Contact: Kit Cosby (202) 833-8990

June 16, 1998


Washington, D.C., June 16 The Bahá'ís in Iran continue to be subjected to arbitrary arrests and detentions, confiscation of properties, denial of access to higher education and other forms of pressure to recant their faith, a spokesman for the U.S. Bahá'í community said today at a congressional hearing on religious persecution abroad.

Testifying before the House International Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights, Dr. Firuz Kazemzadeh said that there has been no sign of change toward the Bahá'ís and that in some ways the pressure against the Bahá'í community has intensified this year.

"To a Western mind it is difficult to understand why a regime which is gradually permitting a degree of pluralism in political and social life should be bent on suppressing an apolitical minority which poses no threat," Dr. Kazemzadeh said.

"The explanation lies in the sinister interaction of political opportunism and unexamined religious prejudice determining all aspects of the matter. Whenever political leaders have felt a need to divert public attention from some economic, social, or political issue, they have found the Bahá'í community an easy target because of the senseless hostility and prejudice inculcated in the public by generations of ecclesiastical propaganda," he said.

Dr. Kazemzadeh cited the case of a Bahá'í children's class that was held at the home of a Bahá'í family in Mashhad. On May 1, 1998 armed guards surrounded the house and took the teacher, the owner of the house, and twelve students aged 15 and 16 into custody. The Bahá'ís were not allowed to contact a lawyer and no official charges were filed, but after a hasty trial the two adults were sentenced to three years imprisonment. The youth were given a suspended sentence of five years imprisonment to be activated if they were ever caught attending a Bahá'í class again.

Since 1979 more than 200 Bahá'ís have been killed and fifteen Bahá'í leaders have disappeared and are presumed dead. As of June 1998 sixteen Bahá'ís are in prison because of their religious beliefs. Four of the prisoners are on death row, two of them on charges of apostasy.

America's 130,000 Bahá'ís reside in more than 7,000 cities and towns across the United States and represent all races, cultures and ethnic origins. Some 10,000 Iranian Bahá'ís have taken refuge in the U.S. since 1979.