From the early 1980s, Baha'is in Iran have suffered under a wave of state-sponsored persecution. Hundreds of Baha'i leaders and notable figures have been killed and imprisoned by the Iranian authorities. (Image source: iStock)
On June 15, 2022, Samin Ehsani, a follower of the Baha'i faith and an activist for children's rights in Iran was arrested and transferred to the infamous Evin Prison in Tehran. Earlier, on July 2, 2011, Ehsani had also been sentenced by Branch 28 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran to five years in prison on charges of "propaganda against the regime, acting against national security, and being a member of the heretical Baha'i faith."
After a month of detention in 2011 she was temporarily released from prison on bail for 185 million tomans (toman is a super unit of the official currency of Iranian rial -- one toman is equivalent to ten Iranian rials), or approximately $4,500. After her arrest, Iranian security forces searched her home and confiscated all her valuables including her passport, computer, and religious items related to her faith. Ehsani went to the Evin court on August 17 to resolve her passport issue -- and was arrested again. The sentence she was handed by the Islamic Revolutionary Court has been confirmed by the Tehran Court of Appeals. Finally, she was arrested again on 15 June, and transferred to Evin Prison to serve her sentence.
Ehsani had been running educational courses for Afghan children living in Iran, but who did not have access to education in the country. During the trial, her activities were presented as an example of the charges against her.
Samin Ehsani is not a special case. The Islamic Revolutionary Court in Shiraz issued a verdict on May 29, 2022, sentencing 26 Baha'is, including 14 women, to 85 years in prison, exile and deportation. They were charged with gathering in slums on the outskirts of Shiraz under the pretext of examining the water crisis and social harms. The Baha'i faith is not recognized in Iran's constitution and its followers are considered to be "unprotected infidels." They cannot legally establish places of worship, schools or any independent religious associations.
These events are part of Iran's long-running persecution of the Baha'i. In Iran, an estimated 300,000 followers of the Baha'i faith are being denied many fundamental rights such as access to education, employment, political office, and practice of their religious rituals. Iran's clerical regime evidently considers the Baha'is to be heretics and as having no religion.
Iran, the sacred land for the Baha'i faith, has gradually become, especially since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the most dangerous place in the world for the Baha'i community to live in. Their faith -- which advocates for gender equality, universal education, and harmony of science and religion -- has never been tolerated by the rulers of Iran. The founder of Pahlavi dynasty, Reza Shah, protected the Baha'is. During the reign of Shah, religion was not an important issue regarding individual freedom, access to healthcare, education and work. Under Reza Shah's reign, for instance, Amir Abbas Hoveyda, born a Baha'i, served as the prime minister of Iran. There were also other Baha'is who served as high officials. After the revolution, however, Hoveyda was hanged by the Revolutionary Court. Many observers concluded that the verdict had already been decided by Iran's Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini before the trial even commenced.
Prior to Hoveyda, the Revolutionary Court led by Ayatollah Khalkhali, known as the "hanging judge," ordered the execution of hundreds of prisoners, many of whom were Baha'is.
In this fashion, from the early 1980s, Baha'is have suffered under a wave of state-sponsored persecution. Hundreds of Baha'i leaders and notable figures have been killed and imprisoned by the Iranian authorities. Iranian universities refuse to admit Baha'i students, and many of the Baha'i cemeteries have been destroyed.
Since Khomeini came to power in 1979, the regime of the mullahs has resorted to systematic oppression and violent intimidation against the Baha'is, presumably in the hope of forcing them to flee the country. Although the Baha'is agree that Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, was a messenger of Allah, Khomeini decreed Baha'is to be apostates. In 1982, Khomeini accused them of not being a religious group and that "they are a party which was previously supported by the British and now is being supported by USA." He criticized President Ronald Reagan by saying, "How come, you support a bunch of people who do not even belong to any religion and are only here at the order of their masters to work for them?" Khomeini released a fatwa that called on Iranians to avoid dealing with the "deviant and misleading sect. Consequently, the drafters of Iran's constitution after the revolution omitted the Baha'is from its list of recognized religious minorities.
But who are the Baha'is? The faith is known after the name of Baha'ullah, who was born in 1817 in Tehran. His father was a minister in the then Iranian government who supported Shia Islam as the state religion. Baha'ullah, however, did not follow his father's path. Instead, he joined a new religious movement started by a young charismatic man known as the Bab. The movement was also known as Babi movement. The movement called for peace, harmony among the races, social changes and women's rights. In 1850, Bab was charged by Shia religious officials with heresy and was executed by firing squad due to his claim that his teachings were a revelation from God and predicted that a new prophetic figure would soon appear.
Subsequent public protests and mob violence claimed the lives of thousands of the Bab's followers. As part of its crackdown, the Iranian government incarcerated Baha'ullah. In 1853, he was released from the prison and was exiled to Baghdad, then part of the Ottoman Empire. During that period, he publicly announced the Baha'i faith. Ottomans sent him to the city of Acre (now part of Israel) for his different opinions. He remained there until his death in 1892.
Baha'is now reside in 236 countries and territories, number around eight million, and represent as independent religion to emerge in the modern age. Baha'is consider Baha'ullah as a messenger in succession to Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed. For that, no other religion or state suppresses them except Iran.
Mohshin Habib, a Bangladeshi author, columnist and journalist, is Executive Editor of The Daily Asian Age.