Baha'i International Community rejects Iranian allegations on recent arrests

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The seven Baha’is who have been arrested are, seated from left, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Saeid Rezaie, and, standing, Fariba Kamalabadi, Vahid Tizfahm, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, and Mahvash Sabet. All are from Tehran. Six were arrested on 14 May 2008 in early-morning raids at their homes, and the seventh was detained in March.
New York

Allegations by Iran that six Baha'is were arrested last week “for security reasons and not for their faith” are utterly baseless and without documentation, said the Baha'i International Community today.

“All of the allegations issued in a statement on Tuesday by the Iranian government are utterly baseless,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations, referring to statements made in a press conference given yesterday in Tehran by Iranian government spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham, at which he acknowledged the arrest and imprisonment of six Baha'i leaders last week.

“The allegations are not new, and the Iranian government knows well that they are untrue,” Ms. Dugal said. “The documented plan of the Iranian government has always been to destroy the Baha'i community, and these latest arrests represent an intensification of this plan.

“The group of Baha'is arrested last week, like the thousands of Baha'is who since 1979 have been killed, imprisoned, or otherwise oppressed, are being persecuted solely because of their religious beliefs. The best proof of this is the fact that, time and again, Baha'is have been offered their freedom if they recant their Baha'i beliefs and convert to Islam – an option few have taken.

“Far from being a threat to state security, the Baha'i community of Iran has great love for their country and they are deeply committed to its development. This is evidenced, for example, by the fact that the vast majority of Baha'is have remained in Iran despite intense persecution, the fact that students denied access to education in Iran and forced to study abroad have returned to assist in the development of their country, and the recent effort by Baha'is in Shiraz to provide schooling for underprivileged children – an effort the government responded to by arresting some 54 Baha'i participants in May 2006,” said Ms. Dugal.

In its coverage of Mr. Elham’s press conference, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported that the six Baha'is were arrested “for security reasons not for their faith.” The IRNA report also quoted Mr. Elham as saying that the six Baha'is were somehow linked to “foreigners, the Zionists in particular.”

Ms. Dugal addressed that issue also, saying:

“The charges linking the Baha'is to Zionism are a distortion of history: The Baha'i Faith has its world headquarters in Israel because Bahá’u’lláh was, in the mid-1800s, sent as a prisoner to the Holy Land by two Islamic countries: Ottoman Turkey and Iran.

“The charge that Baha'is are Zionists, which has in fact been made against Baha'is for the last 30 years by Iran, is nothing more than an effort by the government to stir animosity against Baha'is among the Iranian population at large. This is but the most recent iteration in a long history of attempts to foment hatred by casting the Baha'is as agents of foreign powers, whether of Russia, the United Kingdom, or the United States—and now Israel—all of which are completely baseless.

“The real issue, as it relates to Baha'is, who are committed to nonpartisanship and nonviolence, is the ideology of the government, which has undertaken a well-documented effort to utterly block the development of the Baha'i community not only through arrests, harassment and imprisonment but also by depriving their youth of education and preventing adults from obtaining a livelihood.

“We would ask whether issues of state security rather than ideology were involved in recent incidents such as the destruction of a Baha'i cemetery and the use of a bulldozer to crush the bones of a Baha'i who was interred there; the harassment of hundreds of Baha'i schoolchildren throughout Iran by teachers and school officials in an effort to make them reject their own religion; or the publication of dozens of defamatory anti-Baha'i articles in Kayhan and other government-sponsored news media in recent months,” said Ms. Dugal.

She also noted that over the years, a number of government officials, clerics, and members of the judiciary have in fact made statements in private noting the nonpartisan conduct of the Baha'i community and the unjustified nature of government charges against Baha'is.

She added that the present government’s ideology is based in large part on a belief that there could be no Prophet following Muhammad. The Baha'i Faith poses a theological challenge to this belief.

“Freedom of religion is the issue and Iran itself is a signatory to international covenants that acknowledge the right of individuals to freedom of religion or belief, including the right to change one’s religion,” Ms. Dugal said.

“What the Iranian government cannot tolerate is that the Iranian people are less responsive to the government’s propaganda, because they see the reality — that Iranian Baha'is love their country, are sincere in their desire to contribute to its well-being, are peace-loving, and are law-abiding — and that these qualities stem from their beliefs. Consequently, there is growing sympathy for the Baha'is. Increasingly, people at all levels of the society are coming to their defense both privately and publicly, and there is growing interest in and attraction to the Baha'i Faith amongst the population,” Ms. Dugal said.