01:13 pm on Sep 26th 2012
The Baha’i International Community voiced concern due to mounting evidence of an orchestrated effort by the Iranian government to escalate persecution of Baha’is in Semnan and other cities.
The campaign against this religious minority group has included an effort to rouse Iranians against Baha’is wherever they live, through incendiary sermons from the local pulpits and vicious propaganda in the state-controlled mass media.
In Semnan in north-central Iran, Baha’is have been repeatedly summoned for interrogations and arrested. The city of 125,000 people has hundreds of Baha’is who face ongoing harassment, marked by the close and constant surveillance of state security agencies, hate speech from clerics, abuse directed against Baha’i children, and vandalism of the Baha’i cemetery. Baha’is have been forced to stop holding community gatherings and discouraged from interacting with Muslim friends, colleagues and neighbors.
Harassment in the form of graffiti can be seen on a Semnan home in the picture below, which reads: “Down with the pagan Baha’i. Down with America and Britain.”
Even family members of imprisoned Baha’is are continually harassed. In June 2012, seven Baha’i women whose husbands are imprisoned were interrogated at the office of the Ministry of Intelligence and forced to write down their Baha’i activities. Afterward, the women were free to leave, but a few days later they were summoned and questioned yet again.
Officials, semi-official groups and plainclothes agents have carried out dozens of attacks since 2009 against many of Semnan’s Baha’is. At least 30 Baha’is have been arrested, with several serving long prison sentences; homes and shops have been targeted by arsonists; and numerous Baha’i-owned businesses have been shut down by authorities. Others were closed because they employed Baha’is. In May 2012, Intelligence Ministry agents raided and closed two factories with full or partial Baha’i ownership.
The picture below shows a Baha’i-owned business in Semnan posted with a notice indicating it has been sealed by the local authorities.
In Semnan, various government offices and departments, the police, the courts, local officials and the clergy appear to be coordinating their effort in the oppression of Baha’is.
“This coordinated approach is at once distinctive and alarming,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations. “Their aim in all of this is to enforce ever more strongly the government’s long-established policy of seeing that the progress and development of Baha’is are blocked.”
For Baha’is in Iran, oppression has been a feature of life ever since the Faith’s founding in the mid-19th century. But since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Baha’is have faced a government-sponsored strategy of persecution, suffering countless raids, arrests and imprisonments in a systematic campaign which intensified in 2005 and further escalated in 2008-2009.
The disproportionate number of attacks against Semnan’s Baha’is flared up after a series of widely publicized anti-Baha’i seminars and rallies was organized in the city in late 2008 and 2009. The homes of some 20 Baha’is were then raided by authorities who confiscated Baha’i materials, computers and cell phones. Nine Baha’is whose homes were raided were arrested, all on false charges related to their religion.
Since 2009, some 22 Baha’is from Semnan have been sentenced to a total of more than 70 years in prison. Eight are in prison having recently received sentences ranging from six months to six years. Another four released on bail are awaiting trial. Several more have been interrogated.
The photograph at left shows the inside of a mortuary building used to prepare bodies in the Semnan Baha’i cemetery after arsonists set it on fire in February 2009.
Bani Dugal noted however that, despite the hateful anti-Baha’i propaganda disseminated in the city, the majority of Semnan’s citizens reportedly harbor no ill will towards Baha’is, and many seek association with them. “Indeed, many Baha’is have Muslims as relatives and close friends,” she said.
“The situation should be carefully examined by all those who seek to restore the due process of law and respect for human rights in Iran,” Dugal said. “These attacks carried out by semi-official elements or agents in plainclothes reflect yet another insidious attempt by the Iranian government to flout international standards of justice without overtly calling attention to itself.”