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IRAN: New series of attacks on members of the Bahai faith

July 25, 2010 |  9:55 am


Iran's Islamic authorities appear to be stepping up repression of a small, long-maligned religious minority, advocates for the group say. 

Members of the Bahai faith in Iran reportedly have been subject to a recent series of attacks on their homes and cemeteries and investigations into their bank accounts. (A Bahai temple in the U.S. is pictured above.)

On July 18, the opposition Iranian news website Rahana reported that two Bahai cemeteries were desecrated in the Iranian cities of Isfahan and Borujerd. In June, the entrance to the cemetery in Isfahan was blocked. The Bahais reported this to the authorities but said officials did not follow up the case. 

The Rahana reporter said this was part of a systematic plan on behalf of the government to desecrate Bahai cemeteries.

It also was reported on July 18 by the pro-opposition Hrana news that banks in Birjand, Iran, were ordered to conduct audits and investigations on all accounts held by Bahais. This investigation reportedly was ordered by Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and allegedly included investigatory visits to Bahai business owners and their Muslim neighbors. It is unknown at this point what the authorities are looking to do with the information they glean from these investigations. 

On June 28, 50 homes belonging to Bahai adherents in Ivel, Iran, were set on fire, then leveled with trucks. The Bahais believe, according to the Baha’i World News Service, that these are just the latest developments in an officially sanctioned program of persecution, targeting all activities of the Bahai.

"Bahais have lived in this area for more than 100 years and it once had a large community," said Diane Alai, representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.

"But in 1983, a few years after the Iranian revolution, at least 30 families from this and neighboring villages were put on buses and expelled. Since then, they have tried to seek legal redress to no avail, while returning in the summer to harvest their crops," she said. 

Originally an offshoot of Shiite Islam, the Bahai faith eventually became its own religion. Shiite clerics have long denounced it as heretical, though some Iranian reformist clergy have begun to make peace with the religion in recent years and even voiced regret for past repression of Bahais.

Bahais also have run afoul of Sunni extremists in other Middle East countries, including Egypt.

-- Los Angeles Times

Photo: The nine-sided building in Wilmette, Ill., is one of seven Bahai temples in the world. Credit: Religion News Service