Economic, educational, and cultural discrimination
A new report by the Special Rapporteur to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly describes a systematic campaign against members of the Baha’i faith in Iran. The report cites accounts of “arbitrary arrests, detentions and prosecutions,” as well as restrictions on economic activities and education.
According to the investigation, at least 72 Baha’i are in jail, for “peaceful exercise of their faith,” a charge the government of Iran denies. In addition, many Baha’i students are prevented from completing their exams, and businesses who hire Baha’i workers are often targeted by the government.
“The situation for Baha’i is quite dire because they face discrimination in both law and practice in a variety of forms,” Nassim Papayianni, an expert on Iran at Amnesty International, told The Media Line. “They are denied access to higher education, and even if they enroll and finish a semester or a year, they won’t be allowed to finish their degree.”
The Baha’i International Community says that many students do not even take the entrance exams for university because they do not believe they will be accepted or allowed to finish their education. Others are forced to deny their religious affiliation to even be considered for admittance.
“Since 1979, the government of Iran has made it official policy to discriminate against and persecute its Baha’i citizens – an oppression that has evoked condemnation from the international community, activists, and, increasingly, ordinary citizens inside Iran,” the World News Service wrote. “In response, the government has shifted its tactics from outright arrests and imprisonments to less blatant forms of persecution, such as economic, educational, and cultural discrimination, in an attempt to conceal its ongoing efforts to destroy the Baha’i community as a whole.”
The group cites at least 20,000 times of anti-Baha’i propaganda that have been disseminated in the government-controlled media in Iran. In addition, they say, there have been at least 950 incidents of economic suppression aimed at the Baha’i in including shop closings, dismissals, the actual or threatened revocation of business licenses, and the demolition of businesses.
Out of the 79 million Iranian citizens, an estimated 300,000 are Baha’i, which is the largest non-Muslim minority in the country. Founded in 19th century Persia, the Baha’i faith is a monotheistic religion that emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind. Today, its adherents number approximately five million and its international headquarters is in Haifa, Israel.
Baha’i activists say the Iranian government is doing everything possible to make it impossible for Baha’i to make a living by not allowing them to work in the public sector and pressuring those in the private sector not to hire Baha’i.
“The most recent step is to start sealing Baha’i shops because they are closed on Baha’i holy days,” Diane Ala’i, the representative to the United Nations for the Baha’i International Community, told The Media Line. “The Baha’i want to stay in Iran. The love their country, and they want to make it a better place to live, but some are leaving.”
The clerics who rule Iran see the Baha’i as a political group, rather than a religious group, says Sanam Vikil, associate fellow at Chatham House.
“The political system in Iran is based on an interpretation of Shi’ite Islam, which is the ideology as well as the dominant religious tradition,” Vikil told The Media Line.
Activists say the Iranian government is sensitive to international pressure, especially as the country seeks Western investment after the signing of the Iranian nuclear deal to limit its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. They say that now is the time for the West to step up pressure to end decades of discrimination against the Baha’i minority.