Current situation

Situation of Iranian Bahá’ís

Situation of Baha’is in Iran

Current situation

Summary of the current situation of Baha’is in Iran

Last updated: 19 September 2017

This report is provided as a service to the news media. All details have been verified by the Baha'i International Community. Statistics are current as of the above date.

Special Note: Updated information about the international response to the persecution of Baha'is and other related news can be found on our "Situation of the Baha'is in Iran" Facebook page, which can be found here. Please see also our booklet, "The Baha'i Question Revisited: Persecution and Resilience in Iran," which can be downloaded here.

Summary

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, Baha'is have been systematically persecuted as a matter of government policy. During the first decade of this persecution, more than 200 Baha'is were killed or executed, hundreds more were tortured or imprisoned, and tens of thousands lost jobs, access to education, and other rights – all solely because of their religious belief.

Government-led attacks on the country’s largest non-Muslim religious minority have re-intensified over the last 12 years. Since 2005, more than 1006 Baha'is have been arrested, and the number of Baha'is in prison has risen from fewer than five to more than 100 at one point. It is currently 97. The list of prisoners includes six members of a former leadership group serving the Baha'i community of Iran. The seventh, Mahvash Sabet, was released after completing her 10-year sentence on 18 September 2017. In 2010, the seven were wrongly sentenced to 20 years in prison, the longest term then facing any prisoner of conscience in Iran. In late 2015, reports indicated that their sentences have been belatedly reduced from 20 years to 10 years, in line with changes to the Iranian Penal Code introduced in May 2013. 

The constant threat of raids, arrests, and detention or imprisonment is among the main features of Iran’s persecution of Baha’is today. In all, at least 84 Baha'is have been arrested so far in 2017, up from a total of 81 in 2016 and 56 in 2015, evidence that the persecution is not subsiding.

Other types of persecution include economic and educational discrimination, strict limits on the right to assemble and worship, and the dissemination of anti-Baha’i propaganda in the government-led news media. Attacks on Baha'is or Baha'i-owned properties go unprosecuted and unpunished, creating a sense of impunity for attackers. Since 2005, for example, there have been at least 52 incidents of arson against Baha’i properties, crimes for which no one has been arrested. During the same period, at least 60 incidents of vandalism or desecration at Baha’i cemeteries have been recorded. As noted by a top UN human rights official, the government-led persecution spans “all areas of state activity, from family law provisions to schooling, education, and security."

The situation facing Baha’is has not changed since the coming to power of President Hassan Rouhani in August 2013, despite his promises to end religious discrimination. Since his inauguration, at least 283 Baha’is have been arrested, thousands have been blocked from access to higher education, and there have been at least 645 incidents of economic oppression, ranging from intimidation and threats against Baha’i-owned businesses to their closure by authorities. More than 26,000 pieces of anti-Baha’i propaganda have been disseminated in the Iranian media during President Rouhani's administration. 

Imprisonments

There are currently 97 Baha'is in prison, all on false charges related solely to their religious belief. The list includes six of the seven national-level Baha’i leaders, who currently remain in prison for allegedly “disturbing national security,” “spreading propaganda against the regime,” and “engaging in espionage.” As noted, one among them, Mahvash Sabet, who was the first to be arrested, was released on 18 September 2017 after completing her sentence.

Their arrests in 2008 and sentencing in 2010 provoked an international outcry. In December 2013, the seven wrote to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to express their views on his proposed "Iranian Charter of Citizen's Rights." 

Recent Attacks

On 25 September 2016, Mr. Farhang Amiri was murdered outside of his home in Yazd, Iran, by two young men who later confessed they attacked him because he was a Baha'i. Mr. Amiri was stabbed in the chest and died soon after he arrived at the hospital.

Economic Pressure

Economic pressure on Iran’s Baha’i community is acute, with both jobs and business licenses being denied to Baha’is. Government jobs, including not only in the civil service but also in such fields as education and law, have been denied to Baha’is since the years immediately following the Revolution and Muslims often are pressured to fire Baha’is in their employment in the private sector. A recent letter from the Baha'i International Community to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani calls the policy nothing less than "economic apartheid."

Since 2005, there have been more than 1,170 incidents of economic persecution against Iranian Baha’is. These include shop closings, dismissals, the revocation of business licenses and other efforts to block Baha’is from earning a livelihood. Recent examples include the sealing of 16 Baha'i-owned businesses in July 2017 in Khouzestan Province after shop-owners closed to observe a Baha'i holy day and the sealing of at least 124 Baha'i-owned shops and businesses in the provinces of Mazandaran, Alborz, Hormozgan, and Kerman in November 2016 after the owners closed their businesses to observe a pair of important Baha'i holy days.

In October 2015, The Baha’i International Community issued a major report on the economic oppression of Baha’is. Titled “Their Progress and Development Are Blocked: The economic oppression of Iran’s Baha’is,” the report can be read here.

Attacks and assaults

Since 2005, there have been at least 68 documented instances of physical violence against Baha'is, ranging from simple assault to murder, all of which have gone unprosecuted. These include:

  • The killing of Mr. Farhang Amiri on 25 September 2016, as noted above. In July 2017, his confessed killers were released on bail, an indication of the government's unwillingness to punish those who attack Baha'is.
     
  • The assasination-style murder in August 2013 of Ataollah Rezvani in the city of Bandar Abbas. Mr. Rezvani was wellknown as a Bahá’í in the city and much respected for his honesty and helpfulness. Ministry of Intelligence agents, however, managed to get him dismissed from his work and they pressured him to leave the city. Shortly before his death, he had begun receiving menacing telephone calls from unknown persons. His killing also came after senior local clerics in the city attempted to incite the population against Bahá’ís. The Baha'i International Community has said the murder should be treated as a hate crime, and it has called for an investigation. Since 2005 in Iran, at least nine Baha’is have been murdered or died under suspicious circumstances.
  • The stabbing of three Baha'is in Birjand on 3 February 2014 in their home in the city of Birjand by an unidentified intruder. The attacker, who was wearing a mask, entered the home of Ghodratollah Moodi and his wife, Touba Sabzehjou, at about 8 pm, attacking them with a knife or sharp instrument. He also assaulted their daughter, Azam Moodi, before fleeing. All three were seriously injured; Ms. Moodi managed to summon help and all three were taken to a local hospital in serious condition.
     
  • An arson attack on a Baha'i home on 7 November 2014 in the village of Amzajerd in the province of Hamadan and set a fire. Unidentified individuals broke into the home and started a fire. Furniture, papers and some money were destroyed in the blaze, which was labeled arson by the fire department.
     
  • A episode of vandalism on 3 November 2014 when unidentified individuals broke into a Baha'i home in a village of Owj Pelleh in the province of Hamadan. They broke windows, wrote graffiti, and attempted to set fire to the house, which was unoccupied at the time.
     

Raids and arrests

Since 2005, more than 1007 Iranian Baha’is have been arrested. Most of the arrests and detentions follow a similar pattern: Agents of the Ministry of Intelligence arrive at the homes of Baha’is, search the premises, confiscate items such as computers and books, and then make arrests.

Often Baha'is are arrested individually, or in twos and threes, after authorities raid a Baha'i home. Large groups of Baha'is are also often arrested. In January 2017, seven Baha'is were arrested in Yazd, for example, and on 28 September 2016, 14 Baha'is were arrested in Shiraz and Karaj.

Other incidents of relatively large-scale arrests include:

  • In mid-June 2017, 13 Baha'is in Gorgan and Gonbad, who had been free on bail following sentencing for alleged but wrongfully charged crimes, were summoned or arrested at their homes and taken to prison.
     
  • In March 2017, 5 Baha'is in Isfahan were arrested simultaneously, after their homes were searched.
  • In late August 2016, 18 Baha'is were arrested in Yazd after government agents raided a home where a class for youth was being held. 
     
  • In November 2015, 15 Baha’is were arrested in three cities – Tehran, Isfahan, and Mashhad – after their homes were raided and searched. Read more...
     
  • In April 2015 13 Baha'is were arrested in Hamadan. The arrests came over a period of two weeks, as intelligence agents raided and searched a number of Baha'i homes there. Owners/occupants were arrested on charges such as "engaging in propaganda against the regime." Most were released within a day or so after posting large sums for bail, ranging from US$8,000 to US$20,000. One woman, however, was detained for nine days in solitary confinement.

Destruction of historic Baha'i cemetery in Shiraz

In April 2014, it was learned that elements of Iran's Revolutionary Guards had begun destruction of a historic Baha'i cemetery in Shiraz, apparently to make way for a new sports and cultural center. After the excavation of a large but shallow hole, demolition was halted for several months in the face of international pressure and the expression of outrage on the part of Iranians from all walks of life.

But in August 2014, reports emerged from Iran saying that the Revolutionary Guards had resumed construction on the site, removing human remains from some 30 to 50 graves and pouring a concrete foundation for the complex, which will reportedly include a library, mosque, restaurant, theatre, child care facility, and sports hall. The cemetery is the resting place of some 950 Baha’is, many of whom were historic or prominent figures in the Baha’i community of Iran. Interred at the site, for example, are ten Baha'i women whose cruel hanging in 1983 came to symbolize the government's deadly persecution of Baha'is.

In September 2014, three high level UN human rights experts called for a halt to the cemetery's destruction, a plea that has so far gone unheeded. As of September 2016, photographs from Iran showed the building as nearly complete.

In addition to the demolition of the Baha'i cemetery in Shiraz, there have been in recent months other attacks. On 12 December 2013, the Baha'i cemetery in Sanandaj was partly destroyed. Reports from Iran say the morgue, where bodies are washed, along with the prayer room, a water tank, and the walls of the cemetery were destroyed, apparently as the result of a long-running government effort to confiscate the cemetery land and razed it's buildings. In Semnan recently, attackers destroyed the Baha'i cemetery there in two stages. In October/November 2012, intruders demolished the morgue and in December 2012/January 2013, they covered all the graves 40 centimeters deep in dirt using bulldozers. The municipality whose bulldozers were used for this purpose denied knowledge of the incident and promised to repair the damage. In December 2012, the Baha’i cemetery in Yazd was vandalized.  

Persecution in education

Baha’i school children at all levels continue to be monitored and slandered by administrators and teachers in schools. Secondary school students often face pressure and harassment, and some have been threatened with expulsion. Religious studies teachers are known to insult and ridicule Baha'i beliefs. In a few reported cases, when Baha'i students attempt to clarify matters at the request of their peers, they are summoned to the school authorities and threatened with expulsion if they continue to "teach" their Faith. Young Baha’is continue to be denied access to public and private colleges and universities in Iran as a matter of official policy, which requires that they be expelled if they manage to enroll and school authorities learn that they are Baha’is. Those working in support of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), an ad hoc, volunteer effort of the Iranian Baha’i community to provide education for its young people, have been at various times arrested, harassed and imprisoned.

Since President Rouhani came to power in August 2013, for example, at least 54 Baha'is have been expelled from university. Recent incidents include:

  • The expulsions on 29 May 2017 of Mr. Riaz Safajou and Mr. Misagh Safajou from Tehran Open University, after studying Biomedical Engineering for 6 terms. This despite the support from numerous professors and fellow students who objected to their dismissal.

  • The explusions of Ms. Maedeh Hoseini Rad and Ms. Dorna Esmaili.  Ms. Hoseini had been studying statistics at the Polytechnic University of Isfahan. However, after one term, she was barred from the university website and as she followed-up, local officials explained that she was denied education per an order from Intelligence Office and the Science and Technology Organization. Ms. Esmaili was expelled after going to a university for seven semesters studying graphic design. She was also expelled as a result of orders from the Ministry of Intelligence.

  • In December 2016, at least 12 Baha'is were expelled from university in Iran simply becuase of their religious beliefs, even though they had made many appeals to the National Education Measurement and Evaluation Organization.

Many Baha'is have excelled academically, and still faced explusion. In September 2014, for example, Ms. Shadan Shirazi was blocked from entering university despite the fact that she placed 113th on national college entrance examinations. The story was widely reported and reveals a new tactic undertaken by the government, which is to deprive Baha'is of any document or paper that they can use to prove they were discriminated against because of their religion.

Incitement to hatred

Over the years, thousands of pieces of anti-Baha'i propaganda have been disseminated in official or semi-official Iranian media. These include anti-Baha'i articles, videos, and webpages. A report, Inciting Hatred, covering a period from December 2009 through May 2011, documents the nature of these attacks. These attacks have not slowed or abated. From January 2014 through August 2017, the BIC documented more than 26,000 items of anti-Baha'i propaganda in Iran's official or semi-official media.

Other forms of Persecution

Other forms of persecution faced by Iranian Baha’is include the monitoring of their bank accounts, movements, and activities; the denial of pensions or rightful inheritances; the intimidation of Muslims who associate with Baha’is; the denial of access to publishing or copying facilities for Baha’i literature; and the unlawful confiscation or destruction of Baha’i properties, including Baha’i holy places.

International reaction

Governments, organizations and individual supporters around the world are calling for the release of jailed Baha'i leaders and Baha’i educators, and an end to the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran.

In March 2017, Asma Jahangir, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, issued a report to the Human Rights Council. In it, she said she was "particularly concerned at the continuing systematic discrimination, harassment and targeting of adherents" of the Baha'i Faith." Read the full report... 

In December 2016, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution expressing serious concerns about ongoing human rights violations in Iran, including the oppression of Iranian Baha'is. Read more...

That resolution followed a report, issued in October 2016, by Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, who said Baha'is, among other religious minorities in Iran, are persecuted for "peacefully manifesting their religious beliefs." Read more...

In September 2016, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon referred to Baha'is as the "most severely persecuted religious minority" in Iran in his annual report on human rights in Iran to the UN General Assembly. Read more...

In March 2016, Secretary General Ban and the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, released strongly worded report expressing concern over continuing violations in Iran, including persecution of Baha'is. Read more...

In December 2015, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn Iran for its continuing violations of human rights.  Like previous annual resolutions, it expressed "deep concern" about serious ongoing and recurring human rights violations” in Iran. The resolution listed the high frequency of executions, torture, restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression, the targeting of journalists, pervasive gender inequality, and religious discrimination – including against Iranian Baha’is – as among the Assembly’s concerns. Read more...

In October 2015, Dr. Shaheed noted that “Adherents of unrecognized religions, such as the Baha’i faith, face severe restrictions and discrimination and are reportedly prosecuted for peacefully manifesting their religious beliefs.” His full report can be read here.

In September 2015, Mr. Ban issued a report to the UN General Assembly expressing concern about “reports of persistent discrimination” against ethnic and religious minorities, noting in particular that “authorities have not relaxed restrictions on members of the Baha’i community, who continue to face severe constraints on their professional activities, including the closure of their businesses.” Read more...

On 31 October 2014, governments repeatedly called attention to Iran's lack of respect for religious freedom at Iran's Universal Periodic Review in the Human Rights Council. Of the 291 recommendations made by 104 governments, 11 specifically mentioned the situation of Iranian Baha'is, calling on Iran to end discrimination against them.

In September 2014, three high-level United Nations human rights experts called on Iran to halt the ongoing destruction of a historic Baha’i cemetery in Shiraz, Iran, saying the action is an “unacceptable” violation of freedom of religion. In a joint news release, Heiner Bielefeldt, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, and Rita Izsak, the UN Independent Expert on minority issues, said they were “dismayed” at reports that demolition work had resumed in August.

In June 2013, the International Labor Organization expressed "deep concern" over continuing economic and educational discrimination against Baha'is in Iran. Read more...

In May 2013, four high-level United Nations human rights experts called on Iran to immediately release the seven imprisoned Baha'i leaders. Read more...

Also in May 2013, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recommended that Iran ensure that all citizens, regardless of religious belief, enjoy full rights without any discrimination. The Committee specifically referred to the Baha'i community, expressing its concern that Iranian Baha'is face "widespread and entrenched discrimination, including denial of access to employment in the public sector, institutions of higher education, as well as to benefits of the pension system." It recommended that Iran "take steps to ensure that members of the Baha'i community are protected against discrimination and exclusion in every field." Read more...