The Baha’i International Community (BIC) is appalled by the contents of an official Iranian directive which instructs local authorities in the city of Sari, in the northern province of Mazandaran, to “conduct strict controls” on the Baha’is in the city by “monitoring their operations”, and introduce measures to “identify Baha’i students” in order to “bring them into Islam”. The letter has just been revealed by the League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).
“These measures reflect the Iranian government’s intensifying persecution against followers of the Baha’i faith”, says LDDHI president and FIDH Honorary President Karim Lahidji. “In contravention of Iran’s international legal obligations, the authorities consider them heretics, ban their religion, and view the practice of the Baha’i faith as a subversive act.”
The directive, dated 21 September 2020, adopted a “detailed plan” to ensure that the Baha’i community is “rigorously controlled”, including their “public and private meetings” as well as “their other activities”. The document was issued by the Commission on Ethnicities, Sects and Religions in Sari, which operates under the aegis of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, a body chaired by Iran’s president and responsible for security matters.
A previous document issued in 2016 by a similar commission at the Mazandaran provincial level ordered a targeted economic attack on the Baha’is, resulting in mass Baha’i shop closures across the province. The order was approved by Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati as chair of the Guardian Council—Iran’s top constitutional body.
Diane Ala’i, the Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva, states “We can say with a high degree of certainty that, while the latest document is linked to a local body, it stems from national government entities at the highest levels and suggests that similar meetings and directives about the Baha’is may be occurring across Iran.”
Wolfgang Kaleck, the General Secretary of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, also expressed concern about the document: “This new document appears to show that at the provincial level, at least, far-reaching instructions have been issued on how to enforce the exclusion of Baha’is from public life.”
Ala’i added that: “This revelation is strikingly reminiscent of examples in history when governments have monitored minorities with draconian measures ahead of even more sinister actions. It is consistent with decades of laws and policies that have excluded Baha’is from every aspect of public life. With this document it is clear that the government is now implementing measures that threaten the fundamental right of Baha’is to believe.”
The Department of Education was ordered to “increase the level of alertness and awareness” among school teachers and principals regarding “their handling of Baha’i students in order to bring them to Islam.”
“The measures with regards to children are particularly shocking,” says Ala’i. “To detail, in an official document, clear plans to change children’s beliefs is a galling violation of human rights. It targets not only the practice of one’s faith but interferes with the internal realm and is tantamount to religious coercion.”
Local and provincial police, the head of Sari’s Intelligence Department, the commander of the local Basij paramilitary force, the head of Education, the Industry, Mining and Trade and the Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism departments, and school and university officials, were all issued with the directive.
“Despite constant claims from the government that Baha’is are not persecuted for their beliefs, the Iranian authorities have once again exposed their true intentions in this document,” says Ala’i. “The Iranian government must immediately rescind this new directive.
“After four unsuccessful decades of laws and policies aimed at forcing Baha’is to recant their faith, it is now time for Iran to live up to its international commitments and allow the Baha’is their request: to live freely in Iran without having to deny their beliefs.”
Baha’is are Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority and have been systematically persecuted for 42 years, extensively reported by the United Nations. More than 200 Baha’is were executed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and since the 1980s they have been denied higher education and livelihoods, vilified in the media, and even their cemeteries have been desecrated.
The persecution of the Baha’is in Iran is extensively documented in the website Archives of Persecution of the Baha’is in Iran.
In the recent directive, university administrators were also told to “uphold” the ban on Baha’is entering universities. This refers to a 1991 memorandum, signed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which calls for the “progress and development” of the Baha’is to be “blocked,” and outlines measures to carry out this plan, including those related to schoolchildren, denying Baha’is entrance to universities and public service jobs. The directive also instructs taking “controls” over Baha’i business activities in the local bazaar.