The worldwide outcry against the persecution of Iran’s Baha’i community has been joined by the Chilean Senate, a Muslim Senator in Canada, and prominent Indian organizations.
The latest calls – for an end to both the imprisonment of Iran’s seven Baha’i leaders and the continuing detention of 12 staff and faculty members of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) – have coincided with the sending of a message to the Baha’is of Iran by the Universal House of Justice.
The letter, written in Persian and dated 17 June, dismisses as “baseless” and “absurd” statements by the Iranian authorities that the Baha’i community’s effort to educate its young members is “illegal.”
It also upbraids those in Iran who, it says, have shunned true Islamic values, the laws of their land, and the nation’s proud history of learning and knowledge, and have allowed themselves – based on ignorant religious prejudice – to deny young citizens of their higher education.
In Chile, the Senate has unanimously asked President Sebastián Piñera to “strongly condemn” Iran for its “rigorous and systematic persecution of Baha’is.”
In a resolution approved unanimously on 15 June, the Chilean Senate specifically mentioned the arrests last month of BIHE faculty and staff, objecting to the “unjust detention of those individuals.”
The Senate noted that, “since 1979 the government of Iran has systematically denied higher education to young adherents of its largest non-Muslim religious minority, the large Baha’i community of 300,000 believers.
“The government also has sought to suppress the efforts of the Baha’is to establish their own initiatives, including the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE).”
A passionate plea
In the Canadian Senate, Senator Mobina Jaffer has asked for “new steps” by Canada to “call Iran to account for its unacceptable treatment of the Baha’is.”
Senator Jaffer – who is Canada’s first Muslim Senator – spoke for more than 15 minutes on 21 June about the human rights situation in Iran, decrying the country’s “brutal campaign of oppression against its citizens.”
“Last September, the UN catalogued the abuses perpetrated by Iran, including torture and cruelty, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, public executions and executions of juvenile defenders, the use of stoning as a measure of execution, violation of women’s rights, violations of the rights of minorities, and restrictions on freedom of assembly and association and freedom of opinion and expression,” she said.
Much of her speech, however, was devoted to a discussion of the Iranian government’s persecution of Baha’is, saying that the situation “is a case study of the real intentions of the Iranian government with respect to its human rights obligations.”
“The persecution faced by Baha’is in Iran today has few parallels in human history,” said Senator Jaffer. “This is a community of more than 300,000 people that for more than 30 years has been subject to an often explicit state policy focused on its destruction. The intensity of pressure felt by this religious minority is almost impossible for us, as Canadians, to imagine, yet it is our duty as senators, indeed as fellow human beings, to raise our voices in solidarity with their cause.
“Baha’is face prosecution in Iran because a hardline clerical elite views their religion as illegitimate, and they are therefore considered to be apostates or opponents of Islam. This attitude toward Baha’is is spread by lies and misinformation channelled through state-controlled media. Baha’is are often falsely accused of being foreign agents working secretly against the nation. The result of such disinformation campaigns is widespread ignorance that perpetuates a culture of prejudice,” she said.
Senator Jaffer’s formal “inquiry” means that the Senate will take up the discussion about Iran when it reconvenes in the autumn.
Iran’s actions “shameful”
In India, prominent people are continuing to raise their voices against the imprisonment of BIHE staff and faculty members.
The Better Education Through Innovation (BETI) Foundation in Lucknow – which is dedicated to the education of girls – has expressed its “firm and committed solidarity in condemning action taken against the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education.”
“It is indeed surprising that the Islamic Republic of Iran should resort to action which not only deny Baha’is of their inherent Human Rights but also goes against the edicts of the Holy Quran which repeatedly stresses the need for gaining the highest and best education possible…” wrote Sehba Hussain, founder director of the BETI Foundation and a member of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
“Reactions taken by the Government in Iran are shameful in the eyes of the True Believers as well as the Almighty,” wrote Ms. Hussain.
In a letter to the Iranian ambassador to India, accompanying a petition signed by 86 leading figures, Maja Daruwala – director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiatives – expressed the signatories’ “strongest condemnation of the brutal acts of persecution against Iranian Baha’is,” particularly “those associated with the noble work of providing access to education to Baha’i youth who have been systematically denied their right to education…”
“We also ask the government of Iran to honour its own obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and allow all its citizens access to higher education irrespective of their ideology or beliefs,” wrote Ms. Daruwala.