Baha'is accuse Iran of religious bias

Iran raided the homes of top Baha'i leaders on May 14 and threw six of them in the notorious Evin prison north of Teheran.

Members of the Baha'i faith on Thursday accused Iran of jailing their top religious leaders earlier this month out of religious bias rather than security reasons. Iran raided the homes of top Baha'i leaders on May 14 and threw six of them in the notorious Evin prison north of Teheran. A seventh leader was detained March 5, according to Baha'i officials. An Iranian government spokesman said the arrests aimed to defend Iran's national security and had "nothing to do with ideological issues." "This is an organized group that has acted against the country's interests and has connections with foreigners, especially the Zionists," spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham said Tuesday at a news conference. But the Baha'i International Community issued a statement Thursday saying "allegations by Iran that six Baha'is were arrested for security reasons and not for their faith are utterly baseless and without documentation." The Baha'i religion was founded in the 1860s by a Persian nobleman, Baha'u'llah, who claimed to be a new prophet in the series that included Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. Islam considers Muhammad to be the last of the prophets. Bani Dugal, the Baha'i envoy to the United Nations, accused the Iranian government of seeking to uproot Baha'is because of their faith. "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...are being persecuted solely because of their religious beliefs," Dugal said Thursday by telephone from Geneva. The seven detained are Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeed Rezaei, Behrouz Tavakkoli, Vahid Tizfam and Mahvash Sabet, according to Baha'i leaders. Naeim Tavakkoli, son of one of those detained, said he was worried about his 57-year-old father's health in prison. "This is completely a lie to relate Baha'is to national security affairs," Tavakkoli said in an e-mail from the US. On Wednesday, the European Union called on Iran to stop persecuting Baha'is and release those detained. "The EU reiterates its serious concern about the continuing systematic discrimination and harassment of the Iranian Baha'is on the grounds of their religion," a EU statement said. Baha'is have been persecuted by current and past Iranian regimes. In 1868, several Baha'is were exiled to pre-state Israel, where they built shrines in Haifa, which they now consider a holy city. Iran had been the cradle of the Baha'i faith in the middle of the 19th century. But after the 1979 Islamic revolution, the faith was banned and it is not recognized in the Iranian constitution as a religious minority. However, the Iranian constitution recognizes Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians as religious minorities who have their own lawmakers in parliament. Last January, Iran sentenced more than 50 followers of the Baha'i faith to prison for proselytizing and distributing propaganda against the country's ruling Islamic establishment, according to Iranian judicial authorities. Another 51 Baha'i followers were given one-year suspended prison terms following their detention in Shiraz, southern Iran.