LONDON: Iran has expanded its persecution of members of the Baha’i faith in the country, with an uptick in arrests, raids and land seizures, according to Amnesty International.
The human rights group said Iranian officials had arrested at least 30 members of the community since July 31, and confiscated dozens of properties, in what it called a “land grab.”
It added that many Baha’i members had been subjected to interrogations and forced to wear electronic ankle tags, and called on people around the world to speak out against the repression of the group.
The Baha’i are Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious sect, and regularly suffer persecution. Since 1991, following a decision by the Supreme Revolutionary Cultural Council, it has been the official policy of the Iranian state to actively block their social, political and economic development, adding that “they must be expelled from universities” and “denied employment if they identify as Baha’is.”
The Baha’i International Community said the arrests meant there are now at least 68 people imprisoned in Iran for practicing the faith.
On Aug. 1, the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence said it had arrested “core members of Baha’i espionage party” who “propagated Baha’i teachings” and “sought to infiltrate various levels of the educational sector across the country, especially kindergartens.”
The UN says over 1,000 Baha’i members currently face detention in Iran, with 26 imminently set to be imprisoned in the city of Shiraz, Fars province, following their conviction in June of various crimes supposedly threatening national security.
On June 25, a court upheld a decision to seize 18 Baha’i-owned properties in Semnan province on grounds that their owners “engage in illegal activities and espionage to the advantage of foreigners,” with the court calling them members of a “perverse sect.”
On Aug. 2, meanwhile, three people told Amnesty that as many as 200 Iranian security personnel, including riot police and judicial officials, had taken part in the appropriation of 20 hectares of land belonging to Baha’is, and bulldozed six houses in the village of Roshankouh, Mazandaran province.
Residents, who said authorities had been attempting to seize Baha’i property in the area since 2016, added that mobile phones had been confiscated, bullets fired into the air to disperse crowds, and that several locals had been beaten, pepper-sprayed or detained.
The Iranian government claims that the properties in Roshankouh encroach on protected land, but locals believe the appropriations are to deprive Baha’is of their farms and means of income.
Semnan, meanwhile, has seen at least 20 businesses owned by Baha’is closed, and the lands and equipment of a number of Baha’i-owned farms seized.
Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement: “The despicable onslaught against the Baha’i religious minority is yet another manifestation of the Iranian authorities’ decades long persecution of this peaceful community.
“Baha’is in Iran cannot feel safe in their homes or while exercising their faith because they are at risk of persecution.
“The authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all the Baha’i individuals who were recently detained as well as anyone in prison from before solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of religion. All convictions and sentences imposed on this basis must be immediately quashed.
Morayef added: “The Iranian authorities have brazenly imposed a system of discrimination and oppression against the Bahai’s. Iranian authorities must immediately abolish all discriminatory laws, policies, and institutional practices which have been adopted to expel and dispossess Baha’is of their land and property, and deprive them of their human rights, and ensure that Baha’i people can exist and practise their faith freely and openly.”