Persecution said to grow harsher for Iranian Bahai's
Knight Ridder Newspapers
Thursday, November 5, 1998
There is no question now that the Baha'is who live in Iran are in for severe persecution by their government.
Between Sept. 29 and Oct. 3, 36 members of the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education were arrested without cause. All but seven have been released.
Officers of the government's intelligence agency, the Ministry of Information, carried out the arrests. The government officials seized 70 computers, textbooks, scientific papers, and records and school furniture.
All those arrested were asked to sign a document declaring the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education no longer existed as of Sept. 29. All 36 detainees refused to sign the declaration.
Intelligence officers then raided 500 homes of Baha'is throughout Iran and confiscated household effects such as television sets and furniture. The officers said they had permission to carry out the raids from the attorney general.
Baha'i officials say these arrests and raids are proof of a "centrally orchestrated campaign" to nullify the Baha'i community and force its members to convert to Islam. This campaign became widely known in 1993 when a secret document was released from the Iranian Supreme Revolutionary Council, which earlier had adopted a policy on "The Baha'i Question." The document contained the following instructions:
The government must deal with them (Baha'is) in such a way that their progress and development are blocked.
They must be expelled from universities, either in the admission process or during the course of their studies, once it becomes known that they are Bahai's.
A plan must be devised to confront and destroy their cultural roots outside of the country.
Deny them employment if they identify themselves as Baha'is.
Deny them any position of influence, such as in the educational sector.
The government has carried out most of those declarations. Officials have ordered businesses and government offices to fire Baha'i employees. They have interrupted the moral education of Baha'i children. They have confiscated property, denied pensions, and kept youth from entering institutions of higher learning.
But the Baha'i Spiritual Assembly believes the situation in Iran will escalate rapidly and will become even worse for the faithful living there.
The irony of this situation is that the Baha'i religion is one of the gentlest on the Earth. The faith was founded in Persia, now Iran, during the mid-19th century by a young merchant who called himself the Bab, which means "gate" in Arabic. The Bab called together people to prepare for the arrival of a new messenger from God; he was executed by Iran's Muslim-controlled government in 1850. Among the Bab's followers was a nobleman's son who is known today as Bahaullah, or The Glory of God. The latter part of Bahaullah's life was spent in prison, where he wrote many of the sacred scriptures of the religion.
The Bahai faith stresses the unity of all religions and humankind. They are opposed to any kind of prejudice, and they are pacifists who believe that someday world peace will be achieved. They insist on equality of the sexes and sharing material goods with the poor.
Obviously, this is not a religion that invites hatred.
Yet for the century and a half the religion has existed, the Muslim community in Iran has viciously persecuted Baha'is, restricting the practice of the faith and subjecting followers to torture and execution by firing squad. Various legislative bodies around the globe have condemned the Islamic vendetta against Baha'is and as a result the persecution was reduced for a time.
But now Baha'is fear they will be subjected to a far worse round of torture and persecution than ever. And the only defense is prayer. So all over the world, Baha'is are praying for their brothers and sisters in Iran. Many younger people have escaped from Iran secretly but the process is arduous and expensive.
Therefore, if you are a praying person, I beg you to ask the Almighty to intervene in Iran. The Baha'is believe that God will come to their aid in Iran, that freedom to worship will someday be theirs, and that all humankind will live together in harmony.
Clark Morphew is an ordained clergyman and is religion writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Write to him at the Saint Paul Pioneer Press, 345 Cedar St., St. Paul MN 55101.
©Copyright 1998, Bergen Record Corp.