran were attacked, many injured and much property looted.

A further serious episode occurred in 1949 when, following the death of a woman and her children, her murderers tried to throw the blame onto the Bahá'ís. A large number of area Bahá'ís were arrested, including all of the Local Spiritual Assembly members. After months in prison awaiting trial, the accused were brought to Tehran. A mockery of a trial ensued; four Bahá'ís were sentenced to ten years imprisonment, while the members of the local spiritual assembly were sentenced to three years.

The Iranian Bahá'í community was developed greatly in organization and complexity. By the 1950s there were some 150 national committees. The Tehran Bahá'í community became increasingly the focal center of the Iranian Bahá'í community. The national center came to house the national offices, the Tehran Assembly's offices, as well as a library, a printing facility, a youth club, and a guest house. In Tehran alone there were by 1950 some 3,000 Bahá'ís serving on various administrative bodies and about the same number involved in the education of Bahá'í youth and children. The growth and vibrancy of the Tehran Bahá'í community, however, encouraged many Bahá'ís from the less privileged towns and villages to migrate to Tehran, thus weakening many of these local communities.

Plans were proceeding for the building of a Bahá'í House of Worship in Tehran when there was a sudden outburst of persecution in 1955. Shaykh Muhammad Taqí Falsafí, a clergyman in Tehran, made a number of bitter attack on the Bahá'ís and their beliefs in his mosque. These speeches were repeated every day and broadcast on the radio, inciting the populace to attack the Bahá'ís. On 7 May 1955 the Bahá'í center of Tehran was closed and persecutions of the Bahá'ís erupted in all parts of the country. The dome of the Bahá'í center was destroyed and the military authorities occupied the National Bahá'í Office for use as their own headquarters. Bahá'ís were attacked, young women raped and, and seven Bahá'ís were killed. Bahá'í cemeteries were desecrated and many Bahá'ís lost their jobs. Bahá'í houses, shops, and businesses were looted and razed to the ground. It was the international pressure that eventually caused the persecution to be brought under control by the Pahlavi government.

As result of the international campaign launched in 1955, there was some improvement of conditions for the Bahá'ís during the 1960s and early 1970s. No official recognition was given to the Bahá'ís, but on the other hand they were not harassed by officials either.

This period of relative peace came to an end in 1975 when the shah introduced his single political party, the Rastákhíz Party. When the Bahá'ís, in obedience to their strict rule of not becoming involved in partisan politics, refused to join, they were again subjected to harassment. A short time later in 1979 the Iranian Revolution erupted.

1979 Onwards

In 1979, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran was overthrown in a popular uprising. The Shah was closely linked to the Western world, and many of his subjects had resented the way Western influences had permeated what was an Islamic nation. Opposition to the Shah had grouped itself around a religious leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, later known as Ayatollah Khomeini. Khomeini had been steadfast in his opposition to the Shah and was in exile in the neighboring state of Iraq between 1965 and 1979. He was a shrewd politician and religious leader who, through the network of clergy, maintained a strong influence in Iran. When the Shah fell Khomeini, although already in his late seventies, used his influence and the strong anti-Western feeling of many Iranians to ensure that the new government would be one based on the ideals of the Islamic religion. Khomeini himself emerged in the role of faqih, an expert on Islamic law, who under the new Constitution was given the bulk of power in the state. Khomeini used his position ruthlessly to enforce his own personal dictatorship. At the same time he insisted that the state should be run on purely Islamic principles. For instance, all lawsmust be based on those decreed by Islam. In effect as Islam was enshrined as the state religion, this meant severe curtailment of religious freedom, the return of traditional Islamic punishments life. For the more traditional Muslims the will of God is assumed to overrule the right to individual freedom. As a result, the Bahá'ís of Iran have been subjected to intense persecution. Every attempt has been made to eradicate the community.Members of the Tablíghát-i-Islámi (Hujjatiyyih), an organization that had been set up specifically as an anti-Bahá'í society, achieved important positions in the revolutionary government and were given a free hand against the Bahá'ís.

In the early days of the Revolution, the offices of the National Spiritual Assembly were raided and membership lists and other information removed. Based on this information large numbers of the leading Bahá'ís of Iran were arrested and many of them were executed. All property held by Bahá'í institutions was confiscated. As this included Bahá'í cemeteries, great problems were created for Bahá'ís whose family members died. Bahá'í children and youth were expelled from schools and universities; Bahá'í government employees were dismissed and ordered to pay back salaries that they had received while employed; other employers were also put under pressure to dismiss Bahá'ís and to refuse them pay or pensions; Bahá'í businesses were boycotted; many Bahá'ís had their property looted and suffered beatings and harassment.

The Iranian government claimed that no one was punished on account of religion and that anyone suffering must have committed other offences. Numerous documents exist, however, that demonstrate that these measures were taken solely because the victims were Bahá'ís and frequently the offer was made in writing to reverse such measures if the person would convert to Islam. The Bahá'í institutions were formally declared illegal in August 1983, whereupon they were disbanded and remain so.

An intense effort was made by the other Bahá'í communities of the world to mitigate these persecutions. Representations were made directly to the Iranian government. When these failed, other national governments and international organizations such as the European Community and the United Nations were approached. These efforts culminated in the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1985 of a resolution on human rights in Iran, in which the Bahá'ís were specifically named, and the appointment of a special representative to monitor the situation.

From about 1985 until 1996 the situation of the Bahá'ís in Iran improved to the extent that few executions occurred and most Bahá'í prisoners were released. Some unofficial relaxation of some of the other measures taken against the Bahá'ís also occurred. In recent years, once again there have been a number of new arrests and executions. Under the Islamic government the Bahá'í children and youth are expelled from schools and universities and are denied access to education, as a result the Bahá'í community started an underground university called the Bahá'í Institute of Higher Education, or the Open University. In late 1998 the Iranian government closed this Institution and arrested 32 of the professors. Overall presently the Bahá'ís of Iran remain unable to exercise their full human rights and the Bahá'í administrative institutions remain disbanded.


Documents & Press Coverage

INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ACT OF 1998 -- HON. SHEILA JACKSON-LEE (Extension of Remarks - October 16, 1998)

RECOGNIZING CONTRIBUTORS TO THE PASSAGE OF THE INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ACT -- HON. FRANK R. WOLF (Extension of Remarks - October 16, 1998)

FACT Sheet US Efforts to Promote Human Rights and Democracy

Exacutive Order Implementation of Human Rights Treaties

Presidential Proclamation Human Rights Day, Bill of Rights Day, and Human Rights Week 1998

Congressional Record RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION IN IRAN (Senate - October 16, 1998) , [Page: E2218]...

Congressional Record RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION IN IRAN (Senate - July 30, 1998), [Page: S9484]...

Congressional Committee Told That Persecution of the Bahá'ís in Iran Continues Unabated...

Ending Religious Intolerance Statement to the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities

Freedom From Religious Persecution Act 1997 (Introduced in the US Senate)

Religious Persecution Bills Introduced In Senate, House

Persecution Bill; Uncertainty Exists in Full Committee


Page Last revised 053099