Published - Sunday, April 25, 1999
Bahai's persecuted in their homeland
Last year , I wrote that the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education in Iran had been closed down by the Islamic Revolutionary authorities, and its teachers were taken into custody. We are now informed that all have been released except four and that those four have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to 10 years.
The Islamic Revolutionary Court in Isfahan cited the Baha'is' involvement in a program of Baha'i studies as evidence of crimes against national security.
In March, Dr. Sina Hakiman was sentenced to 10 years in prison, Messrs. Farzad Khajeh Sharifabadi and Habibullah Ferdosian Najafabadi to seven years, and Ziaullah Mirzapanah to three years.
They had been arrested in September and October as part of the Iranian government's crackdown on the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education. Last fall, Iranian government officials raided more than 530 Baha'i homes, confiscated computers and classroom equipment and arrested at least 36 teachers of the institute.
The four Baha'is were convicted for teaching religious classes to other Baha'is in another organization called the Institute for Higher Baha'i Studies. The court cited Chapter One, Article 498 of the Islamic Penal Code which provides for prison terms for anyone organizing an association or group with the aim of disturbing the internal or external security of the country. However, the law makes no mention of religious instruction within one's own religious community as an illegal activity.
"This is a clear attempt on the part of the authorities to use the penal code to punish the Baha'is for studying their own religion," said Director Kit Cosby of the U.S. Baha'i Office of External Affairs. "The charge of disturbing the security of the country is false...."
The Baha'is had established the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education in 1987 to provide university level instruction to Baha'i youth barred from universities by the government because of their religious beliefs. Late last year, the institute resumed its activities, although its functioning is still hampered by the loss of equipment, especially computers, which it suffered during the raids.
Since the Islamic regime took power, more than 200 Baha'is have been executed on account of their religion. With 300,000 adherents, Baha'is are Iran's largest religious minority. The Baha'i faith is not recognized as a legitimate religion in Iran and they have no rights.
Here in Edmond we are privileged to have a number of Iranian citizens who have been able to escape the religious persecution of their homeland. Hopefully, they will find Edmond and the United States in general a desirable place to live.
Recent events in the Denver area jar us to the realization that prejudices are still alive and well in this glorious country of ours.
©Copyright 1999, Edmond Sun