Islamic regime tightens its grip on Bahá'ís, Christian converts and Sufis

Iranian authorities arrested many Bahá'ís over the weekend alleging ties with a centre in Israel and for proselytising in schools and kindergartens. Some 52 homes and businesses were raided. Advocacy groups abroad speak out against a campaign of hatred fuelled by the pro-regime media. A report by a US-based NGO says the regime is using a “misinformation campaign" to justify repression.

Tehran (AsiaNews) – Bahá’ís, Christian converts, Sunni Muslims and Sufis are the victims of the Islamic Republic’s renewed repression against religious minorities and civil society groups.

The crackdown has intensified since the election of extreme right-wing Ebrahim Raisi as president last year, culminating in a wave of arrests against the followers of Mīrzā Ḥusain 'Ali Nūrī (better known as Bahá'u'lláh) for alleged ties with a centre in Israel and proselytising in schools and kindergartens.

News agencies and advocacy groups outside Iran reported the story, after Iran's Intelligence Ministry announced that it had arrested a number of people. The ministry did not release any details as to the number involved nor when they were arrested.

In June and early July, Bahá’í groups had reported increased harassment and persecution of their community in Iran. Since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979, dozens of Bahá’ís have been arrested, their homes raided.

The latest crackdown reached a high point last Sunday when the authorities searched at least 52 homes and businesses across the country making a numerous arrests.

Among those taken into custody are some prominent figures like Mahvash Sabet, Fariba Kamalabadi and Afif Naemi, who spent about ten years in prison for membership in the Yaran group.

For Diane Alai, a representative of the Bahá’í International Community (BIC), speaking to AFP, “This is an outrageous move,” part of “an escalation” and a “campaign of incitement to hatred" in pro-government media.

James Samimi Farr, a Bahá’í spokesman in the United States, “there is an emboldened effort to persecute our community and test the waters of what can be done against us.”

According to the Intelligence Ministry, those arrested were part of a group that spied for Israel and worked to illegally spread the religion, infiltrating the school system at all levels.

The Iranian constitution authorises some religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism, but outlaws other religions, including Bahá’ísm, who number around 300,000 out of an Iranian population of some 84 million people.

In June in the southern city of Shiraz, a revolutionary court reportedly convicted 26 Bahá’ís on conspiracy charges, imposing sentences ranging from two to five years in prison.

Meanwhile, a report by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC), a US-based NGO, indicates that a “misinformation campaign” is underway with “baseless allegations” used against minorities, including Christians converts from Islam.

Charges include “ties to foreign states" designed to sow “discord and division” in Iranian society. The target groups are Jews, Sunnis, Sufis, Christian converts, and Bahá’ís.

“Propaganda against Christian converts is often disguised as anti-Zionism, and Christian converts are regularly referred to as members of a ‘Zionist’ network,” the report says.

Lastly, it notes that, “The Iranian government has consistently harassed and prosecuted Christian converts and Bahá’ís for proselytizing” when all they did was to promote and practise their faith.